What’s in the Dancing Photographer’s Camera Bag?

As soon as I arrive at a job and unzip my trusty ThinkTank camera bag people usually go, “WHOA!”.  To do the job of a photographer well, you have to have the right gear for the job at hand.  As a wedding photographer, we do so many different types of shots all in one day that we have to have a wide variety of lenses with us, and back-up bodies so that we don’t leave our clients’ precious memories to chance.  So for those of you who are wondering what’s in Vail’s camera bag?  Here’s your answer along with links to all the items so you can easily buy them yourself!

Canon 5dmkIII camera body: I just recently got this baby to replace my “old” Canon 5dmkII. This camera has vastly better auto-focusing than the 5dmkII and unbelievable performance in low light situations.  It also has many of the features I enjoyed on the 7D, such as focus points that are linked to camera orientation.  I love the wide shots I am able to get with a full frame sensor.

Canon 7D camera body: The 7D is a crop sensor and I love that about it.  It is great for those times that I’m stuck at the back of a church and I put on a long lens.  That extra 1.6 crop factor can really make all the difference in the world.  Before I had the 5dmkIII I used the 7D much more as its auto-focus system is far superior to the 5dmkII’s.

Canon 24-70mm 2.8L lens: This was my very first L lens so it will always be near and dear to my heart.  I have the original version of this lens, not the new one.  This is my go to lens for big reveals, well-lit ceremonies, and family formals.

Canon 135mm 2.0L lens: This is my current favorite lens. The bokeh with this lens is out of this world the speed at which it focuses for a long focal length is so quick I couldn’t believe it.  During ceremonies and big reveals it’s usually found on my 7D.  During the reception I use it for the first dance and parent dances on my 5dmkIII for fantastic emotion filled close ups.

Canon 16-35mm 2.8L lens: This is my dancing photographer lens.  When I’m on the dance floor taking shots right there in the mix, this is the lens that is on my 5dmkIII.  The perspective the lens creates makes parties seem larger than life.  I also use it from the back of churches for a wide view of the whole scene, as it is a great story telling lens.  These types of shots make for great double spreads in albums.

Canon 50mm 1.4 lens: The 50 1.4 is my low light buddy.  Whenever I’m stuck in a ceremony location that has very low light and I don’t want to use flash, this little guy comes out.  I will sometimes also use it for shots of the bride getting ready in natural light as well as detail shots.

Canon EF 12 Extension Tube: Any time I want to get a REAL close up of a detail I break out the extension tube.  I can turn any lens in my bag into a macro lens.

Canon 1.4x Tele-extender: When I need that little bit of extra focal length without the heft of the giant 70-200mm lens, the 1.4 tele-extender comes to the rescue, turning my 135mm into a 200mm lens.

2 Canon 580EXII speedlites: These guys are real work horses.  This is what I use for off camera flash for family formals of big groups.  I also use them during the reception on light stands to light the room up without having to wait for long recycle times.

2 Canon 430EXII speedlites: These smaller speedlites are great for on camera flash use.  They don’t weigh as much as the 580EXIIs which is great when you are already hauling around a 5-pound rig of camera and lens.

Rogue Gels: These are used to change the color of the flash to better match the ambient light.  This is a real life saver when it comes to lighting in churches and receptions to prevent  you from having too many different colors of light hitting your subjects.  It makes white balancing much easier in post production.

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport: This amazing little gadget is typically used in studio and commercial shoots.  I use it pretty much for every shoot because it ensures during post-production that the color in your photo is EXACTLY right.    It takes out all the guess work.  I found it was often hard to remember to use on the day of an actual wedding, so I often go out to the location a few days in advance at the same time of day and take the necessary shots with it while we aren’t in a time crunch.

ExpoImaging ExpoDisc:  I just got this little circle of magic for Christmas.   It allows me to get a custom white balance setting quickly right at the time of the shoot.  This allows my same day slide shows to look even better since the color is very close to perfect right in the camera, without any post processing.  I even double checked it against the ColorChecker passport, the white balance it selected was exactly the same.  It takes some getting used to, but it is an amazing tool to have in your bag when time is really limited.

Neutral Density Filter: This doesn’t come out of the bag very often, but when it does it is powerful.  On very bright days you need your shutter speed to be low enough that you can sync your flash.  The .9 ND filter allows me to do that so that skies look blue instead of blown out.

6 16GB Compact Flash SanDisk memory cards: I only use SanDisk memory cards for my cameras.  They have an amazing track record and I love them.  I’ve never had one of their cards fail on me, knock on wood!

Gepe Memory Card Safe: Nothing is more valuable to me that day than my memory cards.  So I went with a water-proof crush proof memory card holder.  This thing deserves the name safe.

64GB  iPad2: this is used for my same day iPad slide shows.  People go nuts for them.  I HIGHLY suggest doing this!  I also use it to get my 2nd shooter’s images before they leave for the night so that they have a copy on their CF cards and I have a copy on the iPad.  To make sure I have enough space for this, I got the 64 GB version.  The iPad is also loaded up with some standard wedding music favorites in case the DJ doesn’t show up (At Last, Don’t Stop Believin’, Here Comes the Bride, etc.).

SD and CF card readers for iPad: To do the same day slide shows I need to get the images off the camera and onto the iPad.  With the original apple camera connection kit I was limited to the slow upload speed through the microUSB cable to the camera.  To read CF cards I got the following card reader from PhotoJoJo.  It works fairly well.  After a few minutes the iPad will display a notice saying the accessory is not supported by iPad, but you just click on OK.  It tends to freeze up with UDMA CF cards, causing you to have to restart the iPad for it to recognize the card reader again.  Apple really needs to start making a CF card reader version.  I would buy an apple branded one! Now that I have the 5dmkIII with the second SD slot I have it do medium sized JPGs for the same day slide show so that the upload time to the iPad is dramatically decreased.

iPad lock: When I’m on a job I don’t want to have to worry about someone walking off with my iPad.  So I lock it down with this.

iPad Stand: The back of the little stand on the iPad lock broke off so I got a lovely little stand for the iPad so people could still view it propped up.

Demb flash bracket: I used this a bunch at the beginning of my career.  Now I don’t use it as much as I’ve started to use off camera flash more.  But for those times when I need to use my flash on camera it is a great tool.  I do not use it in low light as it causes the assist beam to be too high on the subject for the camera to focus on it.  To make this work you need an off camera flash cord as well. I use this opteka’s.

Demb flip-it: This is a great bounce card that can easily be positioned at different angles for more or less fill flash and changes in catchlight sizes.  Almost any time I’m bouncing flash I’m also using the flip-it for just a bit of direct fill forward to fill in those shadows.

Wireless flash triggers: I used to use pocket-wizards but found that they were very expensive and finicky.  So I sold them and got these wonderful ones from Calumet.  I adore them.  I have 2 transmitters and 2 receivers.  I have found them to work flawlessly with the Canon 580exIIs.  They even have TTL pass-through!

Battery Pack: For faster recycle times I got the Calumet Powerblock 900,  which is a 3rd party version of the Quantum Turbo SC.  The Calumet Powerblock was one of the best buys I’ve made gear wise for the money.  I went from long recycle times and going through batteries like water, to quick recycle times and a single set of batteries lasting all day!  It’s super light weight too so you can comfortably wear it on your shoulder.  It doesn’t come with the special cord necessary to link up to the flash.  That needs to be purchased separately.

32 rechargeable AA batteries: Flashes eat up batteries like no tomorrow.  I decided to save some dough and the planet by going exclusively with rechargeables.  I’m a fan of Duracell’s stay charged batteries.

Shutter Hugger: I often have sessions that involve children that are camera shy or cranky.  I made my little lens buddy from scratch to look like Elmo, but you can buy other super cool ones online.  I’m pretty tempted to get this triceratops one!

Rain sleeve for the camera: you never know when you are going to have the heavens let loose.  So I always have the rain sleeve on hand.  You can continue to shoot with it and your camera stays safe and dry.  Be sure to use the lens hood to keep the lens element rain drop free.

Hollywood Fashion Tape: some just get double sided tape you get at your drug store to help keep dresses in place, but that type of tape isn’t made for skin.  Hollywood Fashion Tape is!  So I always keep tins of this in my bag.  It really does an amazing job.  It’s even helped me hem a skirt in a pinch.

Canon RC-1 Wireless Remote: This little remote can be a bit temperamental but it comes through in a pinch when you want to take a long exposure and don’t want any camera shake.  It comes with a nice little element that threads onto the camera strap so it comes with me everywhere my camera goes.

Tripod or Monopod or small 6′ light stand: Depending on the job I will bring either a tripod, monopod or lightstand with me.  The think tank has the ability to carry a monopod as well as another three legged stand.  For fashion week I brought the monopod for steadying the rented 70-200 and the Manfrotto’s nano light stand to put the soft box on.  I currently have the Canon monopod but hope to get one with a quick release some day soon.  For weddings I usually bring the tripod for night shoots and other long exposures.  My SLIK tripod does have a quick release.

Business card holder: A client got me a lovely little Vera Bradley business card holder.  It holds so many more cards than my silver one.  Everyone seems to love it.  At the store they come in many different colors and patterns.

Softbox: Ok, to be fair this is actually in another bag with my bridal emergency kit, but realistically it’s part of my gear.  I use the 15″ Lastolite Ezybox that is made for speelites.  It folds up completely flat and can be assembled in under a minute (albeit with some practice).  The quality of light it creates is so fantastic you can’t even believe it.  Having a bigger one would be great but for portability sake I went with the 15″ version.

Folding stool: I got this for fashion week to sit in the pit and to stand on for some height.  It has really come in handy at weddings as well though. Its home is also in the bridal emergency kit bag. It folds down completely flat and isn’t heavy at all.

So that’s what’s in my bag(s)! Hope you found this helpful!


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