When I first started shooting full time, I thought I needed all of the latest and greatest gear that was available. I took note of what other photographer's were using, and simply followed suit. Before I knew it, I had a roller bag filled to the brim with camera bodies, lenses, flashes, umbrellas, reflectors and the works. Quite honestly, it was a mess.
For starters, if I was shooting a wedding I would spend hours the night before cleaning each lens, charging all six of my batteries (6!), 12 sets of AA batteries, taking inventory and packing it all up again. If I had a portrait session, I would end up carrying my messenger bag with two camera bodies, 3-4 different lenses, my flash and a boat load of batteries. Are you surprised when I tell you that I had to get out-patient surgery on my left shoulder because of all the weight I was carrying around with me?
Now it's not necessarily a bad thing to have so much gear, and at the time I really didn't think much of it other than I was just like every other photographer. The more gear I had, the more seriously I was taken, right?
Except that's not really how it works.
As it happens as we get older and evolve, we learn things about ourselves. We change. We grow. We figure out what works for us and what doesn't. For me, as you all know, too much of anything leaves me frazzled and wound up in all the wrong ways. I lose things more easily - but most of all I don't deliver to the best of my ability in any situation if I've got too much going on.
So I decided to stop worrying about what other photographers were doing, and simply do what worked for me. So, lets take a peek into my minimal camera bag. I'll break down why I do or don't use certain items, and link to where you can purchase them yourself.
WHAT'S IN MY MINIMAL CAMERA BAG
The roller bag is the camera bag that I use to hold all of my gear. It's carry-on approved which is perfect for my out of state/international weddings and shoots. It also has a compartment for my laptop. I'll usually bring this bag and a smaller leather duffle for my clothes.
(This is also the bag that I bring along to weddings.)
LO & SONS MESSENGER BAG (doubles as my purse)
My mom gifted me the Lo & Son's bag for Christmas and so far it's been incredible. It also forces me to bring only the gear I really, truly need and it has convenient slots for my CF cards. I really only use this when going to a portrait session, and I'll take this with me during a wedding when I go off with the bride and groom for their portraits. This is also where I carry my ID, cash/cards and my phone.
CANON 5D MARK III (x2)
This is one thing that I didn't minimize for obvious reasons. it's always smart to have a back up camera body because, well, things fail. For instance, my dial on one of my bodies broke while I was out of town and I had to borrow a friend's (thank you, Kelly!) because I didn't bring my backup along. Lesson learned. Now I always travel with both when I have shoots lined up.
CANON 35MM 1.4L
My favorite lens and the one I use most often during portrait sessions and weddings.
CANON 24-70MM 2.8L
This is hands down one of my favorites and my most used lens alongside the 35mm and 85mm. It's versatile beyond belief and so incredibly sharp. If I'm traveling, I'm always sure to bring this lens along with me.
CANON 85MM 1.2L
The lens of all lenses. I always refer to this one as "butter" - it's so smooth, sharp and produces extremely gorgeous portraits. My absolute favorite lens to bring out during sessions to capture some intimate close ups. (I took three of my most recent favorite portraits with this lens - 1 / 2 / 3)
YONGNUO 600 EX-RT FLASH (x2)
I used to have the Canon 600 EX II-RT, but when both of mine stopped functioning, I decided to try the Yongnuo based on a friend's recommendation. Not only does it compare identically to the Canon, but it's 1/4 of the cost. The only frustration in the beginning was figuring out how to turn off the sound it makes when you fire.
Flashes are also something that I really only bring out to weddings. For portrait sessions I always rely on natural light, and base our locations off of lighting situations/time of day. This is where I get to challenge myself and have fun with shadows, window light, etc. Weddings you've got to be prepared for just about anything - so having flashes on hand are a must.
PORTABLE ICE LIGHT + VIDEO LIGHT
The ice light is so lightweight and easy to carry around as it starts off super small, and extends when you're ready to use it. It's perfect for wedding day details and creating alternate window light (or playing with light painting!) The video light fits in my roller bag, and it's only something I bring out to weddings if I'm shooting reception video for the clients during dancing.
"PHOTOG THINGS" CATCH-ALL BAG
This little bag is where I keep my body batteries which go in this holder (I now have 4 batteries instead of 6 and 1 dual charger), my CF card holder (1 of these filled with 6 32gb cards), my card reader, a lens cloth, 3 sets of flash batteries that are put in these holders. AA battery charger and my portable CF reader/hard drive. (a *must* have)
HOLD FAST GEAR HARNESS
This is my saving grace when I'm shooting. Whether it's a portrait session or a wedding, I always have this harness on. It allows me to quickly go between two lenses without having to interrupt the flow of a shoot, which I love. I almost always have my 24-70mm/35mm & 85mm when I'm wearing this.
SO WHAT DID I GET RID OF?
CANON 50MM 1.2L
People think I'm nuts when I tell them that I no longer own this lens because it's such a staple within the photography industry, but honestly I never love the images that are produced with this lens, and I rarely go to grab it. I'm always using my 35mm or my 24-70mm (which of course I can adjust to 50mm if desired) This is my point - don't hold on to something just because everyone else is. Shoot with what you love.
CANON 70-200MM 2.8L
First of all, this lens is so insanely heavy. For someone who has dainty wrists (me!), after using this for even 5 minutes I'd be in agony. I never really used it unless I was shooting down a super long aisle, and these days that's rare with the kinds of weddings that I book. My 85mm has done beautifully for those up-close shots, and if I'm ever in dire need of a major zoom, I can always rent or ask my second shooter to bring theirs along if they own it.
CANON 100MM MACRO 2.8L
I only ever used this lens for detail shots at weddings, and I actually started to switch up my detail shots by focusing more on aerial shots with a wide. Rarely (very, very rarely) do I do an up close detail shot these days, and if I do, I find my 85mm does a lovely job.
CANON 24MM 1.4L
This is a beautiful lens, but I literally never touched it. I always depended on my 28-70mm or my 35mm, so I let this babe go.
KELLY MOORE "KELLY BOY" MESSENGER BAG
I finally got rid of this bag due to a) how heavy it was on it's own without any of my gear in it, and b) it didn't zip or close shut which always left me feeling insecure.
Lens cleaner pens (never used them), multiple lens cloths (really only need one), mis-matched camera lenses and body caps, 8gb CF cards, flash fire belt (helps fire consistent flash - I never really needed this. I think I used it twice?), Canon battery packs (made my bodies extremely heavy, and I never needed the extra battery since I would have a backup charged & ready to go)
SO, WHAT'S IN MY BAG FOR A PORTRAIT SESSION?
- Lo & Sons Bag
- Holdfast Harness (on me)
- 2 Canon 5D Mark III bodies (on me)
- 24-70mm 1.2L (on body #1)
- 85mm 1.2L (on body #2)
- 2 CF cards, 32gb (one in each camera)
- 2 extra body batteries
- Portable CF reader/hard drive (to back up the shoot immediately)
- Wallet, phone
WHAT'S IN MY BAG FOR A WEDDING?
- Roller Bag
- Lo & Sons Bag
- Holdfast Harness
- 2 Canon 5D Mark III bodies (with fresh batteries)
- 35mm 1.2L
- 85mm 1.2L
- 24-70mm 2.8L
- 2 Yongnuo flashes (with fresh batteries)
- Ice light & Video light
- CF card holder (6 - 32gb / in catch all bag)
- 2 extra sets of AA batteries + charger (in catch all bag)
- 2 extra body batteries + charger in this holder (in catch all bag)
- Wallet, phone
There you have it! The breakdown of my minimal camera bag. It honestly has left me feeling so much more free and able to create without scrambling for miscellaneous items. I love feeling confident in my gear, and knowing that I'm choosing to shoot with what works best for me, and not worrying about what everyone else is doing. It's allowed me to be so much more creative, and to really embrace each and every shoot with a clear and open mind.
If you have any questions about the gear/items listed above, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photographer. Stylist. Writer.