Beyond The Obvious

When packing your camera bag, here are some not-so-obvious items to include

Over the years I've met a lot of photographers. I continue to work with, meet, and travel with some who are super serious in addition to those who are more casual shooters. Regardless of their level of involvement, some are equipment junkies while others remain minimalists. Both have their place and whatever works that allows them to get better pictures, so be it. Relatively speaking, I tend to travel with just the basics but there are a number of not so obvious items I feel are noteworthy, hence this week's tip.

The obvious: A back up camera body / an assortment of lenses / flash / extra batteries / a polarizer / graduated ND filter. These items are considered "givens" and every camera bag should have a reserved place for each. Below are a few ideas of what else to bring along with thoughts as to why they are important. If they strike a chord, find a niche in your backpack for them.

Mini Mag Light or a Headlamp: I do a lot of work where I need to be in the field before sunrise and after sunset. If the terrain is rocky, loose or tough to navigate, I want to see where I'm headed to prevent twisted ankles or something worse. I tend to use the headlamp more as it provides hands free light.

Leatherman Type Tool: To have a pliers, screw driver, knife, etc. and be contained in a fold up sheath that takes up very little room comes is very handy. It's allowed me to make repairs on either mine or other photographer's gear. If you're traveling by plane, be sure to transfer it into your checked luggage as it may get confiscated. When you arrive at your destination, place it in your bag.

String: When I photograph flowers or other small objects and I can control the environment, a simple piece of string can be invaluable to tie back a distracting branch or other item that may otherwise ruin the background.

Business cards and model releases: There have been many circumstances where I'm photographing a fantastic scene and through it rides a bicyclist. I snap away and strike up a conversation when they reach where I stand. I tell them what I'm doing and ask them to sign a release. Providing them with a business card adds credibility and a comfort level to get them to sign it. A release allows you to submit the image to a stock agency or major photo competition.

Plastic Bag: I carry a large trash bag that takes up little room but keeps either me or my gear dry. If I get caught in the rain, it can be made into a make shift poncho. If there's a light drizzle, I can place it over my camera and tripod and still be able to make photos. If the ground is wet and the best angle to make the photo is from down low, I lay it out and stay dry. This will keep me out in the field longer as I'll be a lot more comfortable.

Your Camera Manual: Many photographers never read their manual. I'm from the opposite school. I have it highlighted and marked with sticky notes as I want to know all my camera can do. More importantly, if something quirky happens, I want to know why it may have occurred. If the manual is back home in the closet, it doesn't do any good. If something does happen to your camera and the explanation is clearly written in black and white, you'll thank your lucky stars you've been toting it around.

Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours.

21 Comments

    In all the decades of my photography, I’ve never needed a tool! Never wished I’d had a screwdriver, anything. Tools are in my truck, but I do not want to add that to my pack, heavy already with lenses!

    Always at the bottom of my pack pretty much year round. Super lightweight windbreaker/rain jacket(Patagonia Houdini is my choice), lightweight gloves, cheap lightweight knee pads. Don’t forget extra batteries for headlamp.

    @drdroad; On a trip to the Smokies, my girlfriend’s Really Right Stuff BH55’s main lock knob jammed closed. Without my Leatherman tool she would have been without the use of her tripod for the entire trip.

    While I get the point about weight, you can pare down a bit too much, too.

    Great ideas here, to which I’d add a Lenspen, small microfiber cloth and blower.

    As for a tool, good call with the Leatherman, but I’m leaning more to a recommendation I just read about on DPReview… a multi-tool for bikes. Has hex wrenches, screwdrivers and some have a small pair of pliers. And if it’s for cyclists, it’ll be fairly light.

    I keep a couple of bread bag sized freezer bags folded in the camera case. My camara bag is on quick connects. On wet days on a hike I will disconnect the strap, pull a bag over the case, poke tiny holes through the bag at the connect points, and connect the case strap through the bag. This keeps the camera bag from being saturated by the end of the day.

    If you do lot of rainy day work, there is merit in a cheap tripod and an umbrella that you have modified to fit a tripod thread.

    The beanbag trick can be made lighter by using the beads for beanbag chairs, or styrofoam peanuts. It can be made cheaper if you use rice for the filler. It can be made edible if you use granola, peanuts, or flake cereal as the filler.

    Having one of those micropacks of kleenex is handy: Blot up water where it shouldn’t be, and also useful behind a tree if the urge catches you far from facilities.

    I’d make that a large maglite! Will never forget hiking 4 miles back to truck in pitch dark at Horseshoe Canyon in Utah, trying to find the next rock cairn 100ft away in a sea of rocks, with a maglite that had a 90 ft range!

    It always astonishes me when I read what’s-in-the-bag and bag essentials articles that no one ever adds the most essential item of all – toilet paper!

    A rubber band. Something so simple can come in handy when filters are on the lens rim too tight – and you need a little grip to unscrew them. I never leave home without one in my bag and it has saved me many times.

    I remove the back seat of my 2001 Jeep TJ put in a carpet covered shelf, I keep everything under the shelf, my dog on top we go every where and take every thing with us. A 4 wheel drive camera bag.

    Thats one of the most practical articles I’ve read here, and I’m giving equal parity to the useful comments. In fact I opened a document page and copied/ pasted all onto it for future reference. (That’s my tip). Also I like a compact filter pouch, but in addition to filters I use the pockets for spare battery, memory cards, lens cloth/ pen, and it takes my lens cover when I’m working. If like me you just use one super Zoom you wont even need a bag on some trips. Like the manual in your phone idea1
    Thanks everyone

    It may be a bit large for packing, but an auto windshield sun-shade makes a great reflector in a pinch. Just be sure to use the aluminized side, not the Hello Kitty picture.. 🙂

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