I’m probably one of few people who actually LOVES packing for travel. I find packing to be like a massive puzzle, and I love the process of laying my stuff out, trying to figure out what will fit in what bags. I also love going to Goodwill or REI garage sales and picking up heavily discounted bags to use on my next packing experiments. Just ask my boyfriend how large my collection of backpacks, suitcases, and shoulder bags is!
As a packing connoisseur, I used to love it whenever a photo blog would post a new article with a fellow photographer showing how to pack for a photo trip, such as Jay P. Morgan and Chase Jarvis. But as soon as I hit play on their videos, I find myself tuning out after a while–these commercial photographers seem to have tentacles for arms and tons of baggage space to pack their entire photo studios, and then some! Sure, these are probably realistic packing tips for someone doing an entire commercial shoot on the road, but what about the semi-casual photographer, or someone packing for a small to medium sized photo shoot? Well, that’s what I’m aiming to tackle in this blog post. This is called the “Deluxe” edition because this is the maximum amount of camera gear I’ll likely take to any travel photo shoot as of now. I’ve tried in the past to find ways to bring lighting stands and strobes, but it’s been a huge pain that so far hasn’t been worth the hassle.
My first travel packing experience occurred in 2006. I was a junior in college, preparing to leave for Granada, Spain, where I would spend 6 months studying abroad. Following in the footsteps of my fellow study abroad folks, I decided to swap out my suitcases for a backpacking pack. I found a huge one at the REI garage sale and filled it plus my Timbuk2 shoulder bag with stuff–enough to live off of for 6 months, plus additional side trips. This was before I got into photography, and the only camera I brought was a little Sony point and shoot. Still, the pack was not small enough to serve as a carry on, so it always had to be checked whenever I flew.
Fast track to today. While I’ll still revert back to the backpacking pack for international trips, I largely stick to rolling suitcases when I can as a means of saving my shoulders and back from excess weight. Below is a sample of the baggage I’ve been traveling with for the past year: a carry-on sized rolling suitcase, a Think Tank Change Up Belt Pack, a Think Tank Retrospective 30 camera bag, and a Timbuk2 Q Laptop Backpack.
Assuming I’m planning for a 7 to 14 day long trip in a tropical environment with light photography assignments (ie. event, product, documentary work), here’s how the breakdown works.
Rolling carry-on suitcase: filled with 5 shirts (3 semi-dressy, 2 casual), 3 pairs of shorts (2 casual/dressy, 1 athletic), 1 pair of black tights, 1 pair of black semi-dressy pants, 1 semi-dressy dress, 5 pairs of socks and underwear, 1 bathing suit, 1 pair of rubber slippers, 1 pair of slip-on flats that can pass for dressy attire, and 1 small bag of toiletries. I use gallon-sized ziplock bags as much as possible to condense the clothes and make more fit in the suitcase. I also stick my Benro Travel Flat tripod in the suitcase, and my Think Tank Change Up Bag (usually flattened or stuffed with the shoes and toiletries bag). I bring the Change Up Bag because it’s a great little day pack that can hold quite a bit of stuff and be used on the job.
This rolling suitcase could serve as a carry on, in which case I’d probably wrap some lenses in the clothes, but lately I’ve been checking this bag. These are items that would suck to be lost, but wouldn’t make the mission impossible if they went missing. Also, I try to negotiate the baggage check expense into whatever photography contracts I negotiate if payment is involved.
Clothes worn to the airport: jeans, casual shoes, a long sleeve button down shirt (great to keep warm and to fend off mosquitoes), and a fleece sweater.
Now, on to the photography gear! For some larger travel photography projects, I’ve gotten to used to hauling around quite a bit of gear due to the scope of the projects, as well as the knowledge that I’ve usually worked carry on baggage fees into the job contracts I’ve signed. This is what I packed for my latest 2.5 week photo work trip to Hawaii, although in retrospect, I think it was too much.
All of this fits into the Think Tank Retrospective 30 bag: Canon 6D, Canon 5D Mark III, 16-35mm f/2.8 wide angle lens, 50mm f/1.8 lens, 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, Manfrotto LED Maxima light, 580EXII Speedlite, GoPro Hero2, cable remote release, ND grad filter, polarizing filter, 2 R-Straps, memory card wallet, spare batteries, Anker Astro external battery, mini reflector, protective rain gear, Nexus 7 tablet, bag full of wires and cable. Phew! Needless to say, it was a HEAVY camera bag. This is my primary carry on.
My other carry on is the Timbuk2 Q laptop backpack which holds my Apple MacBook Pro, charging cables, and card reader. There’s also enough room to transfer some of the camera gear into the backpack if necessary. On some shorter weekend photo assignments, such as when I shot Outside Lands last year and SXSW this year, I’ve stuffed all of my clothes and toiletries into this bag so nothing has to be checked in.
Despite all of the camera gear I hauled to Hawaii, I only ended up using the above items to shoot 2 food festivals, and document 13 farm tours. It was just a fraction of all of the gear I had brought, but it got all of the jobs done beautifully! This was partially a test to see if I could “survive” paid photo shoots on minimal gear, and I’m happy to say the test passed!
On the next trip…
I’m already mentally packing for my next trip, a 3 week photography project in the Caribbean, and my ideal packing list is pretty compact. Photo-wise, I’ll likely stick to just one camera body, the 100mm macro, wide angle lens, 50mm lens, polarizers and lens filters, GoPro, and LED light crammed into the Think Tank Change Up Bag, which will be a carry on. Since it’ll be an international assignment with more action photos, likely taken from horseback or on a boat, I know from experience that I’ll want as little gear as possible for peace of mind; I also really love the Changeup bag in this circumstance as it has a waist strap I can use for ergonomics and added security. The laptop and 5 pairs of clothes will likely go into my medium-sized backpacking pack that can easily be carried on to the airplane. I’ll post a blog with photos when packing commences!