Packing and Shipping Equipment

There are various schools of thought about shipping camera gear. Lots of matching expensive cases vs. generic cartons, bags and tourist looking luggage. Often, enough crew and talent are flying that part of their baggage allotment can be used for camera gear. Ask people to limit their number of pieces to one. A possible problem is airline insurance. They have limits. Some times additional insurance is available. If a camera body is not easily well packed, hand carry it and ship the case. Live with that camera! Be sure that you can hand carry the camera on all flights. Some small planes have stricter hand carry regulations. Smaller cases can be consolidated into a larger one with added padding if necessary. Small planes sometimes have vibration against the floor.

Lenses should be packed so that the caps can't come off and scratch the lens. Lenses should not be attached to the camera body, especially zooms. Extra room can be made so that the lens goes in the same space but separated with it padded from the body for shipment. The magazine of most cameras should not travel attached. Some layouts allow for the magazine to go attached or not attached in the same space, like the Arri 16 S. Consider the mass of the larger pieces and what a fall would do. Will the finder hit bottom, if the case lands on it's top or side? A common error is to let any extended part get too close to a side of the case. If the case is too small, when closed, parts can be forced against the sides, lid and bottom.

Many latches are not fool proof. A band of rope or web strap is a safety and is a handle on cases that lack one. Keep the baggage handlers happy with your stuff and they may treat it better. Don't load up back breaker cases.

Tape to hold a latch closed need not go all the way around. Extra layers may be better. Folding the end of the tape over makes un-taping easier.

Laying everything out on a floor makes things easier to pack efficiently. No job ever has the same requirements and need the same "standard" equipment package. If you don't take something and plan to get it locally, be sure that it will be available and that it isn't cheaper to ship it. Some things can be left for less than the freight back home, such as pine dolly track ties.

Before you leave make sure that someone has access to equipment left behind that you discover that you need after all. Leaving the doubtful things packed ready to ship can save some frustration by those unhappily left at home. Bubble wrap is light weight durable packing, but should not be taped very much as it becomes difficult to reuse. Batteries on the bottom of a case with fragile items on top can become a battering-ram if the case lands upside-down.

Hotel Porters always put the smaller cases on the top and they are the first ones to fall. Carry them yourself if you can.

Air Travel

Leaving someone to make sure that all the equipment gets from the curb onto the baggage cart or belt is wise. Tip well.

Give any one sent ahead or left behind exact instructions about gate numbers and where to meet. MAKE NO ASSUMPTIONS.

Labels on cases should be cryptic and not say "valuable lenses in this case".

A complete inventory of each case will let you know what's late or missing. Extra copies should be passed around. If baggage is included in the total count, have descriptions and names of the owners in case they are not there when the bags come off the baggage belt. If each matching baggage tag stub is taped to each case as it comes off the belt it can go through security check with the bag. If a porter is helping you make sure that every item is accounted for. They usually don't check tags.

If two complete outfits are sent, make sure that they are completely separate and that all the magazines or film are not in one case. Things rarely get lost, but some can arrive late. To the airlines, luggage usually takes priority over equipment.

When taking cases off the belt at the other end, one person should check off each case number and several people take a total count of the number of cases. During the flight is a good time to put the baggage tags in numerical order. Before leaving curbside at your origination, make sure that you don't have stubs for cases that don't exist. 14 tags and 14 pieces. Now that many airports don't check stubs make sure that you don't take other passengers bags.

A call ahead will help the airline be prepared for extra cases. Sometimes their excess baggage charge over a certain number is outrageous. If you have a large group to spread the baggage over it helps. A call ahead will help you find the best rate. Some have a freight service through checked baggage. Sending the equipment ahead can be wise. I have spent over an hour getting stuff tagged and onto the belt. Arrive early! (This last paragraph is dated as new security regulations may be different.)

A sea bag will hold a lot of not fragile stuff. A furniture pad is not enough protection for tripod legs. Keep tape, labels, a felt pen and rope handy, maybe in your carry on or in an easy-to-get-into case.

Keeping the camera gear separate from luggage on the way to the hotel helps at the hotel when the non-camera people want their bags to go to their rooms.

Crew members tend to over-protect themselves and bring too much extra equipment. Unless the job is cost-plus this can be expensive. Some coordination before hand will keep the extra stuff down to what's needed. Someone will have to take the responsibility to say yes or no about whether something goes or not. That person then has to then take the responsibility at the other end if something is short.

© Copyright 1999-2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.