Air travel is a fact of life for jobbing amateur and professional photographers alike. At some point you need to stuff your gear in a bag and get on a plane. Here are my top 5 rules for air travel.
The starting point for any travel photography piece is about determining how much gear you are going to take. This isn't about the best camera bodies, lenses, lighting gear, or tripods to buy, but rather how you can optimize the kit you do take and the space you fit it into. Along the way I'll cover my five rules.
If you drive to a job, then you invariably take every conceivable piece of gear you might need, shoving it all into the trunk. You could take the same approach with air travel, but that would mean a lot of bags and checked luggage. For any trip, I work on the premise of taking everything in carry-on luggage because that's both cheaper and safer for my camera gear. Nine times out of ten that works. By carry-on luggage I am working on the broad definition of 56x45x25cm which are EasyJet's current standard (with no weight limit). Most airlines in Europe are similar although some are smaller.
Rule 1: Always Check Your Baggage Restrictions
Before you can even begin to think about packing, you need a bag first. Call me a Philistine, but roller bags are pure evil. If there is something I'd like to put in Room 101, then roller bags would be up there. Sure they save your back, but that's where their benefit ends. You trip over them, someone else trips over them, you can't make them smaller if they are too big, you can't carry them on your back, you can't fold them away and, well, they are just shocking for public transport. They are easily wheeled stacking boxes. Period. Dump them if you can.
Given the above, you can probably guess that I'm a fan of rucksacks as offer great flexibility for travel. They're not perfect: there is a tendency to hit people when you turn around, the straps are easily snagged, and they pack from the top making access difficult. However this leads on to rule two:
Rule 2: Don't Take a Camera Bag
Yup, nothing screams "photographer" more than a camera bag making you an immediate target for theft. To add insult to injury, they are damned expensive, for what is a padded bag. My preference for any kind of bag that is going to hold my camera gear is to get a standard bag that is designed to be, well, a bag! Inside that you can then put any number of bespoke padded case inserts to hold your gear. Not tailor made, but ultimately flexible. For travel I now use The North Face Base Camp Duffel bag (a variety of manufacturers make something similar) which sports bomb proof construction, adjustable size, rucksack conversion, and foldable design. For carry-on luggage, go for the small size. Throw in a couple of luggage padlocks and it's a secure setup.
Before you can consider how you are going to pack your gear you need to know what you are going to take which leads to rule three:
Rule 3: Take What You Need
This might seem obvious, except many people work to the principle of "take what you might need"! Begin with the style of photography you are intending to shoot (e.g. street) and then research the locations that you intend to visit. If you know what you are going to shoot and where, then you can draft a shortlist of the kit you will need to achieve that.
On a recent trip I decided I wanted to do a mix of landscape, architectural, and street photography. With my preference for shooting with prime lenses, that meant taking my Nikon D700, 85mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, and 24mm f/2.8, along with my Lee Filters, and 3Pod travel tripod.
I now solely use a ThinkTank Speed Changer for packing my kit. This takes a DSLR body in one half, and then two stacked lenses in the other. The pocket on the front holds accessories, with a separate neoprene case used to pack any extra lenses. That all stows neatly in the bag leaving plenty of space for extras (like clothes!).
A good exercise in de-cluttering as a pre-cursor to travel is to take the camera bag you normally use and, after removing the camera and any lenses, take everything else out. What have you got there? Probably more than you were expecting to see. Accessories are essential to successful photography, however this leads to rule four:
Rule 4: Question Everything You Take
Power is the first port of call. I use a 4-port USB charger with interchangeable mains plugs, along with whatever cables I need. If your camera charges directly via USB that's great (most Sony's do), however many camera systems supply a bespoke mains charger. Ditch them and go for a generic USB version (e.g. a Nikon one). A spare battery is a good idea, along with a power bank.
Accessories I use for the camera itself (which I've talked about before) include stepper rings (for the Lee filter holder), a wired remote control, lens hoods, and a cleaning cloth/lens pen.
Of course accessories don't actually finish with the camera, as you've got a whole bag full of stuff! Which means that rule five is a variation on rule four:
Rule 5: Question Everything You Take. It's Not All About the Camera!
Other bits of kit I routinely throw in include a folding silicone water bottle (great for not having to always buy water), a folding silicon coffee cup (bring-your-own cups seem to be the latest thing!), USB battery charger (for AA and AAA), and a packable rucksack (useful to use during a visit).
No one likes to travel with more than they need and when you can take advantage of the benefits of carry-on luggage then it's worth investing a bit of time to fine tune that. Have you got any gear tips for traveling?
Lead image courtesy of JESHOOTS-com via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons.