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There are few sights more horrific for a travel photographer than finding the expensive camera gear you’ve packed ruined due to poor packing technique.

GEAR COSTING THOUSANDS of dollars can be rendered useless quite easily. Accidents happen, and when they do they can tarnish trips. By putting a little forethought into how to pack your camera gear and adhering to the following suggestions, you can avoid looking at the sad sight of a cracked lens.

Checking camera gear

As a travel photographer, checking cameras at the airport is generally a bad idea. Baggage handlers are experts at breaking even seemingly unbreakable things. If your amount of gear forces you to check your camera gear, careful attention should be paid to how to pack it.

  • Roll all items in several layers of Bubble Wrap® . This will serve to absorb impacts that are sure to happen along the way. Additionally, you can pop the bubbles to celebrate when your gear arrives at your destination undamaged.
  • Put all your camera gear in a bag specifically designed to carry expensive electronic gear. They should be packed in such a way that there is little space for your items shift around. T-shirts are perfect space fillers and offer added protection and padding.
  • The camera bag should be placed away from firm and jagged objects that could knock against and damage your gear.
  • Be sure all lenses are covered. As some lens caps easily slip off, it’s a good idea to use masking tape to secure the covers.
  • If you’re old school enough to still be using film, make sure to hand-check it, as X-ray machines might erase your pictures.
Loading gear in your camera bag

Constantly wrapping your gear in Bubble Wrap® and unwrapping while traveling is inconvenient, but there are other precautions you can take as a travel photographer when thinking about how to pack your gear. Keep it towards the top of your pack. This is handy for quick access and also shelters cameras and lenses from weight that could damage them.

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The camera bag that you select for your gear should be waterproof. LowePro has a line of waterproof bags in various sizes and styles that are great for a travel photographer. Select a bag with enough compartments to keep your gear organized.

Overstuffing a camera bag is a great way to damage items. Lenses stored vertically tend to fare better than when stored horizontally.

Packing gear such as memory disks and batteries in Tupperware helps keep it safe and keeps out the moisture.

If you have a camera with multiple lenses, be sure to remove the lens from the camera when not shooting.

Frequently check camera bag straps for wear. A broken strap can easily lead to a broken camera.

If your camera gets wet — as tempting as it is to turn it on to see if it works — don’t. Running a current through it while wet can permanently damage the circuits. Instead, be patient. Open the battery slit and let it dry for at least 24 hours before trying to turn it on.

* With experienced faculty, a robust curriculum, and an active and networking community of fellow travel photographers, the MatadorU Travel Photography program will teach you how to become a travel photographer, including how to pack your gear.

About The Author

Luke Armstrong

In 2007, after finishing degrees in philosophy and English in La Pontificia Universidad de Valparaíso, Chile, Luke did what any financially oblivious recent grad would do: took out a large student loan and with the to hitch hiking from Southern Chile to Alaska. He only made it halfway though and currently works as the director for the Nuestros Ahijados, an humanitarian aid organization that cares for and educates 12,000 widowed and abandoned women and their dependents in Guatemala. He is a huge fan of ice-cream and truth.

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  • Hal

    Solid tips. I like the celebratory bubble wrap popping.

  • Cindi

    We just traveled for a year with our camera gear in the Crumpler Whickey and Cox.

    We LOVED it because it looked like a normal backpack, not a camera bag. Also – the zipper is in the back, so if you’re wearing it, someone cannot unzip it. It was not waterproof, but we did get a waterproof backpack cover for it at REI.

    Great post!

  • Teresa

    Thanks for the tips! My only comment is on the celebratory bubble-wrap popping. Don’t pop prematurely! You will still have to get it back home. :)

  • Michelle

    Great tips!

  • Dad

    Another thing about the bubble wrap, make sure you don’t do pop it around security right after you get off the plane, those guys, rarely with a sense of humor, might think you are a terrorist or something and then you might end up with “wrap” sheet….

  • robhaich

    DO NOT check your gear into the airline’s hold. If you have travel insurance, they will not cover any loss whilst it’s not in your possesion. The airline inist that valuables (and my camera gear is valuable) should be carried in hand luggage, therefore they will not pay out if anything goes missing from checked in baggage.

    I tell you this from experience. My camera and mp4 player went missing on a flight from Dhaka to UK via Dubai, after being checked into the hold. No compensation from airline, no insurance money either.

  • Clive

    “If you have a camera with multiple lenses, be sure to remove the lens from the camera when not shooting.”

    Really bad advice, unless you are shooting film, in which case you are not reading this. Great way to get the most dust spots you possibly can on your sensors so that you can have a lot of fun removing it in post-processing.

    • Matt

      Ummm… body caps? And end caps for the lens. The weakest point of a camera setup is the connection between the lens and the camera. Leaving the lens on is the easiest way to mess up both the lens and the camera body.

  • Vance Lester

    X-rays will not erase film. It *can* cause fog and streaks on certain film if it is high ISO. Living in Beijing, my film is subjected to scanning every time I get on the subway. After hundreds of rolls (some scanned as many as 10 times) I have yet to have a roll ruined.

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