David Barak

Photojournalism | Last Updated: January 5, 2021

I’m a photojournalist in San Diego, California. In the past, I’ve worked on staff at newspapers in California and Florida, but now everything I do is freelance and my self-assigned work gets sent off to ZUMA Press for distribution.

My day to day work is done with a Nikon D850 and MB-D18 Battery Grip. I chose the Nikon D850 because of its high resolution, its overall image quality and because it can take decades worth of Nikon lenses.

I carry a Nikon 180mm f/2.8, a Nikon 35mm f/2, a Nikon 85mm f/1.8 and a Nikon 20mm f/1.8. Most of what I shoot is done using the 85mm and 20mm, and of those two I generally turn to the 20mm. I went with all prime lenses, no zooms, for one, uh… well, one primary reason.

Years ago I switched from multiple prime lenses (too many, to be honest) to two zooms, and I found my photos suffered because I got lazy and just zoomed in or out. They say to zoom with your feet and since going back to primes my photography has gotten better.

I have an inexpensive Nikkor zoom – I can’t remember what focal length range – that I keep at home as an emergency backup. All my lenses are protected with UV/haze filters and lens hoods.

I carry three batteries for the camera along with a charger. I have a battery insert for AA Batteries but since the three regular batteries I’ve got get me through a day, I don’t carry this with me. I have a couple of spare rear lens caps in my bag, something I’ve done after I lost one. I hate putting a lens away even for a few minutes without caps on.

I lug this stuff around in a Domke F-2 Bag, something I was used to from my newspaper days, and low key. I carry four SD cards – I can get hundreds of shots on a single card and I’ve never needed more than two cards even on the busiest days. I carry a press pass from the San Diego Police Department but I’ve never really needed it.

Also on-hand but typically not part of the daily stuff I carry around (and not in the photo) are a Nikon 105mm Macro, a Nikon 300mm f/2.8 and a Nikon 500mm f/4. I’ve got a Godox flash that I stopped carrying because I never used it.

I have the usual doodads – a monopod, notepads, pens and pencils, lens cleaning pen and a remote cable (never needed so far). I’ve got an ancient Bogen tripod that I haven’t used in years.

There are two Contax G1 film cameras in the photo, only used for stories where I need to be a fly on the wall and don’t need the advantages of digital. I have my own darkroom so a lot of the film that goes through these is black and white.

One has a Zeiss 45mm f/2.0 lens on it, the other a Zeiss Biogon 28mm f/2.8, and I carry a 90mm/f2.8 Zeiss Sonnar. I also have a Sekonic L-478D Meter and spot attachment with these.

I’ve got a hard case for my MacBook Air, assorted cables, a small hard drive and a HooToo USB-C dongle/adapter/doohickey that lets me read SD cards (no slot on the MacBook Air), has an Ethernet port (for when I’m in a place with no or poor public Wi-Fi but still have the option for a hard-wired connection) and USB ports – the HooToo turns a single USB-C port on the laptop into eight different ports and slots.

I bring along a power bar or two to snack on and a bottle of water. On days that I think will be long and/or hot, I carry up to four bottles of water in two Domke pouches that I keep on a belt. This is also the belt where I keep the goggles and respirator (in a third pouch) I hope to never need in a riot situation. These days it’s been close, very close…

I also have a bag in my truck that has a second-hand firefighter’s turnout coat. I also have a smoke mask, firefighter’s goggles, boots, heavy gloves and an armband that says ‘media’ since I don’t want anyone thinking I’m trying to pass myself off as a firefighter. This is all for covering wildfires, and thankfully so far I haven’t needed them.

These days I carry N95 masks and nitrile gloves, although I’m not too worried about coronavirus transmission by hand and so haven’t used the gloves. I carry a fairly thick trash bag – you just never know when it might come in handy – and I bring along business cards.

I keep spray-on sunscreen in my truck, and it’s got a locking cap so if I think I’ll need it while I’m actually out shooting, I can carry it without worrying about spraying it all over my equipment.

If it’s possible to be a digital Luddite, I’m one. I only use Photoshop – I’ve never liked Lightroom or Photo Mechanic. I review my JPGs in the standard Mac Preview software, tag the photos in their folders – still on the SD cards – then get to work on the RAW files.

I save toned and captioned but un-cropped Photoshop PSD files onto the SD card. Then I crop the PSD files as I like, save them as PSD files with a different name, then I save copies as JPG files and send them off to where they’re going.

Once that’s all done I copy everything over to a RAID Drive and initiate a double online backup using Backblaze and Amazon Glacier. Then I grit my teeth and reformat the SD cards. The batteries go back in the chargers and a card with ‘Batteries, dummy!’ written on it goes on top of the gear in my bag – I don’t ever want to forget my batteries and this is how I prevent that from happening.

A note on cleaning – for lenses, I typically brush stuff off and then use a lens pen to get rid of smudges. For more stubborn cleaning I use isopropyl alcohol (either 93% or 97%, I can’t remember) – only a little! – and a cotton swab – NOT synthetic. Synthetic swabs can scratch, from what I’ve heard, but cotton is gentler. I’ve got a big bag of them that should last a lifetime.

For the interior of the camera itself I have a routine I follow:

  1. I use the electronic sensor cleaning feature first, keeping the camera mount facing down so gravity helps get rid of dust. All cleaning is done with the lens mount facing down.
  2. Sometimes I fire off a dozen or so frames with no lens to jar dust loose.
  3. I lock the mirror up and use a rocket air bulb to blow dust away. I don’t use canned air – too much pressure and I have no idea what chemicals are in it.
  4. I have a neat little Fujin vacuum device that attaches like a lens. I attach that, start the vacuum and then use the mirror lock-up feature on the camera to expose the sensor. As the vacuum is working, I fire off a few frames and jiggle the camera a little.

Since I began this routine I haven’t had to do any deep cleaning of the sensor. Doing that scares the @#$! out of me. I’ve done it using the wet swab method and one of those sticky lollipop things, which I DO NOT recommend. I’ve never had to bring it into a shop for cleaning.

When I’m shooting I’m changing lenses fairly often and even with that I don’t have a real dust problem as long as I follow my cleaning routine.

www.davidbarak.com | @dave_barak

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