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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Traveling with your camera (and film)

What's in my bag
click through to see notes on what everything is

Since I just returned from a quick trip to Florida, I thought I'd talk a little bit about traveling with camera gear and what extra concerns shooting film adds to the situation.

First off, the goal for flying with camera equipment is to carry as much of it on with you as possible. I believe it was Chase Jarvis that said that if you're planning on checking any equipment, you should be 100% comfortable with throwing the bag down a flight of concrete stairs. Things like tripods, light stands and cables can probably be checked no problem, but the rest of it you're going to want to carry on. Camera bags count as your personal item, and you can also sling a camera around your neck and stuff a lens or two into your pockets if you're really crunched for space (anything on your person does not count as extra baggage.) Fortunately (or sadly, depending on your perspective) I don't own nearly enough camera equipment for that to be an issue.

In any case, you're going to want to whittle down your kit to only what you'll need on your trip. I shot a combination of digital and film on this trip, so that meant 2 camera bodies and the relevant accessories. Fortunately my film camera is pretty small and has a fixed lens, so the entire thing fits into one lens slot in my bag. My D70 with kit lens fits very nicely in the middle even with the lens hood on, so there's slot 2. The Lensbaby and my 50 stack on top of each other in the 3rd slot to round out the kit. I could probably have done without the Lensbaby, but it weighs essentially nothing and wasn't competing for space with anything, so it came along for the ride. As far as accessories go, I kept my pretty standard setup. I did ditch my ND filter because I knew I wouldn't need it. The remote stayed, but again it weighs practically nothing and takes up almost no space in the bag, so it didn't make much of a difference. A blower, microfiber cloth and lens pen should be staples in any photographer's bag - if you don't have them, you really should. They're not too expensive, and help you get the best image quality you can. I also brought along my LED flashlight, which is more the Boy Scout in me than anything else (always be prepared). The noise cancelling headphones got added for the flight, since this was my carry on. Any other miscellanea got removed and put into storage for the weekend. Some of it might not make its way back into the bag.

One thing you don't want to skimp on is storage/film and batteries. I had a total of 8 GB of flash cards (enough for 1400 raw files) and 4 rolls of film, two color and two black and white. That's way more than enough to carry me through a long weekend, but if something big happened I'd have extra frames to burn. Extra batteries and/or your charger are key, too. I bought a nice cheap charger off Amazon to replace my Nikon one that I lost in the shuffle of moving - it's super compact and doesn't need a cord, so it can live right in the bag.

A few words about film: There is a chance that film can be affected by the x-ray scanners when going through the airport. Never *ever* put film into your checked luggage, since the x-ray they use on checked baggage is way more powerful than the one used at security screening and will mess up your film. The general rule of thumb is that anything over 400 ISO could be fogged by the scanners at security, too. I brought relatively slow film with me (Kodak Gold 200 and Fuji Acros 100), so I wasn't concerned about the x-ray. If you're shooting faster film, or are going for a paid job or some once in a lifetime event, you can ask to have your film hand inspected. Typically they'll try to talk you into sending it through the scanner anyway, especially if you don't have anything faster than 400 ISO. A trick for that is to carry a roll of 3200 ISO film with you (Ilford makes one), even if you're not planning on shooting it. If you plan on asking for hand inspection, remove all the rolls from the boxes ahead of time and carry it in a separate plastic bag. Let them know as soon as possible that you want a hand check so that you don't have to wait around a long time for it. (If you're travelling with a lot of film, I suggest calling ahead to the airport and letting them know so they can set aside some time to check through it all.) The security agent will look at it all and swab it for explosives. Once the machine is satisfied, you get your film back and are on your way. Back in the day photographers used to put film in a lead bag to protect it from the x-ray and send it through the scanner, no hand inspection needed. You can still buy them, but I don't recommend using one. It's just going to raise red flags to the screener and you'll have to get the film hand inspected anyway (and probably receive closer scrutiny on everything else).

One final word of advice is to neatly roll up and tie off any cables you might have in your bag (USB, chargers, whatever). A big rats nest of wiring and electronic equipment will probably get your baggage (and possibly your person) hand inspected.


I wrote the bulk of this before going on the trip, and now that I'm back I figured I would add a few comments. Did I use everything I packed? Nope. I didn't even shoot as much as I thought, spent most of the weekend living life instead ;) Would I have packed anything differently? No, probably not. There was the potential to need everything I brought with me, and given different weather and/or more shooting I would have used more of what I brought. The important thing is that I had everything I needed and didn't kill myself schlepping it all around. Great weekend.


[title of blog] on flickr


  1. Great tips! I don't use film anymore, but I admit that traveling with a DSLR is one drawback that has led me to question even purchasing one. It's nice to know that it's doable. Maybe I'll cave and get one someday...

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