As a traveling wedding photographer, I’ve done my fair share of miles on a plane to far away destinations with a bag full of camera gear.
Living on the Tweed Coast in Australia, the majority of my destination photography work involves long haul flights, but the tips included below are just as relevant for shorter domestic flights.
Tip #1 – Battery Hack
Whether you’re using the latest mirrorless camera or a humble DSLR having multiple sets of spare batteries is unavoidable, especially for professional work.
What determines the number of batteries you can take with you on the plane is actually where you put the battery. Is the battery housed in hardware, or is the battery loose in your travel bag?
TSA guidelines state that you can take up to two spare batteries, which actually means you can take up to two loose batteries. This is where it can be beneficial to pack a battery grip for your camera.
As long as the batteries you’re carrying are inside a piece of equipment, then they are not characterised as extras or spare. So if you’re carrying two camera bodies, each with their own camera grips, you should be able to get away with several batteries, as well as the two loose ones.
One thing to note – you aren’t allowed to have any loose batteries in your checked bags. However, if you’re a savvy packer, you shouldn’t be checking a bag at all… which leads me on to Tip #2.
Tip #2 – Carry On Only
Since I switched to a full mirrorless camera system earlier this year, I realised how much room I could save when packing my travel bag for photography work.
Even if you’re using DSLRs, it’s possible to pack lightly enough to only ever have to travel with one carry on bag.
Apart from the huge advantage and security of always having your precious camera gear with you when you fly (as opposed to checking the bag in and praying it arrives at the destination), being able to hop on/off the plane without needless baggage delays is a huge timesaver.
With only one item of carry on luggage containing all your camera gear and travel items, you’ll be able to head straight to your boarding gate (assuming you’ve got your boarding pass and passed security, of course).
Then on the other end you can head straight out the airport (after security and immigration), without having to wait for those slow-moving luggage carousels!
I’ve tried lots of different camera bags, but have settled on a 40L camera backpack which looks like a regular backpack, so It doesn’t raise any eyebrows at check in. Inside it, I stow a ‘packable backpack’, which allows me to carry smaller amounts of gear during the day at my destination.
If you’re still struggling to get all your gear into just one travel bag, see my next tip.
Tip #3 – Minimal Gear
When traveling with photography gear, always think minimal. Unless you need to shoot something very specific, you probably don’t need all those filters, spare lenses or tripods.
Try and exercise restraint while packing and ask yourself what’s really needed. Maybe you only need one camera body (a backup is advisable for pro work of course) and a lightweight prime lens or two.
If I’m traveling for fun, I take one small mirrorless camera body, one prime lens and a couple of batteries.
If I’m traveling for work, I take a couple of mirrorless cameras, two prime lenses a few more batteries and a couple of tiny flashes. I’d do the same if I still shot DSLR, leaving the rest of my usual domestic wedding photography gear at home.
Then it’s just a matter of packing your clothing and other travel items to minimise space and weight – there are lots of travel blogs out there with great tips on how to do that, but for now, let me leave you with another sneaky tip on how to meet the stingy carry on baggage allowances you find on budget airlines.
Tip #4 – Cameras on Body
It’s a little bit cheeky, but this is a good way to get past the carry on bag allowances when traveling with one carry on bag.
It involves taking advantage of a loop hole when airlines ask to weigh your carry on bag. You’re generally allowed to carry a camera separately, and sometimes even a laptop.
This means that if you’re asked to weigh your bag at check in, you can simply remove the camera, attach your heaviest lens and flash, and hang it off your body on a strap, or simply carry it.
If you’re shooting with two cameras, you can do the same thing, and basically wear all your gear. There are even some jackets with huge internal pockets that are made to allow you to carry large gear on your person.
Then, once you’ve got past the check-in counter with your one item of carry on luggage, you can slip the cameras back in to your backpack ;-)
Tip #5 – Split up Memory Cards
This is more relevant after you’ve completed your shoot and are traveling home. It’s also more relevant for cameras which allow you to shoot to two memory card slots at the same time.
After I’ve shot a wedding in another country, I’ll return to my hotel room and import the images to Lightroom on my laptop immediately.
Then I’ll leave one of the memory cards in my camera, and put another one in my wallet, or in a shirt pocket – basically anywhere that’s on my body at all times.
This way I have 3 backups in 3 locations – one in the laptop which I’ll usually hand carry, one in the camera in my bag, and one in my pocket.
Ideally I’d also have a cloud backup as a 4th fail-safe, but this isn’t usually possible with poor Internet speeds in hotels etc.
In doing this, you’re making sure that if your camera bag gets stolen, there’s more chance that you’ll still have either your laptop, or the memory card in your wallet/pocket with all your precious images.
Tip #6 – Spit up Gear during X-Rays
Here’s another sneaky trick when you’re traveling to countries that have stricter rules regarding the number of cameras you can bring with you.
It’s usually at security when you’re having your carry on bag x-rayed that staff will flag it for containing more than the average amount of camera gear.
One way to reduce the chance of this is to take one of your two cameras out of your bag, and place it in a separate x-ray tray, perhaps with your keys, jacket or other loose items.
If you’re in a queue of people and you’re feeling particularly brave, you may even be able to place that tray in between your carry on bag’s tray and the next person’s tray.
You’re basically trying to make it seem to the staff viewing the x-ray images that the camera in your bag isn’t related to the camera in the subsequent tray.
If it’s a busy line of people, which is usually the case, there’s a good chance that the x-ray attendant won’t take much notice of which tray belongs to which person.
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