Packing it in

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Expat commercial photographer Brett Stanley continues his journeys in the US, this time looking at the dreaded art of packing for international travel

Moving to another country is never an easy task, there are so many things to take into consideration, and deciding what to bring is one of the more important.

Clothing and personal items aside, choosing which of my gear and hardware to pack when moving to the United States was hard, for a few reasons. Not having a US visa meant I didn’t really know how long I was going for, so did I want to take everything I owned for what might just turn out as a three-month trip? I could always rent equipment once I got there, but that can get costly, and I’d already paid for my kit, so why shell out again?

The obvious answer was compromise. My plane ticket allowed two 23kg bags, and one would carry clothes. The other was my snowboard, as there was no way I was going to the northern hemisphere in winter without it (though it turns out there’s not as much snow near LA as I expected). I then budgeted myself one more bag up to 32kg (the maximum the airline will take) for all my photography hardware. It wasn’t that expensive, either. Qantas let me book a third 23kg bag for $90 and then charged $60 for the upgrade to 32kg. Bringing all my lighting gear for $150 — not bad at all.

So what did I take gear-wise, and how did I pack it? I’d always wanted a case that could house all my lights, stands, modifiers and grip rather than split them across smaller cases. I’d never found anything I liked until I saw the Kata LW-99 Rolling Organizer. This thing is like a coffin on wheels. It’s 114cm long, so it can accommodate my stands along with a tripod, and the 40cm width makes it easy to pack my three flash heads, cables, battery packs, three soft boxes, grids, gels and an assortment of clips, clamps and gaff. Is it heavy? Yes, but with the built-in wheels it’s much easier to carry one load than a few, and I never forget anything any more.

Stylist: Loren Robles, Makeup: Sarah Huggins/Alfeya, Hair: Nina

Now, I have to admit I didn’t get everything in the bag I wanted to take. It was just over the 32kg limit, so I did have to spread a couple of items between my other two bags, such as my tripod and battery packs. But between those two I managed to fit my other sporting equipment (climbing, diving, cycling), and an array of hard drives for images and backups.

One thing I would recommend if you plan to travel with quite a bit of heavy gear is a travel scale. It’s a small handheld scale for weighing your bags, and it is invaluable. There’s nothing worse than getting to check-in at stupid o’clock in the morning, eyes still encrusted with sleep, and being told you need to drop some weight from your bags. Where’s it going to go? You can’t leave anything behind, and so you play a frustrating game of ‘Luggage Tetris’ on the airport floor, trying to spread the load between your bags as fast as you can so as not to have to get back in the queue. Not fun.

For me, the question of whether or not to take my gear was moot. I’m a location shooter and I love my artificial light, it’s what makes my shots and my style. We knew we would do a few long road trips, and taking hired lighting wasn’t an option, so this made perfect sense to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I can travel light if needed. One camera and a single lens will flex the creative muscle, but I was here to expand my horizons and shoot bigger, badder work than before. I wanted to start in the States with no restrictions, and being able to say yes to any job because I had the equipment was paramount.

It paid off, I shot some great images and I got to do it with my own trusty equipment. My travels in the United States have just begun, and I’m looking forward to sharing them.

This article originally appeared in The Photographer's Mail no. 196