Nowadays you can pretty much get a bag for each and every situation you as a photographer may face, and you should. Although it would be perfectly acceptable to have just one camera bag, why not customize to your assignment and utilize the technology that’s available today?
I thought it would be interesting to show you five of the bags I use on a fairly regular basis alongside the images that were created using the bags to get where I needed to go. I use some of these bags more often than others, and yet each is undeniably a valuable asset.
Ultimately, the point here is that an organized and useful bag system is incredibly important in keeping your mind where it should be, on the assignment.
PRO ROLLER x200
Steven Tyler shot on location in Norwood, Mass. Rolling into a location with the Pro Roller is always smooth © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
This is probably my most used bag, whether it’s navigating airports, flights, city streets, taxis, rental cars, or just hotel lobbies, this bag has become a go-to piece of equipment for me.
This is typically how it’s packed. Not shown are my 15” MacBook, external battery and book of notes.
The Pro Roller packed for a job, 2 bodies, 4 lenses, batteries, memory cards, light meter, chargers, laptop, and all necessary cords © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
I use this bag for all my studio shoots, and any location shoot that I know I’ll be rolling into.
What really sold me on this bag was when I had injured my neck and at the time could not easily carry a backpack. This bag saved me, a few months of rehabbing was not stifled by assignments, and I healed quickly.
The summer I got the bag, was a particularly hot one, and I remember just before getting the bag, I had taken a backpack to a shoot at a law firm where I had to dress up, my shirt was soaked. This is easily avoided with the Roller. Even running for a flight is that much easier with up to 50lbs of gear rolling behind me as opposed to it on my back.
One of my favorite features is the built in lock, on the occasions I have no choice but to put the bag under a plane, I know it’s locked and secure.
The Dryzone in use while shooting a story on a sailboat, one less thing to worry about was that my gear would be dry inside the bag no matter what the conditions. Photo by Christopher Parker
When I got the assignment to shoot Fly Fishermen on the Margaree River in Nova Scotia I was told we’d be given all the waterproofing the fishermen would have, waders, and whatnot. We’d be walking regularly through chest deep water. Honestly, I don’t care if I get wet, but what was I going to do with my cameras and lenses? The Dryzone was NECESSARY. It’s kind of hard to trust any waterproof bag when you are about to walk into that river with $15k-20k worth of equipment inside.
Fly Fisherman Charles Gaines on the Margaree River, the rain kept us all wet, but everything inside the Dryzone remained clean and dry. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
At the first deep crossing I had no choice but to go for it. I took a breath and stepped in. The water was just below my chin, (not saying much as I am only 5’5”), but the bag was totally solid. Not a drop of water entered the bag, and my gear was completely dry. I had no more fears when my gear was inside the bag, outside was another story; we had four solid days of rain on the shoot.
As I mentioned, for most of my shoots I use the Pro Roller to carry my gear. On shoots where I will not be tethered to a computer or standing in one place I’ll carry the SlingShot 200aw as my personal item on domestic flights, or internationally where you can’t always use a personal item, I’ll stow it in my checked luggage to use on location.
When I arrive to the hotel or location, I download what I need into the SlingShot and I am off.
A typical example of how I transport my gear in the Pro Roller x200 and download and repack what I need on set with the SlingShot 200aw at the hotel or in the trunk of the car. The Pro Roller also has a tripod mount when inspiration calls and your tripod isn’t accessible. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
On location in Greenland’s polar ice cap.
I love the built in lens cloth, and the outer pockets really allow for storing the little items that help throughout a location shoot- mini flashlight, filters, hand-warmers, pens, batteries etc. – all accessible without taking off the bag. It’s also great when it’s slung around to the front to use it as additional support, giving me just a little more of a solid position when shooting hand-held in low-light conditions.
Rolling a case on this surface would never work, and I am sure a big pack would slow me down, the SlingShot had plenty of room for what I’d need for the time we had on the ice cap. This shot became the opener for the feature story. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
The Pro Roller gets me there, and I’m more mobile with the SlingShot.
Just before the first flight. We had to run off the cliff to launch, so I’d put the camera in the Toploader and run. It was easy pull the camera out as soon as we took flight and put it away for landing. Even though I had cargo pants on, I felt more secure keeping memory cards in the Toploader. Having everything under my chin was far easier than digging into my pockets.
This is a specialty bag for sure, it’s actually great for everyday use, and I will switch it from chest harness to a regular shoulder strap when I am just carrying a camera, lens, batteries and some cards.
When I got an assignment to shoot paragliding in Switzerland and France it was a no-brainer to bring this bag. The top load style allows you to set the camera in the case as if it was sitting securely on a table.
I had never paraglided before, and the guide was quite impressed when after jumping off Mount Saleve I not only changed memory cards, but also changed lenses hundreds of feet in the air as the wind was whipping.
The last shot of the day, I joined one of the guides half way up Mont Blanc in France. It would have been impossible to do this job without the Toploader. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
This is the truly the most modifiable bag system I have ever seen. There are so many combinations you can create for most any shoot. Last year I was given an assignment to shoot five Reality-TV stars for A&E’s Shipping Wars in five remote locations.
The budget wouldn’t allow us to travel with larger lights, and picking up rentals in the various cities would not work in each of the locations. We needed a consistent look, so we had to light it. I had just started using Photoflex’s Triton lights, and the small 300-watt monoblocks could do the trick, so long as we could carry them on the flights.
Fearing any lost luggage issues, we fit 2 heads, 2 batteries with backup batteries, pocket wizards, speed rings, an extension arm, modifiers and any additional accessories in the s&f duffle bag, combined with the Pro Roller, it was considered my “personal item.”
An entire light kit in one carry-on bag, organized so that the TSA didn’t question a thing. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
We checked stands on the flights, and if they didn’t make it, we could hand hold. As it turned out in Colorado, a winter storm negated using our lightweight stands and my assistant became a sturdier stand.
On set with trucker Marc Singer from A&E’s Shipping Wars. My assistant Zach Bako served as light stand. We not only zipped through the shots, but had the ability to do three set-ups in less than 30 min. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
On set, I also shot behind the scenes, and using the Pro Lens Exchange, and two accessory cases, I had all I needed attached to my belt and could work alongside the videographers without being limited in movement whatsoever.
Two added favorites, the cell phone case is amazing and my iPhone is easily accessible with one hand from whatever it’s attached to. The water bottle holder is with me on nearly all travel shoots, I’ve found freeing up my hands in the airport is fantastic, and on the shoot, having water bottles on me when I’m shooting documentary style allows me to keep working without a break…especially in cases where breaks are few and far between.
The final shot used by A&E to promote the show. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
The result was, I hope you agree, a professional quality shoot packed into a carry-on bag.