Shravan Gupta:Tips for Travel Photography

Before you leave the house

It’s assumed that you’d have an itinerary, either from your travel agent or from resources like the Fodor’s Guides to places you want to visit. These things help you get the most out of your trip and still be able to get good pictures of it without having the enjoyment of the place or location be sacrificed. If not, then just be aware that you may need to make contingency plans for shooting purposes.

You should begin your planning with insurance of your cameras and equipment you plan to take with you with your insurance carrier. Be up front and honest with them, and tell them that you want to insure it for your trip. Most carriers will simply cover them on your homeowners/renters policy, and some with separate policies. Either way you’re covered for loss or theft of the equipment. You will need to get serial numbers, make, model and descriptions of all the gear you plan to take. Digital photos wouldn’t hurt, either. Then, you’ll need to go down to your local US Customs Office and get what’s called a “Certificate of Registration” for personal effects like this taken abroad. This is Form CF4457, and can only be acquired at the agency’s offices. You can locate your nearest US Customs Office at the following web address: You must physically bring the equipment you plan to take to their offices for their inspection, and they will then confirm the information on the form and stamp it. This is done for the purposes of being able to get your gear back into the country without having to pay duty on your own equipment. Their stand is that just because you say you left the country with it, doesn’t mean you really did. This form proves that, and will make the possibility of potential problems go away. Travel insurance for travelers outside the U.S. is highly recommended, for the obvious reasons. You might also want to check with the CDC’s web site for health related issues, and the US State Department’s web site for travel advisories, and the FAA’s website for travel restrictions.

Learn some key phrases in their language. Be prepared with proper clothing for the climate you’re visiting.

What and how to pack your camera gear and film

According to the FAA, you are now limited to one (1) carry on piece and one (1) “personal item” loosely defined as a briefcase or purse on any flight originating in, and returning to, the U.S.. I suspect this does not mean you’ll be able to get away with a fully loaded backpack or photography vest coming on board along with your designated carry on, so plan accordingly with a contingency. That may mean that you will either need to check your gear in something a bit more secure (a good Halliburton case is my recommendation), or be able to fit all in one carry on and a “briefcase”. Be prepared to have it “dump searched” to make sure it does what you say it does. I’m told they will treat it as a laptop and need to see it before they’ll pass it through. Again, plan for a contingency, as this is all still being defined. The FAA tells me that you can still request a hand search of your film, but it will be at the screener’s discretion, and based on how crowded it is at the screening post. So my advice is to ask for the hand search, but don’t get bent if they make you run it through the gate scanner. You also do not want to leave an exposed roll of film in your camera. If you’re asked to make it operate, you may need to open the camera’s back, thus ruining your exposed film. By carrying the film handy in one of the outside pouches of your carry on, it can easily be extracted and shown to the security people for hand checking at the security gates without inconveniencing other passengers behind you in line. I recommend putting your film rolls in clear plastic tubes available from Porter’s Camera for around $3/each. These are sturdy containers, and allow for quick and easy inspection.

Know that your 120/220 medium format film has a greater chance now of being scanned if it is still in the foil pouches they come in. I honestly don’t know what would be worse; having it scanned or having it exposed to light outside of the foil pouch, so use your best judgment on this one. Porters Camera does sell colored plastic film boxes that open easily for inspection and have a good light seal. This may be an justifiable alternative. I suspect that you shouldn’t bother with the lead-lined bags any more. That just invites it being scanned with the CTX 5000, and you then risk it being pulled aside as a possible threat, delaying your bags, possibly indefinitely.

I personally use 2 different pieces of carry on luggage, depending on what camera kit I take. I have learned (the hard way) that if you’re going anywhere, have an extra change of clothes and an overnight kit with you in your carry on luggage. When we went to Egypt, our luggage was delayed by 2 days, after a day and a half it took to get there. Being a plus size, you don’t just run out and buy more clothes in downtown Cairo, because that particular size is simply not available. So, do be aware that you can get half way around the world and not have a thing to wear but the clothes on your back. The same goes for your cameras, prescription and other valuables.

I use a matching luggage backpack on wheels from my luggage set, at a minimum. I also have the matching smaller carry on suitcase that can be shoved through the x-ray window. For more fragile items, I also have a Halliburton Zeroller 105 brushed aluminum suitcase on wheels. I pack the cameras, lenses and etc., in good LowePro shoulder carrying cases packed inside the carry on bags for added protection.


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