The phone rang early this morning. It was my electric utility client wanting to know if I could head out into the rain and join them for a rousing bout of videotaping and photographing the restoration of electrical power in flooded areas of central Texas. What could I say except, "I'd be delighted." And really, I am. This kind of work is so different from a lot of my typical day-to-day work, done in comfortable, interior spaces, mostly with well dressed people and close access to good-to-great coffee. But if you are heading to the middle of nowhere you have to think ahead and pack for the unexpected. The word, "client" is ancient Greek for "throws curve balls."
So, the plan, as it stands right now, is to head to a small Texas town where flooding has destroyed power poles and knocked down power lines. Our hope is to get heroic video footage of a crew getting a new pole sunk, new lines strung and the power restored. A bonus would be to capture this in driving rain with dark, brooding skies close overhead. The ultra-bonus would be that everyone working will be wearing rain gear with our client's logo on it.
What we're shooting is B-roll for future projects. Usually this means that we don't need to get more than just ambient audio but the first thing a client asked me last time we were out shooting storm B-roll was if we could do a quick interview. I hadn't thought about that in advance and so had showed up with just our camera, tripod and rain gear. When I left the house my over riding thought about lighting was the worry that we might not have enough light to make the little pixel wells twitch. It was dark and ominous at the time. So, of course, I forgot to bring along a neutral density filter, which immediately caused the sun to peek out. Enough ball dropping. I kicked myself and then got started on putting together a video "go" bag that has the basics.
Here's the bag I use:
Yes. No. It's not a "camera bag" sanctioned by the general traditionalists of either field; video or photography. It's a freaking tool bag. But you know what? I'm starting to wean myself off any sort of specific-to-the-photo-industry bags because they are frightfully expensive and, in my opinion, of no greater utility than stuff made for working men and women who carry around heavy tools for eight hours a day, five days a week.
I started collecting various sizes of Husky tool bags when I realized that most of what we were hauling to locations were accessories, not precious, delicate cameras. Sure, if you are getting on a plane and traveling on a vacation/photo adventure that doesn't require more than a camera, a few lenses and some extra batteries then you should stick with your Domke bag, over one shoulder, on its elegant strap. But consider, we have one open top Husky bag that is just filled with XLR cables and various connectors. Does that call for a Billingham Bag? (Of course, I would choose the Downton Abbey model with the mink liners....)?
I think many users have one bag and it's configured to match what they always carry. For non-commercial photographers that's usually a camera and a couple of lenses. But we seem to be re-configuring our cases all the time; to match the jobs at hand. As an example, I used the smaller version of the bag above two nights ago for the theater shoot. Two bodies and two lenses fit well and the bag was easy to carry and work out of. None of these bags are intended to go into checked airline luggage so concerns about ultimate toughness are not so cogent.
Here is how the bag opens (above). It reminds me of my great grandfather's leather medical bag. The opening is as wide as the bag but is rigid and pulls back into a closed position quickly. This open maw makes it easy to reach in a grab the thing I want. You'll notice that instead of traditional dividers I'm just putting cameras into neoprene Zing cases to cushion them and to add a layer of water and dust resistance. The bags themselves are a thick and sturdy canvas-like material that is very water resistant. Water will get in through the top zipper so if you have a fantasy of yourself standing in rain shooting, with your loyal bag beside you, you might want to get a poncho for your bag as well.
So, the bags are very well made, relatively water resistant, voluminous and rugged. They must cost a fortune, right? Well, I haven't checked the Billingham Bag prices lately but would conjecture that you can buy a couple of hundred, various Husky bags for the price of the smallest Billingham made to hold one point-and-shoot camera. Seriously though, the bigger bag, shown above and above, is about $30 to $40 at one of the big box hardware stores. While it's a bit big to carry around for street shooting it does have an included shoulder strap to help you in getting from the car to the location you'll shoot in.
What's in this bag? After my supply missteps on the last few outings I have this one stocked and ready. It contains two small, Manfrotto light stands, two Fotodiox 312 AS LED lights with extra batteries. One Rode Reporter (dynamic) microphone. One wired Audio Technica Pro-70 lavaliere microphone with an extra battery. One short XLR cable to the Reporter mic. One small, Beachtek mixer, which also matches impedance for the balanced to unbalanced connection. One set of good, ear covering headphones, one Zing bag full of neutral density, variable neutral density and polarizing filters with adapter rings, and cheap rain covers for two cameras. I have a cheap (but comfortable and effective) shoulder mount for my cameras. I also have a green garbage bag folded up in there somewhere in case the case and I get stuck outside in a rain storm. Finally, I have two Power Bars in a side pocket, just for emergencies.
When I am ready to hit the door and I drop in an RX10-2 and an RX10-3 cameras, as well as a small bag with four or five extra batteries. My final addition is a larger, lithium battery which will allow me to re-charge camera and phone batteries on the road.
Being pre-packed saves me time and saves me from making inventory mistakes.
The car usually contains a Manfrotto video tripod with a 501hv head and a five-in-one collapsable reflector set, as well as swim gear and three or four extra sets of goggles.
The Husky bags are great. I have a small one for grabbing cameras and heading to shoots with no video or audio components. It's just right for most available light situations (gear wise) and it cost a whopping $19. I also have a big, Husky rolling case which holds as much as my original Think Tank Airport Security roller but cost me only $69. It also has bigger wheels. But, in defense of the Think Tank roller the Husky will not fit in the overhead compartment of an airplane.... I guess that's why we have both. For working out of a car, or off a cart on location, the cheaper bags are just as good as anything out there.
There are discussions about ultimate bags and weight. I understand entirely. If I'm traveling intercontinentally and intend to work out of my bag, in an ambulatory fashion, I would always default to my Domke bags but job after job informs me that it's the overall amount of gear that requires more logistics not the portage of a camera and a few lenses.
It seems silly to grouse about a few extra ounces on the camera bag when you are hustling up the stairs with two or three heavy C-Stands in your hands, or a brace of sandbags, or the bags full of electrical cables, etc.
The low cost and the good utility of the Husky line of bags allows me to dedicate bags to certain stuff. I mentioned the audio cables but I also have a bag full of various scrim materials, flags, nets and diffusion, along with grip heads, for use on Westcott flags. I marked it with a Sharpie so I know which bag to pull of the shelf when I need it.
This morning I made sure each camera had a 64 Gigabyte SDXC card inserted and formatted and I stuck them into the video bag, along with five extra batteries. The case is in the car and now I can zoom away from the studio knowing I haven't inadvertently forgotten that one widget that makes everything else possible.
Today, if a client asks me to do an interview I'll whip an appropriate microphone out of the bag, set my audio levels and get to it. Peace of mind. Pre-packed inventory.
Note: I am kidding about Bellingham Bags. I know some of you have invested as much in fine and proper Billingham bags as the rest of us have in a good lens. You have a vested interest in wanting the bags to last forever ---- it will take that long to depreciate them. ( wry smile emoticon imagined here).
Welcome to June. This is the month in which we write about cheap-ass camera bag substitutes.