Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

July 2002

Question of the Month

How do we carry our film when traveling?

As you probably know, we travel a lot, and we're always carrying camera equipment and film. For domestic trips we might be able to ship some equipment to a destination, or risk packing it into our checked in luggage with the hope that it will arrive when we do, or at least while we're at our location. On international trips, where we'd be in a bind to replace any lost (or stolen) gear, or where getting lost luggage to you may take days (or weeks) once you leave the city where the airport is located, we make sure all of our necessary gear is with us, on our person. And that, of course, includes our film.

This fall we'll be in Africa for twelve straight weeks, (3 in Tanzania, and 9 in Kenya), and we anticipate using about 800 rolls during that time. If you are familiar with a 'brick' of film (that is 20 rolls, packaged flat in five rows of four), imagine having 40 bricks stacked on top of one another. That stack would stand 80 inches high! Imagine getting that volume of film onto a plane!

We've solved that problem, at least in part, by taking extra film with us on our recent Tanzania trip, and leaving 300 rolls behind for use this fall. Still, we're presented with the problem of carrying 500 rolls of film, and here's how we do it. We take all of our film out of the box and canisters, and pack the film into gallon ziplock bags containing 30 rolls of film. We stuff these bags over and around the gear we carry in our carry-on luggage, filling the spaces between our long lenses and their tripod 'feet,' and over the tops of our cameras. To this end we've had help by using the Wimberley tripod foot (see June Tip of the Month), which has replaced my Canon 400mm tripod foot with a much flatter surface that makes packing so much more efficient. Previously, my 400mm F2.8 lens foot stuck out so far that it occupied a huge amount of luggage space. Now, with the new plate, I have far more room.

For our Tanzania trip we carried 500 rolls of film, with about 300 rolls packed in our carry-on and 200 in a Vested Interest photo vest, where I also put some of our cameras and smaller lenses. On our fall trip both Mary and I will wear Vested Interest photo vests, and we'll carry all of our cameras and film. We do not, and you cannot, pack your film in checked luggage because of two things: One, and most importantly, the new X-ray scanners that will damage film in checked luggage, and Two, if your luggage is lost, you are finished! Film, and your most important cameras and lenses, must travel with you.

When we pack our film in our carry-on luggage we do not bother to have the film hand checked. We simply place our carry-on bags and our vests on the conveyor and let the equipment and film go through the machine. Sometimes, because our luggage is so densely packed that the monitor cannot distinguish objects, we are then asked to have the luggage hand inspected, so, sometimes, it ends up that our film gest hand-checked anyway, but that is after it has already been zapped.

We do not see any loss of quality or any negative effect from having our film x-rayed at the carry-on luggage inspection stations. I would not worry about this if I were you, and we follow this procedure in every airport, in every country we visit. Years ago, taking it as a personal challenge, I'd make it a point to NOT have my film x-rayed and to always have it hand-inspected. I succeeded (regardless of country) about 90% of the time. Eventually, though, I just got tired of the fighting, begging, and worrying, and I started just 'going with the flow.' My travel is now more pleasant and effortless and hassle-free, and I'd recommend you consider doing so yourself.

In the field, we do not worry about refrigerating our film, even with pro film. You may know that pro film is typically refrigerated before sale, but that is to insure that there is no color shift before you purchase the film. Pro film is no less stable than normal film, and won't magically transform itself into a useless product without refrigeration! On trips, we simply take the normal precautions of keeping our film out of direct sun or stored in a hot place. We'll follow this protocol for 12 weeks in Africa and our film will be fine.

So, relax! We hope this will alleviate some of your worries about film.

Do YOU have a Question you'd like addressed? If so, please forward your question to our email address, below, and title the subject of your email (in the Subject field) 'Proposed Question of the Month. Can't promise you we'll address your particular question but we'll do the best we can do.

Previous Questions of the Month

What do we really think about digital photography?   
 How can you attract insectivorous birds to your feeding stations and bait sites?  What is the most versatile remote release camera firing system?
 Why should you know Manual Mode?  Flash and Tele-flash Techniques
 What is the best flash for closeup and
macro photography?
 How do you make things happen in wildlife photography?
What is the Best Composition?  The Sunny 16 rule -- is it worth knowing today?
 What the heck is the Scheimpflug Law?   How do you shoot silhouettes?
 How would you meter these challenging images?  Using Zoom lenses with tele-converters and extension tubes -- can you use both together?
 What are our Five Favorite Shooting Locales? What is our Favorite bird-shooting location?
 How Easy is Whale Photography?  Is NANPA for you?
 What do we think of the Canon D30 digital camera?  What is NANPA and how will it benefit me?
 Are Image Stabilization Lenses Worth the Money?  How do you shoot high-speed action images?
 Reciprocity Failure  Hyperfocal Distance

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