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What to pack if you're a travelling photographer

March 08, 2014 3 min read

As a photographer, having your photography equipment with you presents its own sets of challenges when it comes to your personal safety and comfort. The hanging equipment singles you out as someone who is not a local and sometimes it might make you a potential target for tourist fraud or theft. In addition, not knowing the etiquette or rules of taking photographs in some places doesn't exempt you from being caught up in dangerous situations or brushes with the law. Even not taking the proper equipment can spoil an otherwise great travel experience.

For most travel photographers, choosinghowto carry your gear is more a pain than choosing your camera system. Because while you can be flexible about your camera system, no bag will meet your paramount requirements. Finding a bag that is waterproof, lightweight, carry-on compliant,and can carry a week of food plus other gear, is highly unlikely. And if you do, let us know about it.The following tips are aimed at photographers who prefer to work alone, walk, use public transport, travel as cheaply as possible, and don’t have an army of assistants.

Tip 1: Don’t carry it

If you don’t need extra lenses or another bag, don’t take it. Just don’t. It may limit you from a technical perspective, sometimes, but in most situations you’ll realise that you are actually compensating with increased creative energy, focus and of course less lugging around. And in turn you'll catch those marvellous shots perfectly. Galen Rowell, an inspiring gear minimalist, said: “Only where vehicles, pack animals, porters, or assistants can carry my gear do I ever consider taking all of it. Otherwise, you’ll find me as I started out in the sixties – carrying one simple camera or none at all. That’s how I continue to make many of my all-time favourite pictures.”

Tip 2: Use a sling

Why should you use a sling? Well, they don’t get in your way. They’re more comfortable to carry all day and they let you to be discreet, minimising your tourist appearance. Also when your tingling feelings start to kick in a crowded location, should you wish, you can just cover much of the camera with your arm, ease up and search for your shot.

Tip 3: If you have the option, don’t buy a travel camera bag

Instead of buying a bag dedicated for your camera, we suggest using padded camera inserts. You can place these in regular backpacks, shoulder packs, and wheeled luggage. It’s more flexible, but more importantly, much lighter.

Camping or trekking backpacks are by far more comfy, they offer more space and have a better value-for-money than most camera bags. Should you prefer wheeled luggage, use the roll-on from your dresser, or buy one to fit your existing photo bags or inserts. Wheeled camera bags just don't cut it. Crazy expensive, extra pounds, and no space for clothes or other travel necessities? A definite pass.

Tip 4: Choose your tripod length carefully

Your tripod should be less than 45cm so it can fit into your carry-on luggage. Worried about stabilisation with a small or lighter tripod? Just hang a weight from the centre column and problem solved. Even the very light models from the premium brands work great using this method.

Tip 5: Fly with adventure racing backpacks

Some airlines are a pain when it comes to weight limits. Some have a carry-on weight limit as low as 8kg and that is just your camera, lenses and laptop in one bag, maybe you could squeeze in some clothes. Adventure backpacks are designed for mountaineers – those by Osprey are very light and a padded insert will be around 250g so you can make it under the weight limit.

Tip 6: Check-in your less fragile gear

If you need a lot of gear, check-in a bag with your tripod, clamps, strobes, and non-essential chargers, along with your clothes. Wherever possible only travel with a carry-on that’s under 8kg. You will be thankful.

If you think of any tips that might come in handy for travelling photographers share them in the comments below.

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