Travel Guide For Photographers

Travel Guide For Photographers

Working as a commercial photographer, I have the opportunity to travel often with my work. In the year 2013 alone, I've flown over 25 thousand miles, and have a few thousand more before the end of the year. Here are some tips I've picked up over the years to help make traveling as a photographer much easier and far less stressful.


TSA PreCheck

If there is one tip I can provide you with its to invest in the TSA PreCheck process. The TSA PreCheck system is a way for you to completely bypass the long wait at the TSA screening checkpoints at airports. The fee for the luxury is a mere $85 and your PreCheck is good for 5 years from the application date.

In order to qualify for TSA PreCheck, you need to be part of a frequent flyer program with either Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines or US Airways. And naturally, the only way to be apart of their programs is to fly with them frequently. If you live in the South West, Southwest airlines allows you to opt into their Frequent Flyer program (called Rapid Rewards) for free, and allow you to earn plenty of bonuses.

TSA PreCheck is available at over 100 different airports within the US and specifically allows you to go through TSA Screen without removing your shoes, belt, laptop from bag, jacket or any other accessories that you would normally need to remove. TSA PreCheck is available now, and be sure to check with your airlines to see if you apply.

Purchasing Tickets

When purchasing flights, I recommend using the all in one websites, such as Orbitz. There prices are competitive, and typically the same, or cheaper than if you're purchasing directly from the airline. However, also be sure to check with the airlines who are not included on services like Orbitz to find the best deal. Be sure to check all of these websites to insure that you have the best rate for flights (Travelocity, Priceline, Expedia). Also, websites like these ALWAYS have discounts on hotels, so be sure to search for a coupon code for an additional 10-35% when bundling everything together.

Also be sure to search for your flights in Private Mode. By disabling/clearing your cookies and cache on your browser, you can insure that websites are not hijacking prices to maximize profits (Yes, this is a real thing). Also, shopping for tickets on Tuesday and Wednesday usually yields better prices.

Frequent Flyer Credit Card

The best and easiest way to gain more miles is through a credit card with a bank that offers frequent flyer miles. There are dozens of different options available, but the one I use and would recommend is the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card


If you fly Southwest, this card will allow you to get 2 Rapid Rewards points for every dollar spent on travel (Flight, Hotel, Rental Car) and 1 point for every dollar spent on all other purchases. For reference, a $100 flight is about 5,000 points. Aside from that, this card also has a long list of benefits and bonuses


If you sign up for the card right now, you’ll get 25,000 points if you spend $1,000 on it within the first 90 days. Those 25,000 points are good for at least one round trip flight, depending on your destination. You also receive 1,500 bonus points for every 10,000 dollars spent on it, and receive 6,000 points on your cards anniversary. While the card does have a $99 fee (free for the first year) the 6,000 points applied annually should pay for a $100 flight each year.

Capital One Venture Card


Recommended by both Alec Baldwin and Fstoppers Editor Jaron Schneider, the Capital One Venture card offers double miles on all purchases, to be used with virtually any airline you'd need. This is a great card for those who do not have airline loyalty and are just looking for the best prices for flights. The bonuses of this card are -


With a $59 annual fee, the Capital One Venture card allows to receive 2 miles for every dollar spent using the card. Generally, that is higher than most airlines offer on their exclusive cards.


Plenty of other cards are also available for those who do not fly Southwest, if you’re looking to find the one that is right for you, I recommend giving Mint’s Free Credit Card selector app a try. Answering just a few short questions about your credit history, Mint is able to find you the card that offers the best rewards for your lifestyle and spending habits.

Because of my financial background, I can only recommend a credit card option to those who plan on paying them off each month. APRs are not fun, and will vary from credit history to credit history. Do not sign up for a credit card you cannot afford.

Pack Light & Carry Ons

The biggest advice I can offer to those who are travelling is to pack light and always use your carry on. For me, I use a LowePro Pro Runner 350A for my day to day camera bag. It fits into overhead compartments (just barely) and I assure that I have it with me at all times. I cannot recommend carrying your camera equipment enough. Checked bags are often thrown, stacked and generally mishandled. Your camera gear is far too important to arrive broken and damaged. Find a bag that you can take with you through an airport at all times. Most bag manufacturers will let you know if the bag meets the Carry On size restrictions on their website.

I use off camera lighting for nearly all of my photoshoots, but I rarely travel with lighting equipment. Because of the size of studio strobes (and battery packs are sometimes screened), I will typically try to find a photographer at my destination that will let me borrow or rent their gear for a day or two. Often, the community is gracious, and you’ll like be able to find someone with AlienBees or similar that will be happy to let you borrow them for a day. Check with social media and various photography forums to see if someone at your destination will be willing to rent/borrow you gear for a day or two while you’re shooting.

On Board WiFi

What an amazing time we live in. We're able to sit in a chair, 20,000 ft in the air, and still update our Facebook statuses with ease. Purchasing WiFi on a plane is a matter of personal preference. I for one, am all about on board WiFi. I purchase it on nearly every flight (minus the ones less than 90 minutes), and use it as an opportunity to get work done while in commute. Often, if you're flying the same airline throughout, you'll only need to purchase WiFi once, to use it for 24 hours. Check with the airline to see the restrictions on each flight. Keep in mind, typically on board WiFi is not very fast, so don't be expecting to stream Netflix on your flight across the country.

Fly Early

Always book your flights a day or two before you need to actually arrive to your destination. Airlines aren't perfect, and weather is unpredictable. Certainly you don’t want to miss out on a job or opportunity because of overlays or delays. Aside from that, I've found that some airlines (I’m looking at you United) are rarely on time, and overbooked. Airlines will sometime offer you a $200-$300 flight credit if you agree to move to a later flight. If you’re travel isn’t time sensitive, you’re able to cash in on these vouchers and redeem them for free flights.


For more tips, be sure to check Trevor Dayley's 6 Favorite Travel Tips.

Zach Sutton's picture

Zach Sutton is an award-winning and internationally published commercial and headshot photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. His work highlights environmental portraiture, blending landscapes and scenes with portrait photography. Zach writes for various publications on the topic of photography and retouching.

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It is worth noting that currently the only way to enroll into the TSA Precheck at this time is at one of two of their enrollment centers in the Indianapolis International Airport and Washington D.C. Metro area.

You obviously have to have a pretty clean criminal record...obviously.

Just signup for global entry and get your trusted traveler number there, then you are covered in two places.

The Lowepro officially exceeds both United and Southwest's carry on size limits as it is 13 x 10.4 x 17.9" - Southwest by .4 inches and United by 1.4 inches. What's going to happen if you happen to come across the employee who isn't willing to break the rules and measures it and forces you to check in your camera bag? Do you really trust that bag?

I'm currently looking for a new bag for travel, because it has been a concern in the past. Usually If I'm polite to a flight attendant, they'll let it slide. But you're right, it's not something I can count on.

I've been looking at the Dakine Reload 30L for my travel bag. Manfrotto just announced some nice bags a couple weeks ago as well

Hey Zach - Checkout Think Tank's Airport International. It was recommended to me by another photog and I couldn't imagine traveling without it. Fits perfectly in overhead bins and you can strap a tripod on the side if needed. If you're going to be doing a lot of walking and want a back pack, I've found Lowepro's Flip Side series invaluable.

Great advice, I'll look into it. Thanks Parker!

I also have that bag and it is fantastic. Message me when you have a moment...Think Tank = can't say enough good things about them

The Think Tank Airport 4-sight will meet most carry-on requirements because its combined dimensions are less that 115 cm.

I came very close to getting a Pelican bag on special for Black Friday and also the Manfrotto back packs but did a double check (Discount duuuuble check...sorry) and found it was not a standard carry on size. The Think Tank airport bags from rollers to back packs all seem to 9 inches or less deep and meet the other requirements but are never on sale!

F-stop's Tilopa BC is a great option, too. It's a bit bigger, than allowed... However in the worst case you can take out the Internal Camera Unit with your gear and only ship the shell/empty bag!

Here's a phrase to remember.

"This bag complies with the FAA suggested carry on size, it has LiPo batteries in it that are banned by the FAA for checked luggage - and the value of it's contents exceed your carriers insurance maximum for checked luggage ($5,000 per checked item is the highest I've ever seen). Are you personally willing to accept responsibility for it if it, or anything in it goes missing?"

Those last 2 points are instant deal breakers for every airline I know of.

Source, many, many friends that work in the airline industry and about 15 trips in the last 2 years where I've had to use that line.

That'd be really nice if that worked. Most flight attendants don't care - to quote the one on my last flight "All the space is taken, you can wait for the next flight, which is tomorrow - or check the bag"

That's where you point out that "carry on" size is dictated by the space under the seat in front of you and not the overhead. If you can get the bag under the seat - you're fine.

The Lowepro exceeds a lot! Although it's a great bag, you cannot put anything in the front compartment (ie my ultra thin laptop) or it will not fit in the overhead. I usually use a regular backpack but my back is starting to protest so the 'ideal' has yet to be found and am almost ready to start using my old Hadley again.

I pulled the airlines directly off of TSA's seems they havent updated Hawaiian Airlines yet

they only started it a few mo ago. only the only reason i know is that i live in hawaii. :)

Booking through
third party sites like orbitz is a bad idea in my opinion. Always book through
the airline as they should have the same prices. If you have to make a change
or fix a problem with the itinerary It can only be done through that third
party. If you book through the airline it can be fixed locally by the ticketing
agent in the airport.

I agree. If you want the best service from the airline, book directly from their website. They also almost all have a lowest price guarantee. I have heard horror stories of people using 3rd party travel sites and when they needed to change something or there were problems, they had to deal with the dual finger pointing and that's not our problem, you need to contact the other party.

Not entirely true.

Recently, I booked a flight and decided to change the flight back last minute. I booked it through Orbitz, and they were able to get me on a later flight for $126. I decided to call United to get me on that exact same flight, and they said they could do it for $349 dollars.

It was literally the exact same flight.

I flipping love my Venture Card. I haven't paid for a flight in two years. One time it got phished, and not only did Capital One reimburse me fully for that whole day, they also reimbursed me for all charges from the prior 3 days. I went to a Giant's game, ate two meals out, got a cab, and did a few other things in those days, and Capital One just washed them all away. Outstanding customer service.

I've travel with the Think Tank Urban Disguise (I have the previous version, but the new one is essentially the same). It carries my travel laptop + the camera & lenses I usually travel with (24-70, 70-200 & 11-16). It also has the added advantage of looking like a standard carry-on bag (and currently meets TSA Carry On requirements). I've never had an issue with it.

There is a world outside the USA, you know...

Perhaps change the misleading title of the article to: "A Travel Guide for American Photographers"?

A lot of these tips apply to international travel as well. Flying domestically in Europe isn't much different than flying domestically in the US. Just switch the names of some credit cards and airline names and you've got essentially the same article. Just make sure you have a current passport depending on your citizenship and destination. No need to get negative.

+1 to that. Credit cards are not always accepted in Asia, and you may have trouble getting cash from ATM's. Always good to bring some cash. As a note, customs maybe very forgiving in some countries if you look like a good guy/girl :D

Certainly. However I'm from the US and typically travel all over the US. I'm not nearly as well versed when it comes to international I figured it was best to not cover something I'm not too familiar with.

ALL frequent flier programs are free, as the airlines want to have your info on file for mail/e-mail communications and such.

Southwest flies to far more regions than the Sourhwestern United States. They fly to most major cities across the country.

I also you should book your flights and hotels directly with the carrier or hotel. So much easier to fix things if they go wrong, or you want to fish for an upgrade. Flights are rarely if ever cheaper via 3rd party, but sometimes hotels are. I'd still rather pay a few bucks more to book directly though, I've heard enough horror stories of lost reservations, wrong rooms, and all sorts of mishaps to keep me going direct.

Totally agree with flying in early, you never know when bad weather or a mechanical issue will delay or cancel your flight.

You should also mention hotel loyalty programs. All the major brands have then and can be very rewarding.

Pelican 1510 hard case is the perfect gear carry-on in my opinion. Fits in all overhead bins aside from puddle jumpers, rolls easily through airports (nice when you have a lot of weight crammed into that case), can be dropped off a cliff, water tight, dust proof, pressure release, you name it.

The Pelican 1514 is the same case (1510) but with adjustable dividers (instead of foam) - highly recommended.

Agreed on the Pelican 1510. I've logged a lot of miles with it and in the rare instance when I've been forced to gate check it, I don't worry quite as much since it's a Pelican.

Hello everyone! This article gave me the motivation to start researching camera bags. I'll be backpacking through India and Thailand for several months and am looking for a lightweight and weatherproof backpack that also has rollers. Don't need to carry a lot of things, a D700 body, 2 medium sized lenses max, a small netbook, medium sized tripod, some cables and a few personal items. I'm not having any luck on finding one that's lightweight and also has rollers! If you have any suggestions I would greatly appreciate it! Love and light :)

A good tip for those under 25 - Student travel sites often have airfare at a much cheaper price than major travel sites. I've booked multiple flights from the USA to Europe and vice versa for under $500, a few of them being direct flights. Of course, the discounts apply to domestic travel as well.

Keep in mind when traveling with a lot of gear that you are checking if it weighs over the normal allotted 50lbs weight limit, you can tell the counter personal you are a film crew, show a business card, and they will give you a major discount on your overweight gear. It has to be film gear, and you have to have a business card to prove you're a media company traveling for work.