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|| News Item: Posted 2009-01-25

Travel Smart: Perception
By Doug Murdoch, Think Tank Photo

Photo by Doug Murdoch / Think Tank Photo

Photo by Doug Murdoch / Think Tank Photo
Photographers that travel all over the world report that they have to be aware of how their bags are perceived; that is, how they "look", the "size," and the weight of the bag. This subtle but very important insight has become critically important for traveling photographers. Simply stated, it's not beneficial to "look" like a photographer when you travel, or to attract undue attention to yourself. Examples of "poor perception" would include using bags that clearly identify you as a photographer, such as those with big branded logos, photo gear hanging off your shoulders, an exposed tripod, or carrying something that is clearly over the size or weight limit.

The fact is, what you wear, your attitude, and what your luggage looks like will influence your chances of getting your gear on board successfully. If you are traveling internationally, creating the proper, modest perception may be the single most important attribute to traveling with a minimum of risk and annoyance. You need to look like every other person traveling. You mustn't draw attention to yourself.

What role do you think the perceived size of your roller/ backpack/ shoulder bag, and the aesthetics of your carrying solution, have on your ability to successfully navigate the airport?

A huge one. If a gate agent sees you straining to haul a backpack onto a plane, they'll question the weight. An overstuffed, ripped rolling bag will attract more scrutiny from airline employees than a bag that just 'looks' like it belongs in an overhead.
Darren Carroll, photojournalist,

For me it's important that my gear does not look like photo equipment so I can reduce the risk of there being problems. Everybody has a black carry-on with wheels, so mine looks anonymous.
Daniel Beltra, environmental photojournalist,

Having a bag that can carry your necessities, including a computer, a body, some short zooms, and a flash, is important in the event that you have to shoot something on the fly or immediately upon arrival at your destination. But at the same time, you want your carry-on streamlined enough so as to not hold you up at security, tight airport connections, and if you want to save on chiropractic bills! Finding the right bag for different airports and situations is key.
Donald Miralle, photographer,,

Huge! If a bag looks smaller and lighter than it is, then that's the image gained by the airport staff.
Edmond Terakopian, photojournalist,,

I think the perception matters a lot, especially when a flight is packed and agents are on the lookout for obvious examples of passengers pushing the limit. So it needs to be discreet on the outside while making maximum use of interior space.
John McDermott, photographer,

I like to blend in as much as possible. I don't want to do or carry anything that will attract attention from possible thieves. Maybe I'm a little paranoid, but if I'm traveling with a long, medium and wide lens, computer, and several bodies I might be carrying as much as $20k+ in gear. This means not carrying a body loosely-I always keep them concealed. I carry my laptop in a bag that looks like any other backpack. I also like roller cases that look like all other typical black roller bags. And rollers are a must because camera gear is heavy.
Nhat V. Meyer, San Jose Mercury News,

Be polite and friendly, and keep the bag out of the line of sight of airline employees. Distract them with a 'Hi how are you' approach. However heavy the bag is don't seem to be straining to lift it or put it overhead.
Peter Read Miller, Sports Illustrated,

I think this has a lot to do with troubles that many people have at the gate. When people struggle just to lift their roller, it's a huge red flag. I've always felt (not just photographer but all passengers) that if your bags are too heavy for you to handle then you have no business traveling with them. It seems almost every flight I am on that I have to help some hapless passenger try to lift their waaaay-too-heavy bag into the overhead container. Also having a bag that is OBVIOUSLY over-stuffed is asking for trouble these days. Bulging seams and outside pockets stretched and stuffed with junk, a gate agent will notice. Believe me, I've had it happen to me and I've seen it a lot recently ... holding up the line to board ...pissing off all the passenger behind them.
Robert Hanashiro, USA Today,

Extremely important. Ridiculously so. They're looking at hundreds of passengers, so you want to do your best to be stealthy and not stick out. Make sure your bag (with wheels) is quiet, and doesn't look over-packed. The less they see, the sleeker the bag-and the less "heavy" it appears-they less chance you have of being nagged.
Vincent Laforet, photographer,,

(Note: The above is an excerpt from "Fear For Your Gear-Part 2: Changing Perceptions, International Travel, and Travel Insights From the Pros," an article written by Doug Murdoch.

The full article can be downloaded for free at:

(Doug Murdoch is the president and a designer at Think Tank Photo. You can also read his blog at

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