How to Travel with Photo Gear

January 20, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | Comment |

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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