How to Travel with Photo Gear

January 20, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 31 Comments |
How to Travel with Photo Gear Image

The Long and Winding Road - Travelling with Photographic Equipment

I’m packing again. I sometimes wonder why I bother unpacking, it seems such a recurring task. A month ago we returned from Vietnam, then the Isle of Skye beckoned, and now we’re off to the Philippines. Once again the spare room is a loading depot with camera bags gaping open and clothing, chargers, books, boots and sunglasses ready to pack. I’ve the usual headaches; how many lenses can I take, how to get it all on the plane and how will we fare jumping on and off boats with it all in the Sulu Sea. There are so many variables to consider; and each and every trip is different.

I remember a scene from Michael Palin’s Pole to Pole when he was checking in at an airport.  The camera panned around to reveal all the crew and their kit forming their own snaking queue, with innumerable aluminium cases, booms, tripods and soft bags cluttering the terminal, not to mention bodies. I was envious. The thought of taking what I like with someone else sorting it all out and paying the excess baggage is so appealing. But in the Real World I have to always make compromises and box clever, paring down what comes along to what we can carry. There is a powerful argument for keeping it simple; photography does not have to be a logistical exercise akin to the invasion of Iraq. With one DSLR and two lenses like a 24-70mm & 70-200mm a roving photographer is well equipped for most situations. Being there is the important thing, not how much gear is being deployed, and travelling light has so many advantages. With this basic set up a small camera bag that causes no back injuries or raised eyebrows at check in is just the job. So that clearly is the way I should approach the Philippines trip. But of course I’ll need a spare body, and chargers. I’ll want to use my 85mm f1.2 for portraits, and I can’t live without my tilt & shifts these days. A long tom perspective can be so handy, so the 100-400mm has to go in. Not to mention the 16-35mm, fisheye, 14mm, flash and tripod. I’ll need to back up images as cards are filled, process a few images for the newsletter on the hoof and write my despatches as we go, so the portable hard drive and lap top have to come. It’s all just got a whole lot more complicated. I need to go back to basics and try to get a handle on the essentials. A logical approach is needed.

How to Travel with Photographic EquipmentAnnapurna: Annapurna, Nepal. Fuji GX617 panoramic camera. For a Himalayan trek a camera bag with a backpacking harness was necessary.

With any journey what needs to be packed is determined by where we’re headed, and how we’re travelling. Clearly the requirements for a Himalayan trek are very different to a road trip to Provence. The most difficult trip to pack for is a long haul cool weather camping trip to a wilderness location. There’s all the photographic gear to consider plus camping kit, thermal and waterproof clothing, and all the rest. That’s not so bad if it can all be loaded in the back of the car, but to fly with it all is a nightmare. Get a bunch of photographers together and inevitably the conversation will turn to the hassles of flying with all our gear. We lay awake at night staring at the ceiling, tossing and turning whilst envisaging uncomfortable confrontations with intransigent check in staff. It is the point of no return, that moment when  the camera bag containing all those precious optics is threatened with consignment to the hold because it’s too big or heavy. A camera bag stuffed with top of the range DSLRs and expensive glass is about to be manhandled and pilfered ruthlessly by swarthy, tattooed and corrupt baggage handlers initially trained as Ukrainian weight lifters. I’m coming out in a cold sweat just writing this. It doesn’t bare thinking about. I think we can surmise choice of camera bag is critical.

How to Travel with Photographic Equipment Morraine Lake in winter, Alberta, Canada. Canon 1Ds mkIII, 16-35mm lens. For landscape work a sizeable bag is handy to carry all the gear plus the extra clothing needed.

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photos, photo, travel, landscape, how to, photographer, equipment, david noton, packing, customs, pack, camera bag, gear, bag

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31 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Paul Parkinson

I think this article has been truncated somewhere along the line. It started well enough, setting the scene nicely then just stops ;-)

1:28 pm - Thursday, January 20, 2011

#2 Mark Goldstein

Stops where, Paul?

You should see 3 pages…

1:44 pm - Thursday, January 20, 2011

#3 Eric Hutton

I’m just switching out of my LowePro Computrekker Plus AW, which has served me well the past 4 years or so.  The problem is the weight when travelling; because it will be my one carry-on, I load it up with a ton of stuff - books, computer, camera gear.  A lot of this stuff will stay in the hotel while I am out shooting, but lugging it around for a few hours at the airport is killer on the back.

My new bag is an Ape Case ACPro4000.  Has the same capacity as my Computrekker PLus aW, but has a detachable roller!  This is a great solution, a roller bag for the airport that then converts to a rugged backpack for going on a shoot!

2:01 pm - Thursday, January 20, 2011

#4 Stephane

So French attitude :o) J’adore!!!!!

2:26 pm - Thursday, January 20, 2011

#5 Itai

Nice! This is the best editorial article on camera bags I’ve read so far. I like how it puts camera bags in perspective of photographic journeys and assignments.

2:54 pm - Thursday, January 20, 2011

#6 Gilo

Good luck with the airport staff in the Philippines! They can easily compete to win number 1 as most pedantic, non-sensical and obtuse ground staff in the world! And you are lucky if at the end you manage to take off at all…But if you do, once you have overcome all the obstacles, don’t relax until you are out of the airport building: in fact the most idiotic staff of all are those standing in front of the exit door, tasked with stopping loaded, exhausted passengers demanding them to hand over their airline receipt of the checked-in luggage! And don’t hope to get away with it, if you happen to have misplaced it. Unless you have been living in this country for 15 years like me and you have already acquired the necessary skills to roar at them wildly enough to blow them off your way.

3:44 pm - Thursday, January 20, 2011

#7 Paul Banbury

“Swarthy”?  That word alone made me read the whole thing.  Swarthy!

6:04 pm - Thursday, January 20, 2011

#8 Paul Banbury

Then I read the rest of the article and was left wondering why it wasn’t titled “Camera bags are important” “Various camera bags have different merits” .  But thanks for the nice photos.

6:11 pm - Thursday, January 20, 2011

#9 Yi Chen

I think the article is about packing for the outdoor trip, not for packing to get in and out of the airport and planes.

6:48 pm - Thursday, January 20, 2011

#10 Nigel Craig

Well I travel with a mere LowePro Flipside 400AW, but I’ve had a conversion - I’m only going to take 5D2 and all the clutter when I know for sure I’ll need it. My general travel camera will be Panasonic GH2 with 14-140 and a 20mm pancake stuffed in a pocket. It’s not just the weight, there is a benefit in a camera that looks “amateur” it attracts less attention instead of waving a “white” lens around. I’d rather have 85% of the image quality than no image at all.

7:16 pm - Thursday, January 20, 2011

#11 ardin buenaventura

i’m from the philippines, i’m sure you will have a wonderful time here in PH as there are lot’s of wonderful places here. happy tripping…

1:38 am - Friday, January 21, 2011

#12 Iberostar Mexico

Some good information that you have shared in the bog and the tips would be useful one.
The picture that you have taken are really a well shot one.
Thanks and appreciate your work.

7:47 am - Friday, January 21, 2011

#13 mihalis

nice lowerpro lineup ad

8:51 am - Friday, January 21, 2011

#14 Jude Lab

nice packing :)

12:03 pm - Friday, January 21, 2011

#15 Eric Hutton

@yi chen

Yup, but to get the gear, and the bag you want to carry it in, to the outdoor shoot, you first have to get all that stuff on and off a plane - that’s the attraction of this Ape Case bag, it is designed to do both duties well.  I’ll see how it works in practice next week, as I am heading out to Armenia followed by a couple of days in Paris.  For the Paris portion of the trip I think I will be missing having something a little smaller to tote gear around in though, so I might throw one of my smaller crumplers in my checked bags.

3:02 pm - Friday, January 21, 2011

#16 GG

Looking at the pictures you could have taken all of them with a Canon s95 or a Panasonic LX5. Even the pictures with the Buddhist monks if you fiddle with Photoshop afterwards. If you not using them for print of course.

10:28 pm - Sunday, January 23, 2011

#17 Stefan Shillington

For me it’s one lens on my 5D Mk2, f/2 35mm, and a Canon S90 (on RAW) for backup. Oh the relief after years of back-ache. Now if the numbers come up make that a Leica M9!

12:27 pm - Wednesday, January 26, 2011

#18 Bruce

As soon as I read this article, I was reminded of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Koy Detmer who literally traveled to his team’s away football games with a only his toothbrush and the clothes he was wearing.  Of course, his game uniform/equipment was transported by the team.

I guess I am paranoid and averse to leaving my DSLR pro equipment at the hands of some careless airline and its personnel.

I carry a compact Canon g11 which fits in my pants pocket, one external flash and quantum battery, a miniature tripod and a few memory cards and camera batteries.  It can all fit in a small “belly-bag” around my waist. I’ve got a nice range of zooms on the camera, with a large sensor and the ability to shoot raw images.

It’s great for backpacking trips too!

Happy Shooting!

3:30 pm - Tuesday, February 8, 2011

#19 lesley

“Swarthy” corrupt baggage handlers??
Looks like travel has sadly failed to broaden the mind here…

4:24 pm - Wednesday, February 9, 2011

#20 JohnE Nikon

Nice article.  I must be the only photographer that uses the tripod attachment on my Kata 467-i.  I find it invaluable as I need my hands free if the terrain is rough and I need to climb.

8:52 pm - Wednesday, February 9, 2011

#21 mjinak

Why is it no one talks about a bag that will carry drinking water, rain gear, 1st aid kit, in addition to camera gear.  I live in Alaska and don’t even hike behind my house without these necessities, let alone travel without them but I have never found a bag that will do both.

7:56 pm - Thursday, February 10, 2011

#22 prat

I use a portare backpack. Its saved my gear from rain, bumps ,bruises, airports train stations and generally from the vagaries of travel.

I’ve traveled to Asia (thailand, China, Taiwan, India), Europe (Italy, England, Spain and Finland), South America (Brazil and Argentina) with my trusty $99 Portare’ camera backpack.

I just wanted something that will keep my great safe, without costing so much that I had to worry about keeping the bag safe.

4:32 pm - Sunday, February 13, 2011

#23 John Kim

Sounds like a nightmare, which is the reason why I bring my low end DSLR when I travel. It’s not a great camera, but it achieves a quality better than a point and shoot, and I get to manually control the exposure.

11:42 pm - Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#24 Stefani Patk

Finally someone has talked about Portare bags. I love mine because of its lightweight and how customizable it is. Have a safe trip.

10:01 pm - Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#25 bycostello

I see where i am going wrong i don’t have the wine in my bag!

12:07 pm - Wednesday, March 2, 2011

#26 Steve

Just buy a Canon G12 or similar

You can run up hills with one of those

2:40 am - Saturday, March 5, 2011

#27 David Moscovitch

For an article about camera bags, it would have been nice to see a few (or at least one) and their interiors, instead of the authors photos. Not a succinct article, nor really very tightly focused. His personal reflections bored me after a while. There are too many of these types of articles out there, more musings than real information

5:02 pm - Thursday, March 10, 2011

#28 Avinash Bhavnani

I am travelling at the end of the week.
Would like to know how to fit a DSLR cannon 550D with 1 lens and a laptop in the same back pack.

3:47 am - Sunday, June 12, 2011

#29 Marc G

So there is always the challenge of traveling with Underwater camera gear as well.  I have my slr and my housing at one stage. I just sized down to the canon g12 and using the kata 33in1 bag now.  Holds he slr, small cam, housing, chargers, hard drive, strobes, multiple lenses and the laptop still but didn’t break my back on the load I carry. It is a solid option to look at and there are others that make similar items.

4:00 pm - Sunday, July 17, 2011

#30 tammy

Ive got massive nips,what do you suggest I do?

9:08 pm - Thursday, March 8, 2012

#31 ambitions4

Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right,or doing it  better

8:35 am - Tuesday, April 10, 2012