How to Travel With Cameras

May 7, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 19 Comments |
How to Travel With Cameras Image

Photographers and packing for travelling has long since been a love-hate relationship. Some photographers find packing to be an irritating necessary evil while others find it fun and challenging.

Personally I find packing to similar to playing a game of Tetris. Every trip is different; each journey has its own needs and wants. First and foremost, ahead of everything else, is the safety of my equipment as I pack my equipment properly.

For me, I can get on a plane with a Mountainsmith Borealis AT backpack and a camera on each shoulder to fly halfway around the world with nothing else; or I can pack a fully loaded Mountainsmith Parallax with two bodies, 8 lenses, and macro tubes. ETTL cords along with a fully loaded LowePro Pro Roller II case loaded with a mobile location lighting kit to fly just a few hundred miles away for the afternoon. Whether I am travelling light or travelling heavy the fundamentals are the same.

As this is the first installment of Flying With Fish on PhotographyBLOG.com I'd like to start with the basics of packing. I can write about packing equipment all day and all night, but one issue comes before all others for me, how to protect your cameras and lenses from impact damage while travelling.

For some reason photographers like to pack their lenses for travelling attached to their camera bodies. For some even stranger reason photographers seem to pack their longer, heavier, lenses attached to their camera bodies. Why do photographers pack this way? I have no idea.

When you pack your equipment you should think of Sir Isaac Newton and his theory that an object in motion will remain in motion until something stops the motion. Another way to look at this is that that a force of impact on your camera will need to dissipate that force.

Newton’s theory looks something like this:

How to Travel with Cameras

So what does this mean for photographers when they pack their 70-200f2.8 attached to their Nikon D700 body? It means that if your bag should sustain an impact the force through your camera, or through your lens, will transfer from one object to the next, often damaging the weakest link. What is usually the weakest link between a camera and a lens? The mount!

How to Travel with Cameras

If your bag is dropped, knocked, hit, or otherwise ‘whacked’ your camera body can be spun one way while your lens is spun another way. The result of this impact is you torquing the two mounts significantly damaging both your camera and your lens.

If you pack your body and your lens separately the twisting motion of the camera body and the lens are only felt by the body and the lens individually. The impact dissipates into the padding of the bag. Since neither your camera body nor your lens is attached to the bag there is no damage to either the camera or the lens.

I have heard many photographers say, “If my camera is attached to my lens then I can act faster to capture the photo.” I have news for you, if you need to put your backpack down, open the flap and remove your camera and lens kit……….you’ve already ‘missed the moment.’

I have spent years covering news and fast paced situations and I can’t think of a single moment where I thought, “if only my camera and lens were attached in the backpack I am wearing on my back I might have captured that image.”

Fleeting moments happen non-stop. You’ll see photos all day long if you’re looking, and if that is your intention you need to travel with your cameras out, on your shoulders, ready to shoot.

How to Travel with Cameras

When you pack your equipment you need to pack it securely. Pack your gear relatively snug so it does not bounce. You need to maximize your space in small area of a bag, backpack or rolling case.

Not only does traveling with your lens attached to your camera significantly increase the chances of damaging your camera equipment while traveling, but it also decreases your packing flexibility. When you pack your camera body and your lenses detached from each other you increase the space in your bag to pack more effectively. By having each item separate you are no longer packing ‘around a camera-lens combo,’ you are free to stand lenses up, stack lenses, lay lenses down, adjust the location of our camera body within the bag.

All of these elements make for a safer and more practical way to pack your equipment.

…and besides, Murphy’s Law dictates that whatever lens you have attached to your camera will be the wrong lens for the moment.

In future columns for PhotographyBLOG.com I will address a wide range of packing issues for photographers, as well as equipment, logistics and pretty much any other topic that comes to mind.

If you have any topics you’d like to see me write about drop me an e-mail at fish@flyingwithfish.com

For more information on the nuts-&-bolts of traveling as a photographer visit www.flyingwithfish.com or follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/flyingwithfish

Happy Flying!

-Fish

Biography

Steven Frischling is professional photographer turned international travel strategist whose goal is to help photographers travel easier, travel smarter and travel with less stress.

As a photographer Steven's assignments have spanned the globe, and racked up more than 1,000,000 miles flown since 2005 (when he started keeping track of his miles). Through Steven's travel he developed an innate sense of travel planning, logistics and simply how to get himself and his equipment where they needed to be.

Some of Steven's more 'fun' assignments have included shooting four assignments, in four countries, on three continents, completely flying around the world in 3.5 days ; circling the globe one-and-a-half times while shooting a project for an airline in 4.5 days; flying from New York to Basrah, Iraq, for six hours; travelling to Kuwait City for two hours for a shoot; and flying from New York to Frankfurt for the morning for a shoot (yes, just the morning) before flying home.

Throughout Steven's professional career as a photographer he has worked as a contract newspaper photographer, contract wire service photographer, contract photo agency photographer, newspaper staff photographer, newspaper photo editor, newspaper chief photographer and director of photography for a multi-national magazine publisher overseeing five international magazines.

Along the way Steven's photography clients have included Life Magazine, Time Magazine, The New York Times Travel Section, The Kuwaiti Government, The International Olympic Committee, Sunoco Oil, Southwest Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Delta Airlines, Oasis Hong Kong Airlines, Harvard University, Home & Garden Television and The Discovery Channel.

When not shooting photos or consulting with corporate travellers, airlines and those related to photography and airline travel, Steven lives with his wife and three kids 102 yards from the ocean directly between New York City & Boston.

Visit Steven online here:
For photogs who fly www.flyingwithfish.com
Corporate photos www.stevenfrischling.com
Twitter for travel www.twitter.com/flyingwithfish

Entry Tags

travel, lenses, protect, packing, equipment, cameras, travelling, flying

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Your Comments

19 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Billy Chan

Thanks for your post. This is something I haven’t thought about much even though the problem is a familiar one when travelling with musical instruments such as guitars where the weakest point of failure is the neck of the instrument. This is due to the mass of the head and body that can be accelerating/deccelerating at different rates causing flex/bending.

However, I find it troubling and odd that you used a v * dm/dt term in your newton’s equation since mass itself cannot change with respect to time due to the law of conservation of mass. That is, unless you’re travelling at close to the speed of light and are experiencing relativistic effects. However, Newton himself would never have known this and it’s safe to say that no one can travel at near the speed of light, at least at this present time. What does changes with respect to time is velocity.

Also, it should be made clear that it is not so much a twisting action along the optical axis that presents problems for lens mounts but rather bending/flexing perpedicular from the optical axis that will cause a tilt in the focal plane, causing uneven focusing on a flat field. This is the same as tilting the optical axis on a tilt shift lens; it’s not necessarily a bad thing when the effect is desired but is definitely not for what you might want for every image.

The second problem is compression/expansion of the distance between the lens and the imaging sensor which causes a change in focal distance. This will then throw of the calibration on an AF system by adding a bias but is easily corrected using in-camera calibration offered by most of the newer dSLRs. That is to say that, as long as this expansion/compression does not change over time.

2:40 pm - Thursday, May 7, 2009

#2 Matt

Good post and very timely for me! I’m leaving for Australia in 12 hours and I had one of my lenses still attached to the camera in my backpack. I’ll be sure to remedy that now!

5:18 pm - Thursday, May 7, 2009

#3 ForestWander Nature Photography

This is very informative.

I just got a new 5d Mark II and a Sigma 150-500 and was leaving them attached in my backpack.

I will certainly consider this when traveling from now on.

Thank you for the expert advice.

7:13 pm - Thursday, May 7, 2009

#4 Wayne Alexander

Interesting article there. I’m new to photography and I’m purchasing my first travel bag this week so I’ll be sure to remember this when I’m packing my goods away!

12:15 am - Sunday, May 10, 2009

#5 Artaristo

Sir,
there is a big mistake - no PLASTIC BAGS!!! Your electronic cameras, optics, don’t like a DUST!!!
Best.
Art

12:07 pm - Tuesday, May 12, 2009

#6 Jim

This was a very timely article as I will be traveling a lot this summer by air. I usually keep my lens attached to my camera but I will definitely rethink that. Thank you for the advice.

12:53 pm - Tuesday, May 12, 2009

#7 Shubroto

Great stuff, Steven! So obvious, yet so often overlooked! I’m going to repack my bags.
Now, what’s that mesh between bodies C and A? Protection for the LCD of body-C, perchance?
Keep up the good work. Cheers!

2:41 pm - Tuesday, May 12, 2009

#8 Steven Frischling

“I just got a new 5d Mark II and a Sigma 150-500 and was leaving them attached in my backpack.”

The 5D bodies are well built, however even with the more solid 1D bodies (and I shoot with mutiple bodies from both series of cameras) a lens such as the Sigma 150-500f5-6/3, weighing in at 1.91kgs/4.2lbs is significant weight on the mount of the cameras should there be an impact.

Happy Shooting!

-Fish

4:31 am - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#9 Steven Frischling

“Interesting article there. I’m new to photography and I’m purchasing my first travel bag this week so I’ll be sure to remember this when I’m packing my goods away!”

Wayne,

I discuss a wide variety of bags on Flying With Fish, http://www.flyingwithfish.com.  From the compact Mountainsmith Tour waist pack to the large Gura Gear Kiboko bag, and many other bags in between.

Hopefully you can find something for your needs on the site. If not, drop me an e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Happy Shooting!

-Fish

4:33 am - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#10 Steven Frischling

“there is a big mistake - no PLASTIC BAGS!!! Your electronic cameras, optics, don’t like a DUST!!!”

Art,

I do often keep one or two 1-Gallon zip-lock bags in my bag for my gear, usually to deal with rain.  Having photographed assignments in locations such as Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and other fairly dusty locations I simply keep my lenses attached while shooting. I take care not to swap lenses in exposed areas.

When I pack I place a body cap on the body and switch the camera off. The cameras CCD or CMOS sensor is only ‘charged’ and a ‘dust magnet’ when the camera is on (except when in sensor cleaning mode).  For the one loose body cap I have, I place a strip of Gaffers Tape on it to keep it in place in the bag.

Happy Shooting!

-Fish

4:39 am - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#11 Steven Frischling

“Now, what’s that mesh between bodies C and A? Protection for the LCD of body-C, perchance?”

Shubroto,

The mesh in my bag is a ‘compartment cover’ supplied with the dividers by Mountainsmith. The bag is a now discontinued Mountainsmith Correspondent (http://MtnsmthCrrspndnt.notlong.com) and the mesh allows you to create a small compartment for batteries, CF cards, cords, etc and keep them from moving around.

I keep the mesh folded around the dividers when not in use to prevent me from easily losing it.

My LCD’s have no protection. When they get cracked I buy a new LCD cover from Canon and replace them myself in about 10 minutes with a pocket knife.

Happy Shooting!

-Fish

4:45 am - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#12 Mei Teng

I wish to say thank you for this wonderful piece of how to pack correctly. I am one of those guilty of packing my lens attached to the camera body. I see your point. Thanks again :)

7:22 am - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#13 Shubroto

Many thanks for that clarification, Fish, about the mesh. What a capital idea!
Cheers!
Shubroto

8:49 am - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#14 David

I’m guessing you are a member of Mountainsmith’s Pro Purchase program…

Small and inexpensive drybags or lens wraps can be utilized for protecting individual components from moisture and bumps while not adding any substantial bulk or weight.

9:32 pm - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#15 Steven Frischling

“I’m guessing you are a member of Mountainsmith’s Pro Purchase program…

Small and inexpensive drybags or lens wraps can be utilized for protecting individual components from moisture and bumps while not adding any substantial bulk or weight. “

David,

I am not a member of Mountainsmith’s Pro Purchase program.  However after years of using, misusing, modifying and abusing my Mountainsmith gear, I was invited to join Mountainsmith’s Design Board.  As part of the Design Board I have input into the designs of new bags.

I use many other non-Mountainsmith bags as well, however Mountainsmith was one of my established favourites long before I began a relationship with the company.

As for wraps and dry bags, I use Domke and Road Wired wraps fairly often and really like them.

Happy Shooting!

-Fish

9:37 pm - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#16 Steven Frischling

“I am one of those guilty of packing my lens attached to the camera body. I see your point. Thanks again “

Mel,

I won’t hold it against you this time ;)

Happy Shooting!

-Fish

9:37 pm - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#17 Tiemen

Jeez… I was traveling with lenses attached on purpose, simply to minimize unnecessary lens changes. Am I dust-paranoid then?

10:49 pm - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#18 Steven Frischling

” was traveling with lenses attached on purpose, simply to minimize unnecessary lens changes. Am I dust-paranoid then?”

Tiemen,

You might be a bit dust paranoid.  Back when I shot with the Nikon/Kodak APNC2000(c/e) and the Nikon D1 series bodies I was dust paranoid. Less so withthe Canon/Kodak DCS520, but I still feared dust.  I learned I didn’t need to be a dust nut if I kept my cameras in the off position when changing lenses, uses body caps and swapped lens in a fairly clean area (inside car, in an enclosed room, etc.

With a dust gun, pocket rocket, etc etc, you’re probably pretty safe.  I travel with sensor solution and pec-pads to clean my sensors, but that is more due me be a bit ‘obsessive compulsive’ about my sensors than anything else.

Cleaning sensors is easy, takes 2-to-5 minutes and is easy. I usually do it in the least dusty room you’ll find in a hotel, airport or anywhere else…the lavatory. 

Happy Shooting!

-Fish

11:51 pm - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#19 Adolph

Hello. Books…are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with ‘em, then we grow out of ‘em and leave ‘em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.
I am from Dominican and also am speaking English, give true I wrote the following sentence: “American beauty cosmetics, community and treatment cosmetics, volume and subject try up for the surgery of research, up-to-date and company profitability inventory, disruptions, contestants and women, elegy countries, stage and produce points, ices and tasks’s increasing prices.”

With best wishes :(, Adolph.

3:54 am - Wednesday, September 9, 2009