How do you choose which gear goes and which stays home when you’re heading out on a trip that includes both work and play; historical settings; sacred and tourist spots; followed by contemporary urban locations and then wide open African expanses? Baffling, indeed.
But you’ve got to start somewhere so earlier today I laid out all of my favorite lenses and bodies and asked myself which lenses might be denied the wonderful joys of capturing Rome and South Africa. And then the bigger question, would I miss them? It shames me to say that my 100mm 2.8 Macro that brings me endless joy is always the first to get tossed into the “this piggy stayed home pile.” It’s a fantastic lens but I’ve got that focal length covered in the 70-200mm 2.8 which I know is making the trek and I don’t shoot much 1:1 macro in faraway lands. (I mean really, what would be the point?)
After that, I’m stumped and have to roll through a list of questions to help me whittle down the pack.
1. First, what will I be shooting? Travel? Street? Stock? Vacation snapshots? This is the most important question and also the one that most often makes me scream to the heavens: “I NEED them all! Please don’t make me choose!” After all, how can I know what there is too shoot until I get here? The truth is I do know when I travel I tend to use the same two lenses, three at most. So now I can decide to pack with my known shooting tendencies in mind or, and this is far more difficult, I can choose to break out of that comfort zone and pack only one lens. There are real benefits to developing creatively by limiting my gear this way, not to mention the benefits to my shoulders. Will I do it? We’ll see.
2. Is Jack, my husband, traveling with me? It used to be that when the answer to this question is yes it simply meant that I could pretty much take anything I wanted because my husband so generously volunteers to carry it. (Don’t even start about that being sexist. I would let my wife carry my load too, if I had one, and she offered.) However, Jack recently graduated from his trusty Canon G9 to a DSLR of his own with a couple of lenses he likes. This creates two new scenarios. First the bad news: he’s less available to carry my gear (though he still offers,) but then the upside: he’ll already be carrying a lens or two that I could use in a pinch – so maybe I can leave my 24-70 home?
3. Am I traveling internationally? I had to replace my cameral luggage for my last trip to Tokyo. I purposely bought a sturdy Think Tank International Roller bag instead of the larger US version. The United States has the (almost embarrassing) need to supersize things which makes the USA Think Tank roller too big to qualify as carry-on on international carriers. While I’ve been known to cajole airline gate staff to allow a slightly large bag to board a domestic flight, I have found it excruciatingly painful to attempt it in a language in which I maybe know how to order a beer. Better to be assured that my precious cargo stays with me by using the smaller bag. But I can only take what will fit inside it – and must consider whether I’m taking the laptop too as it gets stowed in the roller too.
4. How much gear can be kept safe when not in use? Sometimes whether I like it or not I wind up in a region that has perhaps a small but skilled nefarious population that’s not exactly highlighted in the tourist literature but you can read all about in the forums on Fodors.com. When in those areas I like to have less to worry about; less to lose. The easiest way to assure that is to simply: take less. This is also a good time to remind you – regardless of what you take on your journeys – that decent equipment insurance is a must. And for those of you who aren’t full time commercial photographers but who are serious enthusiasts who make a little “pin” money with photography, don’t be fooled into thinking your homeowner’s insurance will cover your equipment. It likely won’t, or may require an additional rider. Look into it before you go.
5. Which piece of gear can I most imagine kicking myself for not bringing? This is usually the last and most important of all the questions. Please don’t tell Joe “I-Can-Light-the-Dark-Ages-with-a-SB900” McNally this: I had actually decided to not take a Canon 580 EX II this trip. But when I think about the thing I will most miss if I need it, a pop of light from a good flash tops the list – so it’s coming. But only one. (Sorry Joe.)
Everyone has their own needs and packing rituals. This is just my approach. In the end I decided to take one 5DM2 body with the 70-200mm 2.8 along with the 2x converter for safari. After that there’s the 24-70mm 2.8, the 17-40mm 4.0 and my little low-light darling 50mm 1.4.
Now to figure out which clothes to pack. Shoes, it turns out, are a lot like lenses in my book, you can’t have too many…that is until you have to carry them.