What’s your bag?

So you’ve gotten more serious about photography and have not only gotten a DSLR camera but a couple of lenses, a flash and some other accessories as well. How do you carry it all around with you? There are several different options available to you these days.

When I started in photography in the early 1980s Domke was the bag of choice for photojournalists. It was designed by Philadelphia Inquirer photographer Jim Domke in 1975. Seeing only box-like bags which were bulky and heavy, Domke sought to make one that was lightweight, could carry a lot of stuff and was easy to get equipment in and out of.

He made his bag out of duck canvas which was durable, waterproof and lightweight. There were large compartments for lenses and cameras and smaller pockets for film and accessories. He made the bags and marketed them and while they may not have been a household name, they were a hit with photographers.

Domke expanded his line of bags to include different sizes and models and eventually sold the company to Tiffen which still markets the bags today. However, nowadays there are probably of dozens of brands and types of bags to choose from.

Personally, I still like to use a shoulder bag. As the name suggests it hangs off one’s shoulder via a strap. To me the bags are easy to work out of on assignment. Everything is within arm’s reach so changing a lens, or putting on a flash takes a minimal amount of time. Most of these kinds of bags come in many different sizes and have several pockets. Also the interior configurations are often adjustable so you can set them up the way you like them. The downside of a shoulder bag is that, if you have 10-20 pounds of equipment, it can cause you shoulder and back pain if you carry one for any length of time.

Photo backpacks are good if you have a lot equipment. These offer a high level of protection for your equipment. They tend to be better padded than most shoulder bags and they are often have a bigger carrying capacity. They have 2 straps and you carry them on your back spreading the load over both shoulders thus easier on your body. They are good if you’re traveling as carrying on luggage but they’re not as easy to work out of as a shoulder bag. A rolling case is similar, offering a little more protection but less practicality.

If you’re traveling, the shoulder bag, the backpack and the rolling case are good as carry-on luggage. Hard cases, like Pelican cases, are the way to go if you’re going to check your equipment in the hold of an airplane. They provide a hard outer shell with lots of custom foam padding on the inside for the most protection you can get. You never know if you’re going to get the American Tourister gorilla as a baggage handler.

Finally there’s the belt “bag.” Belt systems consist of a wearable belt with pouches or compartments for lenses or accessories attached to it. These are handy for a working photographer. Everything is at waist level and easy to reach quickly and efficiently. The pouches are usually moveable and customizable to one’s specific needs. They can function sort of like Batman’s utility belt. That can be a bit of an aesthetic downside. Wedding photographers often cover events that require them to dress up. Who wants one who looks like the Dark Knight? Also, while a belt system moves the weight from the shoulders to the hips, it can cause stress for those who may have problems with their hips or legs. However, some belts come with a suspender option thus spreading the weight over the hips and shoulders, lessening the stress on both.

Whichever bag option you choose, make sure you can custom fit it to your gear and that it suits your specific needs.

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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