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.
Nearly 85% of my jobs I use my Lowepro Pro Roller x200. This has been my bag of choice for a while now, it allows me to carry everything I need and then some. Generally, here’s how it’s packed:
- Canon Mark III 1Ds
- Canon 5D Mark II
- Canon 50mm 1.2
- Canon 85mm 1.8
- Canon 24-105mm
- Canon 70-300mm
- 5 Gepe card cases
- SanDisk card reader
- 15’ tether cord
- 6’ tether cord
- Sekonic Flash Meter
- Canon cord lock
- Canon batteries for both cameras
- Canon battery chargers for both cameras
- Air Rocket blower -spare AAs
- Laptop power cords
- 3-Prong Power Splitter
- business cards, promo cards and band aids
- ColorMunki Monitor Calibrator
- portable hard drive
- Wacom Bamboo Tablet
When I have a shoot that requires me to be mobile and I’m not using my laptop on set, I’ll download to a Lowepro SlingShot 202aw. This has worked well for me for the most part, but I was looking for something in the middle. Sometimes I just don’t need all the above, and the SlingShot 202aw is a bit too small, and even if it manages my cameras, lenses and accessories, it doesn’t hold a laptop. I usually get a lot of work done on the plane, and other clients don’t walk away from their needs just because I’m in another city, so I need it with me.
ALWAYS keeping an eye on the new gear out there, I came across Lowepro’s Fastpack 350, and it is a great solution to this middle ground. Here it is packed for a typical assignment where I don’t need the full kit, and need to be mobile over any terrain.
It’s got enough room for all of this:
- Canon Mark III 1Ds
- Canon 5D Mark II
- Canon 50mm 1.2
- Canon 85mm 1.8
- Canon 24-105mm
- 5 Gepe card Cases
- SanDisk Card Reader
- Batteries for both cameras, chargers incl.
- Air Rocket Blower
- Portable hard drive
- Long Sleeve shirt or lightweight Rain Jacket
- Laptop and power cords
- Wacom Bamboo Tablet
- iPad (if desired)
- Spare batts, chargers, etc
- (I’d probably be able to get one or two more lenses in there as well if necessary, all depends on the needs of the job)
Every so often I get asked about my path as a commercial photographer, so I thought I’d share the story with you all.
I went to college having the thought in my mind that I wanted to be a trainer for a pro sports team. I had a large number of injuries in High School sports and coming back from all of them through training, I was really into how to sports medicine worked. My best friend was surprised I didn’t want to do something in the arts, as I was always drawing, painting or making pictures, but I was convinced I knew my path. Oddly enough, he predicted I’d change my mind.
I also went to school planning to play soccer for four more years. The first trimester I had an awful advisor who despite my busy soccer schedule put me in an 8am bio class and two other classes that fell right before meals and just barely around soccer practice, combined with volunteering at the training room, I basically missed eating normal meals for 10 weeks. I went from 155lbs to 140lbs when everyone else was putting on the “freshman 15” I was wasting away. As well, my grades suffered. Going into the second trimester, I decided to take a drawing class, figuring that I would make an A, and that began my path of always taking an art class.
Come the spring trimester the next class was intro to photography. I again figured I could ace the class having shot with cameras since I was six years old. I immediately fell back into line with the love of the darkroom, and found myself spending more time in there than in the training room. I changed advisors and was fortunate to have the head of the art department as a leader, he recommended me for a school program in NY where I would work for two photographers in NYC for a trimester and get school credit. That summer I worked for a photography agent, and as good as an experience as it was, I didn’t want to be an agent. I did however, get to learn about the agent’s position in the game, and she had me arranging portfolios for the various clients, something that later was extremely valuable.
I got into the NY Arts Program my junior year, and it changed my life. I got back to school knowing that I wanted to work in the photography field, and to a degree, felt that school was a bit of a waste of time…the real world was where it was at. However, I gained so many additional credits, that finishing school seemed the right thing to do.
That next summer I got an internship at Condenast, working at GQ Magazine. This was an amazing experience, and made me realize how having a good amount of photography knowledge, and a good sense for business, I could do well there. I also believed at the time that I would rather direct photographers then be one full-time. I would always have photography and could shoot my “art” on the side…I’m sure many of you know that desire to be more of an artist than a commercial photographer.
During that tenure, they threw me a bone and I shot a book for a book review for an issue the night before the issue was to ship. I volunteered even tough all I had for lights was a Canon 480 Speedlight. I didn’t even own a stand. I hand-held the light and flashed it closing my eyes just after to get a sense of where the shadow was going to fall. I repeated this till I got the shadow to fall right, and there was my first professional magazine shoot, and the start of a six and a half year still-life photography career. I freelanced at GQ that following winter break and really enjoyed it, and despite my desire to be just be an editor, the still life shoots came in and I continued to shoot for GQ as well as other titles I eventually worked for.
After I graduated, GQ didn’t have a position for me, so I worked at Condenast’s archive separating Irving Penn’s and Elliot Erwitt’s pictures for House & Garden from their earlier days. All the while, GQ worked to open a space for me. By the fall I was full-time freelance at GQ, rising to the Associate Photo Editor within a year and then over to Esquire, ESPN the Magazine, Blaze (Vibe spin-off), Men’s Health Teen, Men’s Journal, US Weekly, and Marie Claire. As time progressed I met many of the great magazine photographers out there, some of the legends, and always shot on the side. I directed these photographers and often was on set, where I witnessed their lighting first-hand.
I rose to Director of Photography by 26, and sort of hit the wall. I enjoyed editing, but began to shoot so much combined with realizing much of what I was assigning I could shoot. I had shed much of the still life shoots for portraits and did a bit of self-assigning, which included the shot of Walt shown above. I was getting some decent assignments here and there then I caught a big break when a story with Heather Graham came up at Marie Claire, and the Creative Director and Publicity Director wanted me to go to India to document the actress’s journey for a feature article. After that, I knew I was done at the desk. I just felt more at home on location, and realized that I could handle the stories myself, but I was still afraid of leaving editing all together.
In New York, once you are known for one thing it’s hard to be thought of as anything else. Many of my peers knew me as a photo editor, so getting work, as a photographer was sometimes easy, but often difficult. I decided I needed to leave NY for a while, get people to forget about me as an editor. I was able to take a job as the photo editor of Muscle & Fitness Magazine in LA with a deal where I would shoot for them as well. They got a great deal from me, and I would get my opportunities to shoot as well as leave NY. This was a great move except I just didn’t like life in LA; the traffic drove me away in less than two years. I was offered an editing job for a small publisher but turned it down, as I’d made up in my mind I wanted to shoot more than edit. The Creative Director then came back to me with an offer to be their Chief Photographer for them, assigning other photographers if I needed to, as well as run the department’s budget as I wanted. I took the job.
Upon my return to NY, a friend said he thought I came back too soon, that I should have held out longer. We happened to go to a networking party that evening and let me tell you, I think two weeks out of NY would have been enough. All my peers who I had not stayed in touch with asked what I was up to and I told them I was shooting now. It was the truth, albeit stretched a bit, but I was able to say it since the job I took had a lot of liberties on time, and when I was shooting for them, I was booked…something that came into play fantastically as I positioned myself as a wanted man. Photo editors in general want to work with working photographers. And I should mentioned, I think two weeks would have been enough to be out of NY for people to forget about me!
I stayed as the Chief Photographer for the media company for three years till they went Chapter 7. Two of my assistants joined the department and we were a pretty solid department. Shooting 85% of the then five titles artwork, and I can proudly say, always under budget.
Unfortunately the rest of the company wasn’t as efficient. The company was having problems for a while, and I contemplated leaving to shoot full-time as I was very busy freelancing on the side, but the Chapter 7 announcement came a bit out of nowhere.
I was pretty scared to leave; I had recently bought a house, and now had two young sons. All the reasons I had talked myself out of leaving the security of the full-time job. The very next day I sold two images from a story I shot for Muscle & Fitness to an ad firm for $5000, and I was safe for a few months. Things took off very quickly from there, and I found the freedom of time that I now had, not having to report to an office for someone else, led to so much more time to concentrate on my photography business.
So that was how it began, definitely not the conventional path. I’ve mentioned in many of my lectures and blogs that the experiences I had in college and as an editor certainly helped form how I run my business, so if you are in a full-time position and looking to make the move, take stock in what experiences you have now and think about how they can help you run your photography business. I don’t believe photographers in general realize how much of this career is about business and not about the art of being a photographer. If you haven’t heard my lecture on the Business of Photography yet, please check out the webinar at http://www.lowepro.com/ask-the-pro it’s available to view anytime. If you only take one piece of advice from it, that’s one more piece of knowledge you didn’t have yesterday.
I got a call from the editor of Muscular Development to see if I would be interested in shooting a day in the life of champion pro bodybuilder Jay Cutler, a four-time Mr. Olympia and fan favorite. Hell yes!
The editor was introducing me to the magazine as a new photographer, and he’d nicely laid his reputation out on them hiring me. Like many magazines these days, budget was a concern, and I would have to do this one sans assistant.
I’ve shot these kind of stories before, and many times I will just go available light, to be able to get closer, and more “fly-on-the wall” with the subject. We all learn from our best shoots and our worst shoots, and although the available light thing worked for me on a few of these kinds of stories, it failed however whenever I found myself in situations of extreme exposures. Cutler’s home base of Vegas is all about that. It’s bright as hell outside and inversely dark inside. Balancing that would be easy if I had my assistant and time to make adjustments, so how could I solve this without? I needed to be able to move fast, anticipate things and not interrupt the natural flow of the story. Of course I knew I could just do flash on camera, I have a few modifiers that would make it at least a little more interesting. Or Flash on a cord, but that has seemingly gone out of style with digital and the telephoto lenses that are more popular than fixed lenses, and more versatile on stories like this. Or of course I could use a Stroboframe, or even a magic arm I have with a camera mount. But weight and limitations from past assignments were turning me off to that, I would have liked to had an assistant with a light on a stick ala Larry Fink, but instead it would be on my shoulders to do something more than just shoot available light. So I decided to do just that…
I thought if I could rig a Photoflex OctoDome nxt extra small light modifier with a Canon 580ex flash to a hiking backpack I’d have more freedom to shoot without being cord-tangled. The frames are light, usually hollow aluminum, so I was thinking with a superclamp and pin, or a magic arm, I could rig the light above me, maybe hang it out to the side.
I was in Minneapolis that week for a shoot, and just happened by a camping store, so I checked out what they had, $150+ or more was certainly not worth it for a backpack with or without a frame, and something I’d likely not use again but once in a blue moon. I checked online with some army-navy surplus, and they had some nice options for $35 or so for just a frame, but then I realized that I’d need to be able to carry some gear, and although I could probably get away with a couple LowePro S&F Series Pouches on a belt for that, maybe there was a better way.
I then jumped on the LowePro site, and almost immediately found the Scope Porter 200 AW. Made primarily for bird-watchers who want to carry a scope and fully opened tripod out into the field with ease this could be modified to be the perfect bag. I called up a contact of mine there, and mentioned what I was thinking…prefacing that it was a bit odd…he laughed, and said, “yes I think that could work…let me see what the guys think.” Within a matter of minutes I had a text message with a picture of the guys in California with a stand rigged to the bag, and that same Photoflex OctoDome attached. Lock it in.
I had the bag a few days later, and it could not have been more perfect. Ergonomic as it gets, which means the comfort level would be high, and the accessory pockets on the side would hold all my extras, batteries, cards, lenses, and slap on the S&F Water Bottle Pouch and Cell Phone case attached to the waist straps, and I had everything within reach. I was pleasantly surprised to find the bottom of the center tunnel has a velcro-adjustable flap, (my guess it to be able to store something under the scope one would normally carry there), but for me, that meant I could avoid an unnecessary stand, which was my original plan to use. Now I could put a simple floor plate at anywhere from bottom to about 1-5” off the bottom of the bag, attach a Photoflex Extension arm, (actually it’s a LiteStand without the base), instead of a stand with cumbersome legs and now travel even lighter. The ability to move that velcro pad turned out to be crucial, as I could keep a few things under it, but also use it to raise the floor plate up a little, giving me a little more options with the height of the extension arm. As well, the coincidentally perfectly placed opening to the bag was just the right spot for my Turbo battery. The top of the bag had a sliplock strap (again, perfectly placed as if I had asked for one there), and I used that to help keep the extension arm perpendicular to the ground.
From there I attached a Photoflex Umbrella Bracket and with the OctoDome’s adjustable shoemount hardware, I slid on a Pocket Wizard TT5 unit and my 580EX. Note I have the TT5 and flash facing backwards, this I had to do as the TT5 is too large, and I wanted the 580EX inside the dome. I could have used a regular Pocket Wizard and show mount, but the advantage with the TT5 when coupled with the Mini tt1 unit is that I could now shoot TTL! Showing up to Jay’s door looking like an idiot with an octabank hovering over my head would surely be, well, interesting…
Freedom is an understatement, I could shoot vertical and horizontal without any cords getting in the way, any brackets to flip, and within minutes, I even knew how to twist my back a little bit when I was juxtaposing my subject to the left or right, but still wanted that light coming from straight on. The height of the dome, about 3-5” above my noggin was perfect. Jay has deep-set eyes, and with the double baffles in the OctoDome I was able to keep the shadows to a minimum, but still get really nice shape to the light, as well as consistency through the use of the TTL feature of the tt1-TT5 units. As well, for a few shots, I wanted to get the key light off my back and I was able to quickly remove the Extension arm and have someone hold it then pop it right back into place in the bag. Very little effort to do so, meant I could be quick. We were moving to many locations, and I got a lot of looks and a few chuckles, but didn’t matter to me, I was comfortable and knew I was getting great shots with the added light.
Here I am doing that twist to keep the light on Jay. (photo by Sean Andros/Muscular Development)
Stay tuned for the June issue of Muscular Development for the Day in the Life Feature with Jay Cutler.
Special thanks on this one to Josh Semolik/Lowepro, Sean Andros/Muscular Development, and Photoflex