With an abundance of amazing dive locations around the world, underwater photography enthusiasts are traveling remote destinations in search of the best subjects – but getting your photography equipment around the globe can prove to be a challenge. Here are some tips and tricks from the Optical Ocean Sales team to help ensure your gear gets there safe and sound.
What to Bring
Picking and choosing what equipment to bring on is the natural first step. First, consider the destination and make a wish list of what photographs you would like to achieve during this trip. This can be difficult as it’s very hard to predict what may happen but some assumptions can, and should, be made based upon location. For instance, is bringing a macro set up really necessary for Socorro Island if the goal is to shoot Manta rays and other pelagics? Likewise, the large dome port can probably stay home when planning a muck diving trip to Lembeh Straits. Prioritizing what you want is key and leaving gear you’re unlikely to utilize at home will go a long way in streamlining your baggage. Overall, customizing your system for a particular purpose tends to yield better results than going with a generalized approach. Of course, you won’t just be bringing camera gear on vacation either; dive gear, clothing, toiletries have to make it into your luggage too! Apply the same logic when packing dive equipment – only take what you really need. Many dive operators offer rental equipment. Renting a BCD or Wetsuit, arguably the two most bulky pieces of gear, can leave a lot of space in your bag. Finding room for your mask, fins and regulator becomes a lot easier when you don’t have to worry about packing a 5mm wetsuit. Clothes, and other soft items, can be packed around dive and camera gear. This simple trick helps to pad your bag and prevents items from shifting around when in transit. Make use of all available space – try rolling clothing up and filling any gaps in your bag.
Carry On Baggage
Regardless of what you decide to bring, you’re going to need appropriate luggage to transport it in. It is ideal to pack all of the camera gear for carry-on. However, with bigger systems, you may need to make the decision on what will make the cut. Typically, the camera body, lenses, batteries and other more fragile items will fit comfortably in carry on. Most compact systems (and some small interchangeable lens setups) can fit into a standard cabin bag with room to spare. In carry on, transporting the camera body inside its housing is a great way of utilizing dead space. It is also important to pack equipment so that it is easy to access, in the event the bag is searched when clearing security. Be mindful of the weight as some airlines impose strict weight restrictions on carry-on items so ensure you are familiar with your carrier’s policies - you don’t want to be told when boarding your flight that your carry on is too big and it will need to be stowed in the hold. It is possible to call ahead and let airlines know that you will be traveling with camera gear. Exemptions on weight restrictions for carry on can be avoided by doing so- for a cost.
Larger systems will likely need to be checked in. A hard case is recommended, as soft bags will not offer enough protection. Hard cases, such as ones from Nanuk or Seahorse, offer unrivaled protection for your gear. These cases come in a variety of sizes, and the larger ones can hold a huge amount of equipment - perfect for larger systems or that trip where you really need to bring it all! Hard cases do have some tradeoffs. They are very heavy, even when empty, which can incur expensive baggage fees, and their generally bulky size makes them more awkward to transport. When packing camera gear for check-in, foam inserts or padded dividers make organizing the housing, ports and accessories within the bag easy work. Disassembling trays will help save space. Some housings may only fit with handles removed. Make sure any tools used for disassembly are packed as well so that you can put it all back together once you arrive at your destination. While most dive resorts and boats have a selection of tools on hand to use but if in doubt, it is better to have your own. This goes for any spare parts you may want to have handy as well. You don’t want to be caught on the ocean hundreds of miles from anything ready to do a dive of a lifetime and not have that spare o-ring or sync cord.
Ultimately, everyone’s underwater camera system is unique and every photographer has their own way of packing. With our years of combined travel experience, the Optical Ocean Sales team is here to help if you have any questions about how to pack for your next dive trip. For additional assistance please check with your airline carrier prior to traveling for more information on their specific luggage policies. Policies regarding the transportation of batteries, particularly Lithium-Ion batteries, should be checked carefully prior to travel.
Pictured luggage - ThinkTank Airport International V3.0 and Nanuk 950