Peeking In The Gadget Bag:

by ralph

One thing all photographers seem to share, pro and amateur alike, is that overstuffed camera bag full of cameras, lenses and film. Expensive and impressive as all that equipment may be, sometimes our most high flying projects are shot down by the lack of an item as simple as a rubber band. That actually happened to me once when trying to shoot up to the head and arm of the Statue of Liberty. It was a steep angle and the zoom lens kept slipping back from the focus and focal length I was trying to set. Although I neglected to stick a small baggie of rubber bands in my gadget bag (an error now rectified) I did manage to find one in a pocket. When snapped around the lens barrel it held the zoom settings in the desired position.

So I thought I might make a list of all those small items that would be insignificant except that they could make or break a picture. For starters, if your camera is one of the newer ones with an LCD screen you might want to keep the manual handy. I find it easy to forget what all the cryptic little symbols mean and after a while confuse the metering pattern with the focusing patterns (among other puzzles), so that a refresher course "in the field" is often necessary.

Speaking of printed things, the gadget bag is a good place to keep the map. Whether it's a map of the zoo, the city or the historic district sometimes we need help to figure out where we're going. Also, as photographers we are concerned with the orientation of the light source (sun) which makes the north heading on the map extra useful. For the same reason having a small compass handy could be useful if you come upon a building or scenic on a gray day and plan to return at the best time when the sun is shining.

We all need a flash unit at some point and tend to graduate to the hefty but capable "potato masher" size after a while, as I have. But I still keep my old, small, camera top size, sunpak 411, right in the camera bag (the big one certainly wouldn't fit there). It gets plenty of action and has saved many a shot with a pop of foreground light, simply because it's so handy. And of course, let's not forget spare batteries. Not only for the flash but for the camera as well.. Those super automated LCD & motor drive marvels tend to eat batteries the way an SUV eats gas so don't be left with a dead camera in the middle of a roll -- and as soon as you put the extra battery in the camera make sure to get a replacement

While on the subject of flash, have you ever picked up one of those swatch books of sample gels put out be Lee or Rosco filters. They are usually freebies at some of the bigger photo shows. The samples are just big enough to tape on the smaller flash reflectors when you want to warm or cool the light or want a bright splash of color. They are small and easily fit in your bag.

Did I say tape on? There's hardly anything simpler or more useful than a roll of tape but I usually avoid the bulk of a tape dispenser by winding a few feet of black photo tape on an old 35mm film core or one of those cassette "cans".

Here's a simple (and light) necessity I wouldn't be without -- a plain black card. A square of 5" or 6" size is practical, bigger ones tend to get crumpled in the bag, and blacker is better. Black velour paper is great if you can find a stiff enough piece. The list of uses is long but here are a few. Let's say you're shooting a night shot that lasts many seconds. Keep that card handy to cover the lens (without touching it) when that fat guy in white, or that garbage truck blunders into the scene. Also at night, I've found it useful to "dodge" bright areas during long exposures -- almost as if I were exposing under the enlarger. Positioning is guesswork of course but I find even a bad guess is an improvement when the light is very uneven. Avoiding reflections when shooting through windows is easily done with the card. The usual recommendat
io
n is to get the lens close to (touching) the glass and use a rubber lens shade which can be bent to contact the glass. Good advice but it doesn't work beyond a minimal angle to the window. So just lean the lens against the glass and hold the black card next to the lens where it can blot out reflections. This works even better if there's a, half-moon cutout on the edge of the card that lets you surround the lens more. Let's say you've back wound a half shot roll of film out of your camera (maybe it was the wrong speed or something) and now it's time to reload it to where it was. You have to click off the previously exposed frames but in order to avoid fogging the film use either a tight lens cap or press the lens against your black card (also use a high shutter speed).

Speaking of night photos, or any pix in dark areas, you'll definitely need a flashlight sooner or later. Since a magnifier is also useful why not combine functions in one of those pop-up illuminated magnifiers. They're quite light and small.

We often have to do battle with dust and dirt when we're out shooting. The worst thing you can do is to wipe a lens with a piece of lens tissue while the grit is present since the two together function as a piece of sandpaper. One of those soft lens brushes is a better option. If there are still some smudges present wait till you get home to do a more careful cleanup. Those microfiber cloths are good for that but after just one or two uses a good washing might be needed to keep them from becoming another piece of sandpaper. Many fastidious photographers insist on keeping one of those small size "canned air" dispensers in their bags, but that's already bulkier than most of the previous items so it's up to you. I find "Q-Tips" to be very useful for cleaning out eyepieces and other hard to reach spots so I keep just a few in a mini baggie.

On one occasion I had just persuaded a person to sign a property release (it's like a model release) but when I reached in my pocket for the ever present pen it wasn't there. Some sweating and scrounging was needed to get the signature and after that I went out and got one of those 10 packs of pens and stuffed them in every camera bag I had -- just to have a back-up. And of course there are model (and property) releases (. A beginner in this field can reasonably ignore them since exhibiting in a club is a non commercial activity, but what if one of your people or unique property shots were published? Or if you showed them in a gallery (where sales are possible)? If there's any remote chance you'll need a release, down the line, it would be easiest to get at the time the photo is shot --- so keep some forms in your bag.

It's pretty pathetic to watch a slide show where the photographer can't remember the names and histories of places shown. For that reason I always carry a microcassette recorder for general note taking, but a lighter and cheaper alternative is simply a small pad or notebook (which I also use).

A pen knife or similar item is often useful to remove offending brush in a outdoor shot, or to fashion a prop or cut a background. Likewise I once tried to shoot through a wire mesh fence but the image was degraded by reflection off the bright metal.. Since then I've always carried one of those wide tipped black markers in my bag. Another item of interest to pet and animal shooters --- such folks like to keep one of those clickers handy. It can produce attentive looks and perked up ears from the furry critters.

Of course there are the more photographic items that shooters sometime overlook. If you want the utmost steadiness on a tripod you'll need a cable release to isolate your own body movement from the camera. Just to make sure I'm never without them I keep 5 or 6 in various camera bags. If you use filters you've probably grappled with the problem of different sizes. Even trying to stay with one or two sizes makes it necessary to use step-up and step-down rings. I
've f
ound it unavoidable to (gradually) acquire every possible up and down combination and keep them in the gadget bag.

Then there's cokin filters. One size fits all (if you get the largest size you need, plus adapter rings) and you can play with those great "graduals" that enable you to dodge light areas, add blue to a white sky, even add an orange sunset and blue foreground to a lifeless, gray ocean scene --- but that's a whole story in itself.