Spend an appreciable amount of time shooting and you’ll find yourself “needing” things to make your life easier.

I’m not talking about GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), but all those little accessories and gadgets you might feel will make your time shooting easier: hotshoe spirit levels, sports finders, masses of filters and those little soft-push shutter button attachments.

All these items might seem like a great idea but add them all up and over time you’ll eventually end up looking like, or at least feeling a little like Data from The Goonies.

The Goonies' Data
The Goonies’ Data

There’s no suggestion that all these object are unnecessary, or that they are a waste of money (I have each of the ones mentioned myself), but it’s good to remind ourselves that there’s a bare minimum of “stuff” we need to get the job done. After all, its the camera that makes the photographer.

Back-breaking progress

Having nearly broken my back lugging around too much unnecessary or inappropriate gear for the shoot at hand, I’ve decided to share my musings on a various photographic day packs with you.

We’ll be starting with the the basic day pack below and then discussing enhanced day packs for 35mm compact cameras and rangefinders, as well as 35mm SLR cameras and medium formal TLR and SLR cameras in future posts.

The everyday pack – bare necessities

It’s safe to say that I’m almost never without a camera, whether it be something small I can fit into a small jeans pocket, or something that needs an army of Ghurkas to help carry along.

Having made the mistake of overpacking many, many times, I finally decided to to be kind to my back and kickstart my thinking on the bare minimum of extra “stuff” I need with me when I’m out and about.

Here’s the result:

  1. A pen/pencil and small notebook.
  2. A fine tip marker.
  3. A small lens/eyeglass cloth.
  4. Some spare film (fast, slow, color, black and white).
  5. A spare battery.
  6. A light meter, or alternative.
  7. A rubber band and some stiff card.

That’s it. Simple, isn’t it?

What about extra filters and spare lens caps?

You don’t need them. Well, not all of them. The only thing I’d add to that list would be a basic skylight, or UV filter for your lens.

The reason for adding that to the list above so late in the day is because I’m stupid and clumsy. I can’t count the times I’ve accidentally knocked a lens, jammed the lens cap on at a funny angle, or generally been a complete dolt with handling my gear when in a rush.

Get a lens filter and keep it on. It won’t negatively affect your images and t’s cheaper than buying a new lens if you screw up.

The everyday pack exploded

#1 – Pen and paper

Film cameras don’t always afford us with the ability to record every little detail of every shot we take. Options for recording EXIF data on film cameras do exists but are few and far between. To be honest, they’re of little use to most of us.

That said, there may be times when you want to bracket your exposures, or see how larger or smaller apertures affect your final shot. For this reason, bring a pen and small notebook to make a note of your lens/shutter/aperture and other pertinent data.

Whilst I’m a believer that writing things still down is the best method for future recall, there are a few photography-specific note taking apps available for both iOS and Android that will help you do this. They are:

  • iPhone/iPad folks should try Photo Exif.
  • Android users of all kinds should try Exif4film.
  • Windos Phone users should help me out!

#2 – A fine tip marker

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The fine marker is to make a note of any special conditions on the film roll, or canister itself. If you’ve pushed, or pulled your film, want to cross process it, or make a note of something else, make a note on the roll or canister. It’s easy to forget, so write stuff down.

#3 – A lens, or eyeglass cloth

Even with a filter on your lens, you might find that dust gets in, or that the filter gets marked by your fingers.  You might also need to clean up your viewfinder, or another grubby spot on the camera.  Pack a small, cheap lens cloth, or spectacles cloth.

#3 – Spare film

You never know when you’ll change your mind and want to shoot a different film…so bring some more along with you. Naturally, the photographic whim isn’t the only reason to bring other film with you. Temper the film you’ve loaded with a suitable counterpart incase the light or subject matter changes. Back and white, slow, fast, slide, infrared, it’s your choice.

#4 – A spare battery

If your camera relies on a battery it’s simple common sense to always pack a spare. Shove in as many replacements as you need to give your camera a full load should the batteries die. Granted, if you’re using a beast like the Nikon F5, you might not want to carry half a ton of Duracells with you. In that case, I’d recommend a fully charged pack instead.

#5 – A light meter , or alternative

I shoot a lot of medium format and nearly all my cameras don’t have a built-in light meter, so I always carry one. Shooting 35mm I’ve found myself stuck with a dead light meter a few times and whilst batteries can sometimes be switched, sometimes the meter/camera just won’t want to behave. If you don’t have a spare meter, get an app for your smartphone. In a punch, there’s always the sunny 16 rule.

The sunny 16 rule
The sunny 16 rule

#6 – A rubber band and some stiff card

If you’re shooting 120 film and find that the end of roll tape isn’t working, this might just save you some angst.

The card is for chopping up and making a note of your film before sliding it somewhere on your camera body. Painter’s tape will also but we’re trying to keep things small here and a single business card will suffice. Better yet, tear the ends off your film boxes and use those instead.

All done

That’s it. A handful of objects and/or apps that you can fit into a very small bag or pouch. Personally, I mostly carry my daypack in one of these little pouches sold by Timbuk2:

timbuk2 shagg bag
timbuk2 shagg bag

Very useful it is, too.

So, what do you think? Keep an eye out over the coming days for the rest of the series, which will cover my ideal everyday pack for the point and shooter, rangefinder aficionado, 35mm SLR photog and medium format junkie.

We’ll be taking about additional useful equipment for street photography, longer photographic outings, as well as field trips lasting a couple of days or more.

Stay tuned.

~ EM

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  1. Better to have it and not need it …. 🙂
    I was thinking about this today while I was out, because I rarely take fewer than 5 cameras out on a big, dedicated shooting day, and today was no exception. I had the Brownie Hawkeye with the flipped lens with Ektar, Lomo 120 with Sensia, Lomo LCA with mystery film (oops), 5×4 pinhole with tripod and 3 dds (DPP, Ortho and xray) and Zenit TTL with infrared. Plus a big bottle of water because it was scorchio. Heavy. But I used everything! I had plans and I was able to carry them out AND I could respond to changing light and unexpected discoveries. And I only fell over once :-p

  2. I like this. you seem to have a good plan with where this is headed too.
    I’m not a member of the notebook army myself, atleast quite as much! There is ofcourse a film only notebook that I record my ideas and ponderings in. Testing out home built cameras might get EXiF-like info put in too.

    1. I find the notebook really useful when shooting new film, or trying new lenses. Especially if doing both at the same time. The next part will be out this coming week!