5 Tips For Flying With Cameras & Photography Equipment

If you fly with you cameras like I do, you know the last thing you want to do is to have issues with your gear, whether that is having to check a bag full of $15,000 worth of equipment or just getting hassled. Here are 5 tips for traveling smoothly with your DSLR and lenses.

Use a dedicated rolling bag for photography gear

The use of a dedicated camera case like the Think Tank Airport International will help keep your cameras well padded, nicely organized, and save your back from strain while running through airports. Even if you're not bringing a kit large enough to fill it, dedicated camera rollers will protect your gear the best and their modular designs will let you pack other items like cloths to fill the unused space.

Carry a backpack as your “personal item”

A backpack like the Think Tank Shape Shifter is the perfect “personal item” as a companion to a rolling camera bag. In the off chance you need to gate check your larger rolling bag due to space limitations or completely full overhead bins, just move essential pieces of your kit to the backpack. The Shape Shifter features five neoprene pockets that can fit two full-sized pro bodies and three lenses, including lenses as large as a 70-200mm f/2.8.

Avoid filling exterior pockets on luggage

The dimensions for most luggage (including camera cases) are measured when the bags are empty. Whenever possible, avoid using the exterior pockets of any bags you intend to stow in the overhead compartments of planes, especially if you know that you'll be traveling on smaller plans where overhead space can be extremely limited. Using the exterior pockets can increase the dimensions of the baggage just enough to push it out of airline spec and what can physically fit in the overhead bins.

Use clothes as padding to save space

When space is at a premium, using clothing as extra padding can help make use of every square inch of available room, especially when carrying a large volume of camera equipment. Clothes can help fill in the gaps in your luggage and help absorb impacts. Small items like socks and underwear are ideal for this use.

Upgrade, lie, cheat, or beg for a better boarding group

Even if you do everything right, on a completely full flight, sometimes you may be at the mercy of your boarding group if the overhead bins fill before you board. To this end, paying a minor premium to upgrade your boarding group can be well worth it. Appealing to a gate agent to allow you to board out of turn is always an option as well, but this should be (very politely!) done before boarding starts.


To recap:

  1. Use a dedicated rolling bag for photography gear
  2. Carry a backpack as your “personal item”
  3. Avoid filling exterior pockets on luggage
  4. Use clothes as padding to save space
  5. Upgrade, lie, cheat, or beg for a better boarding group

While very basic, these tips have kept my cameras carry-on and saved them from a dreaded gate-check on multiple occasions. If you want to know more about how I fly with my camera gear for music photography jobs like festivals and music tours, I've written a post about flying with camera gear and the specific setup of Think Tank Photo bags I use like the Think Tank Airport International and Think Tank Shape Shifter. (Read the full post on Traveling as a Photographer: Packing & Flying with Camera Gear.)


My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon D750:
I use two Nikon D750 for my live music photography. Amazing high ISO performance in a compact body with tons of pro features.
nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 24-70mm f/2.8:
For most gigs, the 24-70mm is my go-to lens. Exceptional image quality at wide apertures and super-functional range.
Nikon-70-200-squareNikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.
nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.
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There are 6 comments

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  1. mark

    Hi, I’m getting started with the world of photography and have a Lowepro Nova Sport 17L in which I keep my Nikon D5300 kit 18-105. Now, I always unmount the lens before putting the kit in the bag.. is it safe anyway to keep the parts together?? Thanks for shedding light on this subject

    • Todd Owyoung

      I prefer to always keep body and lens separated during transport. That said, I don’t think it’s a problem if you keep your lens on your body in your bag. While I’m shooting and running around for my music gigs, my gear goes through much worse than any camera/lens in a padded bag, so I wouldn’t worry too much.

  2. B Shaw

    I have one recommendation – Add a travel vest / travel coat –
    I use a ScotteVest brand travel vest – 1) the black ones don’t look geeky, 2) you can quickly fill the hidden pockets with gear if you have to gate check unexpectedly

    I’m on a lot of those Embrear ERJs as well as the Canadair Regional Jet – CRJs, that won’t fit typical carry on sizes – so, the ScotteVest comes in handy. I know I sound like an advert, but I’m not – it’s genuinely great for getting some more gear onboard.

  3. Catherine Evans

    Hey Todd! A friend of mine recently told me about your site! I’ve been looking for concert photography sites everywhere and couldn’t find a good one until now. From the little I’ve seen, I definitely think your site is going to do the trick. Thank you for creating it.

  4. evilted

    The problem with Think Tank rollers is they weigh close to the new carry-on limits when empty.
    I have an Airport 2 Classic, but it is rendered useless for me now since it weighs around 12 LB :(

    My preferred bag is an F-Stop Gear Loka UL, which is tough as nails and weighs a mere 1.1 kg empty.
    I can fit my D5 + D4s, 4 batteries, 105mm F1.4, Sigma 35mm F1.4, 70-200 F4, 24-70 F2.8 VR and 14-24 F2.8 and max out at 10kg.
    The vest is an old PJ trick and I carry one with a rain cover in the front of the Loka, just in case.

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