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Equipment

Packing Photography Gear for International (or Domestic) Travel

For the last couple of years, I’ve become pretty good at packing my bags for travel, while making sure all of the gear I need arrives safely and securely. Certainly, packing bags and traveling effectively is an art form in its own right, and I wanted to take you through the process of my packing, to make sure I have all the gear I need when working on a foreign location.

While LensRentals.com doesn’t ship international (this is because of shipping costs), they do allow all gear to be taken outside of the country. This means a lot of our gear is well traveled and we’re able to allow access to incredible gear for photographers all over the world.

The Importance of Packing

Over the last few years, the industry has changed an enormous amount. Battery packs have gotten smaller (The AlienBee Vagabond II is 18lbs for example, the Profoto B1 battery pack is about 1lb), cameras have gotten smaller (Sony a7sII verse a Sony FS7 for example), and the options to travel with small and professional quality gear is more viable than ever. We can now shoot professional quality content in smaller than ever packages, making traveling on location feasible and affordable.

Some Notes about Travel

First and foremost, when I’m traveling by air, I make sure to always make use of my carry-on and have the most expensive and most important gear with me at all times. When traveling, you always run the risk of theft, especially when traveling internationally, so you want to help eliminate the risk of having any important gear lost by keeping that stuff with you at all times. Clothes and other items and be replaced if stolen (and don’t usually have enough value to justify theft), while losing your only camera during a photography trip can ruin the trip. Checked bags are often thrown, stacked, and generally mishandled. Your camera gear is far too important to arrive broken and damaged. Find a bag that you can take with you through an airport at all times. Most bag manufacturers will let you know if the bag meets the Carry-On size restrictions on their website.

Also, if traveling domestically, light stands, tripods, and other large bulky objects can be borrowed, rented, or purchased (and returned) when you arrive at your destination. If I’m low on space, the one thing I’ll always leave behind is my tripod or light stands.

Finally, as a general rule of thumb when I’m traveling (especially internationally), I tend to gaff tape up most of my gear, to hide and brand names, logos or other identifiers. On this particular trip, I’ll be taking with me expensive Canon gear, and Profoto gear. A quick glance at the gear and Google search can tell you exactly the price of the stuff I’m using, so I like to remove identifiers to make the gear less obvious. Even if this makes me 1% less likely to be robbed, it’s worth spending the five minutes taping it all up. I also keep my gear looking beat up and abused. I’m not cleaning my laptop, Wacom tablet or anything else going on this trip. Anything to make it look less desirable makes it look as though it has less value.

Mastering the Weight Restrictions

Typically, I’ve found that when traveling domestically in the United States, they never actually weigh your carry-on bag. However, for international travel, they will often weigh bags, and impose some pretty strict requirements for bag weight. For my upcoming trip, I’m limited to 22 pounds, which makes ensuring all of your important equipment is on you really quite difficult. However, I’ve found a little bit of a loophole, with the policy surrounding the personal item that you’re also able to take with you. For my upcoming trip, I called my airline and asked them what the restrictions were for the personal item. What they told me was they it can not weigh more than 22 lbs, and must be less than 45 inches (height + width + depth). This doubles the amount of gear I’m able to physically take with me and makes traveling with photography gear much more feasible.

My Packing for the Philippines

Perhaps the best example I can give for international travel trips is to use my upcoming trip as an example. This week, I’ll be traveling to the Philippines for 21 days. While there, I’ll be taking thousands of photos for personal work, and developing B-roll for a potential small documentary on the trip. So for this 21-day trip, I need to fit both photography gear, videography gear, and my day to day living necessities all in 4 bags, two checked, one as a carry-on and a small personal item. Additionally, international travel often has different restrictions in bag sizes, specifically carry-on bags. This makes the trip a special type of complicated, but something we’ll address right now.

Also, I would like to make mention of TSA approved locks commonly found on all of my bags. TSA locks are basically luggage locks that are pre-approved by the TSA. They’re combination locks, and the TSA has a master key that unlocks them. Using these locks will allow TSA to search your bags, but would prevent anyone else to easily look through your bags. This includes airport employees, baggage carriers, and anyone else in the airport that is not working directly for the TSA. All of my bags, both carry-on and checked bags, have an absurd number of TSA locks. While they’re probably easy to break, they give enough security to keep my paranoid mind at bay.

Listed below is the gear I’ll be bringing along with me to help tackle these mountains of ideas and projects I’ll be doing while out there. This will also highlight what helps make LensRentals.com so great. To purchase and take all of the gear with me, would be financially impossible for a photographer or videographer. However, through the help of rentals, I’m able to take professional level gear with me to the Philippines, and do it at a much lower cost than it would be otherwise. Pairing that with Lens Rentals having one of the most extensive inventories for professional level photography and videography gear, I’m able to take the latest models and newest technology with me, keeping my bag size small, and giving me everything I need.

Bag 1 &2 (The Carry On & “Personal Item”)

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Because I’m traveling and planning on doing both video and photo work, I need to make use of versatility, as well upholding the highest quality available. Throughout my gear selection, you’ll see me swap versatility for quality and vice versa, depending on the importance of the gear. So without further ado, here is my carry-on bag for the trip.

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The Bag – ThinkTank Airport International 2.0 (& LowePro Echelon Attache)
The bag that all of this gear will go into is the ThinkTank Airport International V2.0. This is because is it sized for international travel (something none of my other camera bags are), and maximizes the space and security needed for a carry-on. It also has built-in TSA-compliant locking mechanisms, giving you the extra security without infuriating the TSA agents.

Canon 5d Mark III
I’m all about redundancy if I can help it, and usually bring two cameras with me when I get the chance. However, when traveling to foreign locations, it’s a whole lot easier to get through customs if you don’t appear as a journalist or other person working in media. Multiple camera bodies and lenses can make getting into the country more complicated, so it’s much easier to fly under the radar, and pack light. Prior to this trip, I had my Canon 5d Mark III properly inspected by Canon, to help minimize the possibility that I’ll have equipment failure while out there.

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II
I’m largely a prime lens shooter, in fact, I detest zoom lenses for my day to day work. Though when traveling with limited space, zoom lenses are the only option. This goes back to the portion regarding versatility verse quality. Will this lens shoot as well as a Canon 35mm f/1.4L II or a Sigma 50mm Art? Probably not quite….but it’ll be able to meet both of those focal lengths, and be a wonderful single lens solution for a lot of the work.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L
While the Canon 24-70mm will be a great solution for medium length focal lengths, I’ll also want something longer when shooting on location, as I plan on doing some small photojournalistic work while out in the Philippines. So for that, I’ve chosen the 70-200mm f/2.8L. It’s fast, it’s got a great image quality, and it’ll cover a very large range. Specifically, I chose the version without IS, because A.) It’s the lens I already own (So more cost effective), and B.) It’s a bit more light weight than the IS versions.

Profoto B2 2 Light Lighting Kit
I often light my subjects using off camera lighting, and I intend on doing that while in the Philippines. So for that reason, I’ve chosen to bring one of the smallest light kits in the world, with the Profoto B2 Lighting System. At 250w/s, the B2 should be plenty of power to light what I need, and is small enough to carry with me for the majority of the trip. It’s also all self-contained and battery powered, so it’s lightweight, and something I can easily sling over my shoulder and be mobile while lighting effectively.

Profoto Canon TTL Trigger
Along with the Profoto B2 system, I’m bringing along the Profoto Air Remote TTL-C trigger. This is so that I can easily sync the Profoto B2 system with my camera, and get all of the functionality of the B2 strobe system, which is TTL (if needed), and more importantly, High-Speed Sync. Using High-Speed sync, I’ll be able to shoot at faster shutter speeds, and not need ND filters to achieve a shallow depth of field.

GoPro Hero4 Silver Edition
GoPro is still the best at what it does, which is capturing footage other cameras can’t. I plan on spending time on beaches while I’m in the Philippines, and the GoPro Hero4 Silver will be the perfect camera to take along to the beach, and coastlines. With waterproof casing and high-quality video the GoPro will make for the perfect action camera while out there.

LaCie Rugged Drive
The LaCie Rugged drive will serve one very important purpose, backup. My greatest fears have the most potential to come alive when I’m traveling, which is data failure. When at home, I’m able to backup images and footage almost instantly, making sure that nothing gets lost in the process. Obviously, when traveling, the process gets a bit more complicated. So I generally never erase cards, and always put the footage on two different hard drives, which are always kept in separate locations.

Samsung Series 9 Laptop
This laptop isn’t particularly fast when it comes to editing, and has been retired from Photoshop since I purchased it a couple years ago. While it can handle everything I’ll need when it comes to editing on location, it also has one really great feature that makes it perfect for travel – it’s incredibly small. When I first purchased it, it was because it was named the thinnest laptop ever built, and I believe it still holds that title a couple years later. It’s size alone makes it a great travel companion.

Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet (small)
This is an essential for a lot of my editing needs, and since I intend on editing some photos from the trip, while on-location, I’ll need my Wacom tablet to help make the editing process much easier.

iPad Mini 2
This will be used as my reference monitor for much of the work I’ll be doing on location. While my Samsung Series 9 Laptop is great, the screen attached to it is not. Rather than bringing along a larger computer system, I’ll be able to use the smaller sized Samsung laptop, and then double check all colors from the photos on my laptop, iPad, and phone screen, to help ensure correct colors. The iPad will also be used as a reference monitor for much of the video production I’ll be doing while on location, and my movie screen on the long flights.

ProMediaGear BBX Boomerang Flash Bracket
When finding an assistant for holding a light isn’t a viable option, I turn to a recently found tool that I have been using more and more, with the ProMediaGear Boomerang Flash Bracket. This flash bracket allows me to put a B2 flash unit onto the top of my camera and even gives me the clearance to put a small modifier on to the light and keep it out of frame. It’s a little cumbersome but works really great when you want to use all the benefits of off camera flash, which still keeping mobile.

Extra Batteries and Memory Cards
Again, backups of backups of backups. In this, I have a bunch of extra Compact Flash cards for the Canon cameras, a few extra Micro SD cards for the DJI Inspire 1 and GoPro, and additional batteries for all the systems.

Bag 3 (Checked Bag 1) – GPS Inspire 1 Compact Landing Mode Case

Bag three is a piece from my personal collection of gear, and something that liability refuses to allow LensRentals.com to rent. This is, of course, a DJI Inspire 1 drone. Cased in a GPC Inspire 1 Compact Landing Mode Case, the DJI Inspire 1 will be used as my main camera for much of the video footage I’ll be creating while out in the Philippines. In the case is the DJI Inspire 1 drone, remote controller, extra props and other small pieces of gear, and charger for the batteries (I pack the Inspire 1 batteries on my carry-on). Technically this case is about 3 inches larger than the maximum checked bag size, and I may be hit with an oversize charge on it. I’m hoping to avoid that with some charm and flying under the radar (pun intended)…wish me luck.

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I’ve also included a few packs of AA and AAA batteries. I once ready in the book Cryptonomicon that batteries are particularly expensive in the Philippines, and can be used as a bribe for any customs officer with sticky hands. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that, but if I was to have anything stolen while in transit, I’d prefer it to be batteries and not my drone.

Bag 4 (Checked Bag 2)

Bag four contains some of the additional gear I’ll need while traveling on location, along with any clothes and personal items I’ll be bringing along.

Benro Ultra-Light Tripod
While I want to bring a tripod with me, specifically to capture some long exposures if possible, I also want to keep it light. As you can imagine if you have gotten this far into this post, I’m bringing a lot of gear with me, so keeping it as lightweight as possible is of the utmost importance. Especially with a tripod, which I plan on doing light hikes with.

Profoto Foldable Beauty Dish
Since I’ll be bringing along the Profoto B2 lighting system, I’ll also want to include a modifier while on location, allowing me to soften and shape the light as needed. For this reason, I’ve chosen to take along the newest release from Profoto with the Profoto Foldable Beauty Dish. It’s lightweight, and foldable, allowing me to store it away as needed. It’s also small and punchy, giving me the light qualities you usually find with a beauty dish.

Manfrotto Monopod
As mentioned above, I generally don’t take light stands with me while traveling, as finding replacements to light stands while on location is often easy, and come in much smaller sizes than light stands typically are. Among one of the replacements to light stands that I often use is a monopod, with a brass monkey bolt on top of it, allowing me to mount whatever lighting gear I need to it. I can then usually find an assistant to help hold the monopod.

LaCie Rugged Mini Drive
You remember how I said all data is backed up to two drives? This is the second one. I keep them in two different locations to help avoid any accidents, theft or anything else. So when traveling, the go in separate bags.

LifeStraw Water Bottle & Filtration System
One warning I was presented with when deciding to go to the Philippines, was of waterborne viruses that could harm me. I was told to make sure all water used in cooking and for drinking is boiled beforehand, so I went ahead and purchased a water bottle which is designed to remove 99.99% of all waterborne bacteria and parasites. My health is important, and coming down with an illness can halt any work I can do for a few days. Looking out for my body is important, and often neglected when working abroad.

Emergen-C Vitamin Pouches
Again, among one of the things I plan on doing while in the Philippines is to stay healthy. I have a lot of things to do while there, and getting sick because of a virus or bacteria that my body isn’t accustomed to is something I can’t risk doing. So I’ve brought along with me plenty of vitamins to keep my immune system healthy and functioning.

Clothes
T-shirts and jeans. Keep it simple, right?

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So What Does This Have To Do With LensRentals.com?

In summary, I’m taking a lot of gear with me, all that is able to fit into some pretty small bags. While traveling, I won’t need to sacrifice what I’m capable of, because I don’t have the tools I need. While in the Philippines, I’ll be using tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear, and using it to hopefully take some spectacular photos and videos from the trip. Financially, there is no way I could afford to purchase all the gear I’m bringing along with me, but with the help of LensRentals.com, I’m able to rent most of it and save myself thousands while creating work that will help generate interest from others and continue to grow my portfolio.

Zach Sutton

Editor | LensRentals.com

Author: Zach Sutton

I’m Zach and I’m the editor and a frequent writer here at Lensrentals.com. I’m also an editorial and portrait photographer in Los Angeles, CA, and offer educational workshops on photography and lighting all over North America.

Posted in Equipment
  • Andrew

    About the TSA-approved locks, I’m sorry to tell you they provide absolutely no security. They’re already not designed to be particularly secure, more just to keep travelers from worrying, since zippers can easily be separated, opened, and resealed without ever moving the lock an inch. Also, the TSA is notoriously lax with their master keys, and if I were so inclined I could 3D-print a set of master keys right now with a few clicks. Unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s any better solution to securing luggage.

  • Gordon Lewis

    The advice Zach provides, although valuable, is obviously aimed at pro shooters. The average tourist shooting for personal pleasure would be insane to carry this much equipment. Reasons include weight, risk of theft, and limited time and opportunities to use it all, especially if you’re traveling with friends or family. For non-pros, small, lightweight, yet redundant is the way to go. Having more than one of the same basic item can be a life-saver if one of them breaks, gets lost, or gets stolen.

  • Stanislaw Zolczynski

    Just one camera to do stills and videos? No back up ones? Increadible!

  • Copy exported JPEGS over to it…I’m sure the former is possible…I’ve just never looked into it.

  • Casey Henderson

    Spare lithium batteries must be packed in carry-on bag as per 1-April-2016 rule change, regular/rechargeable spare batteries can go in checked bags… always store batteries so that they will not short out. I normally put cables and chargers in the checked bag as well as any common item not requiring power. The Photo Club of the Philippines or similar groups can provide local support for visiting photographers and a local resource can provide best practices – think remote and some urban locations. Wireless equipment (third party triggers etc.) require the use of different frequencies depending on the location / country… technically you could run afoul of communication laws…

    Finally, there has been reported to be a common scam where bullets are placed in your bag upon arrival in order to extort fines… just saying, watch your bags.

    Have a safe trip… Try to stop by any photo exhibitions that might be running, it’s a beautiful country.

  • J L Williams

    I’m not angry, merely snarky. If you want to use your employer’s forum to advocate misusing store return privileges, I’m totally fine with that… hey, I’m not in the camera-store business, so it’s no skin off my nose. You just invented the anger thing to make yourself feel good…

  • Lex Dodson

    Looks like our trips overlap, Zach. I’m traveling to Mindanao via a domestic carrier, so I get to deal with even tighter weight limits. And in addition to my digital cameras, I’m bringing a Speed Graphic with two lenses and ten film holders. This will be fun.

    One tip I’d add to your list; for photographers who aren’t generating huge amounts of data, high-capacity USB3.0 flash drives are a light, cheap backup option. Thanks to the weight limits, my setup’s so stripped down I won’t even have a computer with me. Fortunately, I can borrow one from my host.

  • Zack, I’m curious how you use the iPad to preview your colors. Do you tether, or do you copy exported JPEGs over to it? Thanks!

  • I’d normally have no problem with housing people in need…after all, I’m going to the Philippines to work with non profit orphanages.

    Also, you took it out of context to defend your anger…I suggested borrowing and renting before the option you are so abundantly against. Multiple times now, I’ve bought light stands and given them away after the shoot. I’m just here to give suggestions to those who need them.

  • J L Williams

    “…light stands, tripods, and other large bulky objects can be…purchased (and returned)…” — you mean, dupe local retailers into serving as a free lending library of photo equipment? Wow, great tip! Thanks!! By the way, what’s your home address? I’d love to stay at your place for free while you’re out of the country. No problem with that, right?

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