Photography Friday: How to Pack a Camera

Traveling and photography go hand in hand. When I’m traveling somewhere, even if it’s not a paid assignment, I want to get some photos to remember my trip and hopefully to hang on my wall at home. There’s something about a new place that makes it easier to have that desire to make compelling imagery. As soon as I began traveling with a photography kit – cameras, lenses, flashes and the like – I learned the importance of packing it safely so that everything still works when I get to my destination. Especially if you’re headed out to rugged country for photographing landscapes, or to a bustling urban destination, it is good to travel with your gear protected and organized.

Camera Bag with Gear

Once you know where you’re going and what you’re bringing — and be realistic about what you really need for a particular place  — you should choose a case. You have about three options:

1. A hard-side case with custom foam inserts, like a Pelican case, is the safest way to move expensive equipment.

The foam tears away and allows you to fit everything nice and snug in the case, without anything moving around. The Pelican cases are airtight, watertight, and able to be dropped pretty hard so you know that your equipment will be safe, even if you have to check your luggage. These cases can also be locked.

Hard Case for Camera Gear

Hard-sided Pelican case

Camera Gear Packed in Foam

Foam inserts keep everything in its place

2. A soft-sided bag or case allows the most flexibility.

Most of these bags have adjustable compartments so that you can fit whatever gear you have in the way that you want. For example, you can put the most important items on top or in the center. These types of cases are less rugged than the hard-sided ones and not good for checked luggage, but tend to hold more stuff. I like the Think Tank brand of bags for this.

Travel Cases for Photography Equipment

Soft-sided Think Tank bags

3. If you spent all your money on your camera and can’t afford a fancy bag, use a regular backpack or duffel bag and wrap up your gear in clothing or something soft.

Some manufacturers also sell neoprene sleeves in different sizes for lenses. These are handy for keeping your equipment protected if it’s loose in your bag. Also, keeping lens hoods attached to the lenses, only put on backwards, can help protect them.

A few more tips for traveling with camera gear:

  • Avoid checking your luggage if it contains expensive equipment. I’ve had friends have cameras stolen out of their bags and equipment arrive damaged. It is always a hassle, and many times impossible, to have the gear replaced.
  • It’s also a bad idea to carry a bag that announces that you are carrying expensive equipment. Bags with big camera company logos or designer names will make you a target. The more beat-up the bag looks, the less likely someone is going to try to steal it from you. I like the Think Tank bags because they are a plain black and look like a regular briefcase or suitcase.
  • Pack your gear in a bag that will fit in an overhead compartment. Some airlines have a weight limit on their carry-ons. I’ve always been able to talk the airline into letting me carry-on since they realize there is a good chance of something getting damaged below.

If you are traveling internationally, there are a few other things to consider doing.

  • Look into insurance on your gear if you can’t afford to replace it if something happens.
  • Be prepared to unpack and repack everything when you go through security in each new country. Many security officers will want to look at everything.
  • Lastly, if you are bringing a lot of equipment with you, like multiple bodies and a collection of lenses, consider getting a carnet or filling out Form 4577 for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. These things can keep you from getting taxed if a country thinks you are trying to import or export equipment for sale. The paperwork you need to fill out depends on where you are going and what you are doing there.

You might also enjoy our 5 tips for traveling with camera gear.

Be sure to come back to the Bluprint blog on Monday. We’ll share 7 travel photography tips for bringing home the money shot!

Have you had to learn any lessons the hard way with your gear? What works for you?

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