What's In My Bag + Why // Education
Here’s to hoping this serves as an educational resource for someone, anyone out there! Not only is this a complete listing of the gear & equipment I use on a regular basis, from traveling to weddings, I also explain why. Why does this gear matter? Why do I use this lens as opposed to that one? Buckle up & feel free to ask questions in the comments or through Instagram!
“The best camera is the one you have with you”
The above is popular quote often credited to either Jay Maisel or Chase Jarvis, who are probably famous but honestly idk. The point is, even though this is my most asked question, owning the same gear as your photography hero will not transform you into a photography hero! I briefly explained in my last blog that your camera, your lens, your editing software are just tools. They are to be used as extensions of YOU. The same way a hammer doesn’t build a birdhouse, the camera does not make a photograph.
Camera gear CAN however make achieving your desired look easier. I’ll explain some of this below, but I’m also going by the assumption that you are fairly familiar with camera equipment & technology. You can use your gear to create certain moods, perspectives, & feelings in your photographs, & that is the primary reason I’m going out of my way to share what I use while I’m out & about!
These are the following cameras I currently own. Cameras with a * signify my main working bodies.
Starter camera (now sold) Nikon D5300
Digital Cameras - First of all, you’ll notice I shoot Nikon. I shoot Nikon because the guys I looked up to shot Nikon. I started with Nikon, I started building a library of lenses/batteries/compatible accessories & stuck with it! If you shoot Canon or Sony or Fuji or Pentax or whatever, I don’t hate you. It’s just a company that makes a tool that I happen to be more familiar with :)
If you are familiar with the differences between camera bodies & the Nikon line-up, feel free to skip this next blurb about when/why I upgraded.
I started with a Nikon D5300. This is a step up from the entry-level starter camera. I skipped the entry level because I knew it was a hobby I wanted to get more into. It was less than a year before I felt limited by what I could accomplish with that camera. Specifically when it came to having full control over some of my settings with portraits. I wasn’t able to get the light & resolution how I wanted, so I upgraded! The Nikon D7200 is similar to the D5300 in the sense that they have cropped-sensors, but the D7200 is on the high-end for these enthusiast-level cameras. At the time, it had some of the best low-light capabilities of other cropped-sensors & was a great bang for your buck.
Then I upgraded again… My jump up to the Nikon D750 was primarily because I started taking on weddings. The biggest difference between a cropped-sensor & a full frame sensor is the camera’s ability to record information on the digital sensor. In other words, EVERYTHING about the D750 is slightly better than a camera like the D7500. More light, more room in the frame, more color latitude, more resolution, more detail, more settings. All the things I need to be able to work comfortably in the varying situations any given wedding day can throw at you.
Film Cameras - For more info on 35mm Film, definitely check out my last blog HERE. I linked Amazon searches to the film bodies I currently have above, but note that I did not pay those prices. I actually got my first film camera free from the school where I teach! The old yearbook class filing cabinet had a Canon AE-1 hiding in it. That’s where my fascination & adventure with film began! I collected two prime lenses to go with the Canon AE-1, but in my style of shooting I started feeling very limited by those two focal lengths, as well as being locked into manual focus & controls. The Canon AE-1 was extremely difficult to use during Weddings & Portrait sessions where there was a lot of movement & varying direction.
That’s when I found the Nikon F100 on a used-camera site for around $250. It’s been praised one of the top film cameras Nikon ever made, so I felt like that was a steal! The Nikon F100 accepts all the lenses I already have for my digital camera & has very similar & familiar settings to help match my shooting style. I’m super pleased with the investment so far!
This is a comprehensive list of what I lenses I have & use per camera body most frequently. This is where the greatest differences in images will take place. The right focal length & aperture settings can turn a mediocre scene into something artistic & spectacular. I favor prime lenses with one fixed focal length over zoom lenses. If I only had one lens it would be a 50mm on a full frame/film or a 35mm on a cropped-sensor like the D7200. (note that the lenses made for a D7200 cropped sensor, DX for Nikon, will not work on my other cameras, but lenses for the D750 will work down to D7200)
Nikon 50mm f1.4
Tamron 35mm f1.8 Di VC
Nikon 85mm f1.8
Nikon 24-120mm f4
Irix 15mm f2.4
Nikon 50mm f1.8
Nikon D7200 (including lenses above)
Nikon DX 35mm f1.8
Nikon DX 18-140mm f3.5-5.6
Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 (DX mount)
Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 (DX mount)
Nikon F100 (same lenses as D750)
Canon FD 50mm f1.8
Canon FD 24mm f2.8
Why Lenses Matter
In this section I’ll provide some photo-examples of when I’ve used different lenses to achieve different desired outcomes. The two most important factors to a lens are the focal length (wide or tight) & the aperture/f-stop number because this determines depth of field to give you blurry backgrounds or foregrounds for portraits especially. Lower f numbers also usually signify the quality of lens because they allow in more light & shallower depth of field.
There are plenty of other pieces of equipment I use almost every time I take photos, so this section will be dedicated to what I regularly use & the reasons why. A lot of this gear was chosen based on a lot of product testing, trial & error. I wouldn’t recommend something I don’t trust!
Peak Design Straps - I love these camera straps. The anchors are easy to use, easy to remove, & the straps are durable & comfortable. I have the Slide Lite, Leash, & Cuff designs.
Bearloga leather Harness - For Weddings. This dual camera harness is great for letting me use my hands as well as hold my digital AND film cameras simultaneously for times when I need both. It’s basically a Russian version of Holdfast Gear (+ cheaper).
Go Groove Camera Backpack - I get compliments literally every session on this backpack and it was such a cheap, random purchase, but it’s great! It carries everything I would need for an average photography outing & I’ve covered mine in patches & pins from my travels.
Zomei Tripod - This is another cheaper alternative to great gear I found on Amazon. Usually I would expect a product like this to fall apart pretty quickly, but I’ve been hiking & traveling & abusing this tripod for over 2 years now & it still holds up! I only use a tripod for travel, hiking, & personal photography- never during a paid session.
Nikon SB-700 Speedlight Flash - I never use flash unless I really have to. This is almost always during wedding receptions. It’s so hard for me to imagine investing a ton of money in something I use for only 10% of my work, plus artificial lighting really doesn’t work with my style. So when I need a flash, I use this speedlight. It’s reliable, easy on batteries, & performs as you’d expect!
Memory - I prefer Lexar Professional 64BG SD cards. I’ve never had one fail, but 64GB is usually large enough to shoot an entire wedding with another card backing up RAW files simultaneously. I also love my Lacie Rugged 2TB External Harddrive. It’s my working hard-drive while I backup to two WD 1TB Pass drives.
I use Adobe Lightroom Classic & very rarely Adobe Photoshop to post-process on a 13-inch Macbook Pro Retina.
Film - I have found that I prefer Kodak Portra film stocks for 35mm, but I am always experimenting with new films. I am especially in favor of Portra 400 for it’s tones & latitude. For black & white film I prefer Ilford HP5 400.
Film Developing - I send 100% of my film to The Darkroom Lab. They’re fast, customer service is great, they send you free mailers, they upload scans online AND send negs/prints back. Everything film, I go through them.
How I Pack It
Since the article is partially titled “What’s In My Bag” I feel like it might be beneficial to explain what is actually in my bag in different scenarios. The scenario is, after all, the most important aspect, so I’ll label & explain accordingly!
On my average hike through the wilderness areas surrounding the Buffalo National River, I’ve been packing my GoGroove camera backpack with:
Nikon D750 Tamron 35mm lens
Nikon 24-120mm lens
Irix 15mm lens
Nikon F100 35mm film camera loaded with (most likely) Kodak Portra 400 film
Headlamps & water
This particular set-up allows me shoot digital or film from ultra-wide to tight details. I’ve considered only taking the 24-120mm f4 lens occasionally, but I like keep the portrait lens (35mm) on one of my given cameras just in case of low-light or a portrait opportunity. The 15mm is great to have for the right situations too, so it’s hard to reason leaving home without it.
This is a bit bigger of a list because a wedding is the LAST place you want to realize you left something at home. I also pack almost twice as much gear because my wife is my second shooter with most of my “back-up” gear.
Nikon D750 with battery grip
Prime Lenses - 35mm f1.8, 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.8
Wide angle lens for establishing shots at the venue - either 24-120mm or 15mm depending on location
Nikon F100 film camera loaded with film for the lighting conditions of the day (Portra 160, 400 or 800). This camera will have one of my prime lenses mounted for quick switches.
Bearloga Harness to hold both cameras
Nikon SB700 speed light with batteries for the reception
Nikon D7200 with battery grip
Prime Lenses - 35mm f1.8 DX, 50mm f1.8, she uses my 85mm f1.8 a lot on the crop sensor too which is GREAT for close ups!
Peak Design leash strap
Usually helping keep track of the camera bag/helping carry extra lens
When I set out to create this post, I honestly didn’t expect to pack it full of so much information… but I’m glad I did! This is the info I wish someone had shared with me when I first got started. Maybe I wouldn’t have wasted so much time obsessing over gear I thought I HAD to have, or wasted money on gear that was bad or unnecessary!
I do hope for the future to acquire these items for upgrade - Nikon 35mm f1.4 & Nikon 58mm f1.4 for portraits, Nikon 24-70 2.8 for travel, all-purpose, & I want to get another D750 to replace Hanna’s D7200 as a second shooter.
If you have any questions at all you know where to find me!