Chase Jarvis TECH: Packing Photography Gear

PROBLEM: Traveling with cameras, lenses, lights, computers and all the rest of the gear that us photographers use these days can be a serious challenge. After all, this stuff is spendy and breakable, yet it needs to travel to the same places that photographers do to make great pictures. From urban jungles like the Big Apple to the real jungles of Zimbabwe, traveling with photography equipment requires some special know-how.

SOLUTION: With a bit of savvy, some organization, and some of the right packs, bags, boxes, and cases for the job, your gear can travel safely and efficiently almost anywhere in the world. I figured I’d whip together a couple videos that might shed some light on this murky subject. Whether you’re packing around a dSLR and a couple of lenses OR a ton of cameras, lighting kits, and all the trimmings to shoot a large ad campaign, there are tips in here for every level of shooter. Thus, the following two videos illustrate how we go about schlepping our stuff via plane, train, automobile, foot, -hell- even donkey, on assignment all over the world.

This first video, above, Chase Jarvis TECH: Packing Photography Gear (Advanced) runs at 30 minutes and focuses on the big picture. It details packing and traveling domestically and internationally with dSLR kits, medium-format digital rigs, video cameras, lighting and accessories, tripods and stands, computer equipment, radios, and various other production equipment. Insider tips, resources about airlines, shippers, expediters, strategy, theory and lots of other information is abound.

The second vid, Chase Jarvis TECH: Packing Photography Gear (Basic) runs at 10 minutes and is a trimmed version of Advanced. It highlights packing and traveling with a dSLR kit, light-duty flash photography accessories, and essential computer equipment. It also touches on air travel rules and regs, keeping a low profile, and working in extreme weather or location conditions:

Finally, keep in mind that no video or even some kooky week-long seminar could address ALL the ins and outs of packing and traveling with photo gear. These vids are meant to highlight what works for us. There’s a million other details we couldn’t include, but the magic is this: No doubt you have other ideas and techniques too! Please share your packing secrets, tips, thoughts, and experiences in the comments below. So much of the value of this blog is directly a result of your participation and the ideas of this community. I’d love to learn a thing or two about your favorite way to get your gear from here to there. Let’s make this entry another killer resource like a few others we’ve done in the past.

[NOTE: In case you missed our last post, Chase Jarvis Videos on iTunes, we’re happy to report that we’ve now got a great iTunes Video Podcast going. Every video on this blog is available for FREE at iTunes in two resolutions, iPhone/iPod (lower res) and AppleTV (higher res). We’ve posted both of today’s videos there, however it takes about a day to post/propogate through the iTunes system. Check over there soon to put ‘em in your pocket or on your boob tube].

Other related videos/posts:
-Chase Jarvis TECH: POV Photography
-Chase Jarvis TECH: Photography Laptop Case (aka pimp your laptop)
-Chase Jarvis FRAMES: Hasselblad Masters
-Chase Jarvis RAW: Ninjas
-Chase Jarvis RAW: New Zealand Spring
-Chase Jarvis CURRENT: Photoshelter NYC
-Chase Jarvis Videos on iTunes

Depending on your RSS reader, you may need to click here to see the videos.

99 Responses to Chase Jarvis TECH: Packing Photography Gear

  1. Carson Blume November 27, 2007 at 10:08 pm #

    You can also hire some one like me and my Massive Van to bring every thing you need to the shoot! Great info, now I have more ideas in my head, its getting full.

  2. scott_kryptfilms November 27, 2007 at 11:12 pm #

    Hey chase! This video is a great resource! That said – I do have a question specific to shipping Pelican cases:

    On a few separate film shoots I’ve watched crew members pick up cases without the latches being fully locked down (that 2nd hard click) and gear spill everywhere. Do you have any ideas for preventing this from happening with Airport security in one of their random bag checks? This is my biggest fear shipping pelicans – but I won’t ship any other way…

    Thanks again – I know I speak for everyone when I say that we appreciate what you guys are doing!!!

    Scott Regan

  3. Dentharg November 27, 2007 at 11:39 pm #

    Chase you rock! I was struggling how to get all my gear safely (not a lot of it by it’s my preciousss!) – and now my visions are clear :)

    Thanks a lot!

  4. Tobias Peciva November 28, 2007 at 1:23 am #

    Pilsner Urquell? Excellent choice.

  5. Kalak_of_Tyr November 28, 2007 at 1:38 am #

    Hi, I’m here from strobist.
    What to say… yust thank you for the VERY informative videos and you rock!


  6. Neil November 28, 2007 at 2:28 am #

    Interesting stuff! Good points well made. Worth noting that the carryon stuff gets tight in the UK (and other places) only one carryon under any circumstances!

    The problem I get when travelling is popping out for an evening meal or just for a walk around town and worrying about the small mountain of expensive and stealable stuff living in our hotel rooms.

    How do you cope with this? Does Scott sit on the Pelicans in the hotel? I assume the hotel can’t put it all in the safe!

  7. MacGyver November 28, 2007 at 3:28 am #

    Aloha Chase!

    Wow,thank you so much for creating this much needed video. I have always wanted to see how other photographers fit all their gear into their bags, as I always seem to never have enough space no matter which bag or case I buy.

    The packing tips for airline travel are very helpful as I travel to Japan twice a year, and have always wanted to do shoots there.

    I had a few questions:

    In the technology box, you had a few HDs wrapped in some sort of square neoprene wrap – where can we find those?

    Regarding the ATA Carnet forms you mentioned – The last time I came back from Japan, US Customs people told me that the to get form 4457 from the website the next time I fly abroad with photo gear:

    US Customs form 4457 – US Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad

    I was told to fill out the 4457 form, take it and my gear listed to the nearest local Customs office for them to check it so that there would be no problems next time I travel with my gear.

    Is that ATA Carnet the same thing?

    Mahalo (thank you) for making this video. You and your crew rock!


  8. Marcos G. Meider November 28, 2007 at 4:36 am #

    Hi Chase! I remember you mentioned on lightsource podcast that you wanted to do a video on packing gear. As always a great info and good stuff for the brainers. Keep up with the good work and thanks.

    P.S. I think you should consider buying yourself a private jet for all your gear! ;-)

  9. Kevin Coloton November 28, 2007 at 4:43 am #

    You are producing the highest quality and most tactical photography vids i have seen on the net (and for free!). Thanks for this really excellent resource.

  10. udi November 28, 2007 at 4:47 am #

    Hey chase!
    This video rocks. great tips. two thumbs up for sharing all this stuff.
    - udi

  11. rémi November 28, 2007 at 6:32 am #

    MacGyver, check the “TECH : laptop briefcase” for more info on that particular case.

    Chase, thanks a lot, very very cool video. Now, my only problem is to get that much gear to fill all those bags :P Seriously, continue that great 2.0 job. You really are a great contributor to the photographer community.

    PS : thanks for the T-shirt (from the superman shooting post), it fits really nicely and I look like a super-ChaseJarvis-fan :)

    PS 2 : I put up my first webpage recently. It’s still on my .mac trial but will move on my own domain name soon. you can have a look, if you have some time, at
    feel free to leave me a comment, my email can be found on the “about me” page. thx

  12. mmdesign November 28, 2007 at 6:55 am #

    A couple years back I took a clear bag of about 30 rolls of 120 film, out of the box, along with the paper work that stated that they were required to hand check it. They refused and told me they didn’t care what the paper said. I could have the film x-rayed or I could toss it.

  13. Anonymous November 28, 2007 at 7:11 am #

    Good videos. Great to see the effort you go to for the shots. I don’t feel as bad with my crappy shots now!

    Seen in Strobist too.

  14. Dave November 28, 2007 at 8:21 am #

    Thanks for all of the time and effort that you put into educating the photo community. I really do appreciate it!


  15. Claudio November 28, 2007 at 8:43 am #

    awesome job!

    thanks for the effort.

  16. Jacob November 28, 2007 at 9:06 am #


    I didn’t realize you shot so much video (including directing, etc). Are these for video projects you do, or just for documentation so you can put together informative stuff like this?


  17. Will B November 28, 2007 at 9:09 am #

    Chase awesome video on packing equipment. I learned a lot by watching this.

    Thanks for spending the time & effort making this one.

  18. Anonymous November 28, 2007 at 9:14 am #

    Carsten says . . .

    Hi Chase from Germany!

    Your video about Packing was great fun to watch and very informative.

    Thank you and your team so much for putting this stuff together for us for free !

    Have safe travels!

  19. ryan photography November 28, 2007 at 10:03 am #

    It’s super interesting to see how Chase and the crew pack all of their stuff, it’s also incredible to get shown exactly what they use for all of their work. What a great inside scoop! This looks like a ton of work went into it, and I would like to thank the Jarvis Team for sharing, truly inspiring

  20. Anonymous November 28, 2007 at 10:11 am #

    Awesome post! Thank you! Any recommendation where I can try out some of those cases/bags before I buy? I’ve found that finding the right bag for the job is an art-form in itself! I physically need to try to fit my gear into the case before I make an investment. Any recommendations for Eastern Washington/Northwest?

  21. Chase Jarvis November 28, 2007 at 10:16 am #

    @ scott – here’s the key: zip tie those Pelicans… The TSA will cut them off to inspect and “often” will replace them with new zip ties when they’re done screening.

  22. Chase Jarvis November 28, 2007 at 10:18 am #

    @ neil: tell me about it…know what you mean. I don’t have a good answer for that one other than fly as under the radar as you can, and keep the bare essentials with you at all time. (ie, one body, one lens, backup hard drive with the previous days’ shots).

  23. Chase Jarvis November 28, 2007 at 10:21 am #

    @ Macgyver: those are not made anymore – were called Gara Gear. Maybe ebay? Op/techs makes something similar these days I’m told

  24. Chase Jarvis November 28, 2007 at 10:30 am #

    @ macgyver again: I think that ata carnet acts in lieu of that form, but I’m not sure. Perhaps its more for personal items or items not shipped with a freight company. We’ve always just done a Carnet. A carnet is technically just a “merchandise passport” or a temporary export so that you don’t have to pay duties, taxes, or penalties. Here’s some helpful info:

    Toll free carnet hotline inside USA:

    International Toll Free:
    00 800 4CARNETS

  25. Chase Jarvis November 28, 2007 at 10:36 am #

    @mmdesign: visit this website, print out the page:

    “Camera Equipment – the checked baggage screening equipment will damage undeveloped film in camera equipment. We recommend that you either put undeveloped film and cameras containing undeveloped film in your carry-on baggage or take undeveloped film with you to the checkpoint and ask the screener to conduct a hand-inspection.”

    They have to check by hand (ie swab it) by law. Ask for a supervisor.

    They’ll also tell you that it wont harm film up to ISO 800, they’ll try to talk you out of screening it, or they may even refuse. Few tips there:

    1. don’t believe them.
    2. you don’t have to submit to their request to xray 1,2 or 400, the same rule applies that i quoted above – hand inspection is your right
    3. best one is this: buy a few rolls of 3200 and put it in the bag with your other film and tell them that there’s “film ranging up to 3200″. That always gets ‘em to shut up and hand inspect ‘em ;)

    Lastly, remember this ONLY applies in USA airports.

  26. Chase Jarvis November 28, 2007 at 10:39 am #

    @ jacob: sure we shoot behind the scenes for fun and to make these vids, BUT moreso, I am doing a lot more directing of motion stuff for clients these days. Fun and different, but the same, you know ;)

  27. Alvinus Melius November 28, 2007 at 11:23 am #

    Hey Chase! This is very cool! I don’t have all this gear to pack as yet (the focus is on the yet) but I learnt a lot from this video.

    Thanks a gazillion men!

    If you are ever in Saint Lucia on a shoot, Can I come watch?

  28. Chase Jarvis November 28, 2007 at 12:23 pm #

    TSA site page for info on traveling with one carryon, one personal item, one bag of photo equipment:

    print it.

    keep in mind this is for getting gear thru checkpoint – airline can still make you check something at gate (although it’s unlikely – especially if you show them the print out.

    Also, keep in mind this is for USA only. Internationally, this never flies (pun intended )

  29. Skunkabilly November 28, 2007 at 1:17 pm #

    Hello Mr Jarvis,

    I enjoyed watching your abridged video and will watch the full length one after work.

    How light do you go when climbing? All I carry when climbing is one D80 and your 18-200 VR scout lens and MAYBE a second lens (12-24 or 10.5 Fish) and it still gets in the way.

    But my friend and I are usually the group leaders so we’re carrying the group safety equipment and protection, i.e. rope.

  30. conrad November 28, 2007 at 1:31 pm #

    great work chase.

    another great article to help you think more about traveling with gear (particularly for those who don’t have the gear budget that chase does or are petrified of checking any body or glass!) is the ‘Fear for your Gear” article series from the good folks at think tank gear (one of lowepro’s competitors).

    this is definitely worth reading if you are planning to fly with photo gear anytime.

    you need to provide your email address to get the pdf.

    if you don’t want to register your email, download here:

  31. Chase Jarvis November 28, 2007 at 1:44 pm #

    @skunk: when I shoot climbing, it’s never multi pitch and there’s usually a pretty serious commercial crew hanging around with me. It’s therefore a breeze for me to have whatever lens I need just handed to me or slung up to my location.

    That said, if I were climbing for real, or multi-pitch, I’d be right in your camp with a small body, the 18-200 and a wide like 12-24.

  32. Anonymous November 28, 2007 at 1:49 pm #

    chase: okay, I’ve has crappy bags for a while. I’ve also oogled over lowepro and have been considering upgrading. this vid put me over the edge. I see that you use a lot of their bags. i’m operating on a medium sized budget – can you recommend your favorite couple bags from them? (okay maybe a FEW – I’ll put the extra ones on my Christmas list !) – thank you TK.

  33. Michelle November 28, 2007 at 2:35 pm #

    On the budget side of things for ams like me … clever packing gets most day stuff in a Lowepro 200. Lives on me and I can go places and keep the kit with me.

    The rest of the kit is in aluminium flight cases with foam;=Maplin&U;=SearchTop&T;=case&doy;=28m11 that way everything looks professional ’cause it is all the same kind of case. You can get these at a good price if you do a little searching.

    You can get creative and store gels and flat stuff behind the foam padding even

    The downside is that it doesn’t fly under the radar very well, but having said that, if I travel with it, it is in the boot of the car and always covered.

    Most ams can get away with household insurance cover; check your policy for the limit on equipment and where you can use it or lose it. Keep your paperwork straight, receipts, serial numbers etc. makes it less painful should the worst happen.

  34. Anonymous November 28, 2007 at 6:38 pm #

    ditto with everyone else…the video rocks…!!

    I agree with the printing out the rules…most of these TSA’ers are young or not very experienced (high turnover rate)…believe me I worked with some of them after 911 as a military advisor…we had one lady keep a child from bringing in an action figure cause it had a “toy gun” (about a 1cm long)..good folks print out those rules it’ll help !!

  35. Ben November 28, 2007 at 7:28 pm #

    Just in case you haven’t heard it enough, well done and thanks for the great vids… Keep up the good work.

  36. Anonymous November 28, 2007 at 8:04 pm #

    One thing people might want to think of is using large coolers. If you do as Chase does and pack small bags withing bags you can use a cooler as the large bag. While not being as strong as pelican cases the double walls make for some strength. They also don’t look like anything worth steeling.

  37. Chase Jarvis November 28, 2007 at 8:43 pm #

    @ anon (TK): My favs are the Pro Trekker AW II, and the Omni Trekker Extreme (soft shell inside a hard case). The Pro Roller is pretty sweet too and hold a huge pile of gear – strong enough to ship on it’s own. If you’re rocking a dslr setup and looking to buy – the Pro Trekker is your first move, for sure. All the bags we showed here are very modular and have been very durable, moreso than some other brands I’ve used (i tend to beat the hell outta stuff…). I’ve blown out a couple zippers on older models by stuffing them too full and the LowePro customer service was IMPECCABLE. They repaired one for free and the other for cheap.

  38. November 28, 2007 at 8:48 pm #

    Hold the phone, you mentioned in the video that you were off to Chile and were using a Carnet. My understanding is they work nowhere in South or Central America. Does anyone know if this is the case? I have one for getting into the US but am doing a couple of assignments in South America next month.

  39. Chase Jarvis November 28, 2007 at 9:24 pm #

    @oneword: Chile adopted the Carnet system in October of 2005. You should check here for countries that use the Carnet:

  40. Jason November 28, 2007 at 11:06 pm #

    Thanks for the videos Chase, very interesting and super useful.

    I cant wait to get my Lowepro Vertex 300 AW backpack in a few weeks.

    p.s. I’ve got gear envy.

  41. Hoyin November 28, 2007 at 11:23 pm #

    Hey Chase,

    Thanks for sharing these travel tips with us. There’s definitely some tips I can use for my next assignment!


  42. Anonymous November 29, 2007 at 8:47 am #

    Really appreciate your clear, thorough information Chase! Keep it up!

  43. Chileanlostinatlanta November 29, 2007 at 9:17 am #

    Where are you in Chile? I’m a chilean living in US.. and I could not believe when I heard “Chile” in your video. Have fun.. Chile is a beautiful country.

  44. Chase Jarvis November 29, 2007 at 9:53 am #

    @chilean: The Pucon area and surroundings…

  45. Hoyin November 29, 2007 at 7:48 pm #

    How do you guys keep your equipment secure while on location?

  46. Chase Jarvis December 1, 2007 at 2:55 pm #

    When you say ‘on location’ do you mean ‘on set’? or back at the hotel in, say, Chile or LA or NYC?

    On set – there’s usually lots of people around, so gear safety is a small concern.

    Back at the hotel, depending on the size of the shoot, we either have a room that is specifically for all the tech gear, or it’s just in the hotel. We always split btwn multiple rooms mission-critical items so as not to jeopardize the loss of (ie dslr and medium format, etc). Although I’ve had full time guards (seriously!- while shooting big jobs or in unstable places…), but typically the stuff is just in crew hotel rooms or tech room with care taken to split up essential items.

  47. Hoyin December 2, 2007 at 9:36 am #

    Ahh… yeah, I was wondering how to keep equipment secure in hotel rooms. Splitting up the essential gear is a good idea. Thanks for answering!

  48. Mike Asencio December 3, 2007 at 12:56 am #

    Chase, thanks for giving the “community” your insight on packing. I’ll pass it on to others! PS, I stumbled on to your site from Strobist.

  49. Anonymous December 5, 2007 at 1:52 pm #

    Wow, great movie. Thanks for sharing!


  50. Anonymous December 12, 2007 at 12:22 pm #

    I noticed you don’t mention reflectors or scrims.

    Is that an oversight, or do you simply not use them?

    I’m curious what the best options are for a location kit. Oh, and sand bags? Didn’t see those. I assume you just use lots of assistants?

    Thanks for the informative post!

  51. Chase Jarvis January 5, 2008 at 5:40 pm #

    @ anon: We DO use reflectors and scrims – I think I mentioned them at the end of the Advanced packing vid. We throw them in the top of one of the big pelican cases…

  52. Gavin January 9, 2008 at 10:08 am #

    It is also worth adding that European Union labor laws restrict each individual check in bag to 35 KG when flying on airlines. This is supposedly to protect the baggage guys from hurting themselves when carrying luggage.

  53. Scott Dickerson January 18, 2008 at 10:24 am #

    These video posts and the accompanying gear list have been very helpful. I’m tiring of spending long hours researching gear purchases. This December I just went down you list and bought everything that I thought would help bring my game to the next level. The last month of shooting has really benefited from some of these purchases.

    Just wanted to leave you a ‘from the bottom of my heart and bank account thank you’– born of real world experience taking action from your blog. Such practical time saving, help offering advice here. I know I got more shooting time in because I spent less time trying to decide which lowepro backpack to get etc.

    ps Most all the items through amazon were not availabe to me in Alaska. Something funky about Adorama not shipping to AK through Amazon. But they don’t tell you until you go to checkout! Sorry I couldn’t be chartible in my purchases.

  54. D March 19, 2008 at 1:35 am #

    I have heard of people packing a race “starter pistol” in camera bags. This technically makes it a gun case, and then when you declare and check it (on US domestic, of course) it gets special tracking and handling. An interesting security hack, since they don’t want to be losing checked guns!

  55. Martina September 4, 2008 at 12:44 am #

    This photgraphy is a great resource.

  56. Reinfried Marass September 13, 2008 at 3:44 am #

    Just learned a new term .. ‘scout lens’ *lol

  57. Martina September 16, 2008 at 11:13 pm #

    This photography Gear is very nice this site is very nice.

  58. Maik Dobiey September 23, 2008 at 9:28 am #

    My first comment on this page so I first have to say that I loved this page from the second I came across it.
    Great photos, great info, great inpiration.

    I just wanted to comment on the question about what to do with the stuff you have to leave at the hotel room. Though not theft-proof it is a good diea, I think, to turn on the TV loud enough to be heared outside the room and to put on the sign “don’t disturb”. I also try to hide wathever is expansive and hideable. Lenses, small flash, CF cards etc.

    When deciding what I take with me as hand baggage it is price, size and “shock resistance”. Lenses for example don’t like to be thrown around be airport staff while tripods and stands don’t care too much. CF-Cards won’t care either but they are rather expansive and very small. The price per gram, let’s say, is very high. So they are hand luggage. For clamps or batteries e.g. it is the other way around, though they are not very big.
    For big flash heads you might think about removing the bulbs und take them as hand luggage as they don’t weigh but get you into trouble if they break.

    Just a few thoughts


  59. Filip Blank October 28, 2008 at 12:13 pm #

    hey Chase. I have one question. What is this thing you use to put your Lacie hard drives in? It looks pretty cool and useful but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Thanks for all the videos.


  60. Anonymous January 18, 2009 at 9:24 am #

    Great job…. much to learn here. Thanks

  61. Josh McCulloch February 24, 2009 at 12:56 am #

    Hey Chase,

    I noticed in the section of this video where you show your laptop case setup that you have your Lacie Rugged Drives tucked in the lid area of the Pelican Laptop case and not underneath the laptop itself as shown in your dedicated laptop case video… Just wondering if this is how you set it up all the time now. I recently got myself set up with a 1490 CC1 and fried my MacBook’s Logic Board from the heat of the laptop and drives and was wondering if you’ve run into that heat issue also.

    Cheers, Josh

  62. Jon Attree April 2, 2009 at 8:34 pm #

    Fantastic video Chase, Watched it twice. My problem is I just dont know how to pack light. I end up bringing a tons of props on top of all my gear. Fortunately I end up being able to drive to a lot of my client shoot. But really a seven seat SUV should be a requirement just for the photographer eh?

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  64. Spy Cams December 27, 2009 at 4:00 pm #

    Yeah it's really tough to get even this much stuff on carry on, especially without paying the extra fees. That about as good as you can do though.

  65. מצלמות אבטחה June 16, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    Thats a great Video…

  66. security camera system June 16, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

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  67. TEJA RAM August 30, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    You can also hire some one like me and my Massive Van to bring every thing you need to the shoot! Great info, now I have more ideas in my head, its getting full.

  68. Alphonse Crady November 10, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

    Amaze! I have been browsing google all day because of this and that i finally found it here!

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  70. ניסור בטון May 24, 2011 at 5:51 am #

    very nice – thank you!

  71. מצלמות אבטחה May 24, 2011 at 5:53 am #

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  72. אינסטלציה August 12, 2011 at 12:54 am #

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  73. חוקר פרטי August 12, 2011 at 12:58 am #

    Yeah it’s really tough to get even this much stuff on carry on, especially without paying the extra fees. That about as good as you can do though.

  74. Security Camera Systems November 9, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    Wow! So much photography gear – so little packing space!

  75. Noel Lisk May 16, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    Great information :)

  76. HD Cam Team June 25, 2012 at 3:24 pm #


    Thanks a lot Chase, really great tips.

    Here are some updated links to TSA pages:

    Carrying Films (you can still ask for hand-inspection!):

    Safe travel with Batteries & Devices (You Should carry loose/spare batteries on your carry-on):

    Packing Tips:

    There are also many useful links at the left side of those pages.


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