Traveling With Camera Equipment

Last updated: August 16, 2017
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Of all the things you don’t want to lose traveling, it’s your camera (okay, maybe the kids too). All those scenic photos, those candid family shots, that frame of you “holding up” the Leaning Tower of Pisa; priceless memories preserved on film or card that can’t be replaced. Traveling with a camera and all of the equipment that you may have brought with it can be a little tricky, but there are things to know about each piece which can make the experience a lot easier.

First off, a quality hard case is key. This Pelican case is the largest one that will qualify to be a carry on item – don’t check your camera bag, unless you absolutely have too.  This case will allow you to put multiple cameras, lenses and other sensitive equipment together and keep it with you!

Knowing what you can bring on the plane can be a little confusing anyway, but in terms of your camera equipment, there are even more things to know. Between the extra lens’ of varying lengths, a tripod, batteries and a USB card, or film if you’re really hardcore, there’s a plethora of extra parts that you may have with you along with the camera itself. For the most part, if it can fit in your carry-on, then it’s allowed. But as some of the equipment is sensitive, there are ways you can pack to protect your valuables, regardless of whether it’s allowed in your carry-on baggage.

Traveling with a tripod

It’s not the most sensitive piece of the photographer’s equipment, but it can potentially create problems if bringing it through security. TSA officers can be rather subjective on this, but some deem that a tripod can be used as a “weapon.” If the tripod has spiked feet, this could equally trigger a no-go response from an officer. If your bag is soft-sided and the tripod is protruding or creating a big bump from underneath, you may likewise hear that it’s not allowed. Experienced travel photographers suggest packing it as neatly as possible, with your clothes, and to ensure that it doesn’t weigh very much, as the TSA stipulates that carry-on’s weigh no more than 40 lbs. for domestic travel (weights vary greatly for international travel, check your airline).

Traveling with Camera Batteries

Whether you use alkaline, lithium or nickel metal-hydrade (NiMH) rechargeable batteries for your camera, the protocol for safe packing and what’s allowed isn’t much different between the three. One exception is that lithium ion and lithium metal batteries are not allowed in checked baggage. It’s recommended that spare batteries be packed in their own container, and if you do have a battery re-charger that necessitates being plugged in, wrap the cord tightly around it. If you do have batteries in your camera already, be certain that it won’t turn on any point. Obviously, rules for laptop, car and other battery types differ from those for your camera.

Traveling with film

In the digital age, a lot of cameras just have a USB plug-in or are connected to a “cloud” and automatically upload to your computer. But what was once commonplace, and then replaced, will become popular again; just like vinyl records, bell-bottom jeans and throwback jerseys. And many say film is better than digital anyway. But how do you get all your awesome-but-undeveloped travel photos back home through the airport?

As any photographer knows, undeveloped camera film is very sensitive. If you’re unable to get your photos developed until after you get home, it’s important to extra care of that film when going through the airport. The TSA suggests that you do not pack film in your checked baggage, as the equipment they use to scan luggage can severely damage it. So when packing your camera and film, Kodak helps out with a few crucial things to know.

  • Even if the film is still in your camera, the X-ray machines can damage it.
  • Lead-lined cases or bags do help, but aren’t a fail-safe. Depending on the intensity of the X-ray machines, the thickness of the lead and the quality of your film, it may still get fogged. Check with the case manufacturer on its effectiveness in this regard.
  • You can request a hand-search of your bag. Obviously this will take a little longer, but it will prevent your undeveloped film from being destroyed.
  • Most larger airports have the option of shipping things that aren’t allowed in your bag, and you can do the same thing for items you fear will be damaged.

These X-ray machines don’t affect digital cameras, but for unprocessed film, it’s very harmful. Letting the TSA agents know about your sensitive material, along with being nice and patient, will make the whole process go smoothly.

Some more general advice: disassemble the camera before travel, as you wouldn’t want the lens to snap off in your bag. Pack cleaning supplies, as dust and fibers can scuff parts of your camera. Pack everything securely; if you need extra padding or to have your camera equipment in a separate bag, do that. Whether putting your equipment in your checked or carry-on bag, things can easily shuffle around throughout the process of travel, and if not secured properly your stuff can become damaged.

So whether you’re a professional or an enthusiast, and whether you just have a disposable or six interchangeable lens plus a tripod, knowing how to take these things through airport security will ensure that your photos develop properly and that everything goes from point A to B safely.

*Featured image from Bourgeois A, via Wiki Commons

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