I’ve been meaning to do this post for a while: the good old ‘what’s in my bag’ post. I live in Tokyo, one of the most crowded cities in the world, and a place that’s very unfriendly to owning cars, which makes getting my gear around a slight pain in the butt. And if you’re like me, in other words, if most of your shoots are on-location, editorial type things with no creative budget factored in, then you really need to start thinking about your lighting kit. This especially relevant if you’re going to navigate the labyrinthine network of subways, elevators, staircases and lifts of Tokyo with your heavy kit bag. Tokyo has pretty decent subway access for physically handicapped people or travelers with large suitcases, but believe me, if the only option is a staircase you don’t want to be lugging more than you have to up from the depths of some metro station.
So, here’s a short little guide to how I pack my strobing kit to tackle the challenges of Tokyo’s urban jungle.
First things first, depending on the job I almost never take everything that I’ve laid down below. If I get a decent brief then I’ll trim the kit by leaving a couple of lightstands out or a lens. But let’s just say that either a)the editor hasn’t really given me much information the shoot about or b) I’m really excited it about for personal reasons, then I’m most likely to bung all this stuff in the bag, just so I know that I’ll be prepared for almost anything, and still be able to pursue my strobe-heavy approach.
The All-Important Camera Bag:
My bag is the ThinkTank Shapeshifter and I LOVE IT. Here’s a little rap for you to show how much I appreciate it.
Put your hands in the air / For all the ThinkTank gear /
The prices may be dear / But you’ll never have to repair/
So there’s no need to despair / If you fall down the stairs /
Or get charged by a deer /You’ll have no fear!
So, apart from the fact that I obviously have too much time on my hands and have recently bought a rhyming dictionary, it’s a fantastic backpack-style camera bag, super comfortable and you can pack loads into it. Plus, it looks no different to the day when I got it. Talk about a tough bag.
That’s a picture of what generally goes into the bag for every shoot. For a wedding or larger shoot I’ll also throw in my 13″ Macbook Pro but otherwise this is pretty much it. Going from top left we have 2 sync cables, one SC-17 and a more expensive SC-28, which allows you to shoot TTL with the newer flashes. Since I shoot manual it doesn’t really make a huge difference but SC-17s are in short supply here. The big white square to the right is the Lumiquest softbox III, which slides neatly into the back of my bag and is pretty much universally loved by strobists for its awesome quality of light and portability. Next is the 50mm f/1.2 and the 24-70mm f/2.8, which are my wide to medium range lenses. I do particularly enjoy using the 50mm f/1.2 for portraits and even in the natural light it’s a fantastic lens.
In the second row we have the Pocket Wizard-to-camera cable that allows me to trigger the camera using PWs from a distance. I love this thing and use it all the time for long exposures, interesting perspectives and portrait shoots where it helps me to get out from behind the camera. Next to that is my mongrel collection of Nikon speedlights – 1 SB-900, 1 SB-80DX and 1 SB-26. I’d have more except people keep riding bicycles into my lightstands even though they have been placed to the side of a 10 metre wide thoroughfare. Out of all of them I’d say the SB-80DX is my favorite as it is basically an SB-800 without TTL, and about $300 cheaper. They are super hard to find in Japan but if I see one I buy it immediately. The fact that I only have one unit is due to people not watching where they ride their bicycles.
Next is my D700 w/battery grip, a camera which hardly needs an introduction considering how long it’s been around (come on Nikon, how about some new bodies?). To the right of that is my 135mm f/2 DC, which I LOVE, and my 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, which is heavy but works wonders at events such as weddings.
Below all of that are my 3 Pocket Wizard II transceivers, next to that is a pouch containing a Lumiquest 80-20 for run-and-gun event stuff where setting up stationary lights is unfeasible, and a spare battery. All of this stuff fits neatly into my ThinkTank and feels pretty light, although at the end of the day it feels like lead.
How I roll
This roller bag is where I keep all of my stands and other lighting gear. It was graciously supplied to me by the great folks at Ginichi Studio store but is starting to show some wear and tear – the wheels are pretty much screwed and the handles are starting to tear from much heavy lifting. Not surprising considering the amount of use it gets, but I’m going to have to shell for a new bag soon.
So, this is a shot of what goes in this roller bag. If it’s a smaller job I’ll take out some lightstands but this is generally it. Starting from the top, there is a small Manfrotto lightstand that usually gets left home. Below and to the left is a Manfrotto super arm with a Manfrotto super clamp attached to it – and I really love this thing. It’s beefy, versatile and makes it soooo easy to get flashes into innocuous places. Then there’s some ever-useful tape, and below that a Lastolite Triflash umbrella adaptor. It’s great for ganging up flashes when shooting in the middle of the day but I’ve found the screw that holds the umbrella in place has a tendency to fall out, which is unbelievably annoying.
Below is my Honl bag with Honl light modifiers and gels – one of the most useful bits of kit in the bag (more on this in a bit). The Orbis ring flash also gets thrown in the kit if there is a high chance of being able to shoot under shade. It’s a bit clunky but I can’t deny its usefulness for a whole bunch of applications, so it often gets a run.
Of my main light stands there is the boom, and two regular ones. I like slightly bottom-heavy ones as opposed to lighter stands these days as it helps your softboxes or umbrellas stand up in a slight breeze. Next to that to the right are my main light modifiers – a Westcott 48-inch umbrella with removable black cover and a Westcott 24-inch softbox. I tend to go for these immediately for most of my shoots – the umbrella is great as a main light but also large enough to act as a fill light if necessary and the softbox gives a good quality of directional light. It is, however, quite flimsy.
Inside the Honl bag: 3 long snoots, 1 short snoot (I love the short snoot), 3 gobos, 2 grids (1/4 and 1/8 inch), 1 bag of color temperature correction gels and 1 bag of color effect gels. This Honl bag goes with me anywhere I go and it’s basically indispensable, allowing me a great deal of control over my light.
In addition to these I have two Profoto D1s which come out on special occasions where I have an assistant and need some serious lighting power.
So there it is – hope you enjoyed seeing how I pack my bags to venture out into Tokyo with. It’s a pretty good kit that allows me to handle pretty much every situation and every type of scenario that my editorial jobs require of me, short of having to photograph more than 20 people at once. It’s not perfect and I know there are things I want to change, but for the time being, it’ll do. And no, I don’t work for any of the companies I mentioned :D, I just happen to like most of their stuff.
Anyway, I’ll be back with some non-gear related posts in the near future, drop me a comment below if you liked this post!