I’ve been everywhere, man — Seven travel tips for photographers

Traveling is good fun, but traveling for a photo gig and dragging along all the necessary photo gear can quickly put a damper on that fun.


To help ease the pain, here are seven travel tips based on my frequent out-of-town photo projects.


  • Pelican-style hard cases are your friend. They’re bulky, heavy, unwieldy, unattractive, expensive, and pretty much indestructible. Therefore, they’re indispensible for traveling with fragile lighting gear. In addition to securing my cases with TSA-approved locks, I also put a plain white zip-tie through a locking hole on each case or bag. Inside, each has a politely-worded notes to the TSA, asking them to replace the zip-ties if they’ve opened the cases; orange replacement ties are taped to each note. As soon as I pick up the bag at my destination, a missing or orange zip tie tells me that a case has been opened, which means I’ll take the time to inspect the contents before leaving the airport. Taking a photo of the interior of each checked bag and having a complete inventory of the contents (including any serial numbers) is a handy thing to have. Any of the numerous free cloud-based smartphone notes apps work great for this. [packing]
  • Data backups are essential, but don’t get carried away by dragging along too many external drives. Be realistic – sometimes, it’s enough to set your dual-slot camera to record the same raw capture to both cards, then transfer the images to a computer/tablet and keep the duplicate cards in separate bags. If you have access to decent Wi-Fi, uploading key images to a remote server or cloud service could do the trick.
  • Carnets are important when traveling internationally with lots of equipment. Registering your equipment with customs on the outbound leg lets them know that you didn’t acquire the gear overseas so you don’t get smacked with a large import duty for stuff you already own when you come home. The flip side is that it also opens the door for the country to which you’re traveling to ask for your work permit on arrival, so be prepared and find out if you’ll need such a permit well in advance of your overseas gig – your client should know how to arrange for the permit, as they’re not typically something you can just saunter in and pick up at a port of entry.
  • Visas. Even when traveling as a tourist, many countries require a visa for entry, and the process often requires you to fill out an application and mail your passport to a stateside processing center. For instance, Americans living on the U.S. West Coast who want to visit India will need to fill out an online visa application and payment form, then mail their passport to a processing facility is in San Francisco. Most countries’ embassies typically make this information available online; the U.S. Department of State also maintains a compendium of travel resources.
  • Packing smart is every bit as important as packing light. You can buy a new toothbrush, socks and T-shirts, etc., just about anywhere, so check all that stuff and just bring the essentials with you in your carry-ons, items such as cameras, computer, chargers, cards, external drives, medicines, etc. Lighting and grip gear will need to be checked due to size and weight—refer back to item No. 1.

  • Rechargeable and lithium-ion batteries do not go below decks on aircraft — these types of batteries are known to spontaneously combust. Old-fashioned alkaline batteries are allowed in the cargo hold. The theory is that, in the rare event that something were to go wrong with a lithium battery in flight, it would be located where people can actually do something about it, such as drop the thing into a trash can and blast it with a fire extinguisher.
  • Consider paying for (or wrangling) an upgraded seat. I’m suggesting this for priority seating access. The airlines have screwed themselves (and us) by charging for checked bags; everyone tries to carry their stuff onboard, putting overhead bin space at a premium. If you’re wondering why the airlines started doing this in the first place, it’s because it serves to free up space below decks for more profitable air freight.In any case, if you’re able to score priority boarding, you’ll not have to fight for overhead space for all that expensive equipment you’re not able to check (insurance companies won’t cover your equipment if it’s not under your direct control, a circumstance that’s perfectly defined by handing over a suitcase to an airline at the check-in counter). Some airlines let you pay a small fee for priority boarding, others reserve it for elite-class fliers or those who have purchased premium/first-class seating.

And here’s my travel wish for you all: may you find clients who will book your travel on private jets. Until that happens, travel wisely, politely, and safely.


This post originally appeared on the ASMP Strictly Business Blog, and is a repost on this blog from 2015.

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