Camera Bag Essentials

This is another “recycled” post that the NYIP didn’t end up using.  What? Me? Lazy? Never!  I say, if you’ve already done the work, why let it go to waste!  The idea behind this post is to concentrate on the less obvious, but vital tools that are in a professional photographers camera bag:

I’m sure everyone expects a professional photographer’s bag to be full to the brim with top of the range camera bodies, fast zoom lenses, and all the latest kit, and I hope mine’s no disappointment in that regard:

Camera Bag
My Camera bag – a Lowepro Vertex 200 AW, more than 6 years old, and showing signs of age, but still going strong.

However, whilst these bits are essential to my working life, there are many less obvious bits and pieces in there which are every bit as useful, and many of them are very cheap indeed.  Let me take you on a tour, pocket by pocket, of the vital, but less flashy bits of gear.

First off, in the main body of the bag.  You’ll spot a tube of Glucose tablets, and these are one of the most important bits of kit I carry!  I have the metabolic rate of a gerbil, and due to the nature of working on location, and being at the whim of weather, people’s moods, traffic, and all the other vagaries of professional life, I don’t always get to sit down and eat meals at sensible times.  One of these tablets doesn’t replace a meal, but it stops me going completely mental!

The other life saver is the pair of Black Rapid straps.  I’ve used almost every sort of strap you can imagine over the 20+ years I’ve been shooting, and so far I’ve found these to be not only the most comfortable, but also the most convenient, and they definitely save my back.

Also, if you look closely around the lens hood of the 24-70 f2.8, you’ll see velcro patches.  We’ll come to these later, when we get to the front of the bag, but keep them in mind for now.  In the lid of the bag you’ll find some standard 3.5mm audio cable extension, along with a cheap and cheerful lapel Mic that was about £5 from Amazon.  It’s no match for the Sennheiser wireless mics I use when I’m carrying my full video kit, but it’s a huge advantage over using the built-in mic.  At the top of the lid, along with the polarising filter, there is a white balance card which I generally try and use at the start of each shoot, or when I change lighting situations so I’ve got a neutral tone to refer to.  There are also some antiseptic wipes, which come in very handy on the myriad occasions I scratch or damage myself whilst shooting, or when I’ve simply got filthy hands from mucking about somewhere

Bag Internal

The main pocket – Nikon D4, D800, 24-70 f2.8, 105 f2.8, 50 f1.4, 70-200 f2.8, 16-35 f4, memory cards, Sennheiser Hotshoe Mic, D800 battery grip, SB900 flashgun, glucose tablets!  In detail – velcro around 24-70 hood, audio extension cables and lapel mic, wipes, polariser and whibalance card, and Black Rapid Straps.

In the laptop pocket, when the laptop’s not there (which is most of the time – it only tends to go in there when I’m flying) there are several handy bits.  First off there are some inexpensive rain covers, which whilst they’re no substitute for my posh ThinkTank one, are definitely better than nothing when I have to shoot in inclement conditions.  There’s also a high visibility vest, which besides being the world’s best disguise (put one on, and you’ve automatically got justification for being somewhere…) is occasionally required in certain places I work (along with a hard hat, and safety boots, but I don’t carry them in my normal bag!)  The last thing you’ll find in this pocket are 2 Honl flash snoots, which weigh nothing, and do a very good job of focusing light down into a spot, as well as functioning as impromptu reflectors at a pinch.

Laptop Pocket
Laptop pocket – visi vest, rain covers (quite dirty!) and Honl snoots.

Close the bag and on the front are 2 long, zipped pockets, which are sub-divided.  On the right I keep 4 sets of AA batteries, 3 of which are rechargeables in clear plastic cases.  These can be picked up from all sorts of places (I got mine from 7dayshop) and do a great job of keeping things organised.  Do remember to top your rechargeables up now and again, as they don’t keep their charge forever!  One of the memory cards in the dedicated slots is an old, almost-too-small-to-be-useful 1GB CF from many years ago, in which I now keep my camera custom settings – very handy to be able to reload these after I’ve done something stupid, or let someone else use my camera.  There’s also a Honl velcro strap, for attaching the snoots, and a home made black flag with velcro super-glued to it.

Top Right Camera Bag
Top right hand side – AA batteries in cases, memory card with settings, velcro strap and plastic flag.

On the left it gets more complicated.  The top zipped pocket contains business cards (so I’m never without some), earplugs (from sharing too many hotel rooms with people who snore, and working in loud locations) several 8GB memory sticks for delivering jobs on (I’m in the process of getting branded ones made) a Leatherman multi-tool (should be self explanatory) and a few LED keylights with velcro stuck on them.  Remember the velcro round the 24-70mm?  Well, on rare occasions I’ve had to shoot in complete darkness, and even the best camera won’t focus very well under those circumstances.  Stick a few LEDs around the lens hood, and suddenly, you can see perfectly well, and your hands are still free to operate the camera!

Camera Bag Top Left
Top left pocket – leatherman, business cards, earplugs, LED lights, 8GB USB 3 memory sticks.

The bottom zipped pocket contains painkillers, antihistamines, and plasters, as I’m clearly an accident prone muppet.  Then there are pens, for obvious reasons, as well as a blower brush and a couple of lens wipes.  I’m not one of these people who believes you should never touch the front of your lenses – I have UV filters on all of them because I work on location, and they frequently get rain, mud and other stuff splattered on them – I need to be able to clean them whilst on location.  I also carry another memory stick, although this one contains my “fact file” a word document that’s got lots of vital info on it – password etc – for when I’m travelling*.  The last piece of gear in the bag is a small spiral bound notebook, which despite the ubiquity of smartphones, is still a very handy and fast way of taking notes.

Bag Left
Left hand top – plasters, painkillers and anti-histamines, pens, blower brush, notebook and memory stick.

So there you go, all the non-professional bits in a professional’s bag.  Very few of them cost very much, take up much space or weigh very much, and I’ve had call to use all of them at some point or other.

*Replaced by Evernote as of 2015

Confused by any of the techie stuff in this post?  Try my Technical Foundations course to make things clearer.

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