How To Travel With Your Camera Gear
As a photographer, anytime you get to travel anywhere, it always means different new and exciting opportunities to photograph.
But travelling with your camera gear can also be quite stressful. Trust me, as a professional motorsport photographer travelling to over 30 motorsport events each year, I go through that same stress every time I go to the airport.
My livelihood depends on my camera gear working at every event I attend, so I understand just how important it is to take extra care when packing and handling your camera gear ahead of your travels.
Let’s take a look at what you can do to ease the stress of bringing your camera gear safely with you each time you travel.
Invest In A Good Camera Bag
The first and foremost thing to address when travelling with your camera gear is to ensure you have a good camera bag.
Whether that bag is a backpack, carry on sized roller, or something bigger that needs to be checked in will ultimately come down to you and how much camera gear you plan to travel with. But you need to make sure that it is well-padded to protect your gear from bumps and drops along the way (especially if you know you need to check it in).
A level of weather resistance is also important. We all know camera gear and water do play well together, so ensuring that the bag you purchase provides a level of protection while you are travelling around is important. Even if it’s just getting from the airport or hotel to your transport, it doesn’t take long in heavy rain for you to run into issues.
Lastly, but certainly most importantly, look for a camera bag that is secure and lockable. No matter if it’s a backpack that you think you are going to have with you at all times or a bag that needs to be checked in a secure lockable bag is just going to give you that extra piece of mind.
Keep in mind when purchasing a camera bag that things happen while travelling. Camera gear, in particular, is heavy, and if your airline is checking bag weights at the gate, you might be forced to gate-check it, especially here in Australia. Or worse yet, like when travelling across the United States, where they board in group allocations based on frequent flyer status, there may be no room in the cabin overhead bins by the time you board (even if you are in Group 1 or 2 because there are usually few higher priority groups before they even get to the numbers) and you’ll be forced to gate check your bag anyway.
It’s also worth noting that certain styles of camera bags can draw extra attention to you. Pelican cases are a great example. Yes, they provide an extra level of security and protection to your gear that’s why I use one, but it’s also extremely obvious to everyone around you that you have expensive gear with you. This brings extra, often unwanted, attention when travelling, particularly internationally, with customs and immigration amongst everything else you are already concerned with.
Carry-On Your Camera Gear When Possible
As I’ve just touched on, this isn’t always possible. But the best way to ensure your camera gear travels as safely as possible is to keep it with you at all times.
If I had a preference, I would take my camera gear carry-on and then have a separate suitcase for clothes and other items I need in my travels which I would then check in. Unfortunately, given the rules around air travel here in Australia and the weight limitations for carry-on luggage, it’s not possible, and I need to check my camera gear in when I travel. However, in other countries I’ve visited, they are less concerned about the weight and really only worried about the dimensions of your luggage, which gives you a little more freedom to bring it with you.
Pack Your Camera Gear Properly
Obviously, I’ve already outlined that your camera bag needs to be padded to protect your gear. But you also need to ensure that you limit how much your gear moves within the bag.
Making sure your camera gear is securely positioned within your camera bag will limit the likelihood of it getting damaged if your bag is dropped or takes a tumble, be that a mishap of your own or something else outside of your control (an aggressive baggage handler or uber driver are just a couple of examples that come to mind).
I’ve set up the padded dividers in my camera bag to be as snug as possible around my gear, but the depth of the bag is fixed. While that is the perfect size for my camera bodies, it leaves a bit of room for my lenses to move around. To alleviate this, I pack in soft items around my lenses to keep them secure and limit their ability to move around while in transit.
I’ve also spoken to Canon Professional Services (CPS) a few times about travelling with camera gear as well. They also recommended wrapping your lenses and camera bodies in bubble wrap, just to be extra secure. I’ve got to admit, I haven’t implemented this strategy, but if you are super concerned, it’ll give you an extra level of reassurance.
Make Sure You Can Keep Track Of Your Bag At All Times
These days it is easier than ever to keep track of your camera gear at all times. Apple AirTags, along with other similar devices, allow you to keep tabs on the location of your equipment.
Obviously, there are some practical limitations on attaching AirTags to each item of your camera gear, but there is no reason you can’t have one securely in each of your bags so you can find out where they are if you need to.
I find AirTags are a great way to make sure that my bags have made the same flight as me. They also come in handy to locate my gear when it unexpectedly comes out as oversized luggage, etc.
If you aren’t used to travelling with a backpack etc, the left-behind reminders could also be a handy asset to ensure you don’t get too far without it.
Keep Extra Batteries And Memory Cards With You
When travelling with your camera gear, always keep your extra batteries and memory cards with you.
For your memory cards, it goes without saying, especially for the trip back home, you want to make sure you have them with you, so in the worst-case scenario, you still have your photos. I really hope you are never in a position to experience it, but when travelling, there are many things outside of your direct control. It would be a shame to lose all of your photos for any one of those reasons.
As for batteries, there is a far more practical reason. Airlines are absolutely paranoid about lithium batteries. And for good reason. So make sure you keep your batteries with you in your carry-on bag and make sure you use the covers that came with the batteries to ensure that the terminals are securely protected to avoid any short-circuits.
You don’t want to give airport security any legitimate reason to confiscate your expense spare batteries. New Zealand, in particular, is super conscious of batteries and air travel and routinely confiscates batteries that aren’t packed perfectly in line with their rules and regulations.
Take Advantage Of Insurance
If you are working as a professional photographer, you should have insurance anyway. In fact, in most instances, it’s a requirement. But just make sure that your policy covers your camera gear when you travel as well.
When you travel, particularly when travelling to another country, you should have travel insurance to cover you just in case something should happen. And while most of those travel insurance policies cover the loss or damage of your luggage, it’s often limited to $1000 per item with a total coverage typically limited to $5000-$10000 depending on the policy. As you are no doubt aware, our camera gear is often much more expensive than that.
I travel a lot, as I mentioned earlier, so I make sure that my photography business insurance covers my camera gear no matter where in the world I end up. Then I also make sure I have an annual travel insurance policy to cover anything else that might happen while I’m away.
Thankfully, I rarely need to use it. But that extra reassurance to know no matter what happens that I’m covered goes a long way to alleviating the stress of travelling to and from different events.
Yes, travelling with your camera gear can be stressful, especially if you rely on it for your income like I do. But there is a lot you can do before you leave to make sure to alleviate any issues that might present themselves while travelling. By following these tips, you can help ensure that your camera gear stays safe and protected.
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I've been working as a motorsport photographer in Australia since 2012, building up my business InSyde Media. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work at all sorts of motorsport events including Supercars, F1 and WRC all over Australia and New Zealand. Also, check out my personal website where I document my travels and a few other things.
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