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We all know that sometimes flying can be a real ordeal, even at the best of times, but when you’re travelling with your camera gear there’s a whole new raft of things that you need to consider!
There are so many ways that your camera equipment can get damaged or lost while you’re travelling by air; and whether you’re flying internationally or domestically there’s a few steps you can take to reduce your risks and travel as safely as possible with your camera kit.
How Much Photography Gear Should You Take?
It depends on the nature of your trip but generally speaking you want to take your primary camera and possibly a smaller, cheaper, back up camera. This means that if you have a problem with your main one you can fall back on your reserve – potentially saving the day! Your primary camera, if it’s a good DSLR, will be able to handle portraits, landscapes and almost anything else that might be thrown at you.
When it comes to your camera accessories you will probably want to be as selective as you can about what you take with you. If you have several tripods then strip that down to a single one – preferably the lightest and most portable of them!
Ideally, if you can get your kit packed up in one main camera bag that will make things easier than having a few different bags to look after. If your kit is quite heavy, or the journey is a long one, then you might want to consider buying a rucksack camera bag. This will take the weight off your arms and leave your hands free to deal with passports, Visas, tickets and any other paperwork that you’ll need en route.
Generally speaking, you should never bring more than you absolutely need to. Of course, it’s tempting to bring as much as you can fit into your bags but there is usually no need for several tripods and multiple lenses on the off chance that they might come in handy.
One practical way that you use to justify what you take with you is to visualize the types of things you plan to be taking pictures of and then simply prepare for those situations; and if unexpected opportunities arise then you’ll just have to improvise and work with what you have as best you can. Remember, you’re going travelling and not moving your entire studio!
Keep Your Valuable Kit in Your Carry On Luggage.
When it comes to packing your equipment you need to put the more fragile and expensive gear in your carry on luggage so you can have it with you at all times.
This means that you can ensure that it doesn’t get knocked or damaged by the baggage handlers as they move the luggage into the plane’s hold. It also, crucially, means that you can make sure that none of your gear gets stolen while it’s in transit.
When you’re planning your carry on luggage you need to make sure that the bag you are using will qualify to go on board the plane with you. Airlines have become increasingly strict in the last few years and enforce limits on the size of your carry on luggage.
One way to pack your camera – which is the most important item you’ll be taking with you – is to pack it in a tight fitting carry case which you can put in your carry on luggage. This means that even if you are forced to put your bag in the hold you can take out your camera and carry it over your shoulder.
Pack Larger, Tougher Items in Your Main Luggage.
When you’re packing your suitcase, which will go in the hold of the plane, you should put your tripod and other stronger, less valuable gear in there with your clothes. The best way to pack your bag is to put the camera gear in between your clothes so that it gets some padding – meaning that even if it were to take a hard knock while it’s out of your sight your kit should be protected from any serious damage.
Take a little time while you are packing to ensure that your kit fits snuggly into the bag and won’t be rattled around as the suitcase, or bag, is moved around the airport. Baggage handlers in airports are famous for being somewhat careless with the luggage of passengers and so you need to take this into account while packing your equipment. Never put fragile items in the outer parts of your luggage and instead keep them protected by using your clothes, towels or other soft items.
How to Avoid Getting Your Carry on Luggage Checked and Taken Away From You at the Boarding Gate.
It happens every flight to someone! They get their bag checked at the boarding gate and have it removed and put in the hold under the plane! You don’t want this to happen to you – especially if you have your camera equipment with you. Here’s how you can reduce your chances of having your carry on bag taken away from you at the boarding gate:
- Check the Rules in Advance: Most airlines, both domestic and international, have their rules for carry on luggage on their websites and although they are fairly standardized across the industry it’s better not to take a chance. Always check in advance and don’t push the limits! Camera gear can be heavy and you might not be able to help going over the weight limit but if you stay within the size limit then you should get through the boarding gate without any problems.
- Book Priority Boarding: When you book priority boarding you’ll ensure that you’re one of the first people on the plane and you’ll be able to put your gear in the overhead locker. Most airlines charge a small fee for this however it’s usually no more than $10 or $20. If you end up being one of the last people to get on the plane you might find that you are forced to put your carry on luggage in the hold under the plane so it’s worth a little extra expenditure to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.
- If Challenged Be Friendly but Firm: If you find the airline staff challenging you about your carry on luggage the best strategy is to remain calm and polite. Explain your situation and say that your camera is vital for your professional life and you can’t afford to let it be damaged or put in the hold. Be friendly and say to the staff that your equipment is precious and you’re too worried to put it in the hold. More often than not the staff will be happy to help you and allow you to keep it with you.
- If Necessary Take Your Camera Separately with You: If after all your preparations you have your bag removed you can still remove your camera from your bag and carry it on as a ‘personal item’, as a last resort. If you have to take the camera on board loose then wrap it in a jacket or other item of clothing to help to protect it from accidental bumps, knocks or getting scratched.
Keep Your Eye on Your Bag.
It goes without saying but while you’re travelling you should always keep your eye on your bags at all times – even while on board the plane. For example, when you’re putting your bag in the overhead locker the safest place to put it is on the other side of the plane one row in front of you. This means that you can easily keep an eye on the locker the whole way through the flight!
Alternatively, you can put your bag under the seat in front of you beside your feet – if there’s enough room – so it will never be more than an arm’s reach away. Either way, just keep your wits about you and you should have nothing to worry about.
Insurance and Your Camera Equipment.
No matter how careful you are, accidents and theft can still occur while you’re travelling, either domestically or, more likely, internationally. There’s so many things that could go wrong and so getting a good insurance policy in place before you travel to protect your camera gear, should the worst happen, is always worth doing.
Depending on the cost of your camera and other equipment you will usually be able to get a normal travel insurance that will cover any loss or damage although if you’ve got some really high end gear then it might be worth looking into a special photographer’s insurance policy.
One thing to remember is that no matter what insurance policy you purchase you’ll never be able to get the memory cards back if your camera is stolen. One way to safeguard against this is to keep your memory cards in your wallet or on your person – separate from your camera.
Photography and Travel Are A Natural Combination.
As a photographer there is nothing more exciting than travelling to new countries and places to take photos! You should never be put off by the actual travelling conditions and simply leave your camera at home because you’ll certainly regret it once you arrive.
That said, you do need to be very careful while you are flying to ensure that your gear stays safe. You’ll have to keep your wits about you and work with the rules of the airlines as best you can so that you can keep your camera with you at all times.
If you’re not an experienced traveler you’ll have to be extra careful however once you get into good habits these will stay with you for life. Even so, an experienced traveler still needs to take all the precautions that they can to keep their camera gear safe en route.
What are the difficulties you have faced when you are flying with your photography gear?