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How To Travel With Your Photography Gear

As a photographer who loves traveling with his gear, the biggest challenge that I have faced is ensuring that my gear arrives at the destination in the same conditions in which I packed them before leaving the front door.

I don’t trust airport baggage handlers with my travel camera bags and that is why I always insist on having them tucked in as carry-on baggage rather than check them in. But that same paranoia actually results in only a very select few items making into my camera bag.

Choice Of Camera Bags

For others, who have to travel with lots of photography equipment, hard cases are the order of the day. Hard cases such as the Pelican 1514 hard case, or the Explorer Cases 2209 or even one of the HPRC cases with padded dividers and cubed foam interiors are a good investment.

These cases are designed to withstand anything unexpected that Mother Nature can throw at you as well as a casual airline staff dropping your bag from a height and or the occasional knocks and bumps that are part of international travel. The Pelican I referred to above is made of a highly durable structural copolymer. In plain English the bag is unbreakable.

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camera bag
Kata R-102 by KhE

Speaking of camera bags, it is the first defense against possible damage to my camera gear. I am sure a lot of other photographers will also vouch for that.

The bag that you carry must be of good quality and should be made of some sort of water-resistant material. Additionally, a set of good quality wheels plus a broad set of side and top handles would allow you to pull your bag whenever required.

Complying with FAA and other international carry-on baggage stipulations

Water resistance is, however, not the only parameter. Even if the material is soft and does have some sort of water-resistant properties, at the end of the day the bag has to fit into the overhead carry-on baggage restrictions. That way, larger trunk case type bags have an inherent weight of their own.
These days with airlines dropping the free baggage allowance you are limited to something like 7-10 kilos for carry-on baggage. That is an important parameter to consider when buying your bag.
Speaking of carry-on weight limit another factor to consider is that the bag must conform to the dimensional restrictions that airlines subject each bag too. Too big and you will have to check it in. In that regard bags like the Pelican 1514 are perfect because they meet the current FAA requirements.

Pelican 1510 Case With Padded Dividers (Black)
  • Watertight with Automatic Pressure Equalization Valve
  • Reinforced padlock protectors
  • Stainless steel ball bearing wheels
  • Single Layer padded dividers with Velcro adjustments; Exterior Dimensions: 22"L x 13.81"W x 9"D (55.9 x 35.1 x 22.9 cm);...
  • Lid Depth- 1.79 inch, Bottom Depth-5.79 inch, Total Depth-7.58 inch,Interior Cubic Volume-0.96 cubic feet (27.06 cubic...

Passing Security

This is a gray area and especially after 9/11 and other disturbing events airlines security have been tightened manifold. Thus, depending on the airport of departure, you may or may not be required to bring your camera gear out and put them in a tray for security check. If you are carrying two camera bodies, at least a couple of lenses, remote triggers, batteries, and speedlights, this can be a nervous moment as you bring everything out and then place them on separate trays for security checking.

However, I feel that this is worth it compared to the other alternative of checking it in, which can actually backfire unless you are using a hard case. Too many batteries inside a single bag may be a problem, if the batteries are for designated cameras, place them inside the camera rather than carry them loose. If you plan on carrying spare batteries it is better to put some of them inside the check-in baggage to avoid a frown from the security staff.

Tripods can easily be used as a weapon, so some airports do not allow them inside your carry-on baggage. Knowing this in advance will help you to place the bag inside the appropriate bag.

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Tools of the Trade by Incase
Tools of the Trade by Incase

Soft packing cases with extra padding is necessary for all your glasses and the camera bodies. This is despite the fact that the cases I recommended above comes with several padded compartments for storing your gear. Ensure that the front and rear lens caps of your spare lenses (not mounted with the camera) are in place. If any of your lenses have zoom lock on them, flick them on to ensure that they don’t extend while in transit.

Ensure that your contact information and address (destination and permanent) is written on the bag. Airline tags can get ripped and your baggage can get lost somewhere on the other side of the globe while you land at an airport somewhere on the other half. If your contact details are pasted/painted on the bags the airlines can still get in touch with you and send your bags to meet you wherever you may be.

How to Prevent Theft of your Gear

While your camera is out in the sun either swinging around your neck or dangling from your shoulder there is some chance of it getting snatched (and there are places on the face of the earth where that does happen). Instead of using a standard issue strap which can be an easy target, buy something that is made of a stronger material and cannot be easily snatched or cut. Look for something like the Pacsafe Carrysafe 100 Anti-theft camera strap.

These straps are made of high-tensile wire. On top of that neoprene, sleeve covers are used over the spring clips that fasten the strap in position. These straps are extremely difficult to be cut or slashed and as long as you are holding your camera in hand it is practically impossible to make a cut and run.

Preventing Bag Snatchers and Grab & Run

Week 29/52.2012 by The JH Photography
Week 29/52.2012 by The JH Photography

One of the prime threats when traveling with your gear inside a bag is that you can be a victim of bag snatching. The modus operandi is very simple. You will be distracted by a member of a snatching gang, while another member will simply pick the bag and walk away.

By the time you realize that your bag has made an impromptu disappearance act the thief and your gear could be a mile away. One thing that I always do when traveling with my camera bag is never to leave it out of my sight. That’s the only way I can be sure that my gear is still with me.

I never fall for the temptation of putting my bag on a side seat when having a meal. I’d rather put the bag at my feet tucked between my legs so that I can feel it. Call me paranoid or whatever but I am that way when it comes to my photography gear. When my camera and lenses are not in use I would rather have them inside my bag than on a table or an empty seat to serve as an open invitation for thieves.

Another way to prevent your gear being stolen is to ensure that you travel in packs and never alone. There is an old Bengali saying, “alone and you are a fool”. When traveling, especially overseas, traveling with someone who knows the place and can forewarn you of any impending threats is a great way to avoid trouble even before it brews.

Local knowledge is extremely useful in more than one ways. If you don’t have any local expert at hand, travel at least with a friend or fellow-photographer. Two heads are better than one and two pairs of eyes will always ensure a better coverage and better situational awareness especially in crowded and unknown places.

Preventing Dust and Dirt

Lens Cleaning by The Preiser Project
Lens Cleaning by The Preiser Project

Dust and dirt are your worst enemy when it comes to photography gear. You wouldn’t want either your camera or lens impaired, especially in the middle of a shoot. I always make it a point to clean my camera and lens after each shoot.

Dust settling on the camera body and the lens barrel can be easily brushed off with a small camera brush. Dust, finger stains and grease like stain on the front element of the lens are a little stubborn. There are specially made lens-pens which come handy in such situations.

I mostly wear a sleeveless photographer’s jacket (weather permitting) with lots of pockets which allows me to carry stuff like memory cards, filters, lens-pen etc.

I don’t use a UV filter, simply because a cheap UV filter does me no good but impair the optical quality of my lenses. When I know I am not shooting the lens cap is back on.

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