Being from Hawaii, I’m not able to drive my gear with me to other-island and out-of-state weddings. Everything needs to fly, and it seems like I’m always flying somewhere to get to a shoot. As collaboration becomes a bigger part of our industry and as more of us book weddings outside of our local markets, either because of the nature of our online marketing, our need to book weddings in a higher price range than our market will allow, or both, traveling to gigs becomes an ever-bigger part of our businesses—even for those of us who don’t live on relatively small islands. My own reliance on other-island and out-of-state gigs has caused me to create a “kit” that is very efficient in terms of incorporating everything I need to produce solid work while being light enough for travel. There’s nothing worse than having to leave behind an integral piece of equipment because you were struggling to make carry-on or check-in baggage weight requirements. Having shot in Riviera Maya, Mexico; Vancouver, Canada; California; Chicago; and New York (three times in the past 4 months), I’ve learned a thing or two about packing and traveling light for weddings. Today, we have so many tools available to increase the production value of our films, and it’s tempting to load up on them without regard for what we can afford in our business.
It’s even more tempting to try to pack all of them for every shoot. From slider/linear tracking systems to monopods, Steadicams/Glidecams, lighting equipment, and tripods, there are so many things to pack when planning to shoot a wedding that it’s become more difficult to pick and choose within the constraints that traveling puts on us. The issue that I’ve discovered about a lot of the studios I collaborate with is the tendency to overpack. If you’re shooting a local gig, one you can drive to, this isn’t too big of an issue. However, if you’re flying to your destination, space is precious, and each unneeded piece you pack weighs you down, making it harder to maneuver as you travel. Overpacking is simply not an option.
In this article, I’ve included a few simple tips that will help you lighten the load while still packing efficiently, including only what you need for a destination wedding. I am an all-DSLR shooter, so this article will be based on the assumption that you shoot with DSLRs. The amount of image quality you get in such a small package has been covered quite thoroughly elsewhere, so I won’t get into that aspect. Rather, I’ll just cover things related to traveling efficiently and shooting effectively with what you can carry.
Julie Hill of Elysium Productions wrote a great article in the January/ February issue on dealing with the challenges of traveling to destination weddings, putting particular emphasis on customs issues, international travel, issues that arise with hotels and venues (particularly overseas), and the peculiarities of certain airline regulations—primarily from the perspective of the company that books the gigs. Since much of my travel involves shoots where I’m contracted as a collaborator or second shooter (in some cases for Julie herself!), I’ll try to complement what Julie wrote by focusing on the gear that I travel with both as a DSLR shooter who needs to streamline his kit and as a collaborator on another studio’s gig.
What’s in My Bag
First, here’s what I carry on a plane for a typical shoot:
• 1 Canon EOS 5D Mark II
• 1 Canon EOS 7D
• 1 50mm lens
• 1 17–35mm lens
• 1 100mm lens
• CF cards
• 1 CF card reader
• Audio recorder
• Audio adapters
• Video cables
When collaborating, this is pretty much everything I need to cover a wedding. When I’m shooting a gig of my own, I’ll bring two extra camera bodies and three more lenses.
Getting It on the Plane
The most important thing to keep in mind when selecting bags for travel is to make sure that they are able to fit either under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin. Most planes used for flights longer than 2 hours in duration have space in the overhead for the larger roller bags, however, the smaller “hop” planes will require you to check anything that doesn’t fit under the seat at the gate, as anything larger than a laptop bag usually doesn’t fit in the smaller overhead compartments.
On my way back to Hawaii from my first time shooting a wedding on the East Coast, I had to check my roller bag at the gate; the focus mechanism on one of my lenses was damaged in the process. Thankfully, it wasn’t an expensive lens, and it was damaged on the way back from the gig, rather than on the way to it.
Since then, I’ve made sure that all my carry-on bags fit either under my seat or above me, so as not to risk having my gear tossed around. I currently use a Tamrac 5612 and a Crumpler Customary Barge backpack to transport my gear. I’m able to fit most of my kit in the 5612 while the laptop, drives, and other miscellaneous items fit into the backpack.
I’ve experimented with quite a few roller-bag setups, but the main thing to keep in mind is weight. Some airlines are very picky about how much weight you can carry on, so be sure to check with the airlines for their specific carry-on capacity. You always want to try to stick close to the airlines’ weight restrictions as you can quickly run into a world of problems should you choose to make a big deal of their policies at the ticket counter. With that said, most roller bags are already 10–15 lbs. when they’re empty. That doesn’t give you much room for added weight when you consider how quickly the weight of lenses and camera bodies add up. The 5612 weighs 17 lbs. with the setup I’ve listed. The majority of airlines I’ve flown on have a 25 lb. limit for carry-on weight, so that falls well within reason.
Now that we have our essentials on the plane, let’s discuss the support-gear side and check-in baggage. I have two different setups, one for my own commissions and one for collaborations. This is a list of gear that I check if I’m shooting a gig of my own:
• Steadicam Pilot
• Cinevate Atlas 10 Linear Tracking System
• Light stands
• 2 LED lights
I pack the Steadicam kit in a Kata transport bag made for light kits as well as my slider, monopod, and LED lights. Using my clothes as a cushion, I do my best to protect the gimbal and anything else that might get damaged while in transit.
The tripods and light stands are packed into a rolling suitcase made for body boards and surfboards. I’ve also seen tripods packed into a golf club travel case, but I much prefer the rolling suitcase due to its lower profile.
For the majority of my collaborations, the other studio usually has most of the necessary support gear, and I bring along only my Steadicam and monopod, leaving the lights, light stands, tripods, and slider at home. Occasionally, I’m asked to bring my tripod as well, so I’ll pack both the monopod and the tripod in a large tripod bag and then check in the Kata transport bag containing my Steadicam and clothes separately.
When I'm doing a same-day edit (SDE), packing is a little more complicated because I may need to bring along my laptop in a carry-on bag. For a non-SDE shoot, I board with two carry-on bags (my 5612 bag with contents listed earlier and the bag with the tripod and monopod), and I check the bag with my Steadicam and my clothes.
Managing the Travel Kit on Location
Now that we have all the gear at the shoot’s location, how do we manage it? My Kata bag has accommodations for a trolley. This may not be a huge deal the first time you drag the bag from the airport to your hotel room, but after you start dragging it around the location, from prep to ceremony to photo session to reception, wheels become very important to you. I’m able to roll the bigger bag and stack my 5612 on the handle, carry my backpack containing a laptop and miscellaneous things, and hold the tripod/monopod bag in the other hand.
Of course, there’s much more to managing the location, not to mention shooting the wedding itself, once you get there, but that’s a topic for another article—maybe even a whole magazine. But as collaboration and travel to other regions, states, and even countries become a bigger part of what we do, as well as an exciting way to expand our opportunities and experiences as wedding filmmakers, it can be enormously helpful to develop a plan for getting yourself and your gear there—and sticking to it, no matter how loudly that extra lens, slider, or camera may call to you.
Randy Panado (randy at colourcraftmedia.com), in his short career in wedding filmmaking, has worked and shot alongside the greatest studios in the world. Not only running his own company, Hawaii-based Colour Craft Media, but also being a highly sought second shooter, he has traveled the world filming some of the coolest couples at breathtaking locations.