Photographing Places: Traveling with Camera Gear

November 11, 2013

The holiday season is almost here, and lots of people will be traveling, so this seems like good time to talk about traveling with your gear. This is not an exhaustive packing list. It’s not a review of the best camera bags. It *is* a few suggestions based on my experiences that may help you get where you’re going with your gear and as little frustration as possible.01-traveling-karenjacot

First, decide how much gear to bring. That’s going to depend on a few factors, like how you like to shoot and the purpose of your trip. I like to travel fairly light so I bring only what I’m (pretty) sure I’ll actually use. Sometimes that means three cameras, sometimes just one. Same with lenses—if I’m not sure I’ll use a particular lens on a trip, I probably won’t end up using it even if I do bring it. I know this about myself, so I just leave those extra lenses at home now and keep my bag lighter.03-traveling-karenjacot04-traveling-karenjacot

Packing it. If you are flying, you should know that you never, ever want to check your gear. Ever. Camera gear goes in your carry-on. And make sure the bag it’s in will fit in the overhead bins so it doesn’t have to be (surprise!) gate-checked at the last minute. (Also, if you shoot film, never pack film in your checked bags, either. The x-rays will damage it. Carry-on all film, and ask for a hand check of anything faster than 800 ISO film, because it’s sensitive enough that even the security-area scanners can damage it.)

Sometimes you won’t be able to fit a full-size carry-on in the cabin, either because the overhead bins are full or because it’s a small plane or for some other reason that you may not be able to anticipate. Bring a smaller (empty) bag that can fit under the seat in front of you so that in the event that you do have to gate-check your carry-on, you can quickly pull out the essentials (at least one body/lens, anything else expensive) to keep with you. (Nothing separates me from my cameras on a plane.)05-traveling-karenjacot06-traveling-karenjacot

If you are driving, you (may) have more room for suitcases and bags. Keep your gear out of sight. Pack it in a bag that doesn’t make it obvious what’s inside. If you do use an obvious camera bag that is in plain view in the car, be prepared to carry it with you when you leave the car at stops. And don’t leave it in the car overnight.

There are a lot of great camera bags for traveling with your gear. There are small bags and large bags, roller bags and shoulder bags, messenger bags and backpacks. Pick something that fits your gear and your style preferences. There’s also no bag…pack your camera in your regular suitcase or bag with something like the SkoobaWrap for padding.07-traveling-karenjacot

Consider how you’ll carry your camera once at your destination. The same camera bag you used to transport it there? This could work if it’s small enough. But if you brought a roller bag full of gear you probably don’t want to drag that around with you. You may want a second camera bag that fits just what you need for one day in it. I often like to use just my cross-body camera strap with no bag at all—it’s much faster and easier to access the camera that way.08-traveling-karenjacot

Other things that aren’t camera gear specifically but that you may find useful for traveling and photographing:

  •  Eye-fi cards. These allow you to wirelessly transmit jpgs straight from your camera to another device, like your phone, so you can share them instantly.
  • Laptop computer. For processing photos on the road, or just for backing up your photos each day from your cards.
  • Stuff sacks. I use these mainly for packing smaller things like cords, chargers, extra batteries, etc. Bonus: If you get waterproof ones, they can also be used to protect your gear from (light) rain.
  • Memory card wallet. Store and organize your memory cards in one place. I keep unused cards face up and used cards face down.
  • Extra batteries. I have spare batteries for each camera that I own. I always carry at least one fully charged spare with me per camera each day. Then I recharge spent batteries each night.
  • Portable charger for your phone. I use this one. It has enough juice to fully recharge my iPhone four times, but it’s still small enough and light enough to carry with me easily.
  • Travel power strip. Hotels never seem to have enough outlets, so I bring my own power strip so I can easily charge everything that needs recharging overnight.
  • Electrical adapters for traveling overseas. So you can recharge without frying.

I hope these tips are helpful. I’d love to hear from you guys your tips on traveling with gear. I’m always interested in learning new tricks!09-traveling-karenjacot10-traveling-karenjacot


Karen Jacot is based in Houston but loves to go other places. She always strives to take photos that will make a good story…and a good photo book. Find her on Facebook or on her website.

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1 Comment

  • Reply traveling with camera gear » Documentary lifestyle photography | Art books for your life | Karen Jacot November 11, 2013 at 8:27 am

    […] for the holidays? My post this month on the Light Inspired blog has tips for traveling with your camera […]

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