What’s in the bag?
Yesterday I decided to pack up a gear bag to bring to class to share what I typically take on a photo shoot. The backpack weighs about 20 pounds and is filled with two Nikon camera bodies, a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, 50mm f/1.4, 105mm micro f/2.8, 24mm f/2.0, and a 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 zoom lens. If it’s a commercial job the camera bodies are both digital. If it is for my personal fine art work then I try to pack a film body and a digital body.
In addition to the cameras and lenses I pack a color calibration chart, circular polarizer filter, and neutral density filters. If I am shooting film I also wear an old school Kodak shooting vest that has deep pockets that contain a wide range of colored filters for black and white film as well as a graduated neutral density filter. The goal is to get the image right in the camera which means I have to have as many tools with me as possible. In addition to this I have to bring a tripod. I have five to choose from but most of the time it’s an old bogen 3021 tripod with foam grips that is sturdy but heavy. This coming spring I plan to finally spend the $600 on a small compact carbon fiber tripod that can fit in the backpack. The combination of all that kit as the british say, is really heavy. But is it worth it?
It is always tempting to try to get by with just a single camera and a zoom lens but ultimately the quality of the work suffers. Specialized tools yield higher quality results. Unfortunately it tends to be an all or nothing proposition whereby I either commit to taking all the gear or I take none of it and rely on my cellphone to record memory images. I tend to call these trips scouting opportunities. I collect a lot of cell phone images from places I have never been before to determine whether or not it’s worth the strain and effort to haul all the good gear to the site to make a photograph.
Sometimes on my scouting trips I will take a point and shoot film camera with a built in zoom. I have done this on many motorcycle trips where my primary interest is the ride and not the photography. These images are really for personal journals rather than for making art. Again, I consider these worthwhile scouting trips for future photographic expeditions.
The reality is I rarely get back to the location and when I do it is often not as perfect a moment as when I had been there previously. This past October I had gone on a spectacular motorcycle ride up the St. Joe River where I had seen a beautiful white horse along the river. I didn’t bring any of my good camera gear because I was riding with two friends and didn’t want to burden them with all the stops I would be inspired to take along the way. Instead, I vowed to come back the following week with all the gear. True to my intention I packed up the truck and took my wife and dog along for a photo expedition.
As we drove along the river looking for the horse it was readily apparent the moment had passed. All the horses had been brought in from the pastures and were now packed into a fenced in area. It was hunting season and many of the animals would be saddled up as pack animals for elk hunts.
We enjoyed the drive and picnic high up in the mountains but I didn’t make any photos that day. It turned into another scouting trip for future camp spots.
During the break between Christmas and New Years Sarah and I stole away to a condo on Priest Lake where we could snuggle by a warm fire and make plans for the coming spring and summer season. I brought along a stack of maps and charted routes I would like to revisit on my motorcycle that I have been outfitting for backcountry adventures. This year I will likely do more solo routes because I intend to make more photographs than miles. The challenge with packing camera gear on a motorcycle is the worry about possible damage when and if I crash the bike. On back roads there can be times where you drop the bike inadvertently. It’s not like a crash that you always hear about because you are usually going quite slow. It’s more about how a tire might slide out from under you in an unexpected patch of mud or loose gravel. I suppose I could take the truck instead but there are some places that I can get into with the motorcycle that the truck couldn’t go and so I’ve committed to combining my passion for photography with my love of riding this year.
In motorcycle culture there is a saying “all the gear, all the time”. I think with my photography I will need to adopt that same motto if I am to ever be satisfied with my work.