I thought it might be interesting to share with you the gear I use to make my photographs. In other words, to give you a guided tour through my camera bag. But before we start the tour I’d like to share with you the approach I’ve followed in bringing together my gear.
There are a lot of photographers who take a great deal of satisfaction in keeping up with the latest technology and it certainly does progress very rapidly. Many of these photographers make really great photographs as well. I prefer a different approach.
For me, my photography gear is a means to an end., the end being to follow my creative vision. If my gear supports my creative vision, I’m quite satisfied with it. If it doesn’t, then I need to consider an upgrade. Here’s an example.
Apple has created a great little camera in the iPhone. It takes remarkably good photographs. I was out hiking recently, enjoying spring in the local mountains. I published the photographs taken with my iPhone on Facebook. Here’s a link.
Pretty good, huh? (with a little help from Snapseed). But with the camera’s fixed, wide-angle lens there are some photographs I couldn’t get. In other words, I could not achieve my creative vision.
There’s another consideration. I’ve done some looking into mental states and how they apply to photography. It turns out we have two mental states – analytical and creative. In our analytical mental state, we are good at solving problems and dealing with technical things. In our creative mental state, we excel at inspiration and intuition. And, as it turns out, our analytical mental state is the more dominant of the two.
Now, photography is an art form that requires both states of mind. My goal is to minimize the amount of analytical thinking I need to do so that I can free up the creative state of mind. The analytical state of mind is important in making great photographs. The creative state of mind is important in making great art.
OK, enough of this philosophy about the acquisition of gear. There’s no single correct answer for everyone. We all derive our own personal satisfaction and rewards from photography and that is what is important. So back to the gear.
Let’s start at the starting point – the camera bag.
When I first started to really get into photography I carried my camera, lenses and other gear in a duffle bag. Yep, that’s right. A duffle bag. Fortunately, it had a shoulder strap so it didn’t pull my shoulder out of its socket.
I kept the lenses in the cases they came in so they didn’t get banged up. And I had a few inexpensive filters in the pockets. I must have looked very funny walking out to a shooting location with a duffle bag slung over my shoulder. It got me started but as I started upgrading my gear I realized I needed a better camera bag.
Now, there are all sorts of camera bags – shoulder bags, rolling cases, backpacks – for all photo activities – sports, weddings, street, photojournalism, studio, travel and portraits. My preference has always been the backpack. I guess that comes from my outdoor life and hundreds of miles of backpacking in the California mountains. For me, a backpack is very comfortable so it’s the perfect solution. And being a landscape photographer, I don’t need to have quick access to my camera like a street photographer does. My shooting is a lot more deliberate because I am going to take the time to get set up on a tripod.
The choice for my first backpack camera bag was a Lowepro Nature Trekker AW II. It worked out very well and did everything I needed it to do. I was able to carry my camera body and my growing collection of lenses. There was also room for filters, batteries, lens cleaning cloths, camera manuals and more. And I could fasten my tripod to the outside so I could walk with my hands-free when I was negotiating terrain that required their assistance.
One of the nice things about camera bags such as this is that compartments can be created with movable partitions that are held in place with Velcro. So you can create the perfect custom arrangement to hold your gear.
This camera bag was great for when I was shooting locally. I could throw it in the car and head out. But if I needed to fly to my destination, especially flying internationally, the camera bag stayed at home. It was pretty bulky. So I got a fanny pack camera bag for these trips. I was able to take my camera body with one lens and batteries. That was it. And I left my tripod at home. But it worked out well enough.
Then, we planned a family vacation on a River Rhine cruise through Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands. One of the highlights was the day we would be cruising through the Rhine gorge complete with medieval castles scattered on both sides of the river. I definitely wanted all of my camera gear on this trip, especially my long lens. I needed a camera bag that would fit in the overhead bins of an international flight. I called my friend, Jack Graham, to ask him what he recommended and he turned me on to ThinkTank Photo.
I checked them out and found their StreetWalker HardDrive backpack. It is very similar to the Lowepro Nature Trekker in that you can create the compartments with moveable partitions. But it’s much trimmer and easily fits into the overhead on international (and domestic) flights. And it has a compartment that holds my laptop. It was perfect.
When the backpack arrived I was impressed with the quality of workmanship (on a par with the Lowepro). But there were little details that set it apart. There are many of them but I want to call attention to one of them that makes a big difference for me. When I attach my tripod, the feet sit in a little pouch that is set below the bottom of the bag. Why is this important? Because the ball head is now flush with the top of the bag. With the Lowepro, it extended above the top and would catch on branches when I had to duck under them. That’s not a problem with the ThinkTank.
A recent trip to Norway prompted buying another hip pack bag. I needed one that would hold my larger camera body and two lenses, my 70-200 mm telephoto and 24-105 mm go-to lens. I went straight back to ThinkTank. I wanted a bag that I could wear on my hip or carry over my shoulder. The one that came out on top was the Speed Racer V20. This bag has also worked out very well. I can change lenses without setting the bag down and there’s also room to carry extra batteries and memory cards. I’ve even taken it backpacking when my daughter and I backpacked in Colorado’s Maroon Bells. And as with the StreetWalker, there are many little touches that make it a delight to use.
So, what are the lessons learned? I think the first lesson is to keep it simple. There are many styles of camera bags so make sure you are aware of the possibilities and select one that meets your needs. But you also need something that you can manage. My StreetWalker weighs 40 pounds when fully loaded. I don’t mind but that can be a lot for many people.
I find it important to have a place for everything that I might need. For example, my filters are always in the same place. I can close my eyes and pull out one of the spare batteries. All too often I see photographers who are looking for something and realize it’s back in their hotel room. Some things should always be with you so make sure you have a bag that can accommodate them.
No matter what style of camera bag you get, you will appreciate it more if it’s comfortable. On workshops, the people mostly have backpacks of varying sizes. I’ve known photographers who had shoulder bags but over time they became uncomfortable and they switched to backpacks.
We’ll leave it here for now. When we continue, I’ll tell you about my camera body and discuss some fundamental things to look for when buying one.