I’ve been working as a full-time pro photographer for just over 10 years, the majority of that whilst living in Asia.
As I looked around my home when preparing to photograph my gear, I realised that it might be easier just to take a picture of the entire place, so much of my life revolves around my work that every room seems to contain some of the paraphernalia associated with photography. I guess that’s a consequence of combining life and work to the point where they are indistinguishable. I have no need to examine the equilibrium of my “work/life balance”, I just have life/work. I’m very happy with that and consider myself very fortunate to be able to combine my work and my life so fully
I picked out some of the items which come on assignment with me most often and left out everything else. You’ll just have to imagine the two floor to ceiling cupboards full of camera bags of assorted shapes, colours and styles, the double wardrobe filled with boxes of cables, redundant hard drives and assorted electrical flotsam and jetsam and the six large boxes containing various oddments, more bags, more cables and travel accessories.
I moved home recently and had the opportunity to reorganise, so there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place. I tend to be pretty well-organised, which really helps when there’s a lot of gear around the place.
2 x Canon 5D MKIII bodies with battery grips
Canon 60D converted to shoot infrared Canon 30V (Elan 7NE) with 35mm film stock – mostly for the nostalgia of shooting film and to enjoy Canon’s wonderful eye-controlled focussing system, which, sadly, was abandoned in newer models.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 50S with Fujifilm Instax Share SP–1 printer and Instax film stock. I’ve often said that if I could only keep one camera, I’d keep the Instax. It allows me to print and share images on location. I can even print from my iPhone with the Instax printer. This camera and printer combination really help break the ice when on assignment and it’s such a pleasure to be able to provide people with a print in exchange for the hospitality and generosity that I invariably enjoy whenever and wherever I travel. I often return to the same location, sometimes several years later, and I regularly find my old Instax prints pinned to a wall or kept safely in a wallet.
Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L II USM
Canon EF 24–70mm f/2.8L II USM
Canon EF 70–200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
I wouldn’t consider buying a lens where the widest aperture available is smaller than f/2.8 (other than my Tilt/Shift lens, which is f/3.5). That extra stop or two can make all the difference in low-light situations.
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II (Tilt/Shift)
Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM
Lensbaby Composer with “Edge 80mm”, “Sweet 35mm” and other optics
Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT
Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT
Canon Speedlite 580EX II
David Honl light modifiers including coloured gels
I very rarely use a flash/strobe apart from the occasional fill-light at a festival or political demonstration where the light might be harsh and I can’t choose what time of day the event will take place. However, when you need some additional lighting, you really do need it. Carrying additional lighting, even those small flash units, is much like carrying the tripod. It often seems like an unnecessary burden until you need that piece of kit, at which point you remember why you packed it. I think that’s one of the practical considerations which define a pro photographer. A pro is the photographer who’s willing to suffer the discomfort and inconvenience of carrying additional gear in order to work without compromise.
Too many to mention but those pictured include:
F-Stop Satori Expedition Rucksack which is perfect for trekking.
Think Tank Airport Antidote (replaced by newer models), fits all airline overhead luggage compartments and has Tardis-like internal space.
Pelican hard case for transporting DJI Phantom II Drone.
I enjoy recording ambient audio on location and have a trusty Zoom H4N recorder, which has superb quality and a unique X/Y microphone arrangement. Music is really important to me, it provides a distraction during those lengthy journeys and I enjoy building playlists to serve as soundtracks for different trips. So my real indulgence is a pair of Jerry Harvey in-ear monitors. These are custom-made to fit perfectly (you have to sit for 30 minutes with gel in your ears when you order a pair) and the company’s tag-line is “As worn by rock stars”, which makes me feel (probably incorrectly) that I haven’t completely lost all my street-cred yet.
An ancient and very battered but completely dependable Velbon Sherpa tripod with PH–157Q head
6 x various Lee Neutral Density Hard and Soft Grad Filters. Lee Filters are precisely made and can be stacked in the Lee filter holder to vary the effect.
Canon Remote Controller TC–80N3. A remote release with intervalometer, which allows me to create time-lapse sequences.
CF and SD Memory cards in a Think Tank card wallet. I use both card formats in my Canon 5D MKIIIs, shooting RAW files to the CF cards and backup JPEGs to the SD cards.
I carry a 15” MacBook Pro with various external hard drives and Wacom tablet. The tablet is easier to use than the trackpad or mouse and takes up very little space. My hard drives are custom-built. I buy drive enclosures from Orico and source “naked” drives independently. 2.5” Drives can be swapped in and out of the enclosures when travelling and then backed-up to larger and more reliable 3.5” drives via a high-speed docking station back in the office. This solution means that my data storage has, potentially, an infinite capacity and doesn’t depend upon one data transfer method (USB, Thunderbolt, Firewire etc.). As new technologies emerge and larger disks become available, I simply change the drive enclosures or change-up to larger drives.
2 x Passports. Travelling a lot means that I am forever applying for visas. Having two passports means that I can still travel when one passport is stuck at a local embassy awaiting a visa.
Kindle. One example of how modern technology can really bring benefits. My Kindle doesn’t beep at me, it doesn’t demand my attention, it doesn’t offer any distractions, it simply gives me the opportunity to read. I love my Kindle.
Namiki Falcon fountain pen. Created by Japanese artisans, a fountain pen for serious people writing serious things. Probably.
Electrical extension lead. Too many things to charge, too few electrical outlets. This simple extension lead saves me a lot of hassle and inconvenience. Universal electrical adapters with pins for all international outlet types.
Buff Headwear. Great for hot and cold climates, provides protection from heat and dust and serves as an impromptu lens cleaner.
Panama Hat for when I’m trying (and usually failing) to inject a little sartorial elegance into my otherwise predictably workmanlike wardrobe.
iPhone. With the right apps and with those distracting notifications turned off, it’s a useful tool for communicating, carrying maps, holding a music archive and I’ve been known to shoot the occasional Instagram picture on it too.
Having listed all those items, I should point out that these are tools which I’ve compiled over several years. Everything has a job to do and there’s no room for anything which doesn’t pull its weight. However, there’s much to be said for travelling as light a possible and not all of this gear comes on every assignment. If I wasn’t shooting professionally, I would relish the opportunity to reduce this gear to a more minimalist setup.
Ideally, I’d like to travel with no more than was necessary for comfort and ease and think I could get by with the following essentials:
Passport, Kindle, iPhone, Headphones, Rangefinder or Mirrorless cameras with 24mm and 50mm lenses, Instax Printer.
However, working on assignment requires versatility and there are no mirrorless or rangefinder systems which currently offer the variety of lens combinations that I require. The DSLR system provides flexibility in terms of focal lengths, lighting accessories and gives greater control. This goes back to my earlier point about not wanting to compromise. I could feasibly work with fewer lenses, without a tripod, without additional lighting and with much less gear but that would inevitably compromise the quality of the work I do for my clients.
Having created this list and written about the contents of my camera bags, it’s worth a quick reminder that cameras and lenses don’t make good images. They are merely the tools which allow a photographer to realise their vision. A good eye and an open mind will do more to help you create a meaningful and memorable image than any amount of gear.
Check out these 8 essential tools to help you succeed as a professional photographer.
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