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Travel photography tips from Zack: How to fly with an entire photo studio and not get caught!

Here I am at the San Juan airport with my entire photo studio, cameras, and clothes!

Here I am at the San Juan airport with my entire photo studio, cameras, and clothes!

Traveling in 2019 can be stressful, even if it’s for a well needed vacation. Traveling with your entire photo studio for work can be down right catastrophic if you don’t prepare and think ahead. I hope my recent international headshot photo shoot can help you learn some tips on how to travel with your photography equipment in a safe and inexpensive way.

How to properly travel with your gear can be tricky, so how do you fly with all that photo gear?

I recently had the pleasure of traveling again to photograph a long time client’s conference. In my third year of this relationship me and my team have photographed their conferences in New Orleans, LA, Austin, Texas, and most recently San Juan, Puerto Rico. Each conference is a 4-5 day conference and event documentary job while shooting multiple days of business headshots that range from 40 – 200 people.

Being able to execute the convention and photography duties in New Orleans was easy since that is where my business is based. I was able to have my studio open and ingesting each days shots to send out daily edits to the company marketing team, as well as being able to load in and setup the conference head shot station with ease.

All of my necessary headshot lighting gear fit nicely in this Pelican 1660 case.

All of my necessary headshot lighting gear fit nicely in this Pelican 1660 case.

Traveling to Austin for the 5 day conference was a bit tougher, but with the proper resources I was able to make it very easy for my photography workflow. I brought with with me only my Paul C. Buff Alien Bees, pocket wizard remotes, and cables. Since Austin is a bustling creative capital city, I rented light stands, sand bags, and a full studio background kit with a grey seamless roll. I rented the gear from a local rental house and they were able to deliver and pickup the gear to the hotel we were shooting at.

If you are traveling for a photoshoot and can expense local gear rental to your client, I would highly suggest that. Considering that local rental rates for limited gear can sometimes be equal to the cost of an oversize and overweight checked gig bag! Either way, you will pay for the gear, so why not reduce the wear and tear on your own gear (and your back!) and rent photography grip gear in the city you are shooting.

Headshots are easy at my studio but knowing how to properly pack for travel is a whole other deal!

Most recently my client brought their conference to the amazing city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was very excited at the opportunity to photograph Puerto Rico as I had never been before. Puerto Rico is such a beautiful island and the people are hospitable and kind. I was looking forward to the “day of service” the conference attendees would do in the rural beach community of Yabucoa. Yabucoa is still recovering from Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Hurricane Maria is regarded as the worst natural disaster on record to affect the island and was the deadliest storm of 2017. 


After searching for a few photography rental studios in San Juan and coming up short,, I realized that my options were to rent from a local photographer or bring my own. Trusting my instincts and ready for a challenge I decided to figure out how to travel with my studio lighting kit and be ready for headshots and conference documentary in another country.

How do I know what gear to check and what photography gear to carry on the airline?

It is wise to check with your airline about their size and weight restrictions on checked bags. I was in the clear to pack my entire travel photo studio into a secure hard case Pelican Case. (more on that later)

 Here is the studio setup and looking great!n n nn n n

Here is the studio setup and looking great!

 I always carry on my camera bodies, lenses, batteries, memory cards (in a hard case), portable hard drives and laptop. I am currently using and loving my camera bag from ONA with it’s ability to hold 2 Canon Mark IV’s, 70-200 2.8, 16-35mm 2.8, 24-70mm 2.8, my 15” MacBook Air, and other related gar. The bag fits nicely in my overhead or under my feet while flying.

 Keep all of your receipts! All of them! Even if it’s oversize it’s good to know what it costs.

Keep all of your receipts! All of them! Even if it’s oversize it’s good to know what it costs.

A few weeks before my trip I went on Amazon.com and bought 3 studio light stands where the legs collapsed up, thus reducing their size to fit exactly in the Pelican Case. I also purchased a foldable light grey backdrop disc and stand that also fit into the Pelican Case with ease. I cut out snug spaces in the foam inserts of the case to fit: 3 Einstein strobes, cables, extra strobe bulbs, transmitters and backup batteries for all. Remember when you arrive at your final destination any oversized cases will be waiting for you at the oversize counter and not the general baggage carousel.

Knowing that my entire studio could fit in one case was awesome! I was ready to fly, but was I protected?

Photographing and traveling domestically is easy right? But when do I get travel insurance and when do I know I am protected? Travel insurance is a must have for most travelers. From cancelled flight reimbursement to general liability insurance you can get what you need to feel protected. Lucky for me I was flying and shooting in a U.S. Territory so my existing health insurance as well as my business insurance package would carry over to any incident incurred while on my shoot in Puerto Rico. Before traveling out of the country for your next photo shoot I suggest contacting your issuing insurance agent to ask them of any coverage you may need.

 My backyard vibes for the week…not bad!

My backyard vibes for the week…not bad!

Proper preparation before my international photo shoot was vital in the planning phase of my trip. By visualizing what I needed for my headshots and my day to day shooting, I was able to plan, pack, and travel with a good feeling.

I hope this information on how to pack for your next international photography assignment was helpful and if it was, please share this blog post!



Pelican Case

3 – Light Stands

Foldable Background and Stand

3 – Paul C Buff Einstein strobes

Cybersense and remotes

Empty Grip Bags (sandbags)

Explore Zack's Jazz Museum Exhibit


New Orleans photographer Zack Smith’s portraits of Louisiana musicians, artists, and fans are currently on display at the New Orleans Jazz Museum.

Discover the captivating world of jazz through Zack’s lens. 

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