Packing for travel photography is a game of optimization. The aim is to maximize photography capability yet minimizing the weight and size for logistics. Size and weight is apparent when it comes to packing for airports.
Two scenarios that will keep you awake at night are: Leaving a vital piece of equipment at home and carrying excessive gear that will either restrict movement or deny access past the check-in counter.
Assuming you are given two packages. Carry-on luggage that you have on your self during the airport transits and checked-in luggage that is scanned and collected at the final baggage carousel.
Lets consider an economy flight ticket that is based on the challenging weight limit of 7kg (15.43lbs) and 20kg (44.09lbs). Anything above that is considered a bonus.
Your carry-on will carry your most vital equipment. This should include all camera bodies and lenses. Flight restrictions require all loose/spare batteries in carry-on. With my trips I have a laptop for post-processing. These 3 items should be the basis the items in your bag. Note that it is a total weight so, the weight of the bag is inclusive.
Now for some cool creative tips to bring down those weight numbers:
No airport has ever weighed my clothing and items in my pockets whilst checking-in. When I travel I wear hiking pants with some generous deep pockets, I have in the past actually flown with a photography vest. You can probably see where I am going with this.
You can sneakily just pack excessive items into the pockets, process your check-in till cleared, then go back and reorganize your storage. Be discrete as you do this, you don’t want to draw unwanted attention by forcing a 400 2.8 super telephoto lens down your pants. Make use of the cubicles.
Charge all your batteries prior to the flight, preferably the night before. Items of concerned here are the media, smartphones and headphones as these items are the ones that will be utilized between airport activities. Depending on the duration of your first and final destination – taking into account layovers, make a decision on what chargers you want to have with you. I personally use a power bank and cables. This will eliminate the need for power plug converters and multiple chargers.
Divide the items amongst your companions. If you are traveling with family or friends, There is no reason why you can’t divide the weight amongst all luggages. Bear in mind that what goes in has to come back on your return flights. If you only just managed to get to the limit, you may have more things to carry after your trip.
Let’s discuss lenses setup as this I am sure will be one of the toughest decisions. This if anything is where you must make the compromise. Do plan for what type of photography you wish to pursue on your travel. Since I’m a *scape photographer, My personal take here is to prioritize variable-focal-length (zoom) lenses over primes and focal length over fixed max aperture. I can go on multiple articles to cover this topic, if you are interested, comment your questions below and also see my available guides.
My final tip for carry-on is to make sure you start packing from an empty bag. Pay close attention to any sharp pieces that screw on. You wouldn’t want security to consider the feet of your tripod as a potential flight hazard and order you to destroy them before boarding. Items that may be of concerned are to be packed into checked.
Usually my wardrobe selection is the flexible variable when it comes to excessive weight. I tend to carry less, variety of groups of clothing (Multiple different shirts, jumpers). Wardrobe is hardest when your trip involves you moving from different extremes of climates, cold and hot.
Tripods are packed into the checked luggage. If you do feel the need to take more essential fragile gear make sure it is well secured and protected in your luggage. I use toughened glass filters for my lenses, even though they can withstand some abuse, I still have them in a dedicated soft cover case. You need to assume that your luggage may be handled roughly. I have seen baggage handlers pick up bags and throw them onto the back of the carrier.
To conclude this post I will list items that can be left at home and be purchased once you arrive at your destination:
If you want to know what exactly I packed for each of my trips, consider looking at the individual travel guide.