With a background in both photo-realistic painting and a love for mathematics, the concept of photography came pretty natural to me. Though I’ve always enjoyed documentary photography in my day-to-day life, my career in photography officially began when I started working with models. My earliest work involved a lot of fabricating sets, purchasing or making a lot of props, employing multiple strobes, and a lot of time spent in preparation. Over the last few years my work has become simpler, what I describe as a bit quieter, than what I was doing seven or eight years ago.
Now without all the preparation required, and since I switched completely to digital a few years ago due to cost, my bag has become considerably lighter. That was fine by me since I’ve always been a fairly low-maintenance guy, willing to make-do with the smallest amount of tools. Most of the things I do end up carrying in my bag now are rarely used, but it never hurts to be prepared. I pretty much have left my lighting equipment behind. Using natural or available light almost exclusively is far more interesting and satisfying for me at this point. I find the less I have to use, the more creative I’m forced to become, and that’s never a bad thing.
My camera bodies are pretty straight-forward and consistent. Ten years ago I used only Nikon film cameras, but in my opinion digital cameras by Canon just seemed to be easier to interface with and have never let me down. (I promise I’m not trying to pick a fight with anyone.) A lot of the young photographers I know are always talking about the newest, latest technology coming out, and I suppose I was the same way in my Twenties, but once I started using the full frame Canon 5D, and now the Canon 5D Mark II, I stopped looking at other cameras. Much like looking at new cars, the bells and whistles all look great, but once you find something sturdy and reliable that works for you, you quit shopping. I’m sure I’ll upgrade to the Canon 5D Mark III eventually, but I currently use my Canon 5D Mark II for just about everything, with the Canon 5D Mark I charged as a back-up. For fun I also carry a point-and-shoot waterproof Fuji XP200 for outtakes and such.
Since my Boy Scouting days I’ve gotten used to physically packing light, so my kit of lenses has always been kept pretty simple. For years I only used a Canon 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II, necessary to capture as wide a scene as possible without the crazy amount of distortion you might get in a 24mm or fisheye. This derived from my introduction to photography coming from photo-journalism. Shooting with the 28mm is perfect for teaching you about photography, forcing you to get up-close and personal, showing as much of the scene as possible, sometimes forcing you to tell a full story in one shot from one perspective. The 105mm zoom wasn’t too intense of a zoom, just helpful enough to get me that much closer to the action when necessary. It was the only lens I knew.
Once I finally out-grew the dynamic distortion of the 28mm, I graduated to the lens that most people start with, the standard 50mm. It’s the predominant lens I’ve used the last five or six years, and as everyone knows, you can pretty much do anything with a 50mm and natural light. My cheap and reliable Canon 50mm f/1.8, which has been dropped, kicked, and more, will someday fail me, but not today.
I was lucky enough to take an intense month-long photo trip through Europe last year and knew that, even though I hated the distance it forces you to be away from your subject, I had to acquire a longer zoom. The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 is a great lens, but not always worth the weight. That thing’s a tank. Still, I appreciate it on the rare occasions I need it.
Currently though, my favorite lens is one a friend recommended, the Canon 40mm f/2.8, which I refer to as the “snub-nose.” It’s got a flat face, jutting out barely an inch from the lens mount, and man, it just takes some clear, crisp images. I love how it works and now use it 75% of the time.
My family and friends tease me about this, but I think a roll of masking tape is a must. I can pretty much construct or repair anything with a roll of masking tape, and if you think I’m joking, I’m really not. I’ve fabricated Victorian collars, made functional moccasins, and pieced together whole sets with that stuff. It’s like magic. The same can be said for a cigarette lighter, but for the opposite reason. It seems I’m always either making things or destroying them. Lately I’ve been putting my equipment in harm’s way a lot, either playing in bodies of water or using small but deliberate amounts of fire during shoots. It’s good to have that sense of spontaneity, something I can’t exactly control and have to work around. Call me crazy, but it just helps make me focus more on the moment.
The only other thing worth mentioning, and I don’t really think it is, would be this long, thin piece of ripped lace. You wanted me to be honest, so here I go. Often during shoots I will grab random objects to place in the foreground to add a bit of distortion in front of the lens, and this strip of lace stands in great when I don’t have anything else readily available. It really adds another little layer of uncertainty and haze that can work well. I also always have clothes pins and clips for tightening up clothing or securing a backdrop. Other than that, I think the rest of the contents of my bag are kind of boring but necessary, like my flash and extra batteries for both the flash and cameras. I recently stopped carrying my Pocket Wizards because the off-chance I’d use some of my more advanced lighting equipment became more and more infrequent.
Inside Mark’s camera bag:
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