Rx For Travel; Take Two Zooms And Call Me When You’re Confident

You read this magazine. You’re reading this column right now. So I’m thinking that you’ve got your act together. You keep up with the new gear; you pick up tips and techniques, ideas and inspiration. Your skills are sharp and you know what you need to get the pictures you want to get. So when you go out to shoot this summer, you’re going to go with one camera body, maybe two lenses, and not much more. You’ve got it pared down to the essentials.

All Photos © 2009, Jack Hollingsworth, All Rights Reserved

You don’t?

No offense, but you should.

Why? Because you’re confident.

Because the more you know about what you’re going to get, and how you’re going to get it, the less you carry. Right?

When you’re starting out you take it all. I know I did. My bag weighed 40 or 50 lbs regardless of what I was doing. Of course I didn’t use a fraction of what I was hauling, but I had to have it with me. Then I began to figure it out, and the bag got lighter. Now I don’t carry much at all. As a matter of fact, it’s sometimes embarrassing when I’m shooting with other shooters. I’m out there with my fanny pack, one body and two zooms, and these guys have huge bags and backpacks with tripods attached to them.

About a month ago I was shooting in the South Pacific for a hotel chain. The marketing director for the hotels was with me, and at one point she said, “I’m surprised at how little equipment you have to get the job done.” I took it as a compliment; it meant I could cut it with a minimum of gear. I must be getting good at this after all these years, I thought. And, truly, I shot all day with one camera body and two lenses. I had a small reflector and an old beat-up tripod, and I got 30 or 40 keepers with that setup.

But back in my hotel room I had stuff she didn’t know about: strobes, power packs, lighting kits, stands, lots of glass, lots of accessories. You’ve heard of the Pelican case? I’ve got the Justin case. Several of them. I may be confident, but I’m not foolish. I know that when the client’s along on the shoot she might get some new ideas for photographs, and when she says, “Can we get a dining room shot?” I have to be able to reply, “Sure can.” And then I break out the lights, the packs, and the big tripod.

On assignment, when the client or client’s rep is with me, I have to bring along more stuff because I have to be ready for the sudden inspiration or the change of mind that requires a shot we didn’t discuss back in the office. In other words, the unexpected. Even when the client isn’t there, when I’m on my own and controlling the shoot, pursuing the official or unofficial shot list and with a pretty good sense of what I’ll be shooting, I’ll have all the gear back at the hotel while I’m out with the bare minimum.

But you don’t have to have that secret stash, and I think you’ll find, as I did, that packing light and shooting small is a better, more fluid and intuitive way to shoot. And having less brings less attention. When I’m shooting for stock, I can even sneak a few shots in a museum if the situation, and the light, is right. If I look like a pro photographer, or a tourist, with a 40-lb bag, forget it—I’m not even getting in.

So what do I narrow it down to? One body and zooms. My zooms are so sharp that I rely on them over my primes, even my trusted and all-time favorite, my 50mm f/1.2. These days my lens of choice is my 24-105mm f/4 Image Stabilized Canon zoom. I might carry a 2x converter, but that’s about it. The 24-105mm is tack-sharp, even compared to some primes of similar focal length. It’s relatively lightweight and, best of all, it has built-in Image Stabilization—which I’d say is a must for any shooter who wants to pack light.

The proof’s in the pictures. All the shots you see here were made at the Being villa in Tobago. My assignment was to photograph the property, details, models in the context of the resort and the furniture pieces that the resort markets. I made the pictures, and many more, all in one day with the 24-105mm, which was perfect for wide, normal, and compressed shots; all photos by natural light, with the help of the awesome Impact 5-in-1 collapsible circular disc reflector. In my belt pack: batteries, a lens hood, cards, and a cleaning cloth. In the hotel room: well, you know.

This summer, pick up your camera and favorite zoom, stash another zoom, some cards, and an extra battery in the fanny pack. You’re not on assignment; you’re on vacation. You don’t need the Justin case.

Just crank up the confidence.