I recently traveled to Cancun Mexico for my first international wedding. Although I realize one international wedding does not make me an expert, I have traveled nationally a lot for shoots and have come away with some useful tips that you can apply both to national and international traveling as a professional photographer.
1. KEEP YOUR EQUIPMENT WITH YOU:
This is probably common sense for most people, but I think worth sharing/discussing. Do not put any of your equipment in your checked luggage. If you have observed the way that checked luggage is handled with (not so great) care, you understand why this is so important.
Instead, pack in a rolling suitcase (like mine above) you can put above your seat or in a smaller bag that you can slide underneath. There are rolling suitcases that are big enough to hold your equipment that will fit under your seat.
Here’s what I use:
My rolling bag (pictured above)
Lowepro Pro Roller x300 AW:
This fits everything I could possibly need. At least two camera bodies, about 5 lenses with hoods, speedlites, audio equipment, batteries, my laptop (it has a laptop holder in the front of the bag) and chargers. A lot of people go for the more expensive Think Tank roller, but this is about $100 cheaper and has been amazing.
Mine is pictured above exactly how I packed it. It fit all of my camera gear for a wedding plus all of my personal luggage for 5 days.
TIP: When you are buying a bag, make sure you check the OUTSIDE dimensions and see that they fit within the carry on guidelines of commercial flights.
For a backpack:
Lowepro Pro Runner 300 AW Backpack:
This is the camera backpack I use. It holds almost everything the Lowepro rolling bag holds minus about a lens. This will fit underneath your seat perfectly and is great if you want to keep
your equipment with you at all times.
National Geographic Africa Small Rucksack:
If you are feeling a bit fancy and do not carry as much camera equipment and like to travel light with clothes and cameras in the same bag, this National Geographic bag is wonderful. I used it for many years and took it with me on a two month international trip.
It holds about one camera body and two lenses and batteries and chargers. I like it because the top section is like a normal backpack and the bottom section (separate zipper) is designed to hold camera equipment. The one thing about this bag is you have to watch that you have zipped the bottom closed before you pick it up. I dropped a hefty lens onto concrete by forgetting to zip the bottom. It also has a laptop case in the back that's very useful.
If you must check anything, like lights, use a pelican case with tight padding. These are pretty foolproof when traveling and can be a great backup if you absolutely have to check equipment.
TIP: A golf club case is GREAT for packing tripods and stands. Just make sure you know the fees for oversized luggage, so you are not blindsided by any extra costs.
2. THINK SIMPLE:
If you are traveling internationally, make sure you research their laws and expectations for photographers. I pack light to err on the side of safety. Instead of bringing all of my lenses, I will leave a couple at home and keep it simple. This way, if I get searched, I do not cause a lot of attention to me or suspicion. You can end up being detained for any number of reasons. The more minimal you pack, the less suspicious you will seem and the less hassle you will more than likely get.
This is so important. Make sure you have at least two places you are backing up your images. If you are dumping images on your laptop, make sure you have at least one hard drive you are backing up to in a different bag or location. Think about backing up online as well to be extra safe. Do not keep all of your images in one bag. Copy and distribute.
4. GIVE YOURSELF A BUFFER:
Be prepared for anything. Fly in a day early to a wedding or shoot to give yourself time to rent equipment, compensate for cancelled flights, and make sure you have everything you need. This extra day can be crucial for guaranteeing preparation for your shoot.
If you are traveling regularly with your equipment, you should look into insurance. Well, really you should have insurance on your equipment anyways, but with traveling there is more opportunity for lost or damage equipment. Think about liability and equipment insurance. This is required for many locations anyways.
6. KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING:
Although this may not be important to some people, I see this as a huge part of being a responsible professional wherever you are. Research where you are going. Know the customs and culture if you are traveling internationally. Learn some of the language. Get acquainted with the area.
One thing I learned while in Cancun for a wedding in January is that many employees at resorts prefer toys and gifts for their children over tips because they have to be imported into Mexico and are incredibly expensive. A tourist from England told me that she found this out and brought a suitcase full of toys and supplies to give out to the employees while she was at the resort. She said so many people let her know how much they appreciated this. I call that being a responsible and intentional tourist.
7. IN EVERYTHING THAT YOU DO, DO IT IN EXCELLENCE:
This includes doing everything that you can to make sure you are prepared to take the best possible photos of your clients, thinking of every backup plan necessary in case something happens to go wrong, packing just enough equipment to do your best work, treat everyone with kindness and understanding when traveling, and being intentional with where you are and the people you encounter.
It can be incredibly rewarding to travel both nationally and internationally to photograph the lives and stories of people, but with that comes great responsibility. With preparation, planning, intention, and passion and enthusiasm for what you do, you can crush it every time.
I hope this helps some for those of you who are traveling or wanting to travel with your photography! I look forward to traveling more myself.
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