Traveling With Photo Equipment – Part 1 – What to Take

Let me preface this multi-part series about traveling with photo gear by saying that for the most part, when having to travel for work with photo gear, I typically have the luxury of driving to the site. That means I have no limits on what I can take with me. On a few occasions, I travel by air, but those situations are rare. So, for the most part, I am a nubile when it comes to major travel with photo gear. This fact, however, may be just the reason that you are reading this, as you too may someday be faced with exactly what I am.

Trip: 10 days in Tanzania.
How: 3-4 plane changes and 30 hours in transit
Why: I will need to hand carry all gear (plus personal items) in one carry-on and once on-site I will have to carry everything 24/7 – no opportunity to leave anything back at the hotel
What: I will be documenting work we will be doing for my company’s Foundation: Play For Power

In February 2011 the well and water distribution system will be installed at the Sinai school in Babati, Tanzania. We will also spend time with students at the Sinai primary school and Kwaang secondary school in Babati Tanzania. We will be commencing the sister school story exchange (writing curriculum), and starting 14 level book circles (reading curriculum), as well as working on other exchanges with the students.

chris martin photography - packing list

This first part of the upcoming series is devoted to what to take on the trip. After an insane amount of reading blogs of other traveling photographers and consulting all of my photog friends, I have decided on what gear to take. The list of gear won’t be presented in this installment – sorry, you will have to stay tuned. Instead, I will be sharing how I go about getting ready for packing my equipment.

I guess I should say that during the days, some of work I do for my company is to write code. Lines and lines and more lines of code. It was only natural that I would make use of the required anal nature of code writing and extend it to my photography. I can’t remember why, but I needed to work on something for somebody dealing with MS Excel. When I write code, I always do the preliminary work on some sort of personal project. This provides a great test bed and gives me a real world test of the code. So in this instance I decided to write an Excel Photo Gear packing list. Turns out, it was a great project and I have been using the result for years.

I prefer to be prepared for travel. Okay, I will say it as I know you are thinking it – I prefer to OBSESS about travel. I am not one of those folks that pack at the last minute and in the hour before the flight. Rather, I agonize over what gear to take and how to pack it from the instant I know I am headed somewhere right up to the moment before I need to leave for the airport. I have been wrestling for this trip for over a year. – It sucks to be me! –

Back to the Excel spreadsheet. In the spreadsheet I have a line item for every item of gear in my arsenal. Included are the manufacturer, description, category, quantity, and serial number. Anal yes, but handy for many reasons. When a trip is scheduled, I go to this trusty spreadsheet and begin to select the items I am taking for the trip. When I am done, a handy packing list is ready to be printed out. I print two copies: 1) to go into a file for later reference and 2) one to take with me on the trip. This serves as a list to use to pack, a reference when leaving to make sure I return with all I took, and a list of the equipment and serial numbers of items I am traveling with for customs or in case of loss or theft. In addition, on the packing list I have columns for “Used” or “Not Used”. I typically take more gear than I probably need and by noting if I actually used something I can better refine future packing lists to just the items I know I will use.

Shown in the accompanying image are three pages from the spreadsheet: 1) the page in which I go through and select the items I want to take, 2) the automatic refinement of the list from all items to just what I have selected, and 3) the final packing list for printing.

Maybe a little obsessive, but it works for me.

Coming next: What I am taking and how to pack it!