I photograph a winter concert at a small private school in Summit, NJ each year. One of the images the school needs is a wide-angle shot of the show. In many years past, I have generally done this by standing on a platform at the very back of the venue. It was a nice location which provided me with a nice panoramic view of the entire event. The image from the back usually came out pretty well and you can see the star at the back as well as faintly make out the singers. However, you can never see the orchestra.
I am often asked by friends, colleagues and strangers about what lens they should bring to a specific photo shoot. If it is a paid gig, I tell them to pack everything they have plus a back up because you never know what you will need.
So here is my best shot at what is in my bag which was also motivated by an article I wrote for The Photo Brigade last month. A lot of what is in my bag is project and location dependent. I either pack my Canon DSLR gear for sporting events while I either pack my Mamiya medium format equipment or my Leica rangefinder system. Since I have gotten wimpy as I age, I try as much as possible to do everything with my Leica. It does as good a job if not better as my other stuff at a fraction of the weight. So here is a photo of what I take with me to most projects and just add or reduce depending on the situation. No matter how you cut it, my camera bag is nothing more than the smallest Billingham bag, which easily house my Leica M9, as well as the 28/2, 35/2, 50/2 Summicrons and the 75/1.4 Summilux.
If I am just walking in and around town, I generally just carry the M9 with the 35/2 Summicron. I find that focal length the most versatile for my style of shooting. If I have to do a portrait, I also take along my 75/1.4 Summilux in case I also need to take some tight headshots. In fact, those two lenses are my absolute work horses. However, I take all the above-pictured lenses plus an extra body with me when I am shooting a wedding. In addition I may also bring along my medium format gear with me to for use during the formal photos. Generally, I just take a normal lens 80/2.8 but if I am doing headshots I wil also take a 120mm or maybe a 35mm if I may need a wide-angle also.
The only event I cannot shoot with either of the systems above is sports. The rangefinder and the medium format gear just is not fast enough or rugged enough for that application, which really requires the use of a DSLR. In my case, I use a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV along with a 16-35/2.8, 70-200/2.8 and a 300/2.8 and a 580 EXII flash. I used to carry more including a 400/2.8 but found that my present 3-lens kit will do just about everything I need to do. A lot of photographers love to debate Canon vs Nikon, but it really is a waste of time as it is akin to debating purchasing a Mercedes or a BMW. Both will help you do a wonderful job.
So that’s what’s in my bag though I will also pack a pair or two Dynalite Uni400 strobes for most shoots along with Jackrabbit battery packs if I may not have access to electrical outlets.
I had another opportunity to shoot my Leica M9 at a wedding over the weekend. It still was not my primary camera but served secondary to my trusty Canon EOS 1D Mark IV. This time I set the M9 to shoot both RAW and JPEG in vintage black and white. The strategy was interesting since the RAW was in color and the JPEG was in B&W, but I can only replay the B&W version until the images were finally downloaded to my computer. I think the strategy allowed me to work better because when I reviewed an image on the LCD in B&W all I can see is mood and composition without the distraction of color.
It was such a pleasure to shoot and the images right out of the camera were so wonderful that I ended up using it for creating half the images. I just wish I had a second M9 as it is always a pain to switch lenses so I ended up relying on both the M9 and the Mark IV. The shooting style is very different with each camera. With the M9, you want to be more methodical. After all it is a manual focus camera and it is easy to bump up against the buffer if you are shooting RAW. When I shoot the Mark IV, I tend to run and gun more because of it’s fast frame rate, huge buffer and fast auto-focus. Next time, one of the bodies has to just stay in the car. In fact, I have a small wedding coming up where it will be held in someone’s home. There will only be 20 people there so it will be a perfect time to go Leica all the way.
Here are some more images from the day. No processing was done with these images other than cropping them and running them through a sharpening preset.
The proliferation of this disease of course is something the manufacturers love to hear and are alwasys ecstatic when they see articles such as the one in togtech.com where 15 of the Worlds Top 15 Photographers Reveal Their Favorite Gear. The author , Tyler Olson” asked 15 professional photographers “What is your favorite piece of photography gear. It can be a camera, bag, strap, tripod, dolly, memory card, accessory, lighting.. literally anything used in your shooting work flow. I’m looking for a single piece of gear that makes you smile every time you use it or cry when you loose it.”
I tried to think about how I would answer that question. The fact, I had to think long and hard tells me I probably have more than I need but less than I want. So I decided to put a little twist to Tyler’s original question and pose it to anyone who is willing to answer. The question is “What piece of equipment can you make do without even though you use it all the time?”
I believe my personal answer to that would be my Canon DSLR gear. Don’t get me wrong. My Canon Mark IV is very useful and I use it at just about every paid project. It is easy to use, creates wonderful images even in low light, weather resistant, can accept a myriad of lenses and do it at 10 frames a second. What is wrong with all that? Nothing! Especially when I am out shooting sports. For that application, the camera is absolutely wonderful. However, whenever I have that camera in my hand, my personality changes and I tend to shoot like a Taliban fighter doing the Afganistan off-hand. You know the caricature of the guy shooting indiscriminately over his head or around a wall as opposed to concentrating on his sights and trigger.
Yes. It is about the operator, but certain gear helps us do certain things. When I am shooting sports, I want a fast and rugged camera to fit the operating environment to capture the action. However, I am finding that I place greater attention to details and my subject when I shoot with something much slower whether it is a small rangefinder such as the Leica M series of film and digital equipment where I can get close to my subject without an intimidating hunk of gear or a tripod-mounted medium format camera such as the Mamiya RZ67 so I can walk around and study my subject before I move my gear into position.
We’ll see if I can really live without my DSLR gear. I’m going through all the pluses and minuses of such a decision right now. I figure my Leica M9 and I can still do everything I do with the exception of sports. The biggest plus of course would be a kit that weighs a fraction of my Canon gear.
Many photographers by nature are gear heads and often love to discuss the next latest and greatest from manufacturers such as Canon, Nikon, Mamiya and Hasselblad. We are caught in an ever ending loop of upgrading our digital bodies only to find out that our entire workflow from software to hard drives to computers also must be updated. Lets face it, for most of us, that additional jump in pixels or improvement in dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio is just plain over kill. Maybe we need to spend more time with our current gear and not money on more stuff.
I’ve heard many photographers, some friends and some just on forums, salivate over Canon’s 1DX or Nikon’s D4. Most are working professionals others just have money to burn. Some, including myself, will not be upgrading to any of those bodies. You have to ask yourself, can I accomplish my goals without the upgrade? If the answer is yes, then spend more time o your craft. If the answer is no, then you need to figure out whether your dilemma is a knowledge or equipment issue.
Personally, I believe I can accomplish everything I need to with my current equipment so this year I will be fine-tuning my craft. In fact, I am signed up for Peter Hurley’s Headshot Intensive Workshop in New York. I love photographing people and creating lifestyle portraits, but I also really enjoy taking tight close-ups of my subjects. I don’t expect to be charging $1,100 for a headshot anytime soon, but I do want to improve my skills. In terms of gear, my goal is to be able to do everything with my medium format and rangefinder gear so I can get rid of m DSLR by the end of the year.
So go out there and rise up to my friend Ralph’s challenge. Spend time with your current gear and really learn how to use it. It’s the stuff between your ears and your eyes that will create those wonderful images. Not the stuff in your gear bag.