Travelling with a large format camera : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I was wondering if any large format users out there have ever had any experience travelling to Middle Eastern or African countries with a large format camera? What kind of problems, if any, did you encounter? One thing I thought might be a problem is border guards or customs people who might not be familiar with large format film, and insist on opening film boxes or film holders. Has anyone out there encountered problems like this, or have any suggestions to give?

-- Lara Murphy (, January 15, 1999


Wooden field cameras (some of which are still in use in some of these countries) raise fewer suspicions than all-metal black monorails, which can look like weapons (I take my monorail standards off the rail so it just looks like a pile of parts). Spotmeters look like weapons on an x-ray, but explaining them is no problem. Learn the word for "film" in as many languages as necessary. Sheet film should be carried in as small a box as possible (25 sheets are better than 100 sheets) because they know it'd be harder for you to hide something in a slimmer box (and because if they open one box, it's fewer ruined). ALWAYS carry at least a couple of sheets of (reject-quality) developed film that you can show to foreign-speaking security persons and even load into an empty film holder; ideally a negative and a transparency. If you have film holders, you'll have a changing bag or tent; in some Mideast situations (Tel Aviv Airport, perhaps Cairo) they'll take you to a side room or table and you can let them reach in and open a box for themselves if they're suspicious. If you've published any work, bring it along; if you haven't, bring someone else's work that isn't bylined (don't have a cow, folks, she's not getting work under false pretenses--just getting past security). If you have any friends in publishing, or are handy enough with desktop publishing to design a letterhead, any kind of official-looking letter from your "publisher" stating that you are going to take whatever kind of harmless photographs (nature, animals, landscapes, buildings) will help immeasurably in easing suspicions about your professional-looking gear (this isn't necessary with most 35mm travel). If you go to Israel, do NOT let them stamp your passport; other countries will not let you in (or will hassle you extensively); Israeli Passport control knows this and will stamp an index card instead. Finally, tempting though it is, don't pack your lenses in your underwear unless you like strangers rooting through it, and don't jam things into every nook and cranny in your bags in a way that takes 15 minutes to pack each bag; many countries unpack EVERYTHING rather than relying on x-rays, and you'll be scrambling to fit it all back in and make it to your gate. Happy trails!

-- Bill Daily (, January 15, 1999.

You might want to look for other threads in this forum on the subject of using tripods in foreign lands. I seem to remember several comments about officials in Turkey, for some reason, making a fuss. And that's once inside, not at the border. This is even sometimes true stateside. I myself was told by a security guard in LA Calif. that I couldn't photograph a station on the new Metroline because I was using a tripod.

-- Steve Pfaff (, January 15, 1999.

FWIW I had no trouble getting into and out of Tunisia with my Wisner 5X7 as carry on, or Paris either for that matter.

I was told French would be adequate while there, but it was only good in Tunis. Once in the suburbs or country, Arabic was essential. I lucked into a family that had lived in the U.S. for 8 years and their son acted as interpreter and cultural liason.

I had two run-ins with the law, 1 the equivalent of the U.S. Army, the other the local Barney Fife. The Army might have been reservists and just curious, as they didn't hassle me, they just wanted to know what I was doing. The Cop seemed to think that either 1) I was shooting as a professional and therefore must have a permit or something or 2)Shouldn't have been there with a tripod. I didn't have my interpreter on either occasion and got past Abdel Law with the French for hobby -"distraction" or some such.

Tunisia though is about as liberal an relatively Arab country as you'll find. They are used to nude European sunbathers and get a healthy portion of their national economy from them. It seemed to be culturally acceptable, even customary to get out of your car and yell at the officer that pulled you over at the top of your lungs and gesticulate wildly, something that'd do you no good in West by-God Virginia. I never tried it though. There was a good book put out a while back that listed all the countries and possible photo restrictions, languages, customs, dollar exchange rate, voltages, local product distributors, etc. I can't remember now what it was. Some info might be dated by now. See if the country has an embassy in the U.S. & contact them. Also maybe the U.S. State Department. When all else fails, the local college or university level library reference librarian could help.

-- Sean yates (, January 15, 1999.

This weekend 4/30 - 5/3 I flew to Charleston, S.C. from O'Hare International. I checked two bags at the curb, one of which contained my tripod, and carried on two - my 8 X 10 kit in it's case and 8 film holders in an army surplus waterproof bag. The camera case was within size restrictions, it's 20 X 14 X 9 and weighed 32 lbs. The holders were considerably smaller and weighed 16 lbs.

I asked for a hand inspection of the film holders at both airports security gates. No hassle at either although the folks at Charleston were more thorough and they were a little busy - there is only 1 detector/gate for a terminal with 5 gates. Both times the security personel were polite and agreeable. I tried to time it so that I went through the gates when there were fewr people ahead of and behind me to minimize the inconvenience and pressure - that worked at O'Hare, but not at Charleston.

Lastly, my carry-ons were actually smaller than a lot of the folks with rolling luggage and garment bags. I was very relieved that I had no trouble at either airport.

-- Sean yates (, May 03, 1999.

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