Traveling with DSLR and lenses

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by jonathan_klopp, Jun 1, 2010.

  1. So what is it like traveling with a bag of camera equipment in the post 911 world? Are there things I should do or know? Should I plan to be frisked/searched and have everything dismantled? Are people (security) likely to be nervous if I take pictures in the airport?
  2. Where are you going?
    In the past 10 years, I have not had any problems with camera equipment from a security point of view (travelling to US, Canada, Thailand, Europe, Hungary) and I have not had to dismantle anything - which is slightly surprising considering what I have had to do with my laptop and a camera is nothing more nowadays than a glorified computer.
    I would be very careful taking pictures in airports. I would never take them in passport control or the secruity check area (many have signs warning you of this), though I have taken some in the waiting lounge. But be very careful when abroad - in many countries (including some European ones) airports can double up military and civilian duties so you don't want to be accused of spying. And the understandable post-911 sensitivities about airline security are just making it more touchy.
    This is definitely an area where common sense is essential and if in doubt, keep your camera in your bag.
  3. :) the secruity will get nervous if you take pictures of xray machines. otherwise it should be all ok. they see thousands carrying cameras and they will have least doubt on guys who use professional cameras as terroists use a bit inferior type cameras i suppose.
  4. Are you talking about traveling domestically (what country do you live in?) or internationally (between what countries?) ... that does change things a bit.

    No, you're not going to be frisked or searched, per se. It's not really any different than what millions of traveling business people go through when they have a laptop bag with them. It's going to go through x-ray machines, and you may see the security people use a chemical wiping strip (on the surfaces of the bag, in and/or out) and put it through a little spectrometer that checks for explosive signatures. This takes a few seconds. It's completely benign, and trivial.

    Don't check your camera gear, carry it on. If you're traveling with a tripod, that might want to go into your checked bags, since that probably will not be allowed on an aircraft (again, depends on where you are, where you're going, etc). Every airline you're going to use has a web site with extenensive information about this subject and about their own policies. Every country you're going to pass through has posted policies, as well.

    Mostly: don't act you're a source of trouble, and you won't get treated like one. I've never had an unpleasant moment with transportation security people, even in countries where the ones talking to you carry machine guns and look a lot more serious about it than in the U.S.

    As for taking pictures in airports: just be a little thoughtful about it. People take pictures in airports all the time. Seeming to spend your time dwelling on "staff only" security doors, or using video functions while dwelling on guards and agents ... of course that's going to invite scrutiny. Act like a tourist, and you'll be treated just like millions of other tourists.

    Thousands of people a day flow through the world's airports carrying all sorts of photographic equipment. You'll be fine.
  5. Once I had to prove that the camcorder works, and is not a dummy bomb. I was requested to shoot a short video and play back. Make sure you have charged battery in it.
    On another occasion, I was requested to open both ends of a long lens, and let the inspector see the light comming through the lens glass. Make sure you know how to operate lens aperture index to open the apperture and see the light clearly, without being installed on a camera.
    On another occasion I was aksed to check in the photographer backpack, since it was too heavy, even though it was well below the allowed size. So, be prepared if you have to check in your expensive gear, and not allowed on board with it.
  6. May sound silly, but in Mexico City airport, while comming to USA in 1980s, I was asked to prove that I did not purchase the photo equipment in Mexico. A $20 note proved that (money talk)... Since then I always carry some copies of invoices, when going abroad.
  7. I had to open my camera bag (backpack) several times for security, had the camera(s), lenses and inside of the bag wiped down, had to remove front and rear cap of lenses so security could verify that there is glass inside, had cameras inspected with some "magic wand", and had to hand the camera with lens attached to security so they could look through the viewfinder. Happened in the US and in Germany.
    I never photograph in airports though I am sure it is allowed in most parts.
    I would not check my camera under any circumstances - just make sure that the bag is regulation-size for carry-on and not substantially overweight. Sometimes, for shorter local flights on prop planes, the carry-on can/has to be checked plane-side (since the overhead bins are smaller than those in larger planes); I usually don't have a problem with that though there is of course the risk of damage when other bags are piled on top of mine or the bag is handled roughly.
    @Frank - scary having to check a pack that isn't oversized, just a bid heavy. Especially in light of the bursting-at-the-seams carry-on bags that are allowed on board. When possible, I hide the camera backpack inside a normal carry-on bag/case; if need be, I can then distributed things among two bags.
  8. I find that people aren't nervous if you take pictures inside the airport. Just never take pictures of the security line/system, or in customs/immigration. I've taken pictures of the plane from the airport window without trouble. When you travelling, depending on the city, you will also have to be careful about taking pictures in subways, subway platforms, train stations, etc. London, which is a very uptight city in terms of security, they don't seem to care too much about photos in the subway. NYC however, you will get some grief.
    I was in Penn Station, and they had a huge American flag draped over the building. I was taking a picture of that, and a police officer stopped me and asked me to show him the pictures. It was a bit ironic (here I am, celebrating American culture, and catching grief for it), but after he made sure I wasn't doing anything bad, he let me resume taking pictures.
    Having camera equipment through security: never had a problem. I just put the photobag through the X-ray.
  9. If I may be bold enough to raise the race card, you are rather more at risk in London being of brown complexion, a bushy beard and carrying a black rucksack than being a middle aged white guy sporting a beer belly.
  10. SCL


    Are you saying for the last 9 years you haven't travelled on an airplane? Tighter security, less storage space in overhead bins because there are luggage charges on many airlines, generally a more dour travelling crowd due to longer waits, higher prices, reduced # of flights, more security. On the positive side, officials are finally stepping up to the plate and taking action against unruly or jerky fliers. Depending on where you are and what you're photographing, you may encounter greater scrutiny and a less cooperative candid subject, if that's your thing. People generally don't like their likenesses or those of their children showing up on social websites without their permission.
  11. 9 times out of 10 you'll be fine--carry-on size, goes through x-ray--they may x-ray twice or do a quick swab test on it. Easy peasy. Every so often they'll ask you to unload the bag, or otherwise put you through the rituals above (most of which sound pretty extreme to me; but if you get a grumpy TSA person, all bets are off. I've traveled often with a good chunk of gear--domestically and internationally, and the worst I've ever had is to once or twice unpack the lenses & bodies from the bag and send them through separately. To Starvy's point, though, I am a white female). Just allow yourself enough time for security if they do hold you up for a few minutes and you'll be totally fine. I would check the tripod; often a problem to carry on.
  12. If I may be bold enough to raise the race card, you are rather more at risk in London being of brown complexion, a bushy beard and carrying a black rucksack than being a middle aged white guy sporting a beer belly.​
    Well, I wouldn't know. I'm nowhere near either xD
  13. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I advise that you be acutely aware of the SIZE and especially the WEIGHT limits for carryon baggage if you intend to carry your gear on the aircraft.

    Depending upon what country and what airline - if enforced, the carryon WEIGHT limit can cause you grief if your camera bag and its contents exceeds that limit – the weight limit is something that many folk forget about.

  14. +1 for checking carry on limits.
    Domestic air travel: I've had no problems, but don't fly that much. Belly of the plane or carry on, it was all the same. No trouble. There will be far more problems with people bringing on bags the size of a queen sized mattress than there will be concern over your DSLR.
    I am convinced the person across the aisle from me brought a waterbed with her. No one cared about my camera. I mean, really. Go to the airport. Look at this circus of ridiculousness! Ask yourself: am I so abnormal? On a domestic flight, the answer will be, "No."
    In order to have real cargo concerns, you might have to skip "DSLR" and go straight to "live chickens." If you had a lot of live chickens and a surfboard, then you might be in the running for a baggage problem. Actually, I suspect the surfboard people probably get their luggage there in better shape than the rest of us.
    On an international flight, the carry on guidelines are more like, "Nothing that exceeds the mass and volume of a cardigan sweater."
  15. So what is it like traveling with a bag of camera equipment in the post 911 world?​
    It's not a big deal. The security check just takes longer.
    Are there things I should do or know?​
    (1) Allow for more time than you think you'll need. There's a good chance that you'll meet with delays.
    (2) Airport security is taken very seriously these days. Be courteous and cooperative, but DON'T JOKE AROUND with the security staff. If you mention a bomb or a weapon or certain suspicious characters or organizations while making what you think is a joke you could end up being denied access to your flight (and possibly face much, much stiffer penalties).
    (3) You're not carrying film so you don't have to worry about film-specific issues such as X-rays and inadvertent exposure.
    (4) Keep your eye on your camera bag in case a thief tries to steal it from the conveyor belt of the X-ray machine.
    (5) Liquids are strictly checked. They'll make you discard any bottle that carries more than 3 or 4 ounces of liquid.
    (6) Be prepared to part with your shoes, belt, wallet, watch, phone, jewelry, etc. before you enter a metal detector.
    (7) Don't carry any sharp objects.
    Should I plan to be frisked/searched and have everything dismantled?​
    Absolutely not unless you're also carrying contraband. They might ask you to open your camera bag, turn on your camera (rare), or they might swab your bag and test it for explosive materials, but this will be a quick process. In Europe once they asked me to take all lenses out of the camera bag.
    Never be alarmed if they want to do additional screening. This is perfectly normal and it happens to lots and lots of travelers.
    Are people (security) likely to be nervous if I take pictures in the airport?​

    Probably. I would avoid this if for no other reason than it advertises the fact that you're carrying a lot of camera gear. I don't want thieves to know what's in my backpack. Plus I'd rather catch my flight and take photos at my destination than spend hours being interviewed by officers from the Dept of Homeland Security.
  16. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Q: "Should I plan to be frisked / searched and have everything dismantled?”

    A: “Absolutely not unless you're also carrying contraband. They might ask you to open your camera bag, turn on your camera (rare), or they might swab your bag and test it for explosive materials, but this will be a quick process. In Europe once they asked me to take all lenses out of the camera bag.”​

    It is erroneous to assume that all security in all airports around the world will not ask you to disassemble camera gear, and that you must be carrying contraband for them to do so in the first place.

    I travel quite a lot domestically, and more rarely now, but up until two years ago quite often in the Asian subcontinent. It is not unusual to be asked to take lenses off cameras and to look through them and also to be asked remove all batteries from cameras and Flash heads.

    In some airports, swabbing for explosive materials is not a quick process, as there can be a structured set of questions which are asked of you first.

  17. At Charles deGaulle airport in Paris I have had to remove all electronics, including cameras, from my bags and put them in trays to go through the X-ray. What's the purpose of the x-ray then? This even more ironically is going from one gate to another without having ever left the secure area. go figure.
  18. Actually, I'm flying from Baltimore to Naples, FL, to see my mother and kick back a bit. Hoping for good shots of her, residents in her assisted living facility, and Florida scenery. So, yes, I'm flying in the USA and apologize for not mentioning. I very seldom fly (don't like it much), and had a computer with me the last time and had to get it out of the bag, remove the battery, etc, as well as the usual shoe removal, etc. hence my concern at carrying a body and a few lenses and a flash. I wasn't quite sure what would set off security. The pictures in the airport question is because BWI has some interesting looking places to shoot, and the cautions about not photographing security equipment are appreciated.
  19. It is erroneous to assume that all security in all airports around the world will not ask you to disassemble camera gear, and that you must be carrying contraband for them to do so in the first place.​
    William, I was addressing a specific question about being FRISKED and being asked to disassemble camera gear.
    In your travels how often have you been frisked? Do you attribute being frisked to the fact that you were carrying camera gear?
    And how many times have you had to disassemble a DSLR body? I wouldn't even know how. Do you carry special tools to address this scenario?
  20. I'm a frequent flier here in Europe - generally domestic between Ireland / England - but also to central Europe.
    I would estimate that I get frisked about 1 time in 3 at the X-ray machines - nothing too serious, generally a pat down. I'm 42, white, average build and generally in smart / casual clothes (just in case you think appearance matters).
    Only had to demonstrate camera was functioning the once - although I've had gear swabbed for explosive residue probably 1 time every 5 flights on average.
    As other have said, I would recommend checking the hand baggage allowance fairly carefully (both size and weight). In these days of budget airlines, they look for any excuse to charge extra, and if they can demonstrate that hand baggage is too big, they will take it away for storage on the hold - and charge for the pleasure.
    Good luck on you trip.
  21. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member


    Upon my re-reading your post and your clarification, I now understand the point you were making.
    When you wrote “have everything dismantled” - I thought you meant undo the lenses from the bodies, which I have been asked to do on several occasions; also I have been asked to remove the batteries and display them openly to security. (Note that’s what I originally wrote, too)
    To answer your other questions: I have not been searched (frisked), only had the wand run over me as a matter of course, as everyone in the line did too. No I do not carry tools to dismantle a camera body – my tool kit goes in the luggage hold.
    Thanks for taking the time to clarify when you wrote “have everything dismantled” you meant “taking all the individual pieces apart with a tool kit”, . .
    and you did not mean “removing the lens from the camera and removing the battery pack etc” – which was how I interpreted your meaning.
  22. Jonathan, I live in Ellicott City and fly out of BWI regularly, mostly on Southwest (last week to Boston Logan and back, Miami earlier this year and Orlando and Miami coming up this summer). They routinely have you take laptop out of the bag, which I think is standard everywhere, but I haven't been asked to take the battery out at any airport and wouldn't know how. Have never had BWI ask to open up a bag with camera gear, though I have noticed sometimes that they appear to be run the bag back and forth a little to get a good look inside via the x-ray machine. BWI does have some interesting areas but I never take my cameras out to shoot at an airport. Maybe I'm paranoid but in today's atmosphere I don't want to go looking for a fight.
  23. Just wanted to thank everyone for their responses. Sounds like it shouldn't be too much of a problem. I am planning on extra time, however, just in case security becomes over-zealous.

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