Airports are never the most relaxing place to navigate through. But as a photographer with camera equipment, it seems to be even more time consuming and frustrating. Unfortunately, the world we live in these days requires more stringent checks and often the language barrier at airports around the world can make things even tougher. So, here are some tips to help you take some of the stress out of flying with camera equipment.
Only take what you need
I know a lot of photographers both amateur and professional who always take tons of equipment away with them. They would say that they need it all. But do they really? How many times have you taken camera equipment with you that you have never used? The best thing to do is to make a shot list before you go. Then you can see exactly what equipment you might need. You might be surprised how little you really need with you. A couple of lenses, a back-up body, maybe a flash or LED light, batteries, memory cards, filters and tripod would be more than enough for most situations. Of course, if you are shooting something in particular then take what you need, but don’t take camera equipment just because you have it. The less you have the fewer questions you may be asked when going through security checks.
Pack your tripod into your suitcase
Over the years I have found that there doesn’t seem to be a general rule when it comes to tripods. Most of the time airlines don’t allow you to take this onto the flight unless it fits into a bag. So, it’s best to put it in your suitcase. That way not only will it keep it safe, but you’ll be less likely to face questions as well.
Be ready to have to take out your cameras
Again, at some airport security, they will require you to take out your cameras (India), as well as laptops and anything else on their list. Some airports will only ask for laptops to come out and some just don’t bother with any of it (like Havana). So, try to pack your camera bag in a way that will make it easy to take the stuff you know you’re likely to have to remove, out. For example, if you a load of other stuff piled on top of your camera it can be a pain to have to take everything out. A camera bag that fully opens is also useful when your bags are searched. Being able to open the whole thing will often mean not having to take every item out.
Make a note of your equipment in the native language
Try explaining to a security official or customs officer that what they are pointing to is a hard drive when you don’t speak the language. You may think everyone knows what every piece of equipment is for, but believe me, they don’t. It can be intimidating, frustrating and a waste of your time. Print off the names of the more obscure equipment you have or even better learn what they are called in that language. Then if you are asked you can point to the name on your sheet of paper.
Keep calm and don’t get angry
The worst thing you can do is to lose your temper. All that will happen is that you are less likely to get any cooperation and it can land you in trouble. If they ask to search your bags, just smile and say OK. The more you cooperate the easier and quicker it will be. Naturally carrying lots of camera equipment will draw attention. So, whilst it’s important to keep calm and cooperate also stand your ground if you are in the right and don’t just get bullied into handing over anything or money.
Don’t say you are a photographer
OK, this might be a contentious issue depending on where you are going in the world. Most places in the world will be fine if you say you are a photographer or are there photographing. However, some countries view that as being a journalist or might think you are there to film. This can lead you to be questioned or even worst denied entry. The good thing is that most people carry cameras with them when they travel so it shouldn’t be anything new. But if you are taking things like lighting gear then it shows that you are possibly more than just photographing for the fun of it. Use your own judgement and if someone asks, just say you are a tourist and enjoy taking photos.
Most of the time you shouldn’t have any problems when travelling with your camera gear. But every now and again, unfortunately, you might be stopped, and your bags searched and maybe even asked a few questions. If you are prepared and keep calm, it should all be OK. So use the tips above to try and take the stress out of travelling with camera gear.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.