What's not in my bag
I love devouring What's in my bag videos and articles as much as the next guy. But I wouldn't actually mind learning what people prefer not to carry in their bags. I mean, as much as I enjoy photographers flaunting their camera bodies and lenses I neither need nor can afford, I'd prefer to learn what pieces of photographic equipment they avoid and why. Because I know what I want, but I wouldn't mind getting pointers on what I should steer clear of.
Actually, I already know that there are several things I under no circumstances want in my photo bag. I learned it the hard (and expensive) way, and I'm here to share my story. But first a disclaimer: I'm lazy. When packing my photo bag, I base my decisions not on "what do I need to take good photos", but "how can I avoid too much work, and yet enjoy photography". Work like schlepping around a heavy bag, while sweating profusely and cursing loudly.
There are few things I dislike carrying with me more than a tripod. Come to think of it, there are actually no other things that I dislike more than tripods. When I took up photography, I was convinced that a tripod was an essential piece of hardware every photographer worth their salt should have. So on my first trip to Tokyo, I packed that cumbersome contraption, because I was fantasizing about taking beautiful nightscape photos. It didn't happen. But the fact that I haven't used it even once didn't deter me. And on my next trip to Japan, I actually did something I thought was very clever. Instead of packing a tripod with me, I bought one in Yodobashi Camera when I arrived in Tokyo. It was a good and rather expensive tripod. It came with a carrying case. I really liked it. I used it exactly once, and I hated the entire experience. There I was, standing next to the Skytree. But instead of taking in the scenery and admiring the amazing feat of engineering, I was monkeying around with the tripod. Then it started raining, and the rainy weather continued throughout the rest of the trip. The tripod was left unused. I did make a few other failed attempts to deploy a tripod on several trips after that, but with pretty much the same result: I hated every second of using it. Basically, a tripod requires dedication. I don't have that. And besides, who am I? Thomas Heaton?
I love computers. Heck, I make a living writing about using them, so how could I not like them? But I've never been keen on lugging around a regular laptop when traveling. The only reason to have a laptop in my photo bag was to back up RAW and JPEG files from my camera. It was complete overkill. So I built Little Backup Box, and I've been steadily improving on it. Having a backup appliance that literally fits in a pocket means that I can leave my laptop at home. And when I absolutely need a computing device with me, I pack an iPad.
"What if" lenses
Next on my list are what I call "what if" lenses. I usually pack a standard zoom lens and a prime. That's all I need, really. But before closing my bag, I'd inevitably start asking myself What if I need a wide angle lens? or I might need a tele zoom. I'd then dutifully pack whatever lenses I think I might need only to never use them during the trip. After doing this several times, and suffering under the weight of my photo bag, even a slow learner like me has learned his lesson. Sure, I do miss good shots every now and then, because I don't have the lens I need, but I try to be philosophical about it. My livelihood doesn't depend on me taking that photo, so what's the harm? I did enjoy walking around without breaking my back, and that's worth a lot to me.
The final item on the list is all the garbage "accessories" I found on Amazon or spent money funding on Kickstarter. A battery holder I thought would come in handy turned out to be too bulky, a clever Arduino-based remote trigger was indeed clever but utterly impractical and poorly built. And how can I forget a camera strap made of recycled seat belts? Good idea, pretty useless product. The list goes on and on.
Looking back, I can only chuckle and roll my eyes. But I'm glad that after years of optimizing the contents of my photo bag and wasting money on useless gizmos, I can now be confident that I have everything I need, and nothing else that can slow me down or make my travel and photographic experiences less enjoyable.
© Dmitri Popov