Each day, countless photographers travel through airports lugging all of their gear. Here’s what you need to know to get through security and onto the plane with your equipment intact.
Photographers travel all over the world for photos assignments, personal projects, and photography events. But with airline regulations and allowances changing so often, it’s hard to keep up on the best travel practices for you and your gear.
This guide reviews the latest travel photography bags and accessories, and current TSA policies and inflight regulations to make your air travel smoother and safer for your photography equipment.
Before you Fly
Get prepared by knowing what gear you have, what’s covered by insurance, and whether you can carry it on board.
Inventory your Photography Gear
Create a list of the photography gear you’re traveling with. Remember to include:
- Camera bodies, from your DSLR to your GoPro®
- Lenses and filters
- Memory cards
- External drives
- Laptops and tablets
- Batteries and chargers
- Peripherals like graphics tablets
- Tripods and other accessories
Be sure to snap pictures for your records, and note the models and serial numbers of your most valuable gear. Store these records somewhere secure but readily accessible, like a cloud drive. You might need it to claim lost property or make an insurance claim.
Check your Photography Insurance
You have business insurance, don’t you? If not, now is the time to get it. Call and confirm a few aspects of your policy:
- Is my gear covered if it’s lost?
- Is my gear covered it it’s stolen?
- Is my gear covered if it’s stolen from checked baggage?
- Is my gear covered if it’s damaged?
- Does my insurance policy cover my travel destination?
These are the things to know well before you go. Consider the risks and adjust your insurance coverage to suit your own needs.
Research & Prepare to Travel
Check your airline’s policies, especially now that most airlines are cutting back on free baggage allowances.
Lately most airlines are allowing one carry-on to fit in the overhead compartments, like a roller-bag or a backpack, and one personal item that can fit under the seat in front of you, like a purse or briefcase. Be sure your luggage doesn’t exceed the size and weight limits. Even carry-ons are weighed occasionally.
Packing Your Photo Gear
Consider the best way to haul your gear with specially-made bags, backpacks, and luggage just for photographers.
A backpack made for photographers is great if you don’t have too much gear. A typical backpack will accommodate a DSLR body or two and a few lenses, and sometimes a laptop or tablet.
The only downside is the weight, but the trade-off is maximum portability. This is how I typically travel, with my tripod hooked on an armstrap.
The Think Tank Shape Shifter Photographic Backpack is a great carry-on for your photo gear.
A roller-bag is ideal if you have a bit more gear to bring along. They’ll typically hold twice as much gear as a backpack, and the sturdy outer shell will keep your gear better protected.
The Pelican 1510 case with padded dividers is possibly the world’s most rugged rollerbag for photography gear. It’s a sturdy carry-on can fit in most overhead compartments.
If You Must Check Your Gear
When you’re bringing more gear than you can carry, you have no choice but to check it as baggage. This is usually the case when you’re transporting bulky studio equipment, such as large strobes and stands.
Consider a heavy-duty case along with a TSA-approved padlock.
The Pelican 1660 Case with foam for photography gear is among the best choices to secure and protect your gear in the cargo hold.
Getting Through Security
Airport security will scan your carry-on gear through an x-ray as you enter the terminal. To speed things along on the x-ray belt remember to:
- Remove your laptop from it’s bag
- Remove your camera from it’s pack
- With film, ask for a manual inspection
…and, of course, take off your shoes.
When traveling with gear, it’s very likely that you will be pulled aside for a manual inspection. Plan for a few extra minutes getting through security.
Getting On The Plane
When you’re waiting at the gate there’s one last point to consider. Since most airlines have raised checked baggage fees, more people than ever are packing roller-bags to carry onboard. Overhead compartments will often fill up before all passengers have boarded, requiring those last to board to check their carry-on bags planeside.
To avoid this, get in line to board as early as possible so your gear has a space in the overheads.
Safe travels and happy shooting!
Do you have any advice for traveling with photo gear? We’d love to hear it! Tell us about it in the comments below.
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