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What Equipment Does a Director of Photography Travel With?

07.2.12 @ 8:33PM Tags : ,

Traveling with equipment is always stressful and time-consuming, especially as the amount and cost of said equipment increases. There is always a balance between what you really need and what would be helpful, and often many just prefer to bring as much as they can even if it might not get used. In the video embedded below, Trey Chance, who has made over 100 hotel, tourism, and resort commercials in the last few years, takes us through the equipment he travels with on small to medium projects.

While some of that equipment is well out of the budget range of many readers of the site, plenty of it has cheaper alternatives that may work just as well depending on the project. For example, if you’re flying a very light rig, something like the Aviator Travel Jib may work better because of its small size and easy portability. When traveling on airplanes, it’s important to pack according to how fragile the equipment is. If you can take cameras and lenses in your carry-on, there is a much greater chance you’ll get off that flight with working equipment. There’s no telling how hard a piece of gear will get beat up when it’s down with checked baggage, so even though you may have insurance, the camera and lenses are the last pieces of gear you’ll want to have to replace or rent out when you get to your destination.

You also need to decide what equipment you need based on where you’re going. If you’re not going to be anywhere near a rental house for a month or more, you might want to spend the extra money and bring as much as you can. Traveling with batteries can be complicated, so you have to check with guidelines to make sure that you don’t take more than is allowed. Calling ahead is always better than getting to the airport and finding out you’ve got to leave behind equipment.

[Update] Trey took the time to respond to some questions that people had about his gear:

All my lighting is in a soft backpack believe it or not. It is the Porta Brace LPB. I fly with the pack fully packed to the rim, and the only protection is the bag, and a few stingers strung out on the top. The sticks, slider, and scrim jim go in Tuff Paks, the jib and my clothes in a Porta brace Studio roller case, and the rest of the garbage goes in a Pellican. I carry on the RED, the MK3, the smaller lenses, and enough to get the shoot started in a Tamarac bag. Always carry-on the bare essentials for your shoot! Should a bag be missing or a day late, at least you can get started while you wait. I do carry audio, it was just up in my room while I shot this little piece. I carry an ME-66, a Rode VideoMic pro, and a G3 wireless. As for the FedEx idea, this could be good too, but hell, I’ve had things lost and destroyed just as much with shipping as I have with flying.

What do you guys think? What additions or subtractions would you make to what Trey is bringing depending on your shooting style or the size of your production?

[via FilmmakerIQ & Chace Imaging]

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  • I think the luggage you use for transporting gear is really important too. I’m a fan of the hard guitar case with some foam for extra padding. Would have liked to see what he was using a little closer too though.

    • I find it interesting that he had a cheaper Manfrotto fluid head on the jib. I’ve personally had trouble getting good smooth pans and moves with those. Also I too would like to see what he was packing everything in.

  • Haha what a terrible job Trey has. If only we could all be so afflicted.

  • Too many airport hassles anymore. We use good shipping cases and Fedex Overnight. Many times we opt for ‘Hold At Terminal’ and go pick up the stuff ourselves and that takes the delivery driver and truck out of the equation.

    • Sounds like a good plan. I would carry on the camera and lenses and freight the rest when possible.

  • john jeffreys on 07.2.12 @ 9:59PM

    Hotel tourism and resort commercials must be the most boring ass things to film ever.

    • John, your statement about hotel tourism being the most boring thing to shoot. I have not shot video of hotels, that is true. But, I have shot video of medical equipment, including breast pumps. That, my friend, is the most boring ass thing to film. The only good thing about shooting medical equipment is that you are in a hospital … So when you drop into a coma, they can bring in the code blue cart.

    • Being flown to different hotels around the world?? I could think of 1,000+ jobs that would be more boring than that.

    • If you think this is boring, I take photos and video of power lines as part of my job. It’s not quite the energising career I hoped it would be.

  • Anything can be boring without a vision from either the client or the agency/crew that’s making it.

    This ad has gotten my attention on more than one occasion – but it’s certainly the exception:

  • After several arctic expeditions, I’m pretty much a 100% convert to pelican cases. I once had a $20k large format camera and digital scan back left at the side of an airstrip in the open for 3 weeks (I wasn’t there yet), and the gear wasn’t even slightly damp. After that, it’s not even been negotiable — I have quite a few of various shapes and sizes, and though they are spendy, I don’t really think twice about buying more as I need them. They do an airline carry on version which I’d recommend wholeheartedly. It’s not going to work for small aircraft, but it’s fine on any larger jet either under a seat or in an overhead bin. I’ve flown with one containing 6 or 7 lenses, a couple of DSLR bodies, half a dozen walkies and an Iridium phone. That particular size case is also really easy to bungee to the front or back rack of an ATV if you need to go off into the field.

    I’ll also second the comment about shipping gear via fedex rather than checking it as baggage. I’ve never lost anything (over 5 expeditions) with FedEx, but I know people who have been totally reamed out by light fingered TSA workers taking cameras, lenses, laptops, you name it.

    • (Though I will say that the Air National Guard killed a nice gear head that cost me $1500 — so much for a free ride!)

    • Andreas Kopriva on 07.3.12 @ 6:26AM

      I’ll second the praise for Pelican cases. I have the 1510 which I customized for the Scarlet (thank you Koo :) – http://nofilmschool.com/2012/04/build-diy-custom-red-scarletepic-flight/) and that thing is practically indestructible. At the moment I carry that and the Tilta case that my shoulder rig came in and it’s made transportation and setup a hell of a lot easier.
      There is a slight premium to those type of cases but in my opinion it’s worth every penny.

      • Second that as well. The Pelican 1510 is the bomb. We pack our Scarlett, a DSLR body, as well as 3-4 prime lenses, a small Marshall monitor, a Roland audio recorder, and some other small things in there whenever we travel abroad (and most of the time locally too). It’s a great case, very sturdy and the fact that it rolls make it very easy to carry around. I do wish it was a little bit lighter, but you can’t have all the benefits in one case/bag.

        We also use the Think Tank Antidote backpack, which fits A LOT of stuff… on our last trip to China, I carried all of the above, plus my laptop, on me at all times in that bag. It has very nice form to fit gear, and the padding is nice.

    • Daniel Mimura on 07.8.12 @ 9:55PM

      I’m a Pelican man, through and through (Hardigg cases too—which used to be another brand, mostly a military contractor that Pelican bought out).

      I’ve used them on two different motorcycles as well as for my camera gear—I’ve gone down multiple times off road and never lost a thing. They seem heavy, but they’re lighter than steel (and stronger than aluminum, which are also light, but they will not retain their shape with hard hits, unlike Pelicans.

      Shipping is usually cheaper and definitely more reliable than the airlines, at least domestically.

      I wish that instead of going up in prices in baggage a few years ago, they would charge fat people more first. It’s not fair that a light guy like me (5’10″, 165lb) has to pay for a 51 lb bag, while I’m sitting next to a guy that’s so large, he’s squishing over into my seat.

  • That hotel looks amazing!

  • I feel like the word “Travel” does not just refer to how light or small particular items are, but more that they get beat up like crazy and that if you don’t have rugged gear it will not last. I am a natural history camera man and on a recent shoot I picked up a $200.00 sider that worked great out of the box. I just got back today from a 3 day shoot and the slider is already destroyed (small bumps from travel, and throwing it around in the field make it drag every few inches). On the other hand I have a pair of CF legs from Gitzo that I have used for 5 years now, they were almost 1k when I purchased them but they have held up to saltwater, snow, rain, sand, and a hell of a lot of travel on planes. Gear needs to last, and be durable if you want to make the investment worth it.

  • very interesting post. thanks for sharing. really like to see more inside insights and less of “my camera is better than yours”. cheers

  • I just plain HATE pelican cases. I have a pile of them in the 1500 and 1600 series. I have them because I do fly gear a couple times a year. expensive, heavy, they gouge easily, the worthless fall apart foam ( just get dividers or empty cases ) to their snotty screw you attitude when you ask them to make good on their warranty. oh I see, I’m not US milatary buying millions of dollars of your gear.

    oh, t hose black dividers may look cool but make it impossible to find small bits in the case. I’ve lost and then found more things that way… once by mistake I was shipped the tan dividers in a 1630 case which are MUCH better than the black ones.

    there are several other co’s making plastic cases now, including some guys out of italy who’s name escapes me. I”d go there first.

    that said, baggage fees are killer to the point that renting on the other end is often cheaper / easier now. I just tend to carry cameras and sound now.

  • Ramona Laska on 07.4.12 @ 5:37AM

    I prefer HPRC cases. Much better than Pelican and the likes.

  • I wonder what the Budgets are on those Hotel/Resorts commercials …
    Might be a bit boring but i bet it’s pretty lucrative

  • Dis I miss what audio equipment you carry?

  • I just saw that this was uploaded here, and read a few of your questions/comments. I pack the gear in a few different bags and cases. All my lighting is in a soft backpack believe it or not. It is the Porta Brace LPB. I fly with the pack fully packed to the rim, and the only protection is the bag, and a few stingers strung out on the top. The sticks, slider, and scrim jim go in Tuff Paks, the jib and my clothes in a Porta brace Studio roller case, and the rest of the garbage goes in a Pellican. I carry on the RED, the MK3, the smaller lenses, and enough to get the shoot started in a Tamarac bag. Always carry-on the bare essentials for your shoot! Should a bag be missing or a day late, at least you can get started while you wait. I do carry audio, it was just up in my room while I shot this little piece. I carry an ME-66, a Rode VideoMic pro, and a G3 wireless. As for the FedEx idea, this could be good too, but hell, I’ve had things lost and destroyed just as much with shipping as I have with flying.

    hope this helps,
    trey chace

    • Thanks for taking the time to respond and for making the video – it’s a good one. I’ll add your answers to the post above.