Packing for a photo trip is never as easy as it seems. You either A) over-pack and make yourself miserable schlepping a 45-lb bag through airports, or B) forget some seemingly innocuous piece of kit that you wish you had. Of course, there is also option C) you bring too much stuff and still forgot something important. Here are some packing tips that I still need to remind myself about from time to time, so I figured blogging it would help get me straight.
Packing tip #1: Start early
If you are packing for a trip and wait until the night before to get your gear together, chances are you’ll forget something important. If you can, always try to start getting your kit together at least a week in advance. The corollary to this rule is to always buy new gear (cameras, tripods, flash) at least a month before your trip. Doing so will allow you time to not only make sure your new gear works, but also familiarize yourself with how to operate your equipment.
Packing Tip #2: Make a checklist
Checklists are exceedingly simple to make, and they really help us cut down on items that we might otherwise forget. I recommend starting with a generic checklist that includes all your “mandatory” items, especially the small accessories that we’re prone to forget, like filter wrenches, rain covers, or blower bulbs. You can then tailor your checklist for shoot-specific gear as needed.
Packing Tip #3: Put small checklist cards in your bag pockets for keeping track of accessories
If you have bags with many pockets, you might want to put a small index card inside each accessory pocket with the list of items that “belong” there. Not only will each item get its own designated home in your bag, but you’ll be able to quickly check to see if you’re missing anything as you pack up– both at home and in the field.
Packing Tip #4: Use the right bag for the job
There are a lot of great camera bags out there in a variety of styles, from shoulder bags to backpacks; so much so that I’ve included an entire chapter on choosing a bag in The Photographer’s Guide to Digital Landscapes. When you’re heading out on a trip, you might be tempted to get the biggest bag you can. After all, you don’t want to leave anything behind, right? Of course, there are two problems with big bags– size and weight. The largest photo backpacks, like the Think Tank Photo Airport Addicted, will carry everything you own at the expense of being able to fit in the overhead bin of many smaller aircraft. The other problem with a big bag is that it’s human nature to want to fill up every available space inside it. We see that empty slot and think, “hey, I can fit my 200mm f/2.0 in there, too!” Since we’re probably going to find a way to fill our bags to capacity no matter what, choose a smaller bag, like the Airport Antidote from Think Tank Photo. When you choose a smaller bag, you’ll have the ability to put it underneath your airline seat if an overhead bin isn’t available. More importantly, you won’t be struggling under the weight of your gear in the field. One thing I’ve learned is that if you are tired, you’re more likely to stop shooting altogether. Not good!
Packing Tip #5: Know the airline rules and restrictions
I always try to bring a set of tripod tools (wrenches, allen keys, etc.) but TSA is pretty notorious for confiscating “tools” from carry-on luggage, despite what they say in their policy. Get yourself a small pouch for accessories that you need to check in your luggage and then put the individual items back into your bag once you’ve reached your destination. On my last trip, I discovered that one of the legs on my Gitzo tripod had loosened up; of course I had left my wrench set out of my bag because I knew I couldn’t check those items. Fortunately, I had a buddy who had a set of Gitzo wrenches, so I got lucky.