Our panel of underwater photography professionals offer hints and advice on the thorny subject of travelling with your camera system, and the best ways to pack your gear
Packing is one of the most-stressful bits about any vacation. I always recommend starting early to keep your nerves in check.
The first think I do is to select what gear I may need. There is no reason to take every bit of equipment you own. Choose the kit more suited to the place you are visiting and consider a few spares. Ask yourself, is it a macro or a wide-angle destination? Will you need a fisheye lens? Do you need a remote strobe or a snoot? Avoid taking unnecessary equipment.
Once I have selected my equipment, I usually lay it all out on the floor and set it up at least once. It is a good time to test that everything is working. The last thing you want is get to your destination only to realise you left a vital bit of kit behind, normally a sync cable or a charger. I’m not good at lists, but if it helps have a spreadsheet of all the parts you need.
Not every bit of equipment needs to go in your hand luggage, I only take with me camera and lenses. Use your hold luggage to pack the less-fragile bits. I use a small soft case where I pack housing, ports and strobes. Using bubble wrap and foam, I protect each piece of kit and organize them tightly. I then place the soft case in the middle of a lightweight hard case and use my clothes and dive kit to add protection.
I regularly pack all my dive kit, camera kit and cloth for a week in under 66lb. Enough to travel to any dive destination without any problems.
I always try to put as much of my camera gear in the hold luggage as possible to avoid having to carry a lot of weight in hand luggage around airports, this also avoids trying to fit lots of heavy things in my pockets when check in weigh the carry-on bag! Although the camera and lenses will always be in my hand luggage, pretty much everything else is robust enough to survive in my suitcase. I was always loathe to put any camera gear in the hold, but as you gain more gear and your kit expands, then you do need to be realistic when packing.
I have an aluminium housing which would always get me stopped by security if it went in hand luggage, but it is fine in the hold along with the tray, arms and clamps. My strobes and ports also go in the hold, well protected with bubble wrap and cushioned in my wetsuit and clothes. Tupperware is also useful for a bit of extra protection for kit and I take rechargeable AA batteries for the strobes in a clip-lidded box. All the various chargers go in along with a four-gang extension lead with the right plug adaptor attached ready so it is easier to charge camera, light and strobe batteries when there is a shortage of plug sockets.
Hand luggage limits can be restrictive, but it is worth weighing everything before you buy, including bags, to make the most of the weight allowed. Anything delicate or irreplaceable needs to stay in hand luggage and I use a lightweight photographer’s backpack so my camera and lenses are protected. The laptop and hard drives are also in hand luggage – we have two hard drives and as we travel as a couple, we take one each for extra security. Buying tough hard drives that can take a few bumps is also a good idea if you will be traveling a lot, as they are bound to get dropped at some point.
Have a checklist of your equipment so you don’t forget anything and you can take a picture of your bags to remind yourself how everything was packed. If you are optically challenged and need a prescription mask, then do take this in your carry-on too as you won’t be able to rent one – it can go in the hold on the way home.
It’s also worth checking what extras you can carry on the plane, such as laptop bags, a small camera or handbag or a coat with space for more gear. Don’t forget to take your re-usable water bottles, but make sure you take them out of the bag and take the lids off when going through security so they don’t stop you. Whatever country you are in, be nice to check in and security staff, be ready with electricals and liquids out of bags and smile – they are doing their jobs and if you are grumpy or argue with them, you are the only one that will lose out. Remember, you are on vacation!
My Nikon D5 is a beast of a camera weighing in at 3lb! Compared to other photographers with their compacts or their mirrorless systems, I have to contend with a considerable amount of weight, as having a big camera everything that goes with it is also weighty.
The first thing when packing is to consider, what I am going to shoot when I get where I am going. Is it mainly macro or mainly wide angle? If macro, then there is little point me taking my huge Subtronic strobes and huge Zen dome port, for example (I take a smaller dome). I see so many people who take everything they own in their camera cupboard – it’s best to be selective.
Make a list when you get back from a trip and check what you didn’t use. The next time you go away check back on the list and pack accordingly.
I found the lightest weight cabin roller bag that I could – mine weighs just under 3.5lb. Into this I pack my housing and a couple of Inon strobes and MacBook. This normally takes me to the airline hand luggage limit. I then pack my faithful photographer’s vest stuffed to the gunwales, with camera body, lenses, magnifiers, batteries and loads more. This is removed when checking in and draped innocuously over a trolley or simply worn – it can weigh 26lb or more! The nice thing is that when not at the check in, the heavy load can be rolled around comfortably!
Next, I pack everything else, either in strong plastic boxes or wrapped in bubble wrap and then wrap my wetsuit, rash vest, clothes, etc, around the more-fragile items. This is all packed into the lightest, stiff-sided roller bag, suitable for the hold that I could find – one made by Rohan. All internal sides and any voids are stuffed with bubble wrap.
I am always looking for ways to shed luggage weight and have the obligatory travel wing, lightweight regulators and fins. Recently I changed nearly all my charging units to USB and plug these into a mains-powered USB hub – this saved me 3lb!
Photographs courtesy of Mario Vitalini, Martyn Guess, and Phil and Anne Medcalf