Traveling With Your Photo Gear On Puddle Jumpers and Small Regional Jets « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Traveling With Your Photo Gear On Puddle Jumpers and Small Regional Jets

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This Bald Eagle was photographed at Lower Klamath NWR, CA when I traveled to the Winter Wings Festival in Klamath, OR. As often happens, I flew the last leg on a very small jet (into the Klamath Falls airport–LMT for those of you who are into three letter airport codes.) It is imperative that I get to my destination with my gear intact; see the feature below to learn just how I do that consistently.

I created this image from my rental vehicle with the Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens, the 1.4X III TC, and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering -1 stop: 1/1000 sec. at f/9 in Av mode. Central Sensor/Rear Focus AI Servo AF and re-compose. The big lens was of course resting on a BLUBB (the Big Lens Ultimate BeanBag).

Traveling With Your Photo Gear On Puddle Jumpers and Small Regional Jets

Here is a recent e-mail exchange with Justine Carson who will be joining Robert O’Toole and me (and 17 others in two groups) on the Homer Bald Eagle IPT in late October. See item two for more info including an increased late registration discount.

AM: Hi Justine, re:

JC: Do you have any advice regarding the best way to transport gear on flights in and out of Homer.

AM: Yes.

JC: My flight from San Francisco gets to Homer via Seattle and then Anchorage.

AM: Easy trip. 🙂

JC: I’m assuming that the Anchorage to Homer segment is on a smaller aircraft and am wondering about how much carry-on they are likely to allow. (I guess I could contact the airline — Era Aviation — and ask, and I will do that if you don’t have any advice to offer.)

AM: I am fairly sure that all the flights to Homer are 737s…. Oops. Wrong again. Mine flight will be on a Beechcraft B100 Series. But you may be able to get a flight on a 737. I am pretty sure that some of the flights are on 737s but I might be wrong there too….

I am not sure if you can get any rolling bag in the overhead. Here is the strategy that I use:

First I ask at the gate if the flight is full. If they say, “No,” I will get either stand at the bottom of the boarding steps or—if I do not see the flight attendant, get on the plane with my rolling bag (even if they have given me a gate check tag). Then I say, “I need your help. I have $25,000 worth of delicate photographic gear in my rolling bag. I understand that this is not a full flight Is there any chance that I see if I can get it under the seat in front of an empty seat? If they say “yes,” you might be half way there. Sometimes that works and sometimes I can get it under the seat in front of me and sit with my feet up on the bag. I use the big Think Tank Bag, the Airport Security. Learn more here. To see how how pack my bag—there are lots of great tips no matter which bag you have, click here.

If they say “no”, you might try asking, “Is there any chance that I could get this into the crew locker?” Sometimes they say “Yes.” Once I had a flight attendant who was so nice that she took her rolling bag out of the crew locker and gate checked it so that I could put my photo gear safely in the crew locker. I got her name and address and sent her a nice print as a thank you.

On the other hand I once had a male flight attendant who let me get on the plane (which was practically empty) and put my bag under the last two seats in the back on the left side of the plane. I took my seat thinking that all was fine. A minute later he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Come with me please.” We went to the back of the plane past four empty rows of seats and he pointed to my bag which protruded perhaps 1/2 inch past the back of the seat. He said, “You will need to gate check that as it it blocking the aisle.” I said, “This is not an emergency row and there is nobody seated in the back of the plane. And the bag is maybe sticking out a half inch.” He said, “You will need to gate check that as it it blocking the aisle.”

I responded, “I understand. You have a uniform on and I do not. You are having a bad day and are taking it out on me. I am not sure why God sometimes puts bitter, unhappy people in my path but I can deal with it.” It was a no-win situation for me so I simply gate-checked the bag, confident that with my sturdy Think Tank bag with the gear packed as described here that it would arrive safely at my destination.

The reality of today’s air travel is that photographers must on occasion be prepared to gate-check their roll aboards. That is why I stow my gear in various LensCoat Travel Coats, Covers, Body Bags, Pouches and Bags. Then I rely on the sturdy construction of my Think Tank Airport Security bag to protect my valuable gear. Try if at all possible to make sure that you will be able to grab your bag plane-side when you get to your destination. I had one airline lie to me about that—Kodiak to Anchorage, I believe. My bag was put on the rack with all of the checked bags. My old 500 was slightly damaged. I have never had any gear damaged when my rolling bag was gate checked and picked up plane-side after the flight. That is the standard procedure.

JC: I have a Think Tank Airport Antidote which is supposed to be allowable carry-on for even smaller regional jets.

AM: Though I do not know that bag, many of the puddle jumpers have tiny overheads. Some are so small that you would be lucky to get your wallet in them….

JC: I can fit my 200-400 and a 70-200 or 70-300, plus camera bodies into that, but it will not accommodate my 600. I was originally thinking of leaving it at home, but since your e-mail saying to “bring your longest lens” I’ve been reconsidering that. I have been contemplating buying a Guru Kiboko bag, which I think would accommodate both long lenses and bodies, plus a smaller lens or two.

AM: I strongly suggest that you leave the 200-400 at home and bring the 600 and one or both of the smaller tele-zooms. Plus your two camera bodies. The 600 plus TCs is great for the perched eagles. I am 99% sure that the Think Tank International will hold all of that gear easily. I do not know the Kiboko bag at all.

JC: The other alternative is to use the Think Tank backpack plus a Think Tank roller bag which will hold the 600. The roller bag would almost certainly not go as carry-on for the smaller aircraft. But not sure that the fully loaded Kiboko would make it as carry-on either.

AM: I am sure that it would not. I do not like having anything on my back. Furthermore, where would your laptop go? I always bring my rolling bag and my laptop bag as my two carry-ons.

JC: Any advice on the best and safest way to get this amount of gear to Homer?

AM: See above. Let me know if you have any more questions. If you do purchase any additional Think Tank product, please do so after clicking here so that you get a free gift and I earn a small commission. Later and love, artie

(Note: the info above was adapted and expanded from a free excerpt from The Art of Bird Photography II (916 pages, 900+ images) that appeared at the end of the blog post here.

Homer Bald Eagle IPT Late Registration Discount Increased to $500!

Robert O’Toole and I have 2 slots open on our first Homer Fall Bald Eagle IPT and due to a cancellation, one on the second trip. We are glad to offer blog folks a $500 late registration discount. If you like to photograph eagles you have not lived until you have been to Homer. Robert and I have photographed Homer both before and after the Jean Keene era. Few if any (aside from us) have mastered the latter….

All of the images in this collage were created on BIRDS AS ART Homer, AK Instructional Photo-Tours, many of them last fall.

To see a 1024 pixels wide version, click on the photo above. Then click on the enlarged version to close it.

THE OCT/NOV 2011 HOMER-BASED BALD EAGLE IPTs with Arthur Morris and Robert O’Toole

OCT 25-29, 2011. Limit 10 (six photographers per boat)/Openings: 2). 5-FULL DAYS: $3399.

You will need to be in Homer no later than the evening of October 24.

OCT 30, 2011. Add-on day: $550. (Limit 10/Openings: 1). If you are on the second trip and are doing the add-on day, you will need to be in Homer no later than the evening of October 29.

OCT 31-NOV 4, 2011. Limit 10 (six photographers per boat)/Openings: 1). 5-FULL DAYS: $3399.

You will need to be in Homer no later than the evening of October 30.

These trips are based in Homer, AK. We will enjoy virtually unlimited photographic action. Each year, most folks opted to miss at least one boat trip due to photographic exhaustion. Two great leaders provide both in-the-field and in-classroom instruction that will include at least two Photoshop sessions. For more info on this trip, please click here. Please call me at 863-692-2806 or e-mail immediately. artie

Shopper’s Guide

Below is a list of the gear used to create the image in today’s blog post. Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins. Before you purchase anything be sure to check out the advice in our Shopper’s Guide.

Support both the Bulletins and the Blog by making all your B & H purchases here.

Remember: you can earn free contest entries with your B & H purchases. Eleven great categories, 34 winning and honored images, and prize pools valued in excess of $20,000. Click here for details.

Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens. Right now this is my all time favorite super-telephoto lens.
Canon 1.4X III Teleconverter. Designed to work best with the new Series II super-telephoto lenses.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body. My two Mark IVs are my workhorse digital camera bodies.

And from the BAA On-line Store:

LensCoats. I have a LensCoat on each of my big lenses to protect them from nicks and thus increase their re-sales value. All my big lens LensCoat stuff is in Hardwood Snow pattern.
LegCoat Tripod Leg Covers. I have four tripods active and each has a Hardwood Snow LegCoat on it to help prevent further damage to my tender shoulders 🙂
BLUBB I designed the Big Lens Ultimate BeanBag out of necessity. It supports my big glass perfectly and allows me to create sharp images at slow shutter speeds from the car window and with the lens on top of the roof or the hood (with the BLUBB turned upside down). Beware of cheap imitations that cost half the price. They are all junk.
Double Bubble Level. You will find one in my camera’s hot shoe whenever I am not using flash.
Be sure to check out our camera body User’s Guides here.
The Lens Align Mark II. I use the Lens Align Mark II pretty much religiously to micro-adjust all of my gear an average of once a month and always before a major trip. Enjoy our free comprehensive tutorial here.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV User’s Guide. Learn to use your Mark IV the way that I use mine.

6 comments to Traveling With Your Photo Gear On Puddle Jumpers and Small Regional Jets

  • Very impressive photo Artie. I see that all photos taken with the 1.4 TC your F stop is 9. Is this the minimum F stop you use with the 800 f 5.6 ? One stop above bring you to 8 so you move 1/3 stop above the minimum for best result ? For the 500mm f 4 it will go to 5.6 with the 1.4 tc so 6.3 can bring sharp image or i need bigger f stop ? like 8 ? Assaf

    Assaf, Thanks. To clarify: With the 800 and the 1.4 the widest aperture is f/8. Working at f/9 is stopping down only 1/3 stop. And I often work wide open at f/8 with that combination. With the 500 and a 1.4X TC the widest aperture would be f/5.6. I would usually work at f/5.6 or f/6.3 with that combo going to f/8 or smaller only when I was really close to small birds or when I needed more depth-of-field. I teach folks not to stop down unless they can verbalize a good reason to do so. font> artie

  • […] (as well as having a very educational blog), has a quick blurb about how to travel with big quantities of photo gear on small planes.  He has vast quantities of experience with this, making trips to some of the more remote parts of […]

  • Charles Scheffold

    On my way to Homer earlier this year, I had no problem until I got to Anchorage. The people from ERA were very nice but I must have had the wrong person because there was no way they were letting me on the plane with my standard airline carry-on-sized Pelican case. I told them it was valuable and delicate but no dice. The lady at the counter offered to walk it down and have it carefully loaded on the plane. OK that will have to do.

    When I get to the gate, I see Artie and 2-3 other IPT participants standing their with their rolling camera bags waiting to board the same aircraft as me! I guess I wasn’t convincing enough 🙂

    Anyway, when I got to Homer I saw the luggage handlers remove my bag from the aircraft (still with the red “fragile” labels all over it that were affixed by the lady in Anchorage). They promptly put it on a cart and proceeded to toss it into the luggage collection area like a sack of potatoes. I picked it up, gave it a shake – didn’t hear any broken glass. When I got to the hotel I took the 800 out and there was a big dent in the rim of the lens barrel! Luckily I was able to bend it back and it’s hard to tell that anything ever happened. Taught me a few lessons though… extra padding and extra sweet-talking will go a long way 🙂

    On the way back, I had no problem – they put my bag in the crew luggage area at the front of the aircraft. Happy ending.

    No harm. No foul.:) Who’da thunk that anyway would refer to me as extra-sweet! artie

  • Alan Lillich

    I’ve put my Think Tank Airport Antidote overhead in the Embraer Regional Jets used by American Eagle. If you poke around on you’ll see various planes with an RJ designation like ERJ-140 or CRJ-700. I’ll bet those are all about the same. Jets, not prop, 15 to 20 rows, 1 seat on the left and 2 seats on the right of the aisle. Unfortunately ERA is not listed on seatguru.

    Another approach is to ship the biggest items. I like to use FedEX because they have a “hold at location” service. They send it to a local office and you go there to pick it up. It is in FedEx’s hands the whole time, so it is safe and shipping insurance should cover until you pick it up. Go to, search for locations, and look for “hold at location” in the Services column. Most of the FedEx Office shops (ex-Kinkos) do this and have longish hours. There is a FedEx Ship Center in Homer with hold at location, but they are only open in the mornings.

    When we went to the San Diego IPT (we drove), someone had shipped a bunch of Pelican cases to the hotel. They were left sitting outside of the lobby for most of a day for anyone to grab and run.

  • C G Gustavsson

    That is one of the most impressive eagle pictures I have ever seen.

  • Hi Artie,
    Good tips and I will use them on my January trip to Ecuador. Another thing that I did when I recently flew to Ohio for a workshop on a small RJ was to take my 600 out of my Tamrac backpack, stow it above in the small overhead and then the otherwise bulky backpack easily slid under the seat. Technically, I only had one carry on and then when we parked at the gate I took my time and re-packed the 600 back into my bag. On my way to Panama, I used bubble wrap to put my flash, 24-105 f/4, and 70-200 f/2.8 and pack them wrapped in some clothes in my regular suitcase. That allowed me to take my really expensive stuff on the plane where I could keep an eye on it and save some space. So far so good! 🙂