How To » Carry the gear
Until they start including a free assistant with every DSLR system sold, the challenge of "how do you carry all this junk" remains a tough one. The problem is compounded when you consider that in order to capture a fleeting moment, you may be required to get a camera out of a bag and up to your eye in seconds.
Over the years, I have tried bulky, padded photo backpacks, shoulder bags, and even a custom-made messenger-style bag my wife and I designed. Nothing is perfect; it's all compromise.
Nature photographers have been the biggest supporters of photo backpacks. Backpacks distribute the weight, but at the expense of accessibility. Every time you want to take a photo, you have to take the backpack off, put it down, open it up, and get out the gear. Try doing that in the middle of rush hour in a Moscow metro station, or while photographing oyster farmers in two feet of freezing seawater. My other beef with these behemoths is that they can weigh close to 10 pounds empty. Still, if you have to carry big lenses or a heavy load into the backcountry, this is your only alternative. When I am carrying the kitchen sink including a big telephoto, I'll grab my ThinkTank Airport Acceleration- just big enough to hold everything I need, and petite enough to fit on smaller aircraft without a gate check.
Photojournalists have long relied on rectangular-shaped, compartmentalized shoulder bags. While solving the problem of easy access, the danger of spinal damage becomes very real when carrying an array of f/2.8 zooms and professional bodies that can weigh over 30 pounds since the load is borne entirely by your shoulders and back. I just can't use these anymore!
When I need fast access to my cameras and lenses, I use a ThinkTank holster and waist belt system. A camera and favorite lens can be accessed within about 10 seconds from the holster. I'll store extra lenses and a flash in a waist bag. This way, the weight is split between your shoulder/back (the holster) and hips (waist pack). Ok, like I said earlier nothing is perfect. You do look a bit dorkier with a toolbelt and scads of pouches hanging off of you. But look at it this way, with the money you will save in chiropractic bills you can afford a nicer shirt and some new shoes.
I use ThinkTank bags exclusively. Their cases are designed for working photojournalists who need fast access to their equipment. Zippers are sturdy and the bags are trim. Little things, like mesh pouches on the outside of lens cases to hold lens caps, are thoughtful add-ons. Every assignment requires a slightly different set of tools. These are some examples of how I pack my ThinkTank bags depending on the job.
ThinkTank special offer: clicking on the links below will bring you to the ThinkTank website using my Affiliate page (code AP-195). You will qualify for a free accessory (like the Cable Management 20, Pixel Pocket Rocket, Modular Pouch, or Security Tag) when you spend $50 or more.
- Fast & light: Nikon D300s body, 10-24mm lens, 35mm lens, 105mm lens, and sound recorder in a ThinkTank Speed Freak beltpack.
- Documentary: Nikon D3s body w/16-35mm lens in a ThinkTank Digital Holster 40; Zoom H4n sound recorder, 24-70mm, 105mm micro, 70-200mm, and a flash in a ThinkTank Speed Freak beltpack or Airport Ultralight backpack.
- Backcountry: Nikon D3s body w/16-35mm lens in a ThinkTank Digital Holster 40; everything else in a ThinkTank Airport Acceleration backpack.
- Air travel: Laptop, hard drives, Nikon D3s body w/24-70mm lens, and Zoom H4n in a ThinkTank Urban Disguise 60, which fits neatly under the seat; everything else in a ThinkTank Airport Ultralight backpack or ThinkTank Airport Acceleration backpack, which fits in the ooverhead compartment.
To read more about the cameras, lenses, and accessories I use, check out my "In the bag" page.