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What to Have in Your Gear Bag

By: Liza Gershman

April 04, 2018

Gear is the basic essential for photography. Whether you are a minimalist or a gearhead, having a few specific items in your bag will make your photographic life a success.

Always carry a copy of your manual with you until you have been photographing with your camera for a very long time. You never know when you will accidentally turn a dial and have an unfamiliar error message pop up on the screen. This could thwart your photographic goals for the day, and could ruin a vacation, event or even a wedding. The best way to keep this from crippling your shooting day is to have easy access to your manual. Today, the full instruction manual for many cameras can be downloaded as a .PDF file to a compatible smartphone or tablet, and you can access it any time from your mobile device. Once you have identified the issue then you can trouble-shoot and keep photographing.

Palm trees

Typically, photographers think that they need incredibly specific gear for different photography genres, and in some cases they do, but having a basic gear bag will always be helpful. Many lenses are so versatile that they can work on various occasions, and most essential gear for your bag works across genres as well.

Sports, weddings, food, travel, portrait, and even animal photography have many commonalities, and require common gear.

Each of These Types of Photography All Require:

  • Lenses
  • Lens cleaner
  • Sensor cleaner (if applicable to your camera)
  • Battery chargers
  • Spare batteries (minimum of 2)
  • Marking pens
  • Memory cards
  • Comfortable, supportive shoes!

While different gear is used for varying purposes, there are certainly general items that cross photographic disciplines.  Wedding and travel photography, for instance, share most items in their similar “must have” gear list. Even a good studio product or food photographer will need many of the below items for continual success and more.

Items to Have in Your Gear Bag:

  • Camera
  • Camera backup
  • Camera batteries
  • Camera battery charger
  • Power converter for outlets
  • Memory cards – Some cameras have two memory card slots, and this is a great way to immediately back up your image. Shoot RAW to one card, and have the camera create duplicate JPGs on the other.
  • Memory card backup (hard drive, etc.)
  • Flash/flash batteries
  • Cleaning tools and cloths
  • Small extension cord
  • Camera bag to hold your kit in
  • Ball point pen and marking pen
  • Note cards/small notebook
  • Printed model release
  • Camera manual
  • Lenses
  • Lens case, so you can leave your bag and travel light for a few hours
  • Computer
  • Tape (you never know, but it’s great to have when you need it!)
  • Small scissors – they always seem to come in handy to open packaging, etc.
  • Energy bar
  • Rechargeable batteries (environmentally friendly)

Additional Suggestions:

  • Radio trigger, to minimize the camera shake of shutter button decompression when using a tripod
  • Manual flashes
  • Computer
  • Polarizing filter: to reduce glare, manage reflections and deepen saturation
  • Trauma kit
  • Emergency nutrition
  • Light metering kit
  • Utility knife
  • A written checklist of everything in your gear bag

In Travel-Specific Circumstances:

A “best practice” is to carry enough memory cards to store all your images from the trip in case you don’t have a laptop with you to download images onto. Even if you do download to a laptop, it is still a good idea to keep the images on your cards until you get home and have multiple backups of them, especially if you are on a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Red car

For Wedding Photography:

Weddings are long days and often the photographers don’t have enough time to eat a meal.  Even if you do have a vendor meal the timing of when the food comes to you and when you need to be photographing memorable moments doesn’t always sync up.  A best practice is to pack a sandwich and an energy bar and not be a bother to the caterer or the bride and groom.

Wedding photographers wear many hats, and having a bride “emergency” kit with you is also helpful. In addition to the “overall” kit from above, this specific kit should contain:

  • Comfortable shoes!
  • Hair ties
  • Safety pins
  • Sewing kit
  • Tape
  • Dress tape
  • Tissue
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Mints
  • Bandages
  • A blue handkerchief (you would be surprised how many brides search for “something blue” an hour before they walk down the aisle)
  • A watch (you don’t want to be seen looking at your phone, but it is imperative that you keep track of time)

Lens Suggestions:

When photographing people, you can use a variety of lenses, depending on your desired results. Using a long lens, like an EF 70-200mm, will help to maintain the proportions of the subject as the eye sees them, while compressing the background. Using a wide-angle lens (anything under 40mm) will distort the scene because the wider you go, the more distortion you will see in the image.

A 50mm lens or medium lens is a good choice for portraits that are from the waist up.

Women at the beach

An 85mm portrait lens is incredible for capturing an intimate portrait of your subject.

If you want to capture close details of eyelashes or wrinkles, then use an EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro (crop sensor cameras only) or EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS lens to get close and have these detailed moments with your subject.

Macro lenses often double as tremendously sharp portrait lenses. If you want tight compositions with superb detail of skin texture or eyes, consider a macro lens like the ones mentioned above or try the EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro, which allows for a bit more working distance from the subject.

Guy smoking a cigar

Landscapes are traditionally photographed with wide-angles lenses using a 35mm lens or wider. For ease of packing you can use zoom lenses instead of prime lenses (single focal length) and minimize what you bring with you. A lens like the EF 16-35mm or 17-40mm (or EF-S 10-18/10-22mm, if you're using a crop-sensor camera), for example, will give you quite a bit of range, and will allow you to photograph a number of wide-angle situations from landscape to groups of people, to food. The 24-105mm lens (or EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens, for crop-sensor cameras) is perhaps the best travel option, because these lenses can cover everything from landscapes at their wide-angle end, to portraits and close-ups at their telephoto zoom settings, and everything in-between. Telephoto lenses also offer a beautiful alternative look for photographing landscapes.

Landscape

The EF-S 18-135 f/3.5-5.6 IS STM is also worth mentioning. This lens has fantastic range for stills and is also a perfect lens for video because of its near silent motor and its Image Stabilization - great for nature, travel and weddings.

Zoom lenses are useful for weddings, and the EF 70-200mm with a EF 24-70mm lens is a great starting point. If you want to go big, you can add a Macro lens (mentioned above) and a 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 to complete your wedding kit.

Having a solid working kit is the best way to be prepared for any situation that arises on a shoot, because there are almost always surprises. Things break, light changes, subjects come unprepared. Being the most prepared photographer you can be will ultimately save you in the end and truly make you feel and act as professionally as you are. You can never be over-prepared!