The Photographer's Guide to the Airline Electronics Ban

There are already restrictions on carrying electronics larger than a smartphone in the airplane cabin if one is traveling to the US from one of ten different airports in the Middle East and North Africa. The UK has a similar ban in place. Based on the latest news reports as of this writing, it seems that the US Department of Homeland Security electronics ban (aka “laptop ban”) could be implemented for all flights into and out of the US. What is the the traveling photographer to do? In this article we will present solutions and give ideas on how to travel successfully and safely with laptops and photographic equipment.

Because “we don’t know what we don’t know” we are going to make the following assumption: “any electronics larger than a smartphone” not only means laptops, tablets, e-readers and the like, but also includes camera bodies, lenses, hard drives, drones, power bricks, and spare batteries. If and when the extended ban happens, you should expect that rules will be difficult to understand and not consistently enforced from one airline to the next, from one airport to the next, or from one country to the next. Anticipate the most stringent rules, assume you will deal with confused security personnel and airline staff, and prepare for both.

I DON’T HAVE GEAR INSURANCE.

Now more than ever before, you should be covering all your gear with an insurance policy. For some, this might be your homeowner’s or other existing insurance, but you should check the policy carefully, and call your company. Ask specific questions, since many policies exclude things like expensive camera gear and air travel. Also, your insurance company can deny your claim if they feel you are working in any way commercially or in a professional capacity. Anyone doing commercial or professional work (even part-time!) should really have an insurance policy that covers you as a working photographer. It’s easier now than ever before to get coverage, so just do it. Make sure you are getting the right amount of coverage, that it works internationally, and that it covers you for theft, damage, and delays. Make a photographic record of all your gear, including the serial numbers. Insurance is critical since the risk of loss, damage and theft is much higher.

THE BAN IS NOT YET IN PLACE BUT I’M WORRIED BECAUSE I LEAVE TOMORROW, AND WHAT IF IT CHANGES WHILE I’M ABROAD?

  • Get a hard, lockable case (such as a ThinkTank Hard Case) that fits your camera backpack.

  • Carry your gear in your backpack on board your flight as normal and as allowed.

  • Pack non-electronics in the ThinkTank Hard Case and check it in with the airline. You should also bring a soft-packable duffel bag to put clothing in if you need to use the hard case for your trip home. Include a roll of packing tape and a good amount of bubble wrap.

  • If you can travel with the hard case while on your trip, great. If it’s too bulky, store it in an airport locker, or with your hotel. Make a plan for this. If you’re on a photo workshop with Muench Workshops, don’t worry, we’ve figured that out for you.

  • If the rules change while you are on your trip, put your camera backpack with all your gear in it inside the hard case, stuff clothing around the edges to make it safe and secure. Inventory and photograph all of your gear. Fill the soft duffel with your clothing and non-breakable items. Check your duffel and hard case.

  • Important: your SD/CF cards stay with you, on your person, safely stored.

THE BAN IS IN PLACE AND I’M PREPARING FOR MY BIG PHOTO TRIP.

  • Time to invest in a ThinkTank Hard Case or similar case (there are alternatives, check Amazon). This case should be large enough to hold all of your camera gear, hard drives, power supplies, laptop, tablet, kindle, everything. They come with foam interiors that can be customized to safely secure and hold your specific gear.

  • Pack everything carefully. Make a detailed inventory and photographic record.

  • You might have to store your hard case somewhere during your trip. For example, there’s no room on the small charter aircraft used in Africa for these cases. When traveling with Muench Workshops, we already have this figured out for you.

  • If you are worried about your laptop getting damaged, and also about your personal or business data on that laptop, then consider getting a cheap “beater” laptop that will just run a browser, your cloud service(s), and Lightroom CC, or the editing program of your choice. You’ll be surprised at what you can get for a few hundred bucks! Tip for Mac lovers: check out the Apple Refurbished store for good deals.

WHAT ABOUT BACKUP AND STORAGE WITHOUT A LAPTOP?

  • Get a portable hard drive that has built in card reader and WIFI. Western Digital makes a couple different models with huge capacities (find them on Amazon, here. They allow you to copy files directly from your card to the hard drive, no computer needed. The integrated reader is for SD cards, and there’s a USB-3 port as well for your CF card reader. Backups will be slower than you’re used to with your laptop, but at least you’ll be able to make copies of your files.

  • When flying, this device will need to be in checked luggage, still not ideal. But you will be keeping all of your SD and CF cards on your person with you at all times.

  • Travel with enough SD or CF cards so that you do not have to reformat them while on your trip. Figure out how many you will need, and then pack a few extra.

  • Another option, if you have a camera that has dual card slots, write your photos simultaneously to two cards at once. This is certainly the easiest method to get redundancy, as you’ll have two copies of every photo from the moment you shoot. Just remember to keep your cards and card copies separate from each other in two different card cases, and store them in different locations while traveling.

I USE MY LAPTOP/IPAD/TABLET/KINDLE ALL THE TiME TO WORK, EDIT PHOTOS, WATCH MOVIES OR TV WHILE FLYING.

  • Upgrade and upsize your smartphone. Get an iPhone 7 Plus or any of the newer, bigger Android phones, and max out the storage.

  • Download your favorite movies/tv/music/books ahead of your trip. Get the Kindle App for your phone and sync up your favorite books.

  • Learn and practice how to transfer files from your SD/CF cards to your smartphone, so you can use use Lightroom Mobile or Photoshop Express or Snapseed on your smartphone. You’ll be amazed at what you can do as far as editing goes! There are card-reader dongles for your phone, and many cameras also can transfer files via wifi or bluetooth.

CAN I JUST SHIP MY GEAR TO AND FROM MY LOCATION?

  • Yes, both DHL and UPS offer worldwide shipping options, but the costs are pretty high. You can pack your gear in a hard case and ship safely. You’ll have to arrange for receipt of the delivery, by a friend, an agent, or hotel. And you’ll have to arrange for return shipping as well, leaving time for that at the end of your trip.

THIS IS ALL JUST TOO MUCH. I’M STAYING HOME.

Certainly this is a choice you can make, but with a little extra planning and preparation, you can deal with this new way of traveling with your gear. With a bit of advance thought and planning, your gear properly insured and carefully packed in a hard case, you should be safe. If you’re reading this far, you are passionate about photography and travel, so don’t let the electronics ban get in the way.

We will stay on top of any changes to the rules and regulations, and update this post as needed. Got questions? We’re available to help, contact us anytime by email or phone.

Andy's Travel Tips, Part 2

Last month, I gave you 11 tips for travel photography.  Well, I took my own advice, and did those things, and more, on a 10-day trip to Italy with my wife.

First off: CAN I TELL YOU HOW MUCH I LOVE THE PANASONIC GH3????  :)  Seriously - traveling with something so light and so good, made all the difference in the world. We were tourists! We must've walked 15 miles a day in Rome and Florence - but I never felt bogged down for a minute. Carrying the micro 4/3s camera and a couple extra lenses was a joy. With focal lengths from 14mm to 200mm, my total weight was about 3.5lbs - this would have been nearly triple the weight if I'd have brought my Nikon D800 and same lenses. Is there a sacrifice? You tell me.

Sunrise, Castle village of Montecastello Di Vibio, Umbria, Italy. Panasonic GH3 with 12-35mm lens on board, at 33mm. Really Right Stuff Versa 1-series Tripod.

Sunrise, Castle village of Montecastello Di Vibio, Umbria, Italy. Panasonic GH3 with 12-35mm lens on board, at 33mm. Really Right Stuff Versa 1-series Tripod.

I think I was able to enjoy this trip so much because I was able to carry my gear so easily - I had the GH3 on a Black Rapid Metro strap, over my shoulder, and then two lenses and a few other odds and ends in a messenger-type bag. Super easy to walk with and carry all day long. I carried and used a Gorillapod and also a Really Right Stuff 1-series Versa tripod, also super-lightweight. I love the ability to compose with the articulating screen, and also the super quality at ISO 3200 and 6400 (comes in handy for dimly lit food shots in the amazing restaurants of Italy!

It's time to start thinking out of the box. Sure, our Canons and Nikons have their place when we're going on photography trips - but if you want light, nimble, quick and great quality, take a look at the mirrorless ILC cameras out there, now. You'll be glad you did.

Enjoy (travel) photography,

Andy

Andy's 10 Tips for the Traveling Photographer

Filed under "been there, done that, have the wounds and bruises" department. I'm not being paid by any vendors I recommend here, they're mentioned because I use and love their gear or services. - Andy

  1. Practice the fine art of packing. Use a wheeled suitcase or duffel. Duh. I can highly recommend the Spring Peeper by Crumpler, but there are many others that do the job.
  2. Decide on the right camera bag for your trip. This can vary, depending on the trip you're doing and the gear you're planning on carrying. For long trips that I'll need plenty of gear on, I use the Bataflae by Gura Gear. Shorter trips, I have an out-of-production Farmer's Double by Crumpler.  My point here is, you'll need more than one bag depending on your gear and trip. Put non-critical and duplicate gear in your rolling duffel which will be in the belly of the plane - but be sure to carry your camera(s), lenses, batteries, laptop, memory cards with you in your backpack on the plane. Inside your bag, use packing cubes and other little bags to hold all your small stuff. This makes it super easy to keep tabs on everything while you're on the road. I love, use and recommend the Et Cetera cases from Gura Gear. Be mindful of what you stow in your carry-on, airport security has been known to confiscate little screwdrivers for eyeglasses, and other things that you would think are "safe" to take.  No sharps, no liquids in your carry-on. 
  3. Consider the weight of your tripod and ballhead. I have recently switched to using a Really Right Stuff Versa 1-Series tripod, and BH-30 ballhead. This has reduced my weight by over a pound and a half! I've added the RRS spikes to this tripod, and I get maximum stability in a super lightweight and easy-to-carry setup.
  4. Take a critical, hard look at all the gear you carry. I've recently started using Panasonic µ4/3s GH3 as my second body, along with three awesome, lightweight lenses: 14-28, 24-70, and 70-200 equivalents. In fact, I'm taking this exact setup to Italy for two weeks while I enjoy a break from work with my wife in April. All that stuff, and the tripod, fit in a super-small backpack or even messenger bag. Sure, for other trips, I will take more gear. Galapagos is coming up in June for us... I plan on bringing my Nikon D800, and my Panasonic GH3 and lenses. But the only lenses I own for my Nikon are wide angle Zeiss.
  5. Rent gear when you need it. I love the convenience and service from Borrowlenses. For my Galapagos Trip in June, I'm renting a Nikkor 80-400, and also an underwater housing for my D800 and Nikkor 17-35. Why rent? These are things I use only infrequently, and Borrowlenses ships fast and easy, and the prices are amazing. Oh and Muench Workshops friends get a 10% discount, just ask us.
  6. Backup, backup, backup. Did I say backup? Whether you're on the trip of a lifetime to Africa, or a simple weekend in NY or Yosemite, you need to have a backup camera. Don't let a failed camera ruin your photography! Most of you already own a great DSLR. There are great systems out there to back that up, either inexpensive 2nd DSLR bodies or high-end point and shoots, or something from the µ4/3s family. But do bring a 2nd system. Also: spare batteries, plenty of CF/SD cards, and a way to back them up onto secure storage. I do not format cards when I'm on a trip, I keep them, and also back them up to a 500gb external hard drive that attaches to my laptop.
  7. Less is More. You've got to be nimble and quick while traveling and shooting. Make that bag lighter by choosing your gear wisely. Opt for a lightweight tripod setup (see #3), and think long and hard about all of those lenses. Example: for our Galapagos trip in June, I'm bringing only this: Nikon D800 and Zeiss 21 (tripodded landscapes), and  Nikkor 17-35 (for underwater), Nikkor 80-400. I'll shoot with the Panasonic GH3 for anything 14m to 200mm. Super easy to carry this setup for hours, comfortably.
  8. Money, passport, etc. OK yeah you gotta deal with this. I love my very simple Lewis N Clark pouch for all of this stuff. And it offers RFID protection.
  9. Check your mobile phone plan! Using your phone while traveling overseas can be a huge expense. Find out what your provider offers for out-of-country usage, and buy a prepaid data/voice plan. If you have an unlocked phone, then your best bet will be to purchase a SIM card locally (typically at the airport).
  10. If you are a US citizen, consider applying for "Trusted Traveler" status, it costs $100 for 5 years, but will speed you though immigration and customs at many US Airports.
  11. What, you thought I'd stop at 10???  Credit and debit cards. Be sure to call your card company or bank before you leave on a trip - domestic or international. Let them know where you'll be and that you'll likely be using that card, and you'll have no problems.

Enjoy (traveling) photography,

- Andy