Developing A Light Kit For Any Situation

7 years of shooting Automotive Editorial Photography has taught me to streamline as much as possible. One area I've simplified to fit my needs is my lighting kit. I used to rent gear wherever I could, but after you use your own gear long enough you almost develop a relationship with it and now I definitely prefer to use my own lights.

Of course traveling with tons of photo equipment comes with a price, the bags are heavy, fragile and usually cost a pretty penny to check on most airlines. However, I've simplified my kit into two cases that I take with me everywhere that skate under airline weight limits and allow me to take everything I'll need.


Here's my two cases the day I got them.

Automotive Editorial Photography is full of challenges. You rarely have total control over everything. Usually you're landing in a new city, meeting up with the car owner, finding a location close to where the car is located and grabbing a feature shoot fairly quickly so the owner can get back on his way. There's also the celebrity features where you'll be lucky to get more than a few minutes with the featured celeb and car. This means you'll be shooting in less than ideal conditions fairly often. You'll need to be prepared to shoot in absolutely any situation, and this is where my traveling kit comes in.

My kit consists of two main cases, a Pelican 1510 and a Pelican 1650. I chose Pelican because they're almost indestructible. Inside these cases is everything I need to shoot in any situation. I have strobes for most shots, power for the strobes when we're shooting without nearby power, my Westcott Ice Light for nighttime or indoor light painting, modifiers for celebrity portraits or model photography, and every accessory I need to make it all work.


Here's the whole kit (plus a Pelican for the Phase One kit) before heading out for 10 days shooting in Japan.

The Pelican 1510 is my camera case. Its my carry on bag on every flight I take. Here's what's inside:

Camera Bodies & Lenses
Canon 17-40L Lens
Canon 24-70L Lens
Canon 70-200L Lens
Misc Gear
Vulture Equipment Works A4 Camera Strap
Really Right Stuff Tripod Head
Really Right Stuff L-bracket Quick Release Plate
3 - Pocketwizard Transceivers
Canon 1DS-MKIII Battery Charger & Extra Battery
Lens Cloth
Firewire and Usb 3.0 Cables for Hard Drives)
2 - Card Readers
CF Card Wallet
2 - Lacie 500GB Rugged Hard Drives
Grip Clamps

My Pelican 1650 is my lighting case and carries:


2 - Profoto Softboxes
3 - Profoto D1 heads (2x - 500w/s & 1x - 1000w/s)
Profoto D1 10 degree grid
2 - Profoto Softbox Speed Rings
Westcott Ice Light
Other Misc Equipment
Various Chargers
Profoto - Pocketwizard Cables
Misc. Grip Stuff



I'll arrive to an airport with these two cases plus a Lightware Soft Stand Case that carries my light stands and tripod, (I'll also shove a duffel bag with my clothes in this bag), and my Profoto BatPac. I check the stand case and the Pelican 1650 and carry on the Pelican 1510 and the BatPac. The stand bag and Pelican both weigh in under 50 lbs each which is about the free limit on checked bags for most airlines. Any heavier, and I'd be coughing up tons of money in fees.

With this lighting kit I can travel with confidence knowing that I can handle any situation that may present itself. While this may be MY perfect light kit, it may not be everyone's.  That said, I'm always interested in how other shooters work, let me know in the comments what YOU bring when you travel!




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Don't feel the need for a Back up body? Past that I am in the same boat about traveling with Pelicans.

I have a backup 1DS that I carry in a small backpack with my laptop and other random chargers and batteries. I prefer not to keep them in the same case.

Makes perfect sense, It took me by surpass that you wouldn't.

Glad you called me out on it. Backups and Redundancy are a no brainer. I should have definitely mentioned that in the post, but was limiting it to my main gear. Probably looks odd to others that I carry two card readers, but only one body lol. They're just not in the same case.

Thanks Andrew! Totally makes sense. I've always wondered if they over compensate on the specked weight.

Word of advice: I work as ground staff at an airport and suggest you take off any tags or sticky pads on these cases that could draw attention. By far not all bagage handlers are thieves or vandals, but tags like 'FRAGILE', 'PHOTOGRAPHY' and 'PHASE ONE' could be quite tempting to some handlers in a bad mood.

I would think, especially the PHASE ONE

While my two have my site on them... the Phase One was a loaner from Phase and came to me in that Pelican with their logo on it, of course it was never checked and never left my sight lol

I actually think the Phase One would mean little to the average bag handler. "Photography" means more to them than a specific camera system they've never heard of. Never advertise your gear. It's quite dumb. Your website info can be marked discretely on the outside or in the event you lose it even somewhere inside. It brings little aid in general to have your gear marked and can attract would-be thugs.

Dumb I'm not so sure, Art Directors and Creatives get a kick out of them on set and I've gotten work from people who've randomly seen me wheeling them around. Staying competitive in this industry means being memorable. If my cases help me stand out that little extra to the people that sign my checks then so be it.

To a "would-be thug" just the fact that whatever I have with me needs this big expensive case is enough to make them want to steal them... no matter what's written on them.

Nah, I'd put good money on one of those bags disappearing one day, and if I could do a test against that, I'd say on that given day, a black Pelican with no label wouldn't get jacked.

At my last job we frequently shipped photo/video equipment via freight and airliner to Hawaii, more pelican cases than I could begin to count. There weren't any markings on them and they were the black variety. Stuff still ends up missing.

Andrew, always super to see how other photographers travel and haul their gear. I'm by no means a math guy so please forgive me if I have the wrong end of the stick here, but the weight spec on your larger Pelican that you use for your lighting kit is stated as being 35.4lbs which leaves precious little for the rest of the kit that you're able to fit in there. Not to mention that your D1 heads each weigh just over 5lbs. How are you able to keep the kit under the required 50lbs that you mentioned? What am I missing here :)

I agree. I have one of the larger Pelicans- i think it's a 1650? Fully loaded with 4 Einsteins and an Alien Bee 800 plus cables and accessories and it weighs a TON- so much that i'm in the process of using speedlights for traveling to cust weight and space.

I'd like to think that with the amount of foam taken out to fit all the gear it offset the weight juuuuuuust a little.... but I'd probably be wrong. Fully loaded for Japan with some extra stuff in it the big case came in at 56.5lbs... which was ok because on international flights United allows up to 70lbs. On a normal day it weights 53lbs. Most times I get away with the extra 3lbs, if I run into trouble I put the two speedrings into my stand case and presto, 50lbs. lol I'll have to weigh it empty and see how close to spec it actually is.

Great post Andrew. I'm curious as to why you don't fly under a media rate? United, Delta and American all have them. My highest mileage account is with United so I'm very familiar with their media rate. 1st and second bag are charged the standard rate unless over 50lbs then they are charged at $50 per bag up to 99lbs each for up to 25 bags. I fly with 2 VERY large and 1 medium sized HPRC cases (up to 20% lighter than Pelican and just as strong and airtight). The heaviest comes in at about 90-95lbs and the other varies depending on how much stuff I have to bring, sometimes I load it to about 60lbs and just toss my clothes in other times I fill it up. The 3rd case takes my Elinchrom heads and pack, another 65lbs or so. I then generally check a bag with diffusion stands that are fairly light, for all four bags over 200lbs of gear it's $200, which of course gets billed to the client. The only issue I ever have is you must check in with an agent, and not all of them know how to apply the rate which has led to a couple long check in times at the airport, but I always arrive wicked early for this exact reason.

Dylan, I've tried, but they've all told me I need a press credential... which in NYC is incredibly difficult to get if you're not shooting for a newspaper or other news outlet. Being a commercial photographer, it's damn near impossible to get one for me. I've tried a hundred times to get them to take my business card from the magazine as proof I qualify for the media rate but its always a no go. Thankfully my United mileage is pretty high and I get a free bag and higher weights before they start charging.

Hey Andrew thanks for the reply, Yeah NYC is tuff for Media Credentials, post 9/11 especially, I'm actually working on that now. But as for United... print this out and take it with you, I usually grab the person at the line before the counter, tell them I'm checking media bags and who I should talk to because not all of them seem to have it down.

"To obtain media checked bag service charge rates, media representatives should provide United airport check-in counter representatives with media credentials; company personnel identification for an entertainment, media or production company; or clearly identified media equipment cases labeled with company identification. If the media representative is unable to provide such verification, customers will be charged standard checked baggage service charges. Spouses and/or other companions, whether traveling in the same or separate reservation as the media personnel, are not eligible for the discount unless they present eligible media credentials."

It sounds at first like it's just for press but then you get the rest of it, it can be a combination of a lot of things....I always keep a copy when I'm flying, and I've never had any problems at all, and I don't have press credentials. I show them my Credit and Debit cards that have my company name on them and business cards if the ask, but the CC and debit cards are generally enough, and my cases are marked accordingly as well. You really shouldn't have any problems, been flying all year that way. I know I like to travel light as possible but it may come in handy if you ever need to take more.

I didn't realize you're in NYC we should grab a beer or three sometime, I'm in Hells Kitchen, send up a flare!

Awesome man! Printing that out and sticking it in my cases and my backpack right now! We should definitely meet up, always nice to meet another shooter!

I think if you're an APA member, you get a card that has that extends media rates to you as well. I'll have to double check. Anyway, I use a similar D1 setup but with Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini Lithium pack. Only 3 lbs and way cheaper than Batpacs. NYC here too. I'm down to meet up.

Any problem getting those Lithiums on planes with the new restrictions on Lithium batteries?

Thanks for the info Dylan.

I have a pelican 1650. First time when i received it, it was broken !!! They sent another one with excuses but i don't trust them to fly anymore...

How did you put your logo on it? I noticed that most stickers dont last long and fall off.
Did you spray paint it?

Krylon Fusion spray paint is what they recommend for it. That's what I use and it hasn't chipped or flaked.

When I was an assistant long ago. You never want to advertise the fact that your are a photographer. Its always the first stuff to get stolen. Don't brand your cases with photographer.

Great lighting setup here. I love the Pelican cases, extremely tough - but not for the light photographer. <a href="" rel="nofollow">More Photography Tips</a>

At first the logo seems like an invitation to theft... however, such unique cases could be easily spotted again/from a distance... the theft would be a fairly blatent (not "whoops, it was an accident officer")

Which top dividers are in your 1510 case? They look different than the 1510SC from B&amp;H, and that is the closest one I can find.

Where do you carry your tripod and light stands?