[by Pascal Depuhl]
Unless you shoot exclusively in your studio, you’ll find yourself traveling with gear. Now granted, some of us travel into more remote places and photograph in more extreme conditions, but no matter whether you’re a wedding photographer who captures a brides on location, a product shooter that pulls up to a location with a couple of trucks for a catalog shoot or a documentary filmmaker who flies halfway around the world, pushing his gear to the limit – we all have to get there first.
All of these places have their own unique challenges. In this piece I’ll concentrate on the most remote, and grueling trips I have taken. Since this is an exhaustive topic, I’ll give you a some quick tips on how best to travel with your gear:
Your gear needs power
Today’s cameras, audio recorders, computers, hard drives, etc. all need one thing: power. Sometimes it’s as simple as plugging your charger into the back of the church, sometimes it’s a small generator on location, but how do you keep everything running smoothly when you’re off the grid?
A few months ago, I filmed in the jungles of Peru – 18 hours upriver from the nearest town – for 2 weeks. Too long to just bring a slew of extra batteries. All the gear got powered by solar energy. A Goal Zero 27 Watt solar panel would charge a battery/inverter all day and would power download and camera battery recharges at night. The great thing about this specific piece of gear is that it can charge 12V, USB or 120V in the middle of nowhere. Worked like a charm and the small foldable solar panel made it a breeze to travel with my gear.
Your gear needs protection
We all have our favorite camera bags. My camera gear lives in ThinkTank airport international bags, because I don’t have to repack for carry on size restrictions. (Always check your airline before you fly – 3 major airlines just reduced their carry on size. Luckily, I’m still good with my ThinkTank bags.)
When you’re traveling, remember that your gear does not only need physical protection, but also protection from people who would love to take it from you. My Stormcase hard cases fly inside a beat up old backpack or black Navy duffle bag, I always cringe when I see someone’s Pelican cases with the studio logo stenciled on them come down the baggage carrousel.
Your gear needs to be protected while shooting too. Gear needs to be shielded from heat (think chemical ice packs you crack open to make cold) when your in the jungle away from a fridge, gear needs to be kept dry, protected from moisture (while that’s as simple as a raincoat or ziplock bag, try finding one of those in the remote mountain village your working in), gear has to be protected from cold (think hand warmers you can put with the cameras inside a wrap), whatever the conditions, there’s a solution – but you need to plan ahead.
Your gear needs redundancy
Cameras stop working. Batteries fail. Lens apertures stick open, usually at the most inconvenient time. Pack a second one of everything. But don’t forget your data. Especially on long assignments, you may not have enough cards to hold all your images, video and audio and they’ll need to be downloaded.
Trusting the download to a single device is not just unprofessional, it’s reckless. Have all your data at least on a second HD. When I flew back from filming a documentary in the mountains of Afghanistan, I actually went a step further and left a second external hard drive with the client in country. That way, should anything happen to my gear or my flight on the way home, they would at least have the RAW data.
My favorite hard drives to take on location are made by ioSAFE. These drives come in enclosures that are water proof, crush proof, drop proof and give your data a fighting chance to survive in the worst conditions.
There are two things to remember when packing your gear for travel when it comes to redundancy: #1 take a second one of everything and #2 take a second one of everything.
Your gear needs portability
Think through how your gear breaks down. One of the big reasons that I travel with a Cinevate slider and not one of the other brands, is that it breaks down into two 3 ft carbon fiber rods and a handful of metal parts. I can pack it with my tripod and not even know it’s there.
What is the smallest camera you can work with? How many lenses do you really need to take? Can you produce the job without fill-in-the-blank?
Your gear needs to be airplane friendly
There is a direct correlation between the size of the conveyance and how far off the grid you are traveling (and they don’t get bigger). Small planes, canoes, or even being on foot means smaller luggage allowance and severe weight restrictions.
I touched on carry on bags earlier and I want to give you another tip for reducing cost when flying. As a member of ASMP, your member ID badge that says “Media” on it but you can also buy a larger ID for $20 – you’ll save that money the first time you use it. Just log into your member profile at admin.asmp.org and select “Order a Member ID Badge.
Most of the major airlines have special baggage rates for when members of the media travel with gear. These rates are hard to find and most of them times the agent at the check in counter does not know about them. Do yourself a favor: call the airline the day before you fly (be prepared to spend an hour on the phone – be friendly, be courteous, be patient) and find someone who knows about the media rate.
Usually it’s something like ‘X’ amount of bags per person – like 40, with no size limit and no over weight limit up to 80 or 100 pounds. Ask the agent that you’re on the phone with to please make a note of this media rate on your itinerary. Be sure to take your ASMP media badge with you when you check in with your gear at the airport. In my experience the airline agents have been super helpful, seeing that you are a professional traveler and having the media rate spelled out for them will save them time to look it up.
Your gear needs to be planned out
Power sources, protective gear, multiple pieces of kit, pre-planning each scenario and prepping for it… These things don’t happen by accident. You gotta plan it out. Before any extreme location assignment I break out every single piece of gear and think through loosing a piece. “If I loose this step up ring at 9,000 foot elevation how do I attach this filter to the front of that lens?” ,”If my main camera goes down, what do I capture my images with? “, “If this bag gets stolen, do I have enough gear in my other bag to finish the job?”
Think through every scenario. Pre-planning may be the difference between continuing an assignment or being dead in the water. Creating scenarios in your head, rather than in the field are some of the best hours you can spend. That one piece of gear that costs a couple bucks stateside, becomes priceless when you’re at the end of the world and need it.
Your gear needs to be insured
Check with your agent on what travel is covered. Some policies don’t cover international travel, but you can usually buy a cheap rider if they don’t. Confirm you’re covered in the country your traveling to (hint: if we’re at war with them – even if you don’t work close to the front lines – you’re most likely not covered). I always purchase extra travel insurance. They’ll not only cover an emergency medivac flight home, but they’ll cover delayed flights, missed connections, lost luggage, in-country medical services, etc. Worth its weight in gold.
In a nutshell…
Today’s cameras are amazing electronic instruments that are (somewhat) delicate, require power and need special protection. You also need a way to download and backup the data you shoot, film, record, capture. Trust me you don’t want to come back to your studio after a 2 week assignment, halfway around the world only to discover that the one video clip, that is the key to your story is corrupted–it’s no fun–trust me I’ve been there.
Traveling with your gear is not difficult. It just requires a little bit of thinking ahead.
Pascal Depuhl is based in Miami and has traveled to create photographs and video in Asia, South America, Africa and Europe. He enjoys the challenges of producing still and motion projects in the middle of nowhere. Feel free to contact him on Twitter @photosbydepuhl to ask him about traveling with gear.
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