For a guy who yammers on about "practice" I sure am out of practice...

an image from an annual report shoot several years ago. we used to go out more often with tons of gear poised over both shoulders and a cart in tow. do it every day and it becomes routine. hoist the bags too rarely and when you do get a job that involves portage you suffer.

WORK IS A CRUEL BITCH. It robs you of the time you deserve to spend shopping for fun, new cameras, taking naps and having coffee with friends who are as indolent as yourself.

I've been doing a lot of work lately that goes like this: Assistant (Ben) shows up and helps pack gear into cases and then into the car. We arrive at some high technology company headquarters or advertising location and Assistant helps load all the junk onto a stout cart and helps navigate to the elevators and onward to the final location. Assistant and photographer set up and usually spend a fun, happy, coffee filled and engaging morning or afternoon making portraits, or shooting products, or making photographs of people using their products. Then Assistant and I load everything back into the cases, return to the studio and I head to the computer while Assistant unloads car, then cases.

In previous times the business was more heavily weighted to two kinds of imaging that required more "big bag on shoulder" work. The image above was just one of six taken on six locations throughout a long day. Most of the locations were not the kinds that you could drive a car right up next to, hop out and work out of the hatchback. A job like the one above might require a quarter mile trek through some gravel and some mud (which always precluded the use of a cart). I'd put the camera bag, laden with all those too heavy, full frame or APS-C cameras and their huge lenses and assorted battery powered flashes, over one shoulder put the 18 pound Elinchrom Ranger RX AS pack over the other shoulder and grab a stand with a flash head and modifier to carry in my hands. Then we'd traipse off into the heat and find a great spot to in which to shoot.

The other type of carry it all around with you job is the corporate showcase or event. Imagine a sprawling convention center with half a million square feet of space, a client break out room or demo area or main tent speaker session at every end of the building and on every floor of the space---and events happening continually. I used to do these with a big Domke camera bag over one shoulder that held multiple, big, fat cameras, the usual holy trinity  of lenses (wide zoom, normal zoom, telephoto zoom), several flashes and lots of batteries. Most of the time you never put the bag down. You were shooting and then moving on to the next spectacle continually from the time you arrived (before dawn) till the last of the proscribed and required social functions; well past 10  pm.

If you were wise at all you'd switch the bag from shoulder to shoulder to try to even out the abuse.

But, as I wrote above, the work I'm doing these days requires more carting (too much studio type gear) and much less camera bagging. So I was rudely surprised at the end of the day yesterday when my left shoulder hurt, my left forearm was sore and my lower back was flashing the "if you do much more I'm going to punish you!!" symptoms.  I'd spent all day shooting. And for five hours of it I walked around with the heavy camera bag and too much stuff hanging over my left shoulder.

Here's the sneaky thing about all those super small and lightweight micro four thirds cameras: They take up less space so you can take more. I knew I'd be shooting with the Panasonic GH cameras because part of one shoot was video. But I also wanted to drag along the EM-5 with me to do some comparison shooting for an upcoming GH4 review. But of course any time my brain is in the testing mode you know that additional boutique-y, prime lenses and legacy mania optics are also coming along for the ride. Ben and I shot at the museum (he carried the bag full of flashes and LED panels as well as the light stands, the tripod and the clipboard with model releases) from 11:00 am till about 5 pm and then we headed home. I dropped him off, picked up different gear and more batteries and headed to Zach Theatre for an evening of rehearsal shooting, also with the comparative camera combos.

One of the things I was testing is Oly Jpeg files versus GH4 Jpegs. Not really a gnat's whisker difference in overall quality if you know how to set up the menus. The real fun part of the evening was working with the IBIS in the EM-5 along with an ancient Pen F 150mm f4 lens from the early 1970's. Amazing what you could do with that stuff if you actually got it in focus and stabilized.

At any rate, when I woke up this morning I was sore. Some of that could be three days in a row of 1.5 hour, holiday swim practices but the left shoulder and lower back can only be credited to being out of shape with the bag.

Other than reconstituting the type of jobs I'm searching for (and accepting the painful ones)  I don't know how to maintain that kind of conditioning. It would be too goofy to go for long walks with big camera bags. But there it is.

I know enough now to at least pawn off half the load to my Assistant. As I become less excited about dragging bags around maybe I'll just have to start surrounding myself with an entire assistant entourage. Naw...who am I kidding? I'm too cheap to feed more than one assistant per job...

At some point I guess every photographer has to come to grips with the fact that what you could carry through the day in your thirties changes when you hit your fifties. Doesn't make it any more palatable.

Need some action and adventure in your Summer? Try the photo novel of the Summer: 

We'll both be happy you did!


  1. Kirk,
    That first sentence is catchy to say the least. I highly recommend retirement- you can take part in the second sentence anytime.

    But really,how old are you- 50's if I remember correctly-your a kid! Hit the gym a few times a week for weight training and the bags get much lighter and keep swimming. Take it from a really old guy it works.

  2. C'mon, Kirk! I am much older than you!

    But a word of advice -- get a smaller bag. Whatever size bag you have, there is an irresistible temptation to load it with as much as it will hold. Remember, more equipment means less photography, less equipment means more photography, as you yourself have often preached.

  3. Dave, you are so right. Who am I to complain about working a double shift on Sunday? But, back when I was just a kid we walked uphill to school in blizzards in both directions and I used to put shards of glass in my boots because I thought it made me tougher until I met the guy....

  4. Well, I don't do double shifts, but I do still work two-wedding weekends (but only as a second shooter these days). And I lighten my load in every way possible. I usually carry just one 6D with two of the lighter zoom lenses and a flash.

  5. I have spent some long days carrying around LF gear, sometimes in places like old forts with lots of treacherous stairs in hot and humid places. I finally got some Kinesis Photo Gear bags and a harness. (kgear.com) This stuff is designed for carrying around really serious video gear. It lets you distribute the weight across your back and hips and carry a lot of stuff.

  6. Vacation brings up similar self dialogue - "Bring it all just in case." or "Pack light because we'll be walking a lot."


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