Travelling with Cameras

Monday, June 4, 2012

If you are anything like me, the hardest part about planning a trip is deciding what cameras to bring and how to pack them. Whenever I travel, I usually have an assortment of cameras with me to document my journey, so it’s always a struggle to figure out the best solution for travelling light.

If you are just travelling for pleasure, I would consider the type of adventure you’re taking and whether or not you’re going to be able to physically lug (and I mean LUG) around that beast you call a DSLR. I’ve gotten to the point where carrying a big camera around whilst travelling is too much of a burden and I now really think about what kind of experience I want to have before I leave.

I generally try to limit myself to a few kinds of cameras. In the past I would bring the DSLR, a 35mm, a couple of Polaroids and any number of other quirky cameras like the Holga or Fuji Instax. After years of breaking my back lugging cameras through airports and dealing with the ordeal that is airport security, I’ve realised it really isn’t worth the stress on my shoulders and brain. And yes, I deal with airport security because I never check my cameras- they always come on board with me, no matter what. I’ve seen how baggage handlers “handle” luggage and there is no way I’m ever putting a camera in my checked luggage. EVER!

I now bring one 35mm or medium format, one Polaroid camera and one point and shoot-either digital or film. Obviously if I’m travelling for a specific shooting purpose then I would have to bring the DSLR and lenses and a Polaroid- there’s always a Polaroid.

My recent trip to Morocco was rather difficult because I had the Polaroid cameras I needed to bring for the workshops plus other cameras I wanted to use to document my trip. I actually ended up leaving two Polaroid cameras at home simply because I couldn’t get them in the ONE on-board bag that stupid Easyjet allows. Not one bag and one personal item like every other airline–ONE BAG! My on-board bag is usually chosen on the basis of what cameras I’m bringing and how I can best fit them in.

On international flights, I will generally take a backpack for all my cameras and then a smaller handbag for my personal items. I’m yet to graduate to the hardcore photography case but that’s simply because I’m not transporting two DSLRs, various lenses and accessories. If this is something you do, then you may want to look into one of those or a professional carry-on like this one.

My backpack is just a regular one that I will outfit myself to store cameras. I pull the velcro inserts out of my old Crumpler and Lowepro camera cases to make some buffers between the cameras. I also wrap my cameras. These camera wraps are designed for that very thing. I actually wrap mine in a soft case that my Peter Alexander pyjamas came in! They are soft and have a ribbon that you can wrap around the camera to protect it whilst inside a bag. It’s totally dodgy but it works! I’ve used scarves in the past too.

On smaller trips where I don’t take as many cameras, I will usually take a tote or satchel that is big enough to house a few cameras and my personal items. This camera insert is a great idea when transporting cameras inside other bags that aren’t camera bags. I will also take a pouch or two for little odds and ends like memory cards, rolls of film etc. Of course, there are an array of gorgeous photography bags out there for women who want stylish cameras bags and many of these are great for travel. I’m rather fond of this one.

I always make sure to have my film in plastic zip-lock bags for airport security as I get them to hand check it. I never put my film in my checked baggage because those X Ray machines are a lot more powerful and dangerous to film than the ones we see at security. Film under 800 ISO is apparently able to go through the security machines, but when I’m doing various flights in a short period of time, I’d rather not take the risk. It shouldn’t go through continually.

You just ask one of the security agents to hand check your film and they are always happy to oblige. I’ve never had a problem. I usually have bigger problems with my SX70 or SLR680 because they lay flat and the security agents have no idea what they are- they don’t look like cameras when they are folded. So I often have to open them up and explain what they are. Most of the time I think they are just intrigued and want to know how these weird looking cameras work.

It takes a bit of time at the security check point to get everything arranged back in the backpack again but it’s worth the hassle. How do you travel with your gear? I’d love to know if there are any new bags out there that people are enjoying. I’m always on the hunt!

p.s. This ‘travel shot’ wasn’t taken on any of those cameras. Total iPhone shot!

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  • Kim

    This post was awesome! I’m going to have to look into that Lowepro carry-on luggage — half the weddings I’m doing this year are all out of town and I currently just carry my personal items in a backpack (plus cables, chargers, etc) and all my camera gear in a Photojojo SLR Sloop bag. It only works because I’m already a light traveler by nature… But the weight of it all just kills me when I have a lot of connecting flights!

    And I agree 1000% about not checking luggage. I have never checked luggage, and probably never will! Even if nothing bad ever happens, it’s just not worth the stress.

    • Amanda

      Just thinking about that “running-through-the-airport-pain-in-my-shoulders” makes my eyes water!
      Yeah, I think if I was flying a lot professionally, I’d have to invest in one of those carry on bags. They still ain’t pretty though!

  • Tabitha

    I enjoyed reading this post! Im actually starting out as a travel photographer for this magazine, and the problem ive encountered is “misting” in the lens! Such a hassle having to wipe the lens over and over until it clears up.

    I also like bringing one film camera with my dslr, usually it would be my Diana F+. Id bring my polaroid but unfortunately i have to order 600film in the US as it is not available in the Philippines.

  • Annette Gendler

    Very practical post, Amanda. Although I must say it makes me laugh because I’m such a novice – I have only one camera! Makes life easier, eh? I think my next step is minding what kind of camera my cell phone has, as I sometimes don’t even want to carry my point-and-shoot around. A friend is about to give me her used DSLR, so soon I will be embarking on the issue of lugging a bigger camera around…

  • Ashley

    I’m going to Rome in October and I’m already trying to figure out what kind of camera’s to bring ’cause I know that my husband won’t put up with lugging them all around for 2 weeks! So far my plan is one medium format, one polaroid, one digital and one 35mm… but I might want two polaroid cameras (Integral film and peel-apart) but then I would have to sacrifice another camera… oh the choices!

  • Lena

    I think I need to bookmark this post for my future travels. Up until now I always just had one camera but on my last trip to Berlin I bought a Holga, and now I ordered a Polaroid online, and dusted off my mother’s old 35mm Minolta. I don’t know if this is only a short love affair or if my love and interest are going to stay, but if they do, I can really use your tips.

  • Mariella

    I am just back from a trip and in a month or so will leave again and again I will have to face the usual camera dilemma. I will admit I am not particularly well equipped for traveling with cameras. This time I decided to take my little camera bag with me which will soon be replaced by a new one, where I fit my dsrl, lenses and a few rolls of film . My srl went in my regular bag (without a wrap though…)and that was it. When it comes to traveling, because it happens quite often and because I am not traveling alone anymore, but with two small kids I feel the urge to reduce my luggage to a minimum. And that applies to cameras as well. Just like you Amanda suggested, these days I try to choose in advance what kind of shots I want to take and what camera really want to bring along, according to the place I am visiting. I feel that if the choice is rational and not made in the madness of packing when it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, I almost never regret it.

  • Dan Speicher

    Just discovered your blog, and really enjoy it. great work.

    Typically when I travel, its with 2 full size dslr’s with a wide angle, 50, and 70-200 and a laptop. Its usually documentary related so I have to have a laptop and hard drives as well.

    If its a short trip, I use an old L.L. Bean backpack with a Burton camera insert. It zips closed and I can pull it out, and show everything easily, plus it doesnt look like a camera bag. then I stuff the laptop in a sleeve and put it close to my back. Doing more video means more cameras and now two bags. I put everything I can into a Domke shoulder and the backpack and now I have a cary-on and a “purse” with my passport, phone, wallet, etc. As well as a declaration of intent with all my gear listed my name and Serial#.

    Ive never had to check, but when Im told its over the limit, my press pass comes out, i explain what it is as nicely as I can, and have never had a problem.

    I have found that kindness get you really far, and even when my bag was nearly double the weight limit, they let me through…

    Short trip, same, just slim down the kit to a wide and one normal or short telephoto and put it in that backpack. The best part about it, is while it looks full, i still have room for a jacket on top, so no one sees any more gear inside if I have to open it in public.

  • Tana

    Gah! to the camera dilemma! although, it is rather a sweet dilemma to have. I recently went on a trip and wanted to bring these FIVE cameras: instant, film, dslr, iphone (this by default), and underwater (since there was a lot of swimming involved). i ultimated just ended up taking my film, dslr, and phone. I was pretty content and less stressed! i might stick to this and maybe take out the dslr and start using a point and shoot again!

    Great post and slightly relieving that so many face this dilemma as well. :D

  • Athena

    This is a timely post for me as I’ve been going through the dilemma of how to carry my cameras (1 dslr + 1 mf) when I fly over to France next week. Love, love the Ona bags but might have to go with a less expensive Lowepro for now. Thanks for the tips, I’m hoping the film checks through security will go smoothly… I’m super anxious about that for some reason.

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