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.
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.
So what about my 365 project. I have committed to shooting strictly with Leica M rangefinders sometime later this year. I say sometime because I have commitments to projects ill-suited for the Leica and really requires I use my DSLR equipment. Also, there is a learning process during the transition.
These are the images I created from January 23 to January 31, 2012. My favorite from the week is the image I took of the Hampton Inn in Northern, Virginia near the Maryland Border. It’s not going to win any photography awards but it is a great image to show the capabilities of the M9 and mirrorless cameras in general. The image was taken at night at an ISO of 1600 with the aperture on the 35/2 Summincron wide open at 2.0, the shutter at 1/30th of a second handheld. I did not have the assistance of a wall to brace myself or a monopod. I just stood in the middle of the parking lot.
The rest of the images were taken while I am out and about.
I wanted to create a portrait of Steve with his guitar while sitting in a chair. He was very accommodating especially since I was using a large format film camera. This image was taken at night with the lamp as the only source of light. I can’t remember the exact details on the exposure but it was probably about f/22 at 30 seconds.
I have to say that I think I prefer the romance of shooting an 8×10 Deardorff as opposed to a DSLR. My compositions tend to be more measured because I only have two shots in each film holder. I think and study my subject far more than when I use a digital camera. I make sure that everything is just right the moment before I press the shutter release button.
If it were not the cost of film processing and other lab expenses, I would probably just shoot large format. That plus the fact I cannot easily move around with it.