9 Travel Photography Safety Tips: How to Keep Your Gear and Pixels Safe

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travel photography safety tips

Travel Photography Safety Tips

We all love to travel. And we all want to bring our cameras to create lasting memories of the wonders we encounter. But when we’re traveling we’re usually more relaxed and carefree making us an easy target for people with bad intentions. The camera around your neck might not represent a lot of money to you but for someone in less fortunate circumstances, it might represent a fortune.

Over the years I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve developed some habits to prevent losing not only my camera but also the most valuable of all, my pixels.

With these travel photography safety tips, you can develop the same habits and come home with your gear and precious pixels.

#1 Check Your Travel Insurance

Before you leave you should check your travel insurance and the coverage for cameras, lenses and other photography gear. If necessary upgrade your travel insurance. Also, check if it covers your destinations and if areas or situations are excluded. Knowing this will help you make safe decisions once you’re at your destination.

Describe every item you’re gonna bring including specifications and serial numbers. Use your smartphone to take pictures of all your gear. Keep this document and the pictures in your Dropbox folder or other cloud storing solution.

If you lose your gear or it gets stolen you can prove the stuff is yours if it turns up at the police station, lost and found or a pawn shop.

travel photography safety tips, camera bag, dslr camera bag, camera backpack, antitheft backpack | Photo: Peak Design Daypack © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground
travel photography safety tips | Photo: Pelicase © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

#2 Bring the Perfect Camera Bag

I’m all about working with the gear you have and the power of constraints when it comes to travel photography. But I make an exception for camera bags. I have been on a quest for the perfect camera bag since I started photographing more than 30 years ago. And every time I buy a new one I think ‘Yes, this is the one!’ But I get disappointed quite often. I don’t even know how many bags I’ve bought over the years. I’m the Imelda Marcos of camera bags 😉

Last year I bought yet another one and this is the most perfect bag I’ve had so far. It’s the Peak Design Everyday Backpack.

The setup I have is a Pelican Case that fits 2 cameras and a few lenses. It’s my carry-on travel case for long flights and destinations. It’s made from hardened plastic and has loops to apply padlocks. It’s waterproof and dustproof.

Once I arrive at my destination I leave the Pelicase at my accommodation and use the Peak Design backpack for the day.

What to Look For

  • I want it to be comfortable walking around with. I prefer a backpack because it’s better for my back.
  • It needs to pack the equipment I take with me for the day. Plus some personal items, food, and an outside pocket for a water bottle.
  • To keep your gear well protected from the outside it needs to be padded.
  • Especially when you prefer a backpack like I do you should pay attention to the ease of accessibility for thieves. My Peak Design bag has ways to secure the zippers so it’s not possible to open the backpack without noticing it.
  • It has to be waterproof and dustproof. Or it should come with a rain cover.
  • I want it to be a bag that doesn’t scream: ‘Hey I’m carrying expensive cameras in here! Come and get me!’ Again Peak Design does a wonderful job. The backpack is beautifully designed and it could very well be a regular backpack. You can remove the labels from your camera bag if it’s from a well-known brand.
  • It’s better if your camera bag isn’t brand new. It attracts more attention if it is. After I bought the Peak backpack our first trip together was to Uganda. Not the safest place on earth. I was very happy to discover that Uganda is a very dusty place and my backpack looked used in no time.
travel photography safety tips, camera bag, dslr camera bag, camera backpack, antitheft backpack | Photo: Cape Verde © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground
travel photography safety tips | Photo: Kampala, Uganda © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

#3 Keep it Close

By keeping it really really close I mean you should have physical contact with your gear at all times. So not only keeping an eye on it but actually touching it.

In Transit

When you’re traveling by plane bring your camera bag as a carry-on. Take it with you inside the plane and put it under your seat if possible. If you need to put it in the overhead compartments keep an eye out for it and make sure to secure it with a padlock.

In trains and buses bring it with you inside and keep your camera bag under your seat or next to you. Don’t store it in the overhead compartments or worse in the luggage area that’s accessible from the outside of the bus.

When you’re driving a car or taking a taxi don’t store your camera bag in the trunk of the car. Once we were taking a taxi and somehow the trunk of the car opened up. We still have no idea whether it wasn’t closed properly or someone saw his chance while we were waiting for a traffic light. Anyway, I was happy my Pelicase was safe with me in the backseat of the car and nothing was lost.

So be sure to take it with you inside and put it on the floor, especially when you’re driving with an open window. When you have it in your lap it’s easy for a thief to grab it while you’re waiting for a traffic light. I know it’s bizarre, but it happens.

Walking Around

Wear a shoulder- or sling bag always in front of your body. Last year I was photographing in a dodgy neighborhood in Lisbon and I had a small camera bag with me. My camera was around my neck. But my shoulder bag was hanging at my back. Suddenly I got this odd feeling and when I turned around my bag was open with stuff half hanging out of it. The thief ran away empty-handed luckily.

So, wear it in front! And when you have a backpack that’s not theftproof like the Peak Design you should wear your backpack in front as well. It might look a little geeky but you’ll feel way more stupid when you notice your zipper is open and your stuff is gone.

When you’re having a rest keep it in your lap, between your legs, or put one leg of the chair through the straps of your bag. Also, don’t put your camera on the table. It’s inviting to both thieves and wobbly glasses.

At Your Accommodation

When you’re staying in a hotel you can put your gear in the hotel safe. Usually, the ones in the room are quite small but it’ll fit at least your camera.

If you have a lot more to keep safe you can ask the reception to help you out. Most hotels have a safe. When you leave it there make sure you get a receipt or use your phone to take a picture of it.

Another solution, the one I use is traveling with the Pelicase which has loops for padlocks. If you want to be really safe you can use a wire to secure it to a radiator or anything else sturdy.

When you’re staying in a hostel make sure the hostel actually provides a safe locker. And bring your own padlock to secure your locker. From my own experience, I advise you to buy a combination lock. Once I closed my locker with my camera bag and the key inside! Not funny I can assure you.

travel photography safety tips, antitheft backpack | Photo: Peak Design Daypack and Pelicase on the road © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground
travel photography safety tips | Photo: Sunsniper Camera Strap © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

#4 Use a Camera Strap

Some people think it’s cool to casually carry their camera in one hand without a strap. Don’t do it. It’s not safe for a number of reasons.

It’s very easy for someone to grab it out of your hand. And it’s way more likely you’ll damage the camera. It’s also safer because while you’re not photographing you have both hands free. So you don’t need to put your camera down when you want to grab your wallet and pay for something.

Like with the camera bag you don’t want your strap to scream ‘expensive brand’. So replace your branded camera strap with a good brandless strap and carry your camera across your body.

The best ones have a wire inside like the Sunsniper Strap. It’s the one I use, and I’m very happy with it. The steel wire inside the strap prevents anyone from cutting off your camera strap and grabbing your camera.

#5 Protect it From Outside Elements

If all is well you at least have a camera bag that protects your gear from the rain. Seriously, it should be waterproof! So when it starts raining you can put your gear back inside its safe place.

If you want to keep on shooting during the rain you can get a rain sleeve. They’re not too expensive and they’ll protect your gear from the rain. You can opt for a rain sleeve that will give you protection for one maybe two shoots like the Op/Tech Rain sleeve.

Investing slightly more will give you a rain sleeve that will last you a lot longer. I like the Think Tank Photo Emergency Rain Cover.

To be clear this is not something for underwater photography. That’s a whole different ballgame.

The rain sleeve will also protect your camera from dust and sand.

Filters and Hoods

Actually, the most fragile part of your camera is not so much the body of the camera but the lens.

Consider buying a lens filter for protection purposes (I have one for all my lenses) so the glass of the lens will not get scratched.

Another thing I do is always having the lens hood on. Whether it’s actually necessary to avoid lens flare or not. I even have it on when I photograph inside. Because the lens hood takes the impact of knocks and bumps it protects the lens from getting scratched.

Extreme Temperatures

Cameras are sensitive to large temperature differences. Internal condensation can kill the insides of your baby.

So when you’ve been photographing in subzero temperatures put the camera in your bag before you go inside to warmer temperatures. This way you give your camera the time to slowly adjust to the warmer temperature avoiding condensation.

This also holds true for chilly, air-conditioned rooms and tropical temperatures outside especially if it’s humid. Leave your camera in your bag in the hotel room and when you go outside don’t take it out until it’s adjusted to the outside temperature.

travel photography safety tips | Photo: My cameras on the bed © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground
travel photography safety tips | Photo: Cleaning supplies for cleaning cameras and lenses © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

#6 Keep it Clean

Dust is your biggest concern during travels. Dust gets everywhere. It’s good practice to get your sensor cleaned before you leave.

But while you’re at it ask the camera shop human to explain to you how to do it yourself.

Or go here for a step-by-step tutorial on DIY Camera Sensor Cleaning.

I never travel without the supplies to clean my sensor even though my camera cleans it every time I turn my camera on and off. Because under extreme circumstances, like driving at the back of a motorcycle on a dusty road in Uganda, even a dustproof backpack is not gonna protect your gear from the dust.

So make it a regular thing during travels to clean the sensor but also the outside of your camera and lenses. The Altura Cleaning Kit has everything you need in one convenient carry case and can be used for all sensor sizes.

Especially zoom lenses are sensitive to dust because they have moving parts where dust creeps in.

It keeps your gear in good condition and saves you a ton of time and frustration during post-processing removing specks of dust.

#7 Be a Confident Non-Photographer

Walking around like you belong and blending in with your surroundings will make opportunistic thieves think twice before they target you. This will not only protect your gear but way more importantly it will protect you!

Don’t walk around with a ton of gear unless you absolutely need to. Especially when you’re going to sketchy neighborhoods bring your camera and 1 extra lens. It will attract less attention. And as a bonus, it will be less intimidating when you photograph people in the street.

#8 Be Aware of Your Surroundings

When you’re photographing you’re probably aware of your surroundings because you’re looking for great photo opportunities. But that’s not the awareness I’m talking about from a safety point of view.

On the contrary, sometimes the search for photo opportunities can get us in trouble. So apart from the photography awareness, you should also be vigilant. Be aware of what’s happening around you and always carry your camera in front of your body.

Trust your instincts when it comes to your safety. If you don’t feel safe put the camera in your bag and leave.

I’m notorious for getting lost so I never ever set a foot outside a new place unless I have my accommodation locked in my number one favorite navigation app maps.me.

Maps.me is GPS-based so you don’t need an internet connection for it to work. But you do need to download the maps of your location so you need to do that before you get lost. Having your hotel pinpointed in your map will help you get out of a dodgy area or a scary situation as fast as possible.

travel photography safety tips, portable photo storage, photo storage device, photo backup device | Photo: Macbook and LaCie Rugged External Storage Unit © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground
travel photography safety tips, portable photo storage, photo storage device, photo backup device | Photo: Uploading from the card reader to the LaCie Rugged external hard drive © Karin van Mierlo, Photography Playground

#9 Keep Your Pixels Safe

Your stuff getting stolen is already an unsettling experience but stuff can be replaced. It’s why you have it insured.

But the pictures you made during your trip cannot be replaced. And when you have 1 memory card and your whole trip is on that single memory card all is lost when someone snatches your camera.

So to complete this post I’ll share the best practices to prevent that from happening.

Backup Daily

The best way to minimize the loss of your pixels is to back up every single day. Make it a habit to upload your files at the end of the day and store them on an external hard drive or somewhere in the cloud. There are a lot of solutions out there so do your research and make a backup plan before you leave.

I always travel with my MacBook and the LaCie Rugged external drive. Every night I upload the files I made that day and store them on my hard drive.

The LaCie Rugged 1 TB is compact and will give you plenty of space to store all your files. I’ve had the LaCie Rugged 2 TB for a few years now and I’m very happy with it. 

Use Multiple Cards

It’s tempting to buy 1 memory card with a huge amount of memory but actually having a few with a smaller memory will serve you in 2 ways.

You can swap cards during the day. When your camera gets stolen at least you still have some pictures of that day left. Of course, you should store the memory cards you’re not using in unlikely places. Definitely not in your camera bag. I’ll leave it up to your imagination where that might be.

To some extent, it will also protect you from a corrupted card. It never happened to me, knock on wood, but memory cards can get corrupted and then you lose all the files. So working with a few memory cards and swapping them regularly is a good way to cut the risk of losing all your precious pixels.

When you’re uploading the files to your computer set the sorting method on Capture Time and all your pictures will be in the right order.

Here’s a post about how to make a travel photo album you might find interesting. It’s the best way to preserve the memories of your trips!

Safe and happy travels!

Do you have another safety tip you find very useful? Share it with us in the comments below so others can benefit from it as well!

Did you try one of the tips? Share your photos on Instagram and mention @photography_playground!

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Hi, I’m Karin

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