Tips on Organizing and Carrying Camera Gear

All photographers have the same two problems: How to store their gear and how to carry it.

How much gear you need is another discussion. You may want to read this article about camera gear if you’re new to SLR or mirrorless photography. In this post I’ll share with you a few recommendations for storing and carrying gear and the methods that work best for me and may also work for you.

Gear Storage

I’ll start with storage. If you’ve been a photographer for any length of time, you know that it’s easy to collect a lot of gear: some big, some small, some heavy, and all of it taking up precious space in your home. When I started collecting camera gear, I stored it in a  glass and wooden cabinet underneath my TV. It was practical and everything was visible. Small items, filters, batteries, cords, etc., were stored in a box on one of the shelves while lenses, speed lights, and small modifiers were on their own shelf. This worked for a while but as the collection expanded and I began running out of room, I started storing some of my gear in a camera backpack. This was okay but it meant I had to look in 2 places for items I needed for a shoot.

When I upgraded to Nikon’s D750 I also purchased new lenses and some additional gear. I really didn’t want a third spot in my home dedicated to camera gear because I find it mentally taxing to have to search different spots to find what I need.

Once I’d had enough of multi-space storage I became a bit creative. While in the process of converting some of my living space to a photography studio, I decided that it made perfect sense to dedicate one huge drawer of my credenza to photography gear. Over a few hours I moved the contents of a drawer that held a lot of craft items and converted the drawer to camera gear storage. That drawer now holds all of my lenses, backdrops, different types and sizes of batteries, tether connectors, extra lens caps, cleaners, filters, MagMod gear speed lights, LED lights, etc.: everything in one place.

In order to decrease clutter, similar items such as USB connectors, lens caps, and cleaners, are all stored in clear plastic bags eliminating the need to search for items. Lenses are kept on one side of the drawer and are cushioned by dropcloths or cushion dividers. This has made my photography life so much easier.

TIP: Store your photography gear is one place and eliminate the headache and panic of trying to find the things you need for your shoots. Make a base station.

My Base Credenza Station

The top drawer of the credenza is my base station for gear and equipment storage.

Gear on the Move

The one-place-storage is a type of base station. Now we’re going to talk about being on the move.

If I’m photographing an event,  or doing on-site headshots, or anything else where settings and circumstances may vary, I load up my Think Tank Airstream carrying case. Short history: I use to carry my camera backpack and my tripod. Then, as shoots became more complex, I added a bag, and before getting the Airstream, another bag. Not only was this hard on my body, I imagine it looked very unprofessional.

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Think Tank Airstream with wheels and telescoping handle.

The Think Tank Airstream can hold 2 DSLR bodies and 3 or more lenses, speedlights, and smaller gear such as triggers, receivers, light meter, etc. There’s ample room for batteries and filters, and room for a laptop or an iPad. The Airstream is compact; maybe a little too compact. It may have been smarter to purchase the next size up but at the time of the purchase 1) I was in a bind with a next-day shoot and the next size up was not available at the store, 2) I really didn’t want to once again appear like the photo bag lady, and 3) the Airstream was on sale. It’s a very tight fit for all the gear I carry. If you plan on walking with a lot of gear for larger projects, I suggest giving serious consideration to the size of your carrying case.

The best thing about this case is that it’s on wheels and has a telescopic handle. 

TIP: Save your back and get an appropriate sized carrying case on wheels with a telescoping handle. If you travel for photography assignments be sure to get a size that meets the requirements for airline carry-on.

TIP: I first saw Think Tank cases at Photo Expo Plus. This is a great opportunity to meet with and speak to a rep in order to find the best case for your gear and for your work. There’s also the possibility that at such a big event discounts are available. While these items may seem pricey, I’ve found that they’re well worth the cost in convenience and reducing body stress.

I keep my Airstream case prepared with items I don’t need to remove such as AA and AAA batteries, business cards, a small foam core board, and an extra SD card. When I’m going on a shoot, I load up the case with the gear I’ll need–lenses, speed lights, small modifiers, etc.

TIP: A day or two before I go to a scheduled shoot, I do a complete set up at home. I mean complete just as if I was in the field, an office, a set, or a studio. This includes stands, backdrops, softboxes, and all modifiers I think I may need. Doing this ensures I have everything I need for the shoot and gives me time to get anything I may be missing.  It also allows me to start packing the gear once I start breaking things down.

Gear on the Move: Simple and Personal Projects

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Ruggard Outrigger 45 Backpack

For simple or personal projects, I carry the Ruggard Outrigger 45 Backpack and leave the Airstream case at home. Like the Think Tank, the backpack is loaded with a few items that are never removed; batteries, business cards, an extra SD card, etc. The Ruggard has many practical and convenient compartments. It can easily hold a DSLR,  a 70-200 mm lens along with other smaller lenses, speedlights, MagMod gear, etc. The thing to remember is that you’ll be carrying that gear on your back and although the weight is evenly distributed, a heavy backpack is still a strain on your back. Of course, once you remove the camera body and the lens you’ll be using the weight becomes significantly lighter.

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Ruggard Outrigger 45 Backpack

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Ruggard Outback 45 Backpack. Inside storage compartments.

TIP: When using your camera, reduce the pressure on your neck by using a shoulder strap instead of a neck strap. I use Black Rapid‘s R Strap for right handers. There’s one for left handers in addition to several other types and models of straps that reduce neck strain. These straps are convenient, ergonomically correct, and hold your camera securely. They’re well worth the investment.

Getting back to storage, I store large pieces of gear including light stands and reflector holders, the tripod, soft boxes, ring light, and reflectors in one closed and in as few bags as possible. A few months ago I purchased an LSB light stand bag from B and H. This bag can hold several light stands as well as other larger gear making travel and transfer of these items as easy as possible.

Final TIP: When you return from a shoot, paid or personal, put your gear away as soon as possible. One of the essentials to working as a photographer is being organized. Putting away your gear after a shoot or early the next day ensures that you keep your gear in the same place so that at a moment’s notice you’re able to put your hand on anything. An additional benefit is that you get to examine your gear and clean it if necessary. The worse time to learn that you have a piece of damaged equipment or have run out of something is when you’re pulling out gear for the next shoot.

5 Tips for Choosing Photography Instructors plus Mentors and Content Cost

 

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Matthew Jordan Smith and his subject at the Pennsylvania Hotel 5/24/17

If you’re looking to improve your photography, get yourself an instructor and a mentor. Actually, get 1 or 2 of each.

Finding Instructors

It’s easy to be bombarded by the hundreds if not thousands of YouTube videos on each and every aspect of photography and post-processing. You go looking for one thing and before you know it, you’ve spent hours looking at several videos on your chosen topic as well as a few others. As a matter of fact, you may have trouble remembering what you were looking for in the first place.

Here are some tips to streamline your photography and post-processing education.

1. Focus. Be as specific as possible when you’re searching out a topic on YouTube. For example, avoid searching for lighting. Instead, search for studio lighting, lighting in daylight or outdoor lighting, lighting at indoor events, lighting for sports, shooting in low light, shooting a concert, etc.

2. Once YouTube has given you a selection, watch a few seconds of several videos. Why? You want to watch and listen to someone whose tone, speed, and speech appeal to you. You don’t want to be 2 minutes into a video and realize the tone of the speaker is too flat to hold your attention. One problem I’ve noticed about videos and some live instructors is that they are so familiar with the material, they forget what it was like to be exposed to a new aspect of photography for the first time. For the learner, this can be very discouraging and lead to feeling inadequate. Don’t allow yourself to feel that way. Find someone to watch who appeals to you and teaches in a way that’s easy for you to learn.

3. Choose high quality videos. Choose videos that are well made with good lighting, and are easy to watch and easy to listen to. I’m not sure why some people think instructional videos without sound is a good idea. Same with videos with poor lighting, a lot of camera shake, or videos that are recorded from the back of a room making it difficult to see and hear the speaker.

4. Once you’ve decided on one or two good instructors, subscribe to their account or channel and choose to be notified when they post new videos. You may also want to look at videos posted a few months or years ago but take care and avoid instructional videos in which the technology no longer applies.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t look at other instructional videos, but you should develop a reliable foundation of 1 or 2 consistent photography and post-processing instructors who have developed a dependable library of videos, and who teach in such a way that you can learn very easily.

5. Here’s a tip that most people don’t want to hear: Watch the video twice: The first time, watch and listen; the second time, follow along. When you’re new to something, you can’t watch the screen and do what’s on the screen at the same time (Think Lightroom and Photoshop). If the video isn’t that long, watch first then watch again and follow along.

If you’ve found a video that is particularly appealing or that you know you will need to watch repeatedly, use YouTube’s feature that allows you to watch later or add the video to a playlist. When I was new to Photoshop and Lightroom,  I learned a lot from Anthony Morganti’s Youtube channel. He has a slower pace that works well for beginners and he gives detailed instructions at a rate that’s easy to follow. He also has more than 600 videos on his channel. As I’ve advanced, I ‘ve added PHLEARN to my collection of go-to instructions for using Photoshop.

 

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Another great instructional resource that’s often overlooked are podcasts. Anthony Morganti’s podcast, Photography is My Passion is very popular.  The Improve Photography podcast provides a lot of instruction and information about all aspects of photography. Furthermore, there are a number of other podcasts under the Improve Photography umbrella including Portrait Session, Photo Taco, and Tripod, a podcast dedicated to outdoor and landscape photography. Improve Photography also has a Facebook page with additional information, instructions, and videos on many aspects of photography.

Finding Mentors

Mentors and instructors are not the same. An instructor teaches technique and skill. A mentor teaches you how to apply those techniques and skills effectively. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a mentor is a guide, a coach, and in some cases, a counselor.

In photography, a mentor is all of the above but also someone you follow because their style of work appeals to you on a deeper level. An instructor can teach the science of exposure-aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. A mentor will teach you the effects of exposure on the mood of the set, the subject, and on the viewer.

Choosing a mentor doesn’t mean copying that photographer’s style but somehow their work draws you in. Often you conclude that you want to be like that photographer in terms of the quality of work and to some degree, their success and their recognition as an artist.

Your mentor (s), like instructors, can be someone with whom you have actual one on one relationship such as a local photographer. Or, your mentor can be a well-recognized internationally known photographer.  At this level, many photographers tour and offer workshops in which attendees can participate, but far more ther own facebook-Posingan just showing their technique, these photographers share their life experiences and the journey that brought them to where they are today. More than this, they share their art moving beyond technique and skill. Even if you follow a mentor online, there’s a sense of connection on your end. Sue Bryce is a great example. Be it Creative Live, her website, or Sue Bryce Education, she offers far more than technique: she mentors photographers around the world and can be seen at live conferences such as Photo Expo Plus sponsored by Photo Plus Group. 

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A few days ago I attended a workshop by Matthew Jordan Smith. When people say they don’t know who he is, I say yes you do. You’ve seen his work. He’s photographed some of the most iconic celebrities of our time in addition to photographing global campaigns and spearheading projects of social significnce.  Mr. Smith’s workshop is classic mentorship. It goes far beyond technique and delivers an understanding of photography as an art beyond the science.

 

Cost

If you’ve read my other blog posts, you know I believe in being economically savvy when it comes to photography gear. Well I feel the same about instructors and mentors. YouTube offers free instruction so take advantage. This is a great way to start learning and remains a constant resource for intermediate photographers. If you can think of it, someone’s made a video and put in on YouTube. Whether it’s learning about speedlights, your camera, or accessories, it’s on YouTube.

When you’re ready to spend money for content, there are several choices. If you’re going to pay, make sure it’s worth the money. If there is an opportunity to watch a free lesson before purchasing, or a free trial, take advantage. Also, look at ratings and read reviews.  As I stated in another blog, good or bad, it means something when people take the time to write a review. Don’t assume that because a photographer is very popular, their videos are great. Every once in a while, even the great ones miss.

Some instructional videos such as Matt Kloskowski’s Photoshop System are downloadable for a one-time fee. Some instructional videos can be streamed and require monthly fees (KelbyOne, Lynda.com). Although PHLEARN has videos on various Photoshop topics on YouTube, you can download more substantial instructional content such as Photoshop Retouching tutorials for a one-time fee. Craftsy offers a wide selection of photography and post-processing contents with lifelong access.

You have to make the decision about what you can afford and the value of that purchase to your photography. If you decide to pay for content from more than one source on a monthly basis, explore similarities and differences to ensure that for the most part, you receive different content from each.

You should also exercise caution in attending workshops that may vary in price from less than $100 to well over $1000 and that’s before adding the expense of hotel and travel if the workshop isn’t local. Again, ask yourself what attending the conference will bring to your photography. If it’s a workshop by a mentor with the chance to work and speak one-on-one, its value may be priceless.

A few final points:

  1. Look for sales. Throughout the year, particularly around holidays and national or international photography conferences, content goes on sale for a few hours to a few days. It’s a great opportunity to purchase content at a discounted price especially of it’s content you’ve been eyeing. Creative Live sometimes has pop-up sales offering significantly discounted prices for a few hours.
  2. Don’t be afraid to email someone at a company or a provider and ask if there are any discounts available. All they can do is say no. I’ve found that content providers are willing to provide a discount to get their products on the hands of photographers.
  3. This is related to #2. If you are a student in a photography program,  be it certificate program or a degree program, or you are studying an art medium other than photography you may qualify for a discount. You will only need provide ID and documentation of enrollment.
  4. Creative Live often has 24 hr broadcasts of some of their content. This is a great way to get a preview or if you have the time, to watch a significant amount of content without having to pay.

Quality photography instructors can make the difference in how fast and how well we learn the skills and the science of photography. A mentor–personal, online, or by just following their work, can help us become the artists we aspire to be. I hope you have mentor. If not, find a photographer who speaks to you and your art, and listen and learn.