Traveling with Photography Equipment

Vacations are fun. More so if they come after a long period of daily work grind. For me, vacations are an opportunity to enjoy photography. (Further reading – Family Trips and Photography) Traveling can be a challenge with photography equipment. Airlines have their own rules. Crossing international borders have their own norms. To top it the security of precious photography equipment weighs down on minds. So here is a small list of things to consider when you plan your next holiday trip.

Clouds

(Clouds – Nikon D200 with Nikkor 50mm, f/8, 1/250 sec, ISO – 100. Clicked this photograph on a flight. The in-flight movies never interest me.)

 

Carry on luggage in domestic flights
This is the safest way to carry expensive camera equipment. All the carriers allow photography equipment in the cabin even though government regulations in various countries prohibit photography once inside. So pack your camera bag and carry it with you.
Do not carry excess equipment. Less is quite often more than required when it comes to photography.

  • Pack your camera bag so that everything is snugly fit but without any undue stress on individual items. Double check the lens caps.
  • Camera flash units are allowed in the flights but batteries are not. Nobody minds the batteries inside the camera bodies. In fact, sometimes, security guards have requested me to turn the camera on. I have been told once to empty my flash of batteries once when they happened to be inside the flash.
  • Lenses are never a problem as long as they are not something like the Sigma 200-500 f/2.8 apo.
  • Cleaning equipment including liquids like Eclipse or Zeiss lens cleaning fluid have also been allowed in the camera bag everytime I have had them. I usually do not carry them with me on short trips. More about what I carry in my camera bag – Inside my camera bag).
  • Let the camera bag with the memory cards pass through the X-Ray. The X-Rays are harmless for memory cards. (Caring for memory cards)
  • Tripods and monopods are allowed as long as they can be stored in the overhead bin and are secured in a carrying bag of their own. I prefer to check them in with the baggage. It makes my journey comfortable.

 

Carry on luggage in international flights
Somehow the rules are stricter when it comes to international flights. The carry on weight permission is higher than domestic flights but the rules make it difficult to carry most of the stuff that can be carried in domestic flights. Bummer!

The regulations are same as for domestic flights but when it comes to implementation, these are the changed that I have observed-

  • No cleaning liquids are allowed in any kind of packing. Not even a tiny-winy dropper with Eclipse even if it is the new version which is safe for flights.
  • Tripods and monopods have to go in the checked-in luggage. Security guys believe that the passengers flying on international flights can get violent and use them as beating sticks… or maybe that is my perception. Anyway, what would you want to use them inside the cabin for?
  • Another important aspect to international travel is the import/export of electronic goods. Every country has their own ‘form’ for this. Fill it before leaving your own country and get it properly stamped. A similar declaration form also has to be filled in the country of arrival. These two forms tell both the countries that the photography equipment with you is your own and for personal use, that you are carrying it with you with the intention to carry it back and therefore it is not exactly an import or export of consumer electronic goods. Even if the airport people seem disinterested in this, insist and get it properly done. It can save ‘duty’ on way back and a lot of unnecessary headache.
  • Carry invoices and bills. Sometimes when the above formalities can not be completed for whatever reason, these proofs of purchase help.
  • Memory cards and storage devices used to be a problem some years back but now everyone understands that data can easily be sent across places through internet so now memory cards don’t cause the airport security to see red. Snowden does not happen everyday!

 

Checked In Baggage
Tripods, monopods and anything that looks heavy to me or maybe uncomfortable to carry…. everything goes into the checked-in baggage. Even small inexpensive items like cables, filters, blower-bulb and chargers go in the checked in baggage. Every single item adds weight so I prefer to minimize things that I carry and more so the things that I carry with me into the flight cabin.

I am not a professional photographer who moves around with whole studio packed into suitcases. So pelican cases which can be checked-in are not for me. They shout out loud, “Look, I am full of expensive electronic stuff”. Why would someone carry so much on a vacation?

 

Farms

(Farms visible just outside of New Delhi airport. Nikon D200 with Nikkor 50mm lens, f/5.6, 1/350)

 

Using camera in the flight?

Photography is not permitted inside the cabins in most flights but that doesn’t keep me away from the camera. I can review my settings if I am starting my trip or I can see the images that I would have clicked, if I am flying back. Sometimes there may be beautiful photo-opportunities outside the window- beautiful skyscapes, clouds, sunrises and sunsets. Law prohibits photographing inside the plane but most airlines do not mind if you photograph the outside view through the window, as long as the flash is not on.

Don’t even think of photographing flight attendants, pilots and other cabin crew, no matter how friendly they may seem. It is their job to be friendly but that does not give one rights to intrude on their personal space by clicking pictures.

Be careful of photographing the carriers. Some countries do not permit photography in certain places of airports for security reasons. This trend is now diminishing and more and more places are now accessible for photography.

 

Traveling by road, rail-road or water-ways
Not much of a problem when it comes to camera gear. However due to long duration of journey itself, the chances of damage to the equipment and thefts increase. Be careful through out the journey and not just the initial part.

Snugly packing everything is vital. Bumpy ride is as bad for the photography equipment as it is for your back.

 

To avoid theft  (More on this topic – Preventing Thefts)

  • Carry photography items in not too flashy or new camera bag. Now a days many photographers carry bags that do not look like a conventional camera bag from any angle but then the moment camera is brought out from it or kept back, it becomes a potential target for thieves. The cover-up gets blown.
  • If you are using a backpack, hang it on the front instead of back.
  • Keep a list of your photography equipment with their serial numbers separately.
  • Keep a backup of photographs you make on the trip. Usually it is the loss of photographs that pains more than the loss of equipment.
  • Listen to your intuition. Do not let worry spoil your vacation but when intuition says that something is not right then surely something is not right.
  • Use common sense. Will you step out all alone in your own city at night with your expensive camera? So, why do it in your holiday location?

 

Some more articles related to this post (same links as in the article above) –

Preventing Thefts
Family Trips and Photography

Inside my camera bag
Caring for memory cards

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