A Well Organized Bag is a Good Start

Something that drives me crazy is when I see photographers with disorganized camera bags.  My wife’s is absolutely terrifying.  Film photographers are probably the worst offenders but ironically have the greatest need for an organized bag.

If you’re an award-winning, world renowned photographer and keep a messy bag, fine.  Who am I to criticize you?  But if you’re still working towards that Pulitzer and find yourself scrambling to find the right roll of film at just the right time, rummaging around for a lens or a nickel to change a battery, this blog’s for you!

Here is my Domke F-1X, loaded and ready for a shoot.

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In addition to what you see here, I’ll be wearing my Leica M6 TTL and Summitar lens.  I always wear a camera that I keep out of the bag, ready to use at any given moment, to identify myself to people as the photographer, and also to free up that much more space in my bag.

Inside the bag, left to right, you’ll see three Nikon bodies; two FM2n’s and one FM10, and five Nikkor AI lenses that fit those three bodies.  Another Leitz lens is tucked in a case below the Nikkor with the skull rear cap.  I really like these LensBling rear lens caps.  Check them out if you are neurotic like me.  Or, you can just do what I used to do which is buy a roll of white Gaff Tape and note the length of the lens on a patch of tape stuck to an existing rear cap.

As a lens is removed, the rear cap is removed and returned to the slot from which the lens came.  As the lens is returned, the rear cap goes back on too.  I seldom mess with front caps when shooting weddings or concerts.  Metal hoods protect the front adequately and there’s just not time to baby your gear if you are being attentive to the work at hand.

A well organized bag may LOOK like you’re babying your gear but it actually allows you to work in such a way that there is NO NEED TO BABY YOUR GEAR.

On the far left, is a strap for each camera.  I like to shoot without a strap but when using two bodies at once, both need a strap.  Every once in a while I get ridiculous and wear three bodies.

MartyrByMurdock
Photo of me covering a Ted Cruz rally in 2016, courtesy of Andrew Murdock

Also notice that I have several markers and pens.  You need markers for noting ISO changes on your film (CRITICAL) and you never know when you need a pen.  Or when someone else does and you can help them out!  The other pockets contain business cards, batteries, a nickel for changing the batteries, shoot itinerary, cell phone charger, extra tripod plate, a Giottos Rocket Blower, a collapsible reflector, a couple camera rain jackets, spare pair of eyeglasses, Tylenol, and a small changing bag in case there’s a problem.  As well as my film.

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I use Chinese plastic film cases to keep my film organized.  I label each case by ISO and am careful to insert all the film with the “nub” of the cassette facing upward.  After the roll is spent, the leader is of course sucked in and the roll is returned to the case with the nub facing down.  This small habit rightfully compliments and further expresses my OCD but also ensures that I NEVER grab a spent roll during reload.

Also, I only bring film in increments of ten so that each slot of each case is filled.  If a slot’s empty, I know I’m missing a roll immediately.

Why go to all this trouble?!

Well, the reasons are numerous and critical but here are my top three:

1–If you can find what you need from your bag quickly and easily, you have that much more time to consider a shot and take it correctly.  Obvious.

2–If you can find what you need from your bag quickly and easily, your client will never witness you fumbling around like an idiot.  Each time they see you without the camera over your face, they will see you removing and returning items from your bag like a methodical machine on a mission.  This makes you look good.  Photographers, rather we like to admit it or not, live and die by our clients’ confidence in us.   Less obvious.

3–If you can find what you need from your bag quickly and easily, you will never accidentally leave gear behind at a shoot or misplace a roll of film.  Photographers often forget a lens or flash or something at a venue.  I have seen it happen to just about every shooter I know.  A well organized bag should prevent this.  The film thing is even more crucial though.  I can’t tell you how many times, shooting weddings with up to 35 rolls of film burnt a day, I used to leave a roll in the wrong pocket of my bag and forget it during processing.  Yes, I’d always eventually find that film but maybe I wouldn’t find it until after I thought I’d processed all my shots from a day.  Then, I’d have to go back and process just a single roll of film in order to complete a project.  That means mixing fresh chemistry, drying and scanning all over again for a single roll.  Far from obvious and perhaps something you just have to experience to appreciate!  

So keeping an organized bag is not something taught, or that needs to be taught in Photo 101.  But I promise that an organized camera bag is a good start to better photography.  Particularly if you are doing product shots of camera bags!

Let me know what critical items you always keep in your bag or how you keep things organized!

Thanks for reading!

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