Travel Photography

Travel photography tips from Zack: How to fly with an entire photo studio and not get caught! by Zack Smith Photography

Here I am at the San Juan airport with my entire photo studio, cameras, and clothes!

Here I am at the San Juan airport with my entire photo studio, cameras, and clothes!

Traveling in 2019 can be stressful, even if it’s for a well needed vacation. Traveling with your entire photo studio for work can be down right catastrophic if you don’t prepare and think ahead. I hope my recent international headshot photo shoot can help you learn some tips on how to travel with your photography equipment in a safe and inexpensive way.

How to properly travel with your gear can be tricky, so how do you fly with all that photo gear?

I recently had the pleasure of traveling again to photograph a long time client’s conference. In my third year of this relationship me and my team have photographed their conferences in New Orleans, LA, Austin, Texas, and most recently San Juan, Puerto Rico. Each conference is a 4-5 day conference and event documentary job while shooting multiple days of business headshots that range from 40 – 200 people.

Being able to execute the convention and photography duties in New Orleans was easy since that is where my business is based. I was able to have my studio open and ingesting each days shots to send out daily edits to the company marketing team, as well as being able to load in and setup the conference head shot station with ease.

All of my necessary headshot lighting gear fit nicely in this Pelican 1660 case.

All of my necessary headshot lighting gear fit nicely in this Pelican 1660 case.

Traveling to Austin for the 5 day conference was a bit tougher, but with the proper resources I was able to make it very easy for my photography workflow. I brought with with me only my Paul C. Buff Alien Bees, pocket wizard remotes, and cables. Since Austin is a bustling creative capital city, I rented light stands, sand bags, and a full studio background kit with a grey seamless roll. I rented the gear from a local rental house and they were able to deliver and pickup the gear to the hotel we were shooting at.

If you are traveling for a photoshoot and can expense local gear rental to your client, I would highly suggest that. Considering that local rental rates for limited gear can sometimes be equal to the cost of an oversize and overweight checked gig bag! Either way, you will pay for the gear, so why not reduce the wear and tear on your own gear (and your back!) and rent photography grip gear in the city you are shooting.

Headshots are easy at my studio but knowing how to properly pack for travel is a whole other deal!

Most recently my client brought their conference to the amazing city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was very excited at the opportunity to photograph Puerto Rico as I had never been before. Puerto Rico is such a beautiful island and the people are hospitable and kind. I was looking forward to the “day of service” the conference attendees would do in the rural beach community of Yabucoa. Yabucoa is still recovering from Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Hurricane Maria is regarded as the worst natural disaster on record to affect the island and was the deadliest storm of 2017. 

After searching for a few photography rental studios in San Juan and coming up short,, I realized that my options were to rent from a local photographer or bring my own. Trusting my instincts and ready for a challenge I decided to figure out how to travel with my studio lighting kit and be ready for headshots and conference documentary in another country.

How do I know what gear to check and what photography gear to carry on the airline?

It is wise to check with your airline about their size and weight restrictions on checked bags. I was in the clear to pack my entire travel photo studio into a secure hard case Pelican Case. (more on that later)

Here is the studio setup and looking great!

Here is the studio setup and looking great!

 I always carry on my camera bodies, lenses, batteries, memory cards (in a hard case), portable hard drives and laptop. I am currently using and loving my camera bag from ONA with it’s ability to hold 2 Canon Mark IV’s, 70-200 2.8, 16-35mm 2.8, 24-70mm 2.8, my 15” MacBook Air, and other related gar. The bag fits nicely in my overhead or under my feet while flying.

Keep all of your receipts! All of them! Even if it’s oversize it’s good to know what it costs.

Keep all of your receipts! All of them! Even if it’s oversize it’s good to know what it costs.

A few weeks before my trip I went on and bought 3 studio light stands where the legs collapsed up, thus reducing their size to fit exactly in the Pelican Case. I also purchased a foldable light grey backdrop disc and stand that also fit into the Pelican Case with ease. I cut out snug spaces in the foam inserts of the case to fit: 3 Einstein strobes, cables, extra strobe bulbs, transmitters and backup batteries for all. Remember when you arrive at your final destination any oversized cases will be waiting for you at the oversize counter and not the general baggage carousel.

Knowing that my entire studio could fit in one case was awesome! I was ready to fly, but was I protected?

Photographing and travelling domestically is easy right? But when do I get travel insurance and when do I know I am protected? Travel insurance is a must have for most travelers. From cancelled flight reimbursement to general liability insurance you can get what you need to feel protected. Lucky for me I was flying and shooting in a U.S. Territory so my existing health insurance as well as my business insurance package would carry over to any incident incurred while on my shoot in Puerto Rico. Before travelling out of the country for your next photo shoot I suggest contacting your issuing insurance agent to ask them of any coverage you may need.

My backyard vibes for the week…not bad!

My backyard vibes for the week…not bad!

Proper preparation before my international photo shoot was vital in the planning phase of my trip. By visualizing what I needed for my headshots and my day to day shooting, I was able to plan, pack, and travel with a good feeling.

I hope this information on how to pack for your next international photography assignment was helpful and if it was, please share this blog post!



Pelican Case

3 - Light Stands

Foldable Background and Stand

3 – Paul C Buff Einstein strobes

Cybersense and remotes

Empty Grip Bags (sandbags)




Using my roots to connect in deeper conversations in the No Man's Land of Vermillion Parish by Zack Smith Photography


My roots and cultural threads are often needed to make connections when photographing the landscapes of Louisiana and emotional terrain clients and subjects.

On a recent photo shoot in the wilds of the Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary, deep in the Louisiana coastal marshes of Vermillion Parish, I needed more than extra batteries and secure digital memory cards to creatively photograph our team's experience there. Yesterday I joined an amazing team from the Audubon Louisiana institute, Rainey Sanctuary, and Cultural Vistas Magazine to document new tactics taken on by Audubon Louisiana to revitalize portions of the battered Louisiana coast due to pipeline cutting, saltwater intrusion, and storms. I found it very necessary to use my knowledge of Vermillion Bay, Lafayette, and the smaller surrounding towns' culture and music to make connections with our guides and host...vital when wanting to photograph the story behind the story.

Located on a peninsula along the Gulf of Mexico, the sanctuary is a prime example of the land loss crisis threatening communities, industries and wildlife across coastal Louisiana. This land loss has been worsened by storms like Rita and Ike, which decimated much of the property and turned hundreds of acres of the sanctuary into open water. I was so honored to be able to work on this job as part of an article, video, and documentary produced by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities' Cultural Vistas magazine. 

This wildlife sanctuary just south of Vermillion Bay is closed off to the public. Being one of the few photographers to be granted access to this cultural gem was not lost on me as I toured it's vast channels and waterways.

The National Audubon Society’s oldest and largest bird sanctuary is held here, spanning 26,000 acres in Vermilion Parish, and I was there to photograph the discussion of it's history and importance to bird populations, and overview of the various restoration efforts underway that has made Rainey a living laboratory of coastal restoration to inform private landowners across the Louisiana coast. I was inundated with a vast coastal knowledge from conservationists, ornithologists, and preservationists like never before. 

Audubon has been a Louisiana landowner since 1924, and seeks to endow Louisiana landowners with a better understanding of available self-powered, affordable marsh creation techniques to restore land on their own properties. The Sanctuary provides critical migratory and  nesting habitat for over 200 species of birds, including some threatened species. Even though the day we went in July was probably the slowest time for any type of bird action, Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Louisiana, counted over 35 unique bird species in our 6 hours on site. 

As a lifelong resident of Louisiana and lover of her people and cultures, I feel it is my duty to make sure I do what I can with my talents and creative energy to make sure our land is protected for the future generations. Stay tuned for the article and corresponding video in the coming months!




Mexico and Beyond. Zack Smith Photography Travel Photo Gallery by Zack Smith Photography

I recently returned from the beaches, jungles and cities of the Yucatan Peninsula where I was on a well needed honeymoon with my wife. The photos below show my journey from the jungle/beach corridor of Tulum, Akumal, and the colonial city of Valladolid.