Traveling by plane with your camera gear

Recently a fellow photographer asked me about flying with her camera gear and what was allowed and what wasn’t? Since I fly for a living and I usually have at least one camera with me I’m pretty familiar with the rules and thought I’d share some tips here. First I have to give you a disclaimer in that TSA can decide to search any of your baggage at anytime and ask you  to take out every single item one-by-one for inspection. I’ve had it happen! Now with that out of the way luckily this is not the norm. Let’s go over some quick tips on carry-on vs. checked luggage. I absolutely HATE checking my luggage and only do so if I have no choice. This means that I want to carry both a camera bag AND a computer bag on board and therefore I will check the 3rd piece of luggage containing my clothes. Under no circumstances am I ever ever ever going to check my camera or computer gear. It’s like waving good-bye to it as I feel like I’d never see it again. If I have to check my camera gear, then I’m not going! Most airlines allow you one piece of carry-on luggage such as a roller-board suitcase and a personal item such as a backpack, briefcase or purse. For me that means a backpack.

A Quick FAQ

Q. Do I have to take my cameras out of the bag when going through TSA security?

A. Typically NO, but TSA at any time can ask you to take ANYTHING and EVERYTHING out of your bag. With that said I can’t remember the last time they asked to take my cameras out. It’s been years. This of course goes out the window outside the US. Foreign airport security is a lot less forgiving. Give yourself time as you will likely need to take out each piece of gear and put it in a bin.

Q. Should I just check my camera gear under the plane to save the time and hassle.

A. NO! You may never see it again if you do and the airline will NOT replace it.

Q. What about tripods/monopods?

A. I have been known to travel with a tripod from time to time and I put it in my larger roller-board suitcase with my clothes. This however, is a grey area. Some TSA checkpoints will let it go and others will require that you check it as a tripod could be used as a club/weapon. So be prepared with extra time if you’re traveling with a tripod and have it in a bag that you don’t mind checking (not with the rest of your camera gear).

The backpack pictured above is my BIG ThinkTank “Street Walker Hard Drive”  Backpack. This is the one I carry when I’m going on a trip specifically to shoot and I’m going to carry a LOT of camera gear. This one backpack also holds my MacBook Pro 15″ Retina notebook and iPad Air. It weighs a freaking ton once I have I have it loaded, but it still fits under the seat in front of me on a plane and therefore allows me to carry a rollerboard on with my clothes (and tripod) in it.

On trips where I’m carrying less photographic gear but still more than two lenses then I carry my smaller “Kata” backpack:

kata

This one will still hold one camera body and 2-3 lenses plus my MacBook Pro. Also since it’s smaller you’ll be less likely to load a ton of gear in it and therefore it will be lighter to carry and manage.

Although both backpacks above  are great for those photo specific trips I go on, neither of them are my “regular” backpacks. Since most of my trips are not photo specific I’m usually carrying only one camera body (my Nikon D600) and one lens (my Nikon 28-300mm) or my even smaller Sony Alpha NEX-3N. My daily/weekly travel backpack is actually my Tumi Alpha T-Pass Laptop Backpack.

tumi_alpha_t-Pass_backpack

I really like this backpack A LOT! The T-Pass stands for “TSA Friendly” in that the back containing your laptop can unzip so that you can lay the bag flat (open) without having to remove your laptop saving you time. Tumi bags are expensive, but they come with a 5 year warranty and are very very very well constructed. I use this bag daily and it shows no signs of wear after one year so far. There is plenty of room in it for my laptop, iPad, camera stuff and just a ton of other little items that I carry. It weighs a ton once I load it up, but it handles the load very well.

 

The Bottom Line

For the most part you should be fine traveling by plane with your camera gear and carrying it on as long as your carry-on bag meets the size restrictions for the overhead bin or under the seat. TSA sees cameras everyday and while they still require you to take your laptop out and put it in a separate bin (unless you are TSA Pre-Check or you have a bag like my Tumi above), they tend to not ask you to take your camera gear out. The only other thing they can be uptight about is carrying a lot of batteries. So keep your extra batteries to a minimum and spread them across multiple carry-on bags as best you can.

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New Lower Cost PocketWizard

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PocketWizard Plus X features:

• Auto-Sensing Transceiver: Easy to use. No settings to make.

• 10 Channels: 1-4 Classic plus 5-10 low-traffic channels

• Backlit Channel Dial: Easy to set channels in the dark

• Internal Antenna: Compact, more rugged design

• Auto-Relay Mode: Trigger remote camera & flashes simultaneously

• Transmit Only Mode: Positive operation in large groups

• Side View Design : Better subject view on camera

• PocketWizard reliability: PocketWizard compatibility

They are now in stock here

What’s In My Studio?

Updated: April 16, 2019

I remember when I first started out in Photography and wanted to get serious about it, I had lots of questions about what to buy? No one wants to make a  large investment in the “wrong gear”. I often get questions from New Photographers or Photographers looking to set up their 1st studio, asking what equipment should they get? That’s a hard question to answer without knowing what you plan on shooting the most, your space and your budget. My primary focus is Portrait – (Beauty, Fashion & Glamour). Rather than trying to address every single situation individually I thought it would be easier to share with you the equipment I use and then you can take it from there. I had a 4,800 sq foot studio space and yes I LOVED IT! If you see something you think you’d like to have in your studio then you can just go ahead and get it.

Cameras

Nikon D850 DSLR Digital Camera (Body Only) –  – My primary studio camera

Nikon Z6 Mirrorless Camera w/ 24-70mm f/4 – My travel Camera and backup body

Camera Straps

Your DSLR most likely came with a camera strap and in big bold print it advertises the brand and model of your camera. It’s like saying to the world, “hey, I’ve got an expensive camera right here. Come steal it!” I prefer something a little less flashy and more versatile.

Up Strap – I like this one for travel and photo walks as it will NOT slip off your shoulder.

Black Rapid R-Strap – I like this one for photo walks and when I’m using longer lenses, heavier bodies.

OP Tech Super Classic 3/8 – I also like this one for travel.

Point & Shoot Cameras

Canon S95 – My point & shoot primarily used for concerts where DLSRs are prohibited (I’d either get the Nikon Nikon 1 V1 Mirrorless Digital Camera with 10-30mm and 30-110mm Lenses (Black) or Canon PowerShot S100 Digital Camera (Black) now)

iPhone Xs – Yep, I use this one almost as much as my DSLRs because it’s always with me. While the S95/S100 is a better P&S camera, the iPhone is ALWAYS with me. I even created an “iPhone Photography Portfolio” here.

Spiked

Lenses

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens My primary lens

Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 – An older lens I got off eBay a few years back. The current Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Autofocus Lens (Black) replaces it.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Zoom Lens – My main travel lens

Nikon Telephoto AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF Autofocus Lens  Mine is the older version, today I’d get this version. – I use this mostly in natural or low light situations and portraits

Nikon AF-S Zoom Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF Lens – My wide angle lens mostly used for landscape shoots.

Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8G ED DX Fisheye Nikkor Lens – Mostly used when I travel and do landscape shoots

Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens – I use this for those rare occasions when I shoot closeups on products, hands/nails and jewelry.

Mamiya 72mm Rubber Lens Hood – for my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII Lens.

Lighting & Light Modifiers

I use Elinchrom for my strobes and Westcott for my continuous lighting. I use Nikon speedlights for air travel or my Elinchrom Quadra kit for local on location shoots. With each lighting system I use a variety of modifiers. My favorite is the Octa softbox.

2 Elinchrom Digital Style Combo 600RX Two Monolight Kit with EL Skyport (120VAC) – Portrait lighting <- I want 2 more of these

1 Elinchrom Style BX 500 Ri Compact MonoLight (90-260VAC) – Portrait lighting <-but I’ll probably just go with 2 more of these instead since they’re so much cheaper.

1 Elinchrom Midi Octa Light Bank for Flash Softbox

1 Elinchrom 39″ Mini Octa Lite Bank Softbox Softbox for on location shoots

1 Elinchrom 27.5″ Rotalux Deep Octa Softbox – great for quick falloff of light

1 Elinchrom Rotalux Softbox 27 x 27″ (69 x 69 cm) Softbox

1 Elinchrom 17″ White Minisoft Reflector for Elinchrom Beauty Dish and Impact 18″ Diffuser Sock

2 Elinchrom Rotalux Softbox for Flash

1 Lastolite Kickerlite Floor Level Softbox – 3×4′ (91x122cm)

Elinchrom Ranger Quadra Head S Pro Set – For my on location shoots.

Elinchrom Skyport SPEED Transmitter to trigger the Elinchrom strobes

2 Westcott Spiderlite TD6 2 Light Perfect Portrait Kit Deluxe (110V) – For Portrait and Product shots – Continuous Lighting

I still have some Westcott Spiderlite TD5’s that I primarily use for video or backup.

1 Westcott SkyLux – used for portraits, product shots and video shoot

1 Westcott Flex light – 10″x10″ panel

1 Westcott Flex light – 1’x3′ panel

Westcott Ice Light – used for portraits and creative lighting.

1 Westcott Eyelighter – My NEW favorite reflector for portrait work!

1 Lastolite Triflector MkII Kit – White/Silver – used a lot in my portrait work

1 Westcott Shallow Softbox 54 x 72″ (137 x 183 cm)

1 Westcott Shallow Softbox 36 x 48″ (91 x 122 cm)

1 Nikon SB900 Speedlight – For travel (get the Nikon SB-910 AF Speedlight i-TTL Shoe Mount Flash now)

1 Nikon SB800 Speedlight – For travel (get the Nikon SB-700 Speedlight Shoe Mount Flash now)

2 PocketWizard Plus II Transceiver / Radio Slave for the Nikon Speedlights

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1 Westcott Terry White Travel Portrait Lighting Kit <- Yes it’s named after me! Woot!

1 Lastolite Ezybox Hot Shoe Softbox Kit – 24×24″ for Travel <- my old travel kit

1 Westcott Rapid Box 26″ Octa for Travel

1 Zumbrella shoot thru umbrella for Travel

2 sets of ExpoImaging Rogue FlashBender Kit for Travel

2 Matthews 24×36″ Flags

1 Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella (White Diffusion)

1 Westcott Reflector – 48×72″ – Gold, White (white on one side, gold on the other)

1 Lastolite HiLite Illuminated White Background (6 x 7′) – for high-key fashion work. I put the cheapest strobe that I could find in it and set it to slave.

2 Lastolite TriGrip Diffuser, Two Stops – 48″ (1.2m)

A variety of different light stands, but I did invest in a couple of good ones on wheels: Avenger A5033 Folding Base Wheeled Studio Stand

and a great 40″ Boom Arm

Tripods

Manfrotto Tripod (mine is discontinued, this one is the closest to what I have – Manfrotto 055CXPRO4 4-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs (Black)) – This one stays in the studio, but I rarely shoot portraits with a tripod.

Gitzo GT1542T Series 1 Traveler 6x Carbon Fiber 4-Section Tripod w/ G-Lock – This is the one that I travel with for landscape shoots/long exposures. It also doubles as my light stand in a pinch.

Manfrotto 131DDB Tripod Accessory Arm for Four Heads (Black) and Gitzo G065 Laptop Platform – Laptop stand/support on the road when shooting tethered.

Kirk BH-1 Ballhead with Quick Release – Supports 50 lbs (22.6kg) – the one I use in studio (Although the Kirk Ballheads are top notch, today I’d probably go with The Really Right Stuff ballheads because most of my friends use these and therefore it would be easier to use a buddy’s tripod that’s standing next to me.)

Kirk BH-3 Ballhead with Quick Release – Supports 15 lbs (6.8kg) – the one I use for travel

iStabilizer Mount for Smartphones – iPhone photography and video work

 RAM-B-121 UN9U iPad mount for my tripod.

Backgrounds

Westcott 5501 Modern Vintage Background (9 x 12′, Onyx) I have all 6 designs, but I use Onyx the most.

Westcott Masterpiece Collapsible Reversible Background – 6×7′ – Black / White

4 Westcott X-Drop Backdrops and Stand

Mist X-Drop Kit, Quarry X-Drop, Saffron X-Drop and Slate X-Drop

My custom scenic backdrops like this one below come from Vision Bedding

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6 Rolls of Savage Seamless Paper  (Fashion Gray, Canary Yellow, Blue, Coral-Pink, Black & Cocoa) Savage Seamless Background Paper (107″ x 12yds, #56 Fashion Gray), Savage Seamless Background Paper (107″ x 12yds, #38 Canary), Savage Seamless Background Paper (107″ x 12yds, #31 Blue Jay), Savage Seamless Background Paper (107″ x 12yds, #3 Coral), Savage Seamless Background Paper (107″ x 12yds, #20 Super Black), Savage Seamless Background Paper (107″ x 12yds, #80 Cocoa)) – these are permanently mounted on the walls of my studio

Camera Bags

ThinkTank International Airporter – my main on location travel bag

ThinkTank Streetwalker Hard Drive Backpack – my larger backpack for air travel to hold my camera gear and computer gear as a carry-on

Kata R-103 – My smaller backpack when I don’t need to travel with as much gear.

I have a variety of smaller bags, but the 3 above are the ones I use the most.

Studio Music System

Music is a very important part of my shoots, therefore, the sound has to be good (sometimes loud) and able to be heard throughout the building. Therefore I stream the same music via my Bose Soundtouch 10.

Misc. Gear

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic – I couldn’t imagine doing photography without it!

Adobe Photoshop CC for all my retouching and compositing needs.

Long USB Cables for Tethering – When I shoot my D4 I’m usually tethered via Ethernet, but I also use USB tethering on other bodies.

DJI Mavic Air – for aerial photography/4K Video and behind the scenes shots

DJI CoPilot BOSS for in-field backups and mobile editing workflows.

3 Apple TV 2 Set-top boxes – My photography is on display throughout the studio both in print and electronically via HDTVs and Apple TVs driving them.

Apple The New iPad Pro – I use it for portfolio display, image review, model releases and variety of other tasks. See how it fits into my workflow here.

Apple 15.4″ MacBook Pro Retina Display Notebook Computer

Dell U2412M 24″ FLAT WIDESCREEN LCD MONITOR – used when I tether and it rotates to either portrait or landscape orientation.

Wacom Cintiq 27QHD My main display/tablet for retouching.

Wacom Intuos5 Wireless Digital Tablet

AV Cart on Wheels – My studio tethering setup is on this cart with a long enough extension cord to reach any of my shooting areas.

AirPort Extreme Base Station – this one access point has been amazing as it provides WiFi for the entire building.

2 BlowIt Fans – great because they mount on light stands

Fog Machine – Do I need to explain this? 🙂

Mac Mini Mac OS X Server with a Drobo 5D attached. There’s also a Drobo FS on the network for additional backups of the main Drobo – Network backups for every shoot I do before I leave the building

ExpoImaging 72mm ExpoDisc Digital Warm Balance Filter (Portrait)

Solmeta N3 – GPS for geotagging integrated with my Nikon DSLRs

Trampoline for those high jump shots

Zacuto Z-Finder 3 – Great for shooting DSLR video and keeping things in focus by giving you a great view finder.

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport

Sekonic Light Meter – I rarely use it, but I have one just in case. Today I’d probably buy the Gossen DIGISKY Flash and Ambient Light Meter because it can trigger the Eincrhom strobes

Iron, Ironing board,  & a steamer.

A variety of props and furniture.

The Bottom Line

The list above represents equipment that I’ve acquired over the past 4 years. By no means do you “need” all of it, especially if you’re just starting out. Take from it what you will and keep in mind that I didn’t start with it all on day one! That’s the thing about photography, “there’s always something to buy!” No one ever told you to get into photography because it would be a “cheap” hobby! 😉

See more of my photography here.