What’s In The Bag: Bringing a Camera is Only Part of Being Prepared

Time for another look at what’s in the bag! Last weekend I was invited along to a shoot at the Old Howard Smith Paper Mill in the outskirts of Montreal. This was my first trip to the location, so I didnít really know what to expect; itís situations like this that make my days in Boy Scouts really pay off. When youíre getting ready for a shoot, a photographerís first instinct is to think about camera gear: lights, lenses, cameras, memory cards and tripods. These are all necessary, but often not the most important things youíll bring to a shoot. In then end a camera is just a tool to record an image; if youíre too tired, cold, hungry, wet or blind to use it, no amount of camera gear is going to get you the shots you want. Most of us have sunk a small fortune into our photography bag, luckily you donít have to win the lottery or hit it big on Partypoker to put together a decent support kit with whateverís left in your wallet. If youíre heading out to shoot on location, especially an unfamiliar one thereís a few essential youíll want to bring.

Clothing: Thereís nothing worse than being uncomfortable for killing the creative process. Dress appropriately for the weather. If youíre expecting cold, dress in multiple thin layers with one more layer than you think you need. You can always take a few off if itís warmer than you expected. If itís hot, wear clothing that can breathe and wear a hat. If possible bring a change of clothes, and I always bring a small fold up rain poncho if thereís any chance of rain. Donít forget things like gloves or sunglasses too. Think of what youíd bring with you camping for the day, even if youíre not leaving civilization. We all dressed appropriate to the 10C weather at the Mill shoot, but only a few of us where prepared for the ice still lingering in the basement of an abandoned factory.

Food and Water: Even in the city, you wonít always have time to grab food or water from a store, out in the woods itís even less likely. I like to travel light as possible, but Iíll always spare room for a large water bottle and even if I know where my meals are coming from during the day Iíll stash a couple zip-lock bags of nuts or trail mix wherever thereís some room in my bag. If it’s cold out I’ll usually bring a thermos of tea as well, nothing like a couple sips of a hot beverage to get some warmth back. Getting in position and set up takes the most time at any shoot, having snacks on you can save you tons of time, especially if you canít leave everything set up on location if you have to break for lunch.

Odds and Ends: How many times have you been on a location shoot and found yourself saying: ďIf only I had a _____Ē. Chances are that thing you need isnít some weird object; itís probably one of those super useful household objects you just didnít think to bring because you take for granted that itíll be around when youíre at home. Hereís a list of small odds and ends that Iím sure youíll see the use in bringing along, and if you donítÖ bring them anyways, Iíll guarantee youíll find a use for them one of these days.

  • Small pack of tissues
  • Multi-tool or pocket knife
  • Duct tape or gaffers tape
  • couple caribiners (the real ones meant for climbing, I don’t trust the dollar store ones, it’s amazing how useful these things are)
  • A couple heavy-duty rubber bands and string (great for tying things like branches out of shots, and a million other uses)
  • Thin nylon cord, rope or bungees (anything that can be used to tie things to your bag, hang your bag off the ground or lash your gear together, comes in handy more than youíd expect)
  • Band-aids and Tylenol/Advil
  • Wet-wipes
  • Handkerchief
  • Small LED flashlight
  • Travel power bar
  • Cell charger or spare charged battery
  • Pen and small notebook (think Moleskine etc)
  • Chemical hand warmer (cold hands make shooting an agony)
  • Lighter
  • A couple garbage bags or a small tarp to cover or set things down on (keeping gear dry is a must)
  • Re-useable cloth shopping bag (the kind that folds up into a small pouch)
  • Energy bar
  • Spare socks (nothing worse than wet or cold feet)
  • Whistle (great for if you get lost, or need to signal for lunch etc in a large outdoor location)
  • Emergency Funds, enough for a meal, a cab home or both
  • $5-$10 Phone card, especially if you’re location has spotty or no cell coverage
  • Old Cell Phone (especially if you don’t have one of your own or are shooting alone away from help, every cell phone in North America can call 911, even it’s not currently on a plan even if there’s no SIM card in it. Chances are someone you know has an old cell phone that’s a couple upgrades old you can borrow or buy for cheap.)

  • Itís a lot of stuff, but most of it is pretty small, I can usually fit my boy scout kit into a Lowepro lens case meant for a 70-200mm lens. It keeps everything in one spot and has the added benefit of being a modular design that allows me to attach it to pretty much and strap, belt or bag Iím carrying. The only real limit to the amount you bring is weight, if I know I have to carry everything I bring around with me all day, Iíll skip some of the heavier items, but if Iíll have a car or someplace to stow extra gear safely Iíll beef the kit up a bit.

    Even though the mill was in the middle of town, once inside it was like stepping into the apocalypse. It was dirty, dark, dangerous, slippery and wet, temperatures ranged from 5-10C below outdoor temperatures, there was no access to running water or bathrooms; I may as well have been camping in a forest of broken glass, rusty nails and rotting wood. The point is, many people get so focused on the camera gear part of the equation, they forget the extra things that can make even the most gruelling location shoots bearable and let you actually put your thousands of dollars of camera into action. Stay tuned for more shoots from the Old Howard Smith Paper Mill, itís one of the greatest locations Iíve ever shot at, and I had an absolute blast exploring it.