Do you like to travel? To experience the sights and sounds of far off places? My friend Emily does. She is a photographer and painter. She enjoys the excitement of being in a new, unfamiliar place each night and looks forward to using her camera to capture the moment.
Travelling does present a variety of challenges, not the least of which is how much and what kind of photography gear to take with you. Here, the online advice ranges from packing light, meaning only what you can carry on your back, to providing for a full range of lenses and accessories to meet the conditions you will be facing. So who is right?
I guess the answer is “it depends”. The argument around what to carry invariably includes a decision on risk – what risk are you willing to take? Not only the risk of loss or damage, but the risk of not getting the shot because you didn’t have the gear. On the other hand, some photographers feel that being forced to travel light makes you a better photographer: your planning and setup are typically much better when you have to rely on yourself instead of your gear (Roades, Travel Photography, Backpacking and Packing Light).
One Body or Two?
Many photographers carry two bodies, not only to be able to switch cameras quickly for different situations, but as a backup in case one fails (Brandon, Two Cameras vs One).
Primes or Zooms?
While primes often provide the perfect exposure with the perfect sharpness, it’s impossible to carry every prime you might need. You are much better off selecting two or three zoom lenses that cover the full range of distances you might encounter (Gampat, Four Tips on Travelling Light as a Photographer).
If you have planned ahead, you will know exactly what else to take to make your trip successful. At minimum, carry whatever batteries, power supplies and chargers are required for the equipment you have selected. Don’t forget extra memory cards. A tripod is likely a must and there are many travel versions available. Filters might be another item on your list. And if you need artificial lighting, you may be able to carry higher end flash heads instead of strobes. For smaller items such as light modifiers, consider whether you can rent, buy or be inventive, rather than transport them with you (Votano, Camera Equipment for Travel Photography – A Sensible Approach).
Packing for travel, regardless of the method of travel, means packing efficiently. It seems the general rule of thumb is to consider a bag that can hold 60-80L of gear (Roades, Travel Photography, Backpacking and Packing Light). This will cover everything you could possibly need and provide space for padding and protection, as well as meet most airline guidelines. Arrange your gear in the bag to place the most expensive pieces in the centre, and separate bodies from lenses to ensure the mounts are not damaged by bumps along the way.
While this sized bag might be good for getting to your destination, it’s not good for portability on location. You should also have something smaller for those day trips you will take once you arrive (Dickson, Travel Photography Equipment – What to Pack?).
Getting There Safely
If you are flying to your destination, there are really only three options: check in your gear, carry your gear or ship it ahead (Paonessa, Travel Tips for Photographers – Flying with Camera Gear; Saville, Airline Travel Tips for Photographers).
Checking in your gear subjects it to the level of care the airline might (or might not) provide. Since most basic camera and lens kits run four figures or more, this option is not high on many travellers’ lists of choices.
If you carry your gear, it replaces any other form of carry-on, needs to fit in one of the designated bins or under the seat and needs to secure. One bit of advice is to select a seat at the back of the plane so that you can board first and then have the option to pick a bin that you can watch from your seat.
Shipping ahead can be a great option if you have the time, the spare gear and are sending it to a reputable destination that you trust.
If you are driving to your destination, you’ve got more flexibility, particularly in terms of keeping your gear within your field of view at all times. You might have to move it more often: from the car to the shoot to the car to the hotel to the car, etc. But that’s a small price to pay for security.
Plan ahead for how you will secure the equipment when you are out doing something other than shooting and, like flying, use secure, lockable cases to store your stuff.
Regardless of the option selected, make sure you insure your valuable gear before travelling. Check with your insurance provider to see if you need additional coverage when outside the confines of your home or country.
At the end of the day, it’s about personal choices when travelling with your camera. There isn’t a right or wrong decision. It’s all about being as prepared as you need to be.