Pro Photographers’ Favorite Travel Hacks

May 20, 2015


Andrew Hetherington’s luggage (with folding step stool inside), sits forlornly in a desolate, non-descript rental car lot in Anytown, USA, as snow begins to fall.

PDN asked more than 20 road-warrior photographers for some pro travel tips. Here’s what they suggested.

Too Much Baggage 

“Use curbside check-in to help with overweight [equipment cases],” Christopher Testani recommends. “If you use curbside check-in and tip the SkyCaps well, they are much more lenient with excess baggage fees. If you fly often enough from the same place, develop a relationship with the guys working curbside, and they can really help out if you’re in a pinch.”

Nick Hall agrees. “We literally save thousands of dollars per year on baggage fees and our guy often grabs great seats for us as an extra favor.” Hall also advises you “have an up-to-date subscription to a professional media group like [American Photographic Artists]. Then you can use your media card to secure cheaper baggage fees.”

Another way to avoid oversize bag fees is to “pack your tripod and lighting stands in a golf bag or snowboard bag,” advises Amanda Friedman. “Most airlines don’t charge oversize bag fees for sporting gear.”

Pack It In

“Everywhere on planet earth, no matter where you go, there is laundry service,” councils Noah Fecks. “There’s no point in bringing 15 pairs of underwear for a two-week trip.”

“Always travel with a scarf, or more specifically a Cambodian krama, because they are very versatile and really cheap, less than $5 at any Khmer market,” says Justin Mott. “I’ve used my krama as a towel when taking an outdoor shower in a Khmer village. I’ve used it to protect my head from the blazing sun. I wrap my krama around my camera in the rain or when I’m storing it in an unpadded bag. I’ve even crumpled it up in a ball and used it as a tripod for long exposures.”

“Leave an extra toothbrush in the bag you travel with,” advises Jody Horton.

Travelers do a lot of packing and repacking. Alex MacLean makes sure his computer battery charger goes with him by putting his car keys on top of it. “This serves as a fail-safe way to remember my charger the next morning,” he says.

In Security

Frederic Lagrange says he and his assistants use cable ties rather than locks on their gear bags. “If a TSA [Transportation Security Administration] agent opens the bag there is no risk that the lock may ‘disappear.’ I have an assistant who came up with the idea of placing an envelope with extra cable ties and a note asking politely the TSA officer to replace the cable tie when they are done with their inspection to seal the bag. Most of the time we find the TSA agent actually complied with our request.”

To speed up hand-checks of film, Jake Stangel travels with unopened five-packs. “I don’t understand what the regulation is, but TSA never seems to open and remove all five rolls, they just pop the top open, swab the top of the five rolls and then close it,” he says. This speeds up the process, and he puts his film back in the opened boxes for his return trip.

Keep in Touch

Ami Vitale recommends services that allow you to send images to clients while you’re on the road if you have a poor Internet connection. “Having an account with Photoshelter has allowed me to log into their website and then transmit galleries of images from their server. This is the number one tool I need as a traveling photographer.”

“I travel with a few hard drives with recent jobs,” says Michael Turek. He also has an assistant at home keep checking and responding to emails.

Hall, who often travels to remote locations, always carries a SPOT satellite tracker. “It connects to a global satellite service and delivers an email to my wife (plus I can add other people in there if I want). It also logs my locations on maps so I can review where I have been. And there is an SOS button if one is in deep shit and you need international rescue services. Plus it is cheaper than a satellite phone.”

Andrew Hetherington keeps clients in the loop through email, but he also posts images to Instagram that include his flight info and views from his hotel room. “It’s a way of reminding clients that I’m out there, that I may be somewhere that may be of interest to them.”

Join the Club

A majority of photographers recommend the pre-screening programs TSA Pre-check and its international cousin, Global Pass. Both will help you move through security and customs quickly. “TSA Pre-check has saved my life,” Stangel says.

Nearly everyone we spoke with advised joining frequent flier clubs, preferably for airlines that have a hub or fly frequently from your home airport. “The more you fly with one airline, the better they treat you,” says Delta Diamond Medallion member Vitale. “They also work harder to help you when things go wrong.”

If you’re not part of a particular airline’s club, “pony up the extra money” for early boarding, Hetherington says. You’ll make sure your carry-on full of photo gear doesn’t get stowed in the cargo hold when the overhead bins are full by the time you board the plane.

Get an Agent

“It might seem retro in the day of, etc., but having a personal travel agent will save you or your assistant hours of Internet frustration when all goes wrong on your way to your next assignment,” says Ron Haviv.

Gear Up

Diana Zalucky doesn’t like to advertise that she’s carrying expensive gear. She opts for plain camera straps, and “I cover logos on my camera gear with gaffer’s tape,” she says. Zalucky also suggests shooting with smaller capacity memory cards. “This way if you lose any work, you’ll have lost less of it. I always back up to multiple hard drives,” she adds. “One stays at the hotel and one comes with me. If at all possible, I like to ship a hard drive [home] and then travel with one.”

“We love our Canon [24–70mm zoom] but the lens is huge and heavy,” say duo Peden + Munk. “When we have to shoot a market or some public place, we love the 40mm pancake lens. It’s small, cheap and low-profile.”

“With iPhone 6 and iOS 8, you can turn your phone into a Wi-Fi hot spot,” they add.

Hetherington packs a small, folding step stool to sit, stand or place things on.

Forget Paris

Vitale avoids flying into Paris. Parisian guards “make you take every single piece of camera gear out of your carry-on bag when going through security. Instead, I opt for Amsterdam, which is much more efficient and comfortable.”

The Life You Save May Be Your Own

“Whether you are going into combat or just driving on the freeway to the next story, every photographer should have basic trauma medical training,” suggests Haviv. “You never know when it can save the person’s life next to you or even your own. And always have a first aid kit somewhere accessible and nearby.”

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