What’s In Your Camera Bag?

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I visited Cuba, Ocean City, NJ, and Denver, CO over the summer. The three trips presented the opportunity to revisit what equipment I carry in my camera bag.

The real challenge for me — just like every other photographer — is to figure out which lenses to pack and which ones to leave behind, as well as what accessories do I really need. There will always be a photographic opportunity that the limitations of a travel bag will prevent you from meeting. It won’t allow you to bring all of your equipment. This is when the photographer must prepare well for the journey.

Think Scale

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First of all, I use a sizable journalist camera bag, the Oberwerth Heidelberg. It’s an ideal bag that allows me to carry two Nikon full frame DSLR bodies, three lenses, a speedlight, and a variety of other equipment. The pockets give me plenty of room for smaller devices like triggers, flashlight, chargers, raincoat for the camera, extra camera and AA batteries, and a cleaning kit. Finally, I carry a collapsible tripod in my carry-on bag.

I usually bring one utility lens, a fixed Sigma 35 mm or Zeiss 50 mm that can be used for all situations. Then the other two are specialty lenses that I use for specific situations. One is usually a long lens, either the Meyer Optik Trioplan 100, my Nikon 85mm, or Meyer-Optik Trimagon 95, and the other is my Nikon super 14-24 mm lens that I use for architecture shots like the above staircase.

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This combination of lenses lets me scale down and go out on individual shoots with one body and one lens (utility) or a combination of my long lens, and the utility or the wide angle lens.

Now I have to be honest. I am a big man, and I used to be able to carry my bag everywhere, all day fully loaded with no problems. But with my middle-aged back issues, it’s too heavy for long periods of time fully loaded. So now I think what I can bring in the bag for the whole trip and what can be unpacked at the hotel, and repack based on situations. For long trips I might even pack a second smaller camera bag like a Garmisch for short day trips.

Usually, I leave my back up Nikon body at the hotel or house rental. Then I decide which lenses to leave behind. In addition, I unpack back-up triggers, any extra filters, several AA batteries (leaving two in the bag in case I need to change the ones in my meter or flash), chargers, and extra camera bodies. All of these might be useful in the bag, but they won’t make or break most photographic opportunities (barring a camera fail).

I almost always keep the flash in the bag unless I know I am only capturing landscape/cityscape shots. You never know when you can use the flash for a portrait or to provide fill light, particularly if you have to photograph in the middle of the day. I also keep the camera’s back-up battery, extra SD cards, and the camera rain jacket.

Why One Utility, One Long, One Wide?

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The utility lens has obvious value. I always bring a lens that can address most situations. If the situation is wide, and I only have a 35 mm or a 50 mm, I can always stitch together two or three pictures. On the other hand, if I need a tight photo I can always crop in or move unusually close to the subject.

The long lens is helpful for a variety of situations. Yes, portraits and close-ups like the above shot I took with a Nikon 85 mm are obvious. But even in a landscape situation you need to focus in on specific areas of the subject. The opening sunrise photograph of the Ocean City, NJ beach was taken with a Trioplan 100. Could I have moved closer with a 35 or 50 mm lens? Sure, but the sun would have looked horribly small in comparison.

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The above parent/child elk photo was also taken with a Trimagon 95 mm. While an unconventional use of the portrait lens, it was another situation where a tight focus was needed to capture the animals as a primary focal point.

Finally, the 14-24 mm works well for me as I like capturing all sorts of architecture and corrosion shots. So this is something I use more frequently than most would. It is for my own art. You may have an art lens (like the Trioplan 100) that you prefer.

Don’t Forget the Tripod, Triggers and Flash

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Many people choose to forgo the flash, trigger, and/or tripod on their trip. I think that’s a big mistake. If you are serious about making your vacation or trip a photographic adventure, you will want these items.

Without a tripod and trigger, you lose the opportunity to take great low light photographs (like the sunrise/sunset pic) with long exposures. It also becomes difficult to photograph portraits and people unless you have a flash. Even in broad daylight, you want fill light like the above shot (taken with a 35 mm lens), which was shot at two in the afternoon. The sun can come top down and provide really harsh light and dramatic shadows and hooded eyes. You’ll either need a bounce or flash (used above) to resolve these situations. A flash is less awkward.

I’ve been out on enough photography trips to know that I need a second body (yes, I had one fail in the middle of a trip). I have also needed a rain jacket for my camera when a storm blows in. It’s understandable to see why some choose not to bring these items on their travels. Those are individual choices.

But no matter what, don’t forget to bring your tripod, triggers and flash. Yes, they weigh more. In my opinion, these items provide the difference between good and great photography portfolios for your travel journeys.

What would you add to your travel kit?

You can learn more about Geoff Livingston and see galleries from his Cuba trip on geofflivingston.photoshelter.com.

Originally published on the Meyer Optik blog.

Bokeh World, Pop-Up Show, and Cuba

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Trioplan 50 photo by Tamara Skudies.

One of my favorite projects this spring has been supporting my client Meyer-Optik’s Kickstarter for the Trioplan f2.9/50. The Kickstarter seeks to return the legendary camera lens with incredible soap bubble bokeh, as seen above.

This lens has a rich history dating back 100 years, so as a photography nerd I love the project. Apparently, so does the market as we have raised almost $600,000 from 900 backers with less than seven days remaining in the campaign!

As part of our efforts we ran a photo quest challenge on photography social network 500 Pixels called Bokeh World. The theme celebrated the lens’s soap bubble bokeh. To participate, 500 Pixels users were encouraged to incorporate bokeh into their photography with the three best pics winning new Trioplan f2.9/50 and f2.8/100 lenses.

The Bokeh World contest received an overwhelming response. More than 35,000 photos were submitted! It was pretty hard whittling down that selection to just three winners. Here is my favorite, Lilia Alvarado’s Life Is a Carnival. What an incredible photograph!

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The Trioplan 50 Kickstarter continues through next Wednesday. I hope you decide to back it.

Pop-Up Photo Show this Saturday

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For those of you in the DC area, I am co-hosting my first photography pop-up show at Broadway Galleries in Alexandria, VA this Saturday. The event will be held from 4 to 6 pm, and will feature some really big prints of some of my more well received night photos.

Refreshments will be served, so have a snack and a bite. If you come, you’ll have the opportunity to provide feedback and tell me which types of photos you like most. Or just come and talk shop with me. I hope to see you then!

Cuba

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Image by mokastet.

Now that Obama has formally established relations with Cuba again, artists and photographers are flocking to the Caribbean island. Just look at the big deal National Geographic made last week about being on the first U.S. cruise to Cuba in 60 years.

The hype and fury comes with good reason. In five years Cuba will not be the same, especially after U.S. interests invade and establish businesses.

Well, guess what? I’m going to Cuba this June as part of a larger project with six DC Focused photographers. We’ll be announcing our project after Memorial Day so stay tuned!

What’s new in your creative world?

Smartphones Will Not Replace Cameras Altogether

My friend Richard Binhammer forwarded me an article that theorizes that the new iPhone 6 is the harbinger of the end of the camera. I couldn’t help but think that this is true for point and click cameras, but not for higher end photographic equipment.

The theory has merit. MP3 players were replaced by smartphones. Before that pagers were replaced by phones. So it makes sense that phones would also replace cameras. After all, point and click just a basic function. You can see the result of basic point and click throughout Instagram.

The article theorizes that the new iPhone 6+ is the closest to replacing the standalone camera. It says “NETWORK+SOCIAL+APPS=CAMERA.” Meaning digital photography on phones embellished with apps is good enough to post now on social, effectively rendering the camera useless.

Yes, the smartphone marks the end of the point and click camera. Why bother spending $200-$500 on a camera that is marginally better than the small brick that’s already in your pocket?

A real photographer will want more. The fickle nature of serious photography demands more functionality than what basic point and click cameras offer. A real camera offers more.

Just start with RAW files that allow you to examine rich data assets about your photo. The way a camera interprets the light is often wrong. That’s why images don’t look exactly like you remembered them. A pro photographer or an amateur enthusiast uses more advanced equipment to capture how light refracts, and uses editing software to improve or interpret a photo.

The Photographer’s Mindset

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The camera itself is but a tool. And all tools are not created equal. A Swiss Army knife is not a Shun blade. Nor is a Smartphone a full-frame camera, a high-end Micro 4/3 camera, or even a high end crop camera like a Nikon D7200.

High end cameras and their sensors are not things that you can bolt onto a phone. I am not sure why you would you want to do that. The same goes for the prime and telephoto lenses that you can use with a DSLR or micro 4/3 camera.

Frankly, a smartphone’s form factor makes it difficult to grip and shoot like a camera body. What is good for is a compact computational device to communicate with and play with various media. Much like a Swiss Army knife is handy to do

I agree that the iPhone OS is superior to the Nikon OS. But that’s about where the theory ends for me.

See, I have an iPhone 6+, and I can tell you there is no way any bolt-on sensor or lens modification will compare to my Nikon Df. The iPhone is incapable of giving me the clarity, light sensitivity, depth of field, or scenery data I need to edit a photo and make it beautiful.

Strapping on Lenses and Sensors on to an iPhone

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The article cites, “for $200 you can add a telephoto and a wide angle lens from Moment.” Then it encourages you to look at the Moment Instagram feed. These are very, very good iPhone pics. In fact, they are as good as most point and click camera shots I see, and it’s clear they are taken by a real photographer.

But I know I can do better on my camera.

Once you mess around with a really good lens like a Zeiss Distagon or the Nikon 14 mm lens, you understand that all glass is not created equally. Great glass paired with a decent sensor interprets light in ways no iPhone in the next five to ten years will ever come close, too. Even the Nikon 1.8 50 mm lens is superior to anything the iPhone/Moment combo can offer (at least based on their Instagram feed).

The idea that you would want to post a photo right after taking it is also the mindset of a true novice. Once you learn Lightroom you never go back. I can’t imagine not futzing with a Raw file to see how I might interpret the scene. The above dawn scene is a direct result of opening the RAW file and processing the image. The camera’s interpretation of the shot (e.g. point and click) sucked, in my opinion.

This is why photography enthusiasts are going to demand more than what a smartphone offers. You simply cannot paint a portrait or a scene the same way with a jack-of-all-trades smartphone that offers basic point-and-click functionality.