WHAT TO PACK
Gear Packing For Commercial Shoots,
Vacations & Local Walkabouts

When I go traveling with camera, whether it be for vacation, random walkabout or even a commercial shoot, there is always a decision to figure out what gear to pack. I always seem to grab a lens or two that I most likely will not use, but the voice in the back of my head tells me I better take it... Just in case.

As it usually turns out, I didn't end up using the lens at all. But... Being in the middle of a shooting experience and finding that you did need that lens you left at home, makes you not so happy with yourself at that moment. I have been on both sides of the choice before and most of the time, the lens I left at home was not missed.

The first time I was going on a cruise to the French West Indies, I naturally packed about every thing I had into a big camera bag. Since the bag was in my "carry-on" luggage, I found out very quickly how much of a task it was to lug around airports and to keep up with. I had two pro bodies and about five lens along with every other gadget in my arsenal, the gear bag was quite bothersome to carry around.

When it was all said and done a week later, I realized that I only used two of the lens and the second body never even saw the light of day. The gear bag was so big and heavy that I left it on the ship while I was out shooting anyway. Looking back on the trip, I see I could have just taken the one body and two lens and came back with the same images that I had captured.

Since I don't want to see my gear slammed around with mountains of luggage on automated conveyors and baggage handlers, I must plan to take what I am willing to want to carry around when the photography experience involves air travel.

As for going on local walkabout, I determine what lens I feel like using and then make the most of it. Usually that is a 28-200 zoom and a 64gb SD card with a few extra cards in my pocket (which I have never needed to use during a walkabout).

Driving To Shooting Locations
On the other hand, if going on a commercial shoot that I am driving too, I will pack almost everything. Although I may pick out a certain rig from the bag to do the shoot, I always knew I had the full gear bag available in the car.

If your car will be parked in a safe location, then you might was well max out the gear bag since you wont actually have to carry the bag around during the shoot. If you don't use the extra gear, it's no big deal since you were not lugging it around during the shoot. But then... couldn't you just carry 1 body and a 18-300mm lens and not needed any other glass options? Yes, but that would take some of the fun out of it

On a commercial shoot for a small theme park brochure, I packed a 70-300 on my Nikon D2x and ended up shooting for six hours and never felt the need for other glass. Since the images were for a brochure and advertising, I used the long lens to make it easier to isolate the models from the surrounding areas more adequately.

Even the few images I captured with a 28-105mm could have been achieved with the longer lens I used most of the day,

It's More Than Just Making Images
To get the front cover shots and billboard ads as shown in the pop up window images, I had to ride in the front car looking back over the rest for what seemed like a couple dozen times. Since we couldn't really keep the coaster stationary and stage the perfect image, I had to hopefully grabbed a few during the continuous trips around the track with my finger firing away repeatedly on the shutter.

Although I had several other pieces of glass in the trunk of the car, I found that the 70-300mmm was ideal for separating the subject from the surrounding areas. After shooting Santa's Land the following season and also the "Ruby & Gem Mine" attraction, having the maximum gear close by in the car can prove just as beneficial at times as it will also be unnecessary at times.

Although this trip was a combination Commercial & Pleasure Shoot, I certainly wanted to be able to enjoy my time touring and not be so focused on having to keep up with a bunch of gear. Carrying two cameras along or a bag full of gear proved to lessen the quality of the experience. If it is strictly a commercial shoot, then I will not be so focused on the surroundings but also don't want to restrict mobility due to having a bunch of "stuff" to keep up with.

Traveling With Your Gear Bag
Not all shoots will be packed with the maximum gear, especially when you are going to travel by air and do most shooting on walkabouts. Much like going on vacation and having to limit what you carry around when you are out and about.

For a month long shoot in Europe, I naturally packed about every piece of hear I had that I could use as "carry-on" for the flight over and back. On several day adventures, I tried packing two cameras. One with a 18-70mm and the other with a 70-300mm (both were crop frame bodies).

I soon realized that I don't like carrying extra gear on my person when doing walkabout shoots, I have to be happy with the choice I make prior to shooting. Out of all the glass I took to Europe, I ended up only shooting the most with those two lens. Even on the indoor shoots of wine tastings I had to shoot daily, I found the 18-70 worked good for getting wide shots and strong enough to isolate subjects at 70mm.

The more important thing of what to pack for travel, is to pack what you are using the most already. You will be looking for those pieces first when you get there. If room in the gear bag permits, then add glass and gadgets you may possibly use.

Consider what all you feel up to carrying around and keeping track of after you have gathered your basic gear needs together. On a second walkabout in Montenegro I figured I would switch to the 28-105mm for a change but after the first two shots, I quickly went back to my cabin and swapped back out to the 18-70 I used almost exclusively.

As I re-evaluate what all goes into the gear bag for travel shoots, I found myself wondering why I still was carrying around a bunch of filters used in film shooting and gadgets that I never used at home, so why would I use them on a travel shoot. Yes, I could possibly use the mini tripod but I doubt very seriously I will break out the extension tubes since I also have a macro lens packed. If I go through the gear bag and think about if I would even remotely have a chance at using each piece I had packed, I most likely will not need the giant bag I had packed.

In the end and no matter how long you have been packing a gear bag for travel, you will most likely always over pack. It's probably not very likely that you will change your shooting habits on a shoot where you can't come back and re-shoot. As a result we shoot as much as we can with our normal gear since we have the highest confidence level in the outcome of those shots.

Choosing The Right Bag
Over the Christmas Holidays I went on a weekend trip to Columbia, South Carolina with the intent of having a couple walkabouts downtown. My choices of gear bag were what they had always been... One large bag or one fairly small bag the just held a body and a lens.

I went in search of a medium size bag to fit in the times I need not so much bag but more than the minimum. I really needed a bag that carried enough extra gear but wasn't so big I needed an extra shoulder to carry it with. The giant Pro-Master bag was just too big for walkabouts and the small Nikon bag I have barely held a camera and lens.

Luckily the bag arrived one day before I traveled and 1 body and possibly 3 (depending on focal lengths) lens could fit inside. My laptop has its own case and is always carried along on multiple day shoots. And when flying, I put the laptop in with regular luggage most of the time. Something else to consider when flying if you want to also carry-on your laptop.

Since I was driving to Columbia, it didn't matter what amount of gear to pack. Additionally, I take the laptop if there will be time for processing. On this trip, not only did I have a new bag to try out and see if it's a perfect fit for travel, I also had booked a suite at the hotel that had a nice study area to do processing after the days shoot.

After it was all said and done... I still mostly used one lens and made myself shoot a couple frames with one of the other lens I had packed. At least I didn't go pack the whole arsenal of imaging gear, only to bring it back unused. If I need to spend my time trying to figure out how to squeeze assorted gadgets and rarely used glass into a walkabout, then my focus wont be on track.

Reaching The Sweet Spot
Having that "just-right" amount of gear to pack, carry around and keep track of, is what I call my "Sweet Spot" in the amount of gear to have along for the shoot. After starting out in this craft years ago with a camera and small gear bag, then as my collection of stuff grew, I got a bigger bag, and so forth. Problem was that I had gotten such a large gear bag together that it's not conducive to my shooting patterns.

It does seem that the medium sized gear bag I recently purchased was the Sweet Spot size indeed. I had a little bit more gear than I used during the trip, but the size and weight of the bag made it very easy to manage. Now to see if my new theories of what to pack for commercial shoots works out... or do I end up "wishing" I had brought something that I didn't bring.

At a recent shoot for the Airport Authority, I felt I pretty much knew exactly what I would use and not use as I looked over the gear selection to pack. Of course the 70-300mm was first into the bag along with the 24-85mm which pretty much covers the entire spectrum of focal lengths I would need. As a bonus I tossed the 20mm prime into the bag as well and topping it off with a 105mm macro. Along with my D810 body and battery grip, the only other thing I may need were some polarizing filters.

Since I had shot for them three previous times before, I pretty well knew exactly what I would be shooting and what the client was looking for. And so I went with my new medium size bag but yet it was packed to the gills with a body and 4 lens.

As you can see in the samples in the pop-up window, that my available focal lengths I packed were just right for what I wanted to shoot. And then as you see in the last image of this series that I put the 20mm to good use as well.

Keeping up with the medium size bag was easier than managing a giant "carry-all" type bag which I was able to leave in the vehicle I was being driven around the property in.

For me, I have found my Sweet-Spot of what to pack on shoots, vacations and walkabouts. If you are finding the same frustrations in your gear bag packing, then start scrutinizing your choices more. You know already what you will shoot with, why take tons of things you wont even use.

What it really boils down to, is not how much you packed, but rather how big of a bag you pack and how much you will have to carry it and keep up with its contents. But if you know for sure you wont even use your 50mm prime, that fast 85mm prime and other niche-use glass and gadgets, then don't bring them along.

Hopefully you won't reach a point in the craft of photography that you feel the gear and assorted amounts of gadgets will make you more creative. Your creativity lies within not within your gear bag.

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