The Two-Pocket Shuffle
March 2009 see also Carry Less
The less I carry, the better I shoot.
I'm less tired from carrying it all, and I see more clearly since I'm not worried about swapping among several lenses.
Since I'm less tired, I spend more time out shooting and get further, and since I see more clearly, my shots are stronger.
By carrying less, I shoot more and stronger images.
It's always OK to buy and own every possible lens and accessory, but never OK to take it all with you at any one time.
Pick what you need, and take only it. Leave the rest at home, or as Jesus said, sell it and give the money to the poor. You don't need it, and you'll take better pictures without it.
The Three Lenses top
I prefer to shoot with a wide lens, a short tele, and maybe a fast medium lens.
Pick which three lenses you want, but never more than three. You really only need two, or even better, just one.
If I'm not out on a serious shoot, I rarely carry more than one lens. Even one fixed 50mm or 21mm is all I really need to shoot all day and be happy.
Typically I'll have a 21mm lens and a 90mm lens that do most of the work, and the fast medium lens as a spare.
When out shooting the stuff I like to shoot, I typically shoot 60% a 21mm, 30% with a 90mm, and 10% with a fast 35mm or 50mm.
The Two-Pocket Shuffle top
How do I carry all this? Easy: one lens on the camera, and the two others each in a coat or pants pocket.
I call this a shuffle because any given lens might be on the camera or in either pocket as I change lenses. You identify which is where by feel.
I can shoot for weeks at a time this way. I carry film or accessories in another pocket.
If it's cold, my lenses go in my jacket pockets, and if it's nice, in my hiking shorts pockets. I rarely wear pants in nice weather, but if I do and can get away with it, ugly pants with hiking-shorts pockets (especially zip-off pants) work great.
Carrying a camera bag is a pain, and makes me look like even more of a geek than I usually do.
Never carry a camera bag unless you have to. They usually encourage you to carry too much. Keep your gear down to what fits in your pockets and you'll be much happier.
If you must carry a bag, make it the smallest you can.
The best is a tiny fanny pack, not even dedicated to photography.
The Waist Pack top
If I carry a bag, it's a waist pack that holds a body, some lenses and accessories.
These are big fanny packs, and have the huge stealth advantage of being presumed by strangers to be a runner's fanny pack, and not a camera bag.
My favorite packs are the old half-moon waist packs popular in the 1980s and 1990s, before lenses and bodies grew way out of control.
As of 2009, my favorite is the Think Tank Speed Demon, but it weighs about as much as the super-light Leica and tiny Leica lenses (or Nikon D40, 18-55 and 55-200mm VR) I shoot today, about 1300g (3 pounds) empty.
All bags are too heavy. The best bag is no bag at all.
The Vest top
If I'm carrying way too much, I put on the full-geek and wear a big photo vest.
With a photo vest (my favorite is the one I got at Banana Republic back in the 1990s) I can carry a ton of gear, even a full 4x5" setup, have my arms and legs free to move and climb, and I can get anything just by reaching for it.
The Backpack top
I have no idea why I see so many newcomers to photography carrying 50 pounds (25kg) of gear in backpacks. I don't know anyone who uses one of these, but anytime I'm at a popular photo spot, everyone else seems to be struggling with one of these while I'm shooting away.
Backpacks are bad because:
1.) You have to put them down in the dirt, mud, river or whatever to get to anything.
2.) They encourage you to take too much stuff which slows you down.
3.) Even the fancy ones that work like slings or allow you to stick things in the side still either strangle you, or dump all your gear on the ground as you try to fiddle with them.
Backpacks are bad, and usually a big flashing sign that says "newcomer."
Welcome, newcomers, but leave the backpack (and extra gear) at home.
If you try to be prepared for everything, you are prepared for nothing. You're crippled by trying to carry it all, and never being able to find what you need when you do.
As Ted Orland observed, having more than one lens guarantees the wrong lens will always be on your camera.
It's just like traveling: the frequent travelers carry almost nothing, since they only carry what experience has shown them that they really will use. They also have been clever enough to pick things that serve multiple purposes.
New travelers bring everything, because they fear that they "might" need it. Since they lack the experience to know what's needed as opposed to "maybe" needed, they try to carry it all.
I support my growing family through this website.
If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.
The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.
Thanks for reading!