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Tips on Packing for Travel Photography

written by: Caroline Thompson•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/1/2011

The travel photographer needs to travel light but be prepared for any situation. Here are some handy packing tips for photographers on the road.

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    Travel Preparation

    • Get maps, itineraries and travel resources. It is important to plan a travel route, make a list of all the places to visit and what there is to see and do in those locations. Being prepared will make your trip go smoothly and therefore be more enjoyable.
    • Find out the weather conditions and pack appropriate clothing for the climate.
    • Next, make sure all camera equipment is insured and that the serial numbers are noted down and filed. If traveling overseas, find out if you need any registration certificates for the camera equipment. Contact the government agency in your region for more information on international travel. In the USA, check the US Department of State's Website. This step is important to make sure that no duties are assessed on the camera gear upon re-entry into the country.
    • Check the FAA's Website for any travel restrictions and tips on how to separate the camera gear for X-ray and inspection.
    • If traveling out of the country, contact credit cards, cell phone companies and banks. Unless the cell phone carrier is notified in advance, most cell phones will not operate outside of the country. The same is true for credit cards and ATM cards.

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    Travel Essentials

    The FAA states when traveling with photographic equipment, two carry on bags are allowed. It is necessary to check with the local airline carrier to make sure their restrictions don't prohibit the second bag. Having a second carry on bag will make packing easier.

    • Make sure all rechargeable batteries are packed in the carry on bag. If film is being carried, store in a shielded bag and ask the security personnel to make a hand search of the film. Having film scanned will damage the film.
    • Carry a change of clothes and toiletries for overnight in case the luggage is delayed or put on another carrier.
    • Carry a padded bag with extra protection for all the camera gear. If it is possible, a camera backpack is ideal for travel. It eases the burden on the shoulders and makes hiking around with heavy gear more comfortable.
    • Group items together for easy packing.
    • Print out a packing list. This will aid in packing all the important essentials.
    • Keep important documents together. Use a passport holder or document case.
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    Travel Photography Gear

    Travel photography gear should be versatile and as light as possible. It is important to plan for a variety of different lighting situations.

    • Carry as much data storage as possible. Take large capacity cards, 4-8 GB per card.
    • If traveling with a laptop, carry a card reader to transfer the images to the laptop. Also, CDs for backup storage.
    • Extra batteries and a battery charger. These will need to be packed into the carry on luggage. If traveling in Europe, make sure to carry the conversion plugs for your electronic equipment. Make sure to have a set of batteries for your flash strobes also.
    • If there is room, pack two strobe flash units. One can be used as a remote in dark lighting situations. Some third world countries do not have an abundance of lighting.
    • Reflectors are light and a great way to capture extra light in low light situations. One small reflector will pack into the main luggage easily.
    • A camera that accepts multiple lenses is a must.
    • Three lenses should cover most situations. The best combination would be three variable zoom lenses, but any combination that covers 20mm, 50mm and 110mm will get good results. My recommendation would be 17-35mm, 28-80mm, and a 70-200mm. These lenses will cover most situations with the least gear. The idea is to cover wide angles, regular views and long distance shots. The faster the lens the better.
    • Two lens cleaning cloths.
    • UV or Haze filters for all lenses. These will save your lens if a rock or other projectile aims itself at your lens.
    • A mini gray card for white balancing. (It can also be placed in one frame and used to white balance later)
    • An off the camera cord for the strobe unit.
    • A shutter release cable. (Just in case)
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    Extra Room Travel Photography Gear

    Depending on how much room is available in the carry on luggage, how far and long the trip is, here are some extra items to carry if there is room.

    • An extra camera body.
    • A point and shoot camera for those instant shots or for areas where regular gear would be conspicuous.
    • A tripod, only carry this if there is extra room. Many monuments and places in Europe do not allow tripods. Most situations can be shot using a higher ISO.
    • Pack a photo bank to store digital images and free up CF cards for more pictures. These are small, lightweight and a great alternative to carrying a laptop or having to burn CDs.
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    Always remember when traveling that you are a visitor to the area. Please be mindful of the local customs and religious beliefs. Having a good local guide will make your trip easier and will help in getting good pictures. It is unfortunate, but important to be aware of your personal safety when overseas. Use common sense, be sensitive to local people and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Keeping these things in mind will make your trip a fun adventure.