Photographer Angela Martin Explains How to Pack and Carry Your Photography Gear

Angela Martin

Many photographers find it difficult to decide what to bring to a job and how pack and carry everything they need. We have therefore talked with award winning photographer Angela Martin from Light Brew Photography and asked her to share her best packing tips.

Read on to find out what Angela always brings to a job, how she packs things, what kind of bag she prefers and how she would design the ultimate photographer bag!

What top 3 things do you always bring to a job besides your cameras, flashes, etc.?

My basic photographic philosophy influences significantly my approach to gear, including everything from the cameras I carry to the clothes I wear. About 90% of my work occurs outdoors, often in rural areas, on beaches, in parks and nature preserves, or sometimes in cities and small towns. I try to capture meaningful images of landscapes, structures, and nature that convey my own uniquely emotional experience of the subject at hand.

I encounter diverse environments, each with its own challenges. No matter when and where I’m shooting, however, I find that my best photographs are the ones that accurately capture my emotional connection with my subjects; something very much influenced by my experience of the environment.

Ignoring my physical and psychological comfort while working has a negative impact on my receptiveness to the subject at hand and my willingness to photograph often and for long periods of time. Discomfort can also affect the quality of my work. Obviously, choice of cameras, lenses, bags and other professional gear are an important part of achieving the best possible connection with my subjects.

However, there are three other types of things I always bring on a shoot that support my physical comfort, improve my ability to use my gear, and minimize my worry: the right footwear, unpolarized sunglasses, and high-quality handouts illustrating my work.

Bison

High-Quality Handouts

I’m sure most photographers bring along business cards when they’re out on a job; cards are great marketing tools for people you encounter that are interested in your work. They’re also good to give to anyone that agrees to allow you to take their photograph in exchange for a copy. I find it useful, however, to have something more when I’m trying to obtain permission to photograph on private property.

For example, one of my photographic series, American Dream, consists of images of abandoned and derelict places. These places are almost always on private property, so I often must approach or encounter sensitive land owners that are suspicious of my intentions. In the past, I always worried about these encounters, and this worry negatively impacted my work.

I decided to have a high-quality, bi-fold pamphlet printed that contains an artist’s statement about the series, some of my photographs, and a brief bio on the back. This pamphlet is a great tool to share with property owners, as it illustrates both that I’m a legitimate documentary and fine art photographer and the types of photographs I hope to achieve. People tend to be impressed by the professionalism conveyed by this handout and reassured about my intentions while on their property.

Consequently, having a few copies of pamphlets like these along on a shoot reduces my worry about getting permission to shoot, and increases my level of comfort on the job. They don’t weigh much or take up much space in my bag, it doesn’t cost a lot to have them printed, and they also make great marketing tools I use in all sorts of other situations.

American Dream

Unpolarized Sunglasses

Why do I specifically carry unpolarized sunglasses whenever I have my camera? As I mentioned, 90% of my work is outdoors. I must always be prepared for bright conditions, because I have astigmatism and my eyes are very sensitive to light. If I’m squinting and uncomfortable while working, I can’t obtain the focus and patience I need to capture my photographic vision. It’s true that polarized sunglasses are safer for your eyes, and I wear them when I’m not on a job, but they can cause many problems when I try to use them with my digital cameras.

I use rangefinder style cameras with hybrid optical viewfinders that include an electronic visual overlay. In optical mode, I often rely on the live histogram displayed in the viewfinder to help me fine tune exposure. Unfortunately, polarized sunglasses make the electronic overlay invisible. This is a real problem for me, because not only am I unable to see the live histogram, I also cannot see the frame which indicates the field of view captured by the focal length of whatever lens I’m using.

When wearing polarized sunglasses, I also can’t see the alternative electronic viewfinder on my camera or the image in the LCD screen on the back. This makes accurate composition impossible. Bringing along a pair of unpolarized sunglasses easily solves these problems. And it ensures that I’m going to be comfortable on the job, even on the sunniest of days.

Beach Umbrellas

Appropriate Footwear

People don’t often think about how much outdoor photographers rely on their feet to get to locations or to move around a scene in search of the right composition. Street photographers also spend hours standing and waiting or traveling around the city on foot. Wearing the right footwear for the job may seem like a no-brainer, but it takes foresight and planning.

Shoes or boots that keep my feet comfortable and dry over long periods of time and distances are as necessary for me as the right camera and lenses for a job. In fact, investing in quality, durable footwear is as important to an outdoor photographer as investing in quality camera gear. Aching or cold and wet feet can make the difference between a successful, inspiring shoot and a disappointing waste of time and money.

I typically wear hiking shoes or boots when I know I’m going to be off-pavement and climbing over roots and rocks. If it’s warm and dry, I wear hiking shoes by Keane, as I find this brand to be durable and comfortable right out of the box. If it’s cold, wet, or snowy, I wear waterproof boots by Lowa, as they really do keep my feet dry and warm. I also use crampons and gaiters in winter when appropriate. I try to keep more than one pair and type of footwear in the car, so I’m always prepared for unforeseen conditions.

Solitude

How do you carry your stuff to a job and on the job?

For years, I shot with a Canon DSLR and the requisite range of five to six lenses covering focal lengths from wide angle to extreme telephoto. This gear was heavy and most of the lenses were quite large. Consequently, I had to use a huge Tamrac Expedition 7 backpack to lug all this gear to locations off the beaten path. When empty, this backpack was already almost as heavy as one of the smaller, fully-loaded bags I use today.

My decision to sell my prized Canon gear and invest in Fujifilm mirrorless cameras and lenses is the best one I have ever made as a photographer. My cameras and lenses are much smaller, lighter and inconspicuous, with no compromise in image quality. Now I shoot more often, carry a camera with me just about everywhere, and I’m constantly improving my craft. Minimalism regarding my gear has also become my mantra; I keep my kit simple, light and small. I always work to balance my desire for a variety of lenses while on a job with weight and size considerations.

My minimalist approach influences greatly the qualities I look for in bags and backpacks. Choosing the right bag for the job is also one of the strategies I use to achieve comfort in various shooting environments and a relaxed, thoughtful connection with my subjects. I like bags that are light, yet durable, waterproof, and with lots of compartments to efficiently store lenses and other gear, like filters, memory cards, and spare batteries.

After switching over to a mirrorless system, it was difficult for me to find professional quality bags and packs that were designed to efficiently carry smaller camera bodies and lenses. The smaller DSLR backpacks are much deeper than necessary and the interior compartments in DSLR bags are too large and deep and don’t come with enough dividers. Interior compartments that are too large are a waste of space and don’t hold expensive gear securely to prevent damage and maintain organization.

Atown Sound

Fortunately, Tenba created a range of professional, quality bags specifically for mirrorless camera systems. I have the Tenba Messenger DNA 11 shoulder bag that I use for small, local shoots. It’s width, depth and height are proportioned right for mirrorless systems, and it has plenty of interior dividers to create a custom fit for my gear. I can get two camera bodies and 3-4 smaller lenses in this bag, plus filters, batteries, and more.

At 9.5 inches tall, it does require layering some of my gear to get it fully loaded. I maintain a center space wide and deep enough to accommodate one camera body with a smaller lens attached, a narrower compartment to one side to accommodate another camera body, and a compartment on the other side to stack lenses. I store the items I use less frequently, like filters or flashes, in the compartments below the cameras, and stack my lenses according to size and frequency of use. This way I can grab most of what I need on a job without a lot of digging.

There are, however, a couple of drawbacks to the Tenba bag design for me. I find, for example, that if I’m working quickly and changing lenses often, the bag easily becomes disorganized because of the stacking required to fit my gear. Also, although it comes with a rain cover to resist the elements, I find this bag rather “fancy” for more rugged environments.

Consequently, I use a backpack for bigger shoots and when traveling. Right now, I’m using the Altura Wanderer backpack. It’s inexpensive, water resistant and its main compartment is only 5.5 inches deep, which is perfect for mirrorless systems. It also has room for my 12.9 inch iPad Pro or a similarly sized laptop. This backpack can hold a couple of camera bodies and 4-6 six lenses, along with other gear, like cables and batteries. I do find it lacking in the number of compartments available to organize smaller, fiddly bits, like memory cards and batteries, but it gets the job done.

The Remains of Days

I use this backpack as a carry-on when I’m flying with my gear. It fits under seats and in overhead compartments easily, even with my carbon tripod attached on the outside in the integrated tripod holder. I also use it when I’m working out of the back of a vehicle. I like that it’s lightweight and it makes organizing my bodies and lenses easy, as there are plenty of Velcro dividers to customize the interior, and no stacking is required. Consequently, I tend to stay more organized when I’m working out of this pack.

Finally, sometimes I don’t want to commit to carrying a camera bag at all. When I’m hiking, I often use a cross-body sling pack by Patagonia. It’s not made for camera gear, but I can easily carry an extra lens in a padded case in this pack, batteries, and the other things I need while hiking, like water. Once again, I like this light, minimalist approach. I haven’t found a camera sling pack that suits both my hiking and photography needs.

If you were to design the ultimate photographer bag, what would you focus on?

If I could design one, ultimate camera bag that best suits my type of outdoor photography, it would be a hybrid backpack; one that combines some of the most useful features of my current camera backpack with some of the most useful features of my North Face laptop backpack, along with a few additional design elements I haven’t found anywhere. I would use this pack for travel and working out of the back of a vehicle.

My ultimate backpack would have a main compartment of a depth appropriate to mirrorless camera systems (about 6 inches) with plenty if Velcro dividers for customizing the number and size of padded compartments. It would be possible to unzip the backpack on three sides, so the top flap could lay completely open. It would also have a separate compartment behind the main body of the pack next to my back that is accessible from the top, outside of the backpack. This large, but narrow compartment would have two slots layered one on top of the other; one sized for a 15-inch laptop and one for a 12.9-inch tablet. Like a good laptop backpack, the compartment would be padded, and each slot would be lined with a soft, fleece-like material.

Autumn at Golden Pond

The flap of the backpack that zips closed over the main compartment containing cameras and lenses, would offer a series of layers of compartments. First, I would have 3 zippered compartments stacked horizontally, largest on the bottom, accessible only from the inside of the flap. All these zippered areas would be transparent, and the bottom one would contain built in slots for camera batteries and individual types of cables. The middle compartment would have a few slots for filters, and the topmost one would have integrated slots for memory cards and other small items.

Next to this first layer of zippered compartments and closer to the outside of the flap would be another layer of storage accessible only from the outside. This compartment would be split vertically, with one side sized for a portable, wireless hard drive, and the other side sized for the laptop power supply and other cables. There would be additional smaller, zippered compartments on the outside of the top flap for additional small items. I would also, design my ultimate camera backpack with integrated straps that allow me to pull the top flap tighter, so that it becomes flatter when it’s not full.

Finally, my ultimate backpack would have to be light, yet rugged, and made from a durable, waterproof material that resists dirt, as well as wear and tear. Muted earth tones that don’t easily show dirt and materials that don’t attract lint and pet hair would both be a plus. A structured, stiffer bottom that helps the backpack stand upright, when desired, would also help keep the pack clean and dry. The final, must-have features on my wish list are waterproof and locking zippers, an integrated cover for the pack to make it more secure and protect it during transport, and an external, integrated tripod holder on one side.

Visit Angela Martin on her website and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter


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One Comment

  1. This is very impressive and great work.

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