Travelling for photography or video is great fun. You’re seeing a location for the first time with a completely fresh pair of eyes. You want to capture it your way, so that people can see it the way you want it to be seen. But, travelling with gear isn’t always as straightforward as we like. We often either pack far too much or not enough. Or we don’t plan ahead.
This video from photographer, Peter McKinnon covers five great tips for travelling with gear. He talks about storage, security, backups, and what you need to do to try and ensure you have the right gear for the job. Even if you’re just going on vacation, you want to come home with good photographs, right?
Bags & Organisation
There are some fantastic bags out there. Lots of fantastic bags. I own about a dozen of them now of various shapes, styles and sizes. But, like Peter, I always end up going back to the trusty backpack. My own personal favourite is the Tamrac Cyberpack 6. I’ve had it for about 15 years now, and it’s held up extremely well. That and a regular standard Swiss Gear backpack are my two most often used bags.
Peter prefers backpacks that open on the back for increased security. Nobody can open it while he’s actually walking around with it on his back. Handy if you need to stand on a train, or something. So, he uses the Lowepro ProTactic 450AW. But, as Peter recounts a story while in Italy, this won’t protect you from thieves if you put your bag down on the ground. So, be vigilant.
Peter also splits up different sets of gear inside the bag using smaller pouches. This is something I do as well. My audio gear goes in one, fresh batteries go in their own bag, used batteries go in another. My camera WiFi gear goes in another bag, cables go in another. It just helps to organise things within the bag and keep everything related together, so you’re not fighting through things to get to something else.
Doing Your Homework
This is something I’m doing at the moment for a trip to Glasgow in a couple of months. What gear you take with you will depend a lot on why you’re going and what you’ll be shooting while you’re there. If you’re going for a specific photo shoot, you’ll often already know the needs of the shoot and what you’ll need to take with you. If, on the other hand, you’re going for a vacation, or have no set plan, it can be more tricky to figure out what to take.
So, you need to do the homework. Fire up Instagram, Google Images, or Flickr and start searching for photos of the area that you might like to visit. Work up a shot list, and figure out what kind of gear you’ll need to be able to get the images you want. Your back will thank you, and having a list of places to visit in advance will help you get them much more quickly, too.
Sure, you can just pack your bag as you normally would, and just wander and shoot what you see. If that works for you, then go for it. But, like Peter, I often plan in advance to find spots. For my trip to Glasgow, part of it will be shooting portraits. So figuring out what gear I need to take with me, what I can borrow/rent while I’m up there, and finding suitable locations in advance is key for me.
Storage and Backups
This is a big one. When you go away for a week or two, it’s easier than you think to lose a memory card, or accidentally format one. Or perhaps all your cards have simply gotten filled and your only choice is to wipe one or buy more. Taking a laptop and a couple of USB hard drives with you will let you backup as you go. It ensures that you have multiple copies of everything, and lets you free up your cards if needed.
My go-to location backup solution today is an Asus Transformer Book, along with a Western Digital Elements and G-Drive ev ATC hard drives. This lets me back up to two drives wherever I am. With the Lexar card reader, transfers are quick and easy. I had to do this every evening at The Photography Show last week, and it never took more than 15 minutes at the end of each day.
These are the absolute must haves. Things that you need to be able to create anything at all. And these things will vary from person to person, depending on what you shoot. Peter’s list includes a number of items that he finds essential.
- Variable ND Filter
- At least 2 batteries for every single device
- Travel adapters
Personally I go overkill on the batteries. I have three cameras that I shoot video with. I have 4 batteries that work for two of them (mostly b-roll and second cameras), and 5 batteries just for my main camera. And it’s a good job I did because there were very limited plug sockets (1) in my hotel room at the show. I had to choose between charging up my phones, tablets and laptop or charging camera batteries. I ended up going through four of the five batteries for my main camera before I was able to recharge them.
Other things I always make sure to pack are plenty of lens cloths. Spare USB cables in a separate bag for all my devices, as they tend to have a habit of getting lost. A six port 50w USB charger is also invaluable. It lets me charge my iPhone and an Android phone, my iPad, Nexus 7 and Asus Transformer, and leaves me a spare socket for charging up USB batteries for mobile power.
Time of Day
This is sort of covered in the homework bit. But it’s important enough that it deserves its own section. Once you’ve planned out you locations and what you’re going to be shooting, when you’re going to be shooting it is vital. For larger subjects like landscapes, you’re at the mercy of the sun. You’ll want to make sure that you’re at the location when the sun is in the position to give you the shots you want.
Even for my trip to Scotland, even though I’ll be shooting portraits, I’ll be shooting them in the wilderness. I’ll have flash with me, so I’m not too worried about how the natural light will look on my subject. But, I do want the sunlight to make the backgrounds look the way I want. You can’t exactly light up a mountain with a strobe and a couple of speedlights.
At fifteen minutes long, it’s a great video, packed full of good information and advice. And there’s still a lot that it doesn’t cover.