Photography Equipment: What I Pack, Part 1

I wrote this series six months ago.  Time to show what’s changed in just 6 months….

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve written two series: the first on trends affecting photography and, second, portraits.  I like this format, I admit: if you’ll indulge me, I let my mind mull over a subject, and write what comes to mind.  Sometimes, that means a series that heads a direction which surprises me — like the last, on portraits.

But this next series is on equipment, something I am passionate about.  In true form, it started as a series on lighting:  but quickly morphed.  Maybe that will be next.  Whatever.  Every photographer knows an image is comprised of subject and light; an interplay of emotion and feeling captured by color and shadow.  The importance of having the right piece of equipment (with you) just can’t be overemphasized.  Bad equipment means bad photos, despite what a sales person may tell you
When you think of equipment what flashes in your brain?  Strobes?  Camera? Tripod?  For me, it’s Pelican cases, roller boards, scrim frames and internet connection devices.
I think a lot of photographers make the mistake of trying to force equipment to do something it’s not happy doing, refusing to upgrade when new and better comes out, and buying cheap knock offs of well known work horses.  Knock offs that, like the fake Rolex, fail.
I get Tweets and emails all the time from photographers asking how I’ve captured a particular image.  They are convinced I’ve used super fast lenses, monopods, f 1.3, and magic fairy dust.  (Hush with the fairy comments….)  Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how I shoot, I think it’s worth looking at what I shoot with, because that may surprise you.
Second, I’ll give the same warning I gave in the portrait series:  I am an event photographer.  That means, I have to sacrafice certain things for mobility, portability, and the fast paced environment of an event.  In the case of Internet, I must have it.  Period.  Whether at the Indy 500 with two million fans or in downtown New York at Tribeca Film Festival. 
Next, I pick equipment based on a few rules.  First, will it do what I need it to do, even if it’s not what everyone else uses (or perhaps what it’s designed for)?  Second, is it indestructible but of a weight I can live with?  Third, does it look professional?  Next, is it a work horse?  Last, does it solve a challenge I’ve been trying to fix? 
The answer to these questions dictate how I purchase everything from photo printers to tripods, from suitcases to strobes.  I’ve learned NEVER to buy the cheap option, I avoid Ebay unless desperate, and research, research, research.  My Friday night is often spent at an airport gate looking at new technology and wondering if it’s beneficial to what I do.  No dancing queen here. Lately.
Because of that research, my shooting’s evolved over the years.  What I might of used a few years ago is sitting on a shelf, what I pack has changed, and what I can’t live without on a shoot is different.
Here’s a few things I travel with I can’t live without:
1) Power adapters for both camera and wireless transmitter so I don’t have to rely on batteries.  Sorry $500 turbo batteries: adpaters don’t cause TSA to go into meltdown (especially in Mexico), are lighter, and don’t require charging after a long ass shoot.  Of course, when covering a convention or news event — where I’m mobile — it’s back to two big ass batteries.  But for greenscreen or meet and greet photo executions where the camera is still and on a tripod? Power adapters.  Yeah!
2) My 24 – 85 mm full format (Nikon FX)  lens.
3) MY 18-300 super zoom (Nikon DX) lens. 
4) Pocket Wizard II’s (times 2+) and a camera trigger cord.  ***evolved in last 6 months***
5) Two SB900 flashes, (though these are destined to be upgraded) with connecting PC cable to sync them together.
6) A bracket to hold both flashes above the camera, chopped and reworked by me to fit the camera (none are available that I like commercially).
7) Rechargeable AA batteries by Energizer (the higher the MHZ number the better), and a 15 minute charger.
8) WT-4 Wireless Nikon transmitter.
9) Two laptops
10) One iPad (on some shoots I have 4 iPads in my bag, plus my personal iPad).
11) A tool kit (small screwdriver that will get past TSA, screen wipe, electrical tape, etc.)
12) Two Nikon D700s 
13) Three 4g 5 Ghtz dual band Verizon Internet access cards.  ***evolved last 6 months****
14) two LED flat panel lights and stands, 1×1. ***evolved last 6 months****
That’s pretty much what’s in the carry on bags currently propped under my feet.  Notice a few things missing:   I’m not shooting with D-4’s, I don’t have eight lenses with me, my tripod is almost exclusively used for green screen / meet and greet photo executions, I never understood a monopod, and I don’t spend money on disposable batteries. I do not own a lens cap, lens cap cord, lens cleaner solution, or camera cleaning kit.  I don’t use any kind of lens filters.  When these come with new equipment (“free!”), they go on “the shelf”.
Professional photographers reading this blog might be howling about now!  I don’t own a “fast” lens (except my fish eye and 50 mm), I don’t care if my camera can produce a 300 megapixel image.  I almost never shoot raw (SHAME SHAME SHAME SHAME YOU SUCK SHAME YOU SUCK I AM SO MUCH BETTER BECAUSE I ONLY SHOOT RAW YOU SCHMUCK I KNEW YOU REALLY SECRETLY WERE CRAP….),  my Pocket Wizards only have four channels, and my camera bag is made by Boater’s World.
In the next few posts, I’ll explain why.  Prepare yourself for a brand new rant!
Leaving the initial setup of a shoot.  Notice scrim background, portable counter, two photo printers, tripod on dolly, tether table…and my old camera bag by Tumi, guts replaced with dividers.

Updated Image!  Another setup, this one for Travel Channel.  Gone: umbrellas, strobes, 2 pocket wizards.  Hello LED flat panel, continuous lighting.
My office, testing a printer before shipping it out to a shoot.  My cat is pissed! I’m going, again.
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