Traveling with photography equipment for the working photographer can be a daunting experience. The long hours, the straining weight and the worry of theft or losing your luggage and getting stopped by airport security. If you’re flying with photography equipment, your chances of getting hassled will increase exponentially. From London to India, this photographer can tell you that a full bag of camera gear will make airport security blink twice. Getting harassed once at security can put off most people from ever traveling with photography gear again but here are some tips and tricks that will help you breeze through each flight with minimal fuss.
CHECK IN OR HAND CARRY?
Most airlines allow a maximum of 7 kg hand carry luggage so make sure your camera bag is of the right size and weight or risk having your expensive equipment being forced into check in along with the extra last minute fees. The rule is to not pack anything in checked in luggage that you can’t afford to lose. Pack your tripod in your check in luggage instead as some airlines may see it as a potential weapon and will not allow in on board.
Urban myth has it that X-Ray screenings at customs will damage your memory cards or erase any data stored on it but fortunately this has yet to be proven true so packing them in hand carry is advisable. When packing for your camera equipment, get a bag that is small enough to carry on the plane or a bag with a hard sided case and soft padding on the inside. These bags should be able to be locked from the outside as well. Make sure to adhere to airline regulations when it comes to hand carry weight or risk having your luggage being forced into check in and the additional fees that come with it.
It’s important to pack all your gear and lenses tightly so that they do not have space to bounce or crash against each other in your bag. It’s advisable to get a padded bag with compartments for your lenses, camera body, flash units and other accessories you may have. Alternatively, you could wrap your camera in layers of clothes, stick a Fragile sticker on your luggage bag and pray really hard. Lenses and cameras should be packed separately (now you know what lens caps are for, you kit-lens owner) to avoid any stress or impact to the lens housing which could damage the contacts which enable the lens and camera to connect properly.
If you’re a frequent flyer or in this case, traveler, then you might want to consider a lighter, more compact system like Sony’s Nex cameras or the Panasonic and Olympus Micro-Four thirds especially if you’re a digital shooter. Film shooters on the other hand could look up for lighter medium format systems such as the Mamiya 711 system which is extremely light and compact despite being a 6×7 camera. The biggest challenge most photographers have while
“But what if I need a wide angle panoramic shot?”“But what if I need to shoot in reallllllllly low light?”
“But what if I need to stalk and shoot from afar to avoid getting beaten up?”
The truth is, the more gear you bring, the less you’ll enjoy your trip because you’ll be constantly switching lenses, hurting your back in the process and end up seeing less by making unnecessary decisions. By bringing limited gear, you’ll learn to work with what you have instead of attempting to shoot at all focal lengths. The rule is to master two lenses instead of meddling with four.
I’m sure I’m not the only traveler who packed all my gear only to forget my memory cards, batteries and chargers so make a checklist before your trip and always triple-check before you leave your hotel rooms to make sure you don’t leave anything behind.
GOING THROUGH SECURITY
It’s advisable to have your camera batteries at hand so that you can conveniently pop them into your camera and turn it on upon security request to show them that what you have is a functional, working camera. Some smaller airports tend to examine your gear much closely than larger ones because their inspectors don’t have as much experience seeing these type of gear on the x-ray monitor so they tend to be more cautious so always expect to be subjected to a search if you’re carrying photography equipment by arriving earlier and packing well.
If you’re on assignment, it’s good to have documents from your client or employer Remove all tags and boxes or risk getting taxed at customs. A fellow photographer once had his blower shaped like a rocket air blaster confiscated because it was shaped like rocket which as its name implies, could very well make it a rocket and as Hollywood has taught us, can be extremely dangerous.
Insuring both yourself and your equipment can make a lot of difference in the event your camera gets lost, damaged or stolen while flying. Insurance for camera gear isn’t cheap but if you’re carrying over RM15,000 worth of equipment, it’s very well worth the pinch.
All in all, be polite, be patient and be cooperative when going through airport security. After all they’re just carrying out their job by looking out for the safety of other passengers just like yourself. Happy flying!