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How to Get the Most Out of Your Camera Bag

The post How to Get the Most Out of Your Camera Bag appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Berk.

How to get the most out of your camera bag

As a photographer who regularly travels, one of my biggest quests isn’t the search for the perfect shot – it’s the search for the perfect camera bag. If you’ve ever purchased a camera bag (or two, or ten), then I’m guessing you know what I’m talking about.

With every bag or backpack I’ve ever owned, the internal dividers never seem to fit my gear perfectly. They create compartments that are either too small to hold my lenses or so large that my lenses constantly shift around. The result tends to be a lot of wasted space in the bag, gear that’s not totally secure, and gut-wrenching decisions over which lenses to leave behind.

Now, I do have a lot of gear; when I travel, I generally like to carry a full-frame camera body, a flash, a set of 4×5 glass filters, a 14-24mm lens, a 16-35mm lens, a 24-120mm lens, an 80-400mm lens, a 105mm macro lens, and a 24mm f/1.4 lens. (Yes, I know there are redundancies, but each lens has a clear purpose!)

Depending on the type of photography you like to do, you may not carry quite so much. However, a poorly packed camera bag is still a problem you can – and likely will – face.

So what’s the solution? Below, I explain my approach to optimizing my camera bag space – and I offer a step-by-step process for packing your camera bag more effectively.

My simple method for effectively packing my camera gear, explained

ThinkTank Airport Takeoff, backpack, roller bag, camera bag, photography, travel, Here’s what my camera bag looked like before I figured out a good solution. As you can see, there’s plenty of wasted space and two compartments (in the upper left corner) that I can’t fit a lens in. My 80-400mm lens had to be left out, too.

When I was first trying to figure out how to pack my camera bag effectively, I thought the solution might be to get rid of the dividers, as they seemed to be causing most (or all?) of my problems.

Of course, I couldn’t just remove the dividers and let my gear roll around. I needed a way to pad my equipment – bags get swung around, put down, picked up, and banged into. The gear moves inside it, and without that padding, it’ll eventually suffer damage.

One option I tried for padding my precious cameras and lenses was wraps. There are several brands that make wraps specifically for camera gear; these come in varying sizes to fit different pieces of equipment. Here’s one of my camera bags – a ThinkTank Airport model – with the dividers completely removed and the wraps added:

Completely removing the dividers from the ThinkTank Airport takeoff allowed me to fit everything I wanted, with plenty of room to spare.Completely removing the dividers from the ThinkTank Airport bag allowed me to fit everything I wanted with plenty of room to spare.

The problem was, however, that when I went to rewrap my cameras and lenses, it took too much time. If you’re a photographer who uses just one or two main lenses, you don’t often switch equipment, and/or you work in a slower-paced environment, maybe it could work, but it wasn’t right for me. Plus, I didn’t love the wraps I tried, so I eventually went back to the dividers.

A few years went by, and I begrudgingly continued to use my dividers. But I recently took a few trips where I just couldn’t get the dividers configured properly, and I had to choose something to leave behind. Usually, it meant going without a lens I thought I wouldn’t need – yet in the end, I always ended up wishing I had brought the lens along. As you can probably imagine, this sucked.

Eventually, I’d had enough. I went to my local camera store, and I considered the problem again. This time, I found myself staring at neoprene lens pouches. Neoprene pouches provide padding and come in various sizes to fit each lens in my kit, but they’re not too snug, and they’re not overly large, either.

I played around with the pouches, and I found that I could position lenses and cameras in the bag against each other. The neoprene is generally 4-5mm thick, so two pouches side by side have about as much thickness as the velcro dividers and therefore provide adequate support.

So I purchased enough neoprene pouches, and I pulled all of the velcro dividers out of my backpack. From there, I found I could fit everything pretty nicely, including my 80-400mm lens.

However, I did notice that, after wearing the backpack while hiking, my gear didn’t always hold its position – the items tended to settle to the bottom, which made it difficult to find things when I opened it. I put on my problem-solving hat, went back to the drawing board, and I finally settled on a hybrid solution that works extremely well.

At the bottom of the backpack, I place my 80-400mm lens with no pouch. Then I add a full-width divider, which runs across the length of the backpack to protect the 80-400mm lens.

Next, I add three lenses in neoprene pouches. Above that, I add a second full-width divider, which leaves me with a large compartment for my remaining lenses (in neoprene pouches), as well as my filters and some smaller accessories like lens cloths. On one side of the large compartment, I use a smaller velcro divider to house my camera.

Here’s the entire setup in action:

camera bag, getting the most from your bag, travel, photography, lenspouch, lowepro protactic 450 awThis is my other camera backpack, the LowePro ProTactic 450 AW. I use two dividers to support the lenses and keep them from shifting in transit, and eliminating the middle dividers allow me to fit gear more snugly.

I recognize that you likely don’t have the same gear as I do. But I think this general approach – where you use some, but not all, of your camera bag’s dividers, and you place any neighboring lenses in neoprene pouches – can work for a whole lot of people.

If you think my approach could benefit you, here’s how I recommend you configure and pack your camera bags:

How to optimize your camera backpack

Using this method to pack your entire gear bag is pretty easy. Here’s the four-step process:

First, determine which lenses you’ll want to store in neoprene pouches and which lenses you’ll keep in their own compartments. This will depend on the equipment you have, but your shorter and medium-sized lenses are good candidates for pouches, while your longest lenses can likely fit in their own compartments. Second, measure each lens you plan to store in a pouch, then order your pouches. You’ll want to ensure the pouch interiors are about a half-inch larger than the lens. (I use the LensCoat Lens Pouches.) The beauty of the pouches is that if I decide to remove a lens from the bag, it will still be protected from bumps and drops. Third, consider whether your camera needs a neoprene pouch. Depending on how you arrange things, this might be necessary. (I use the LensCoat Body Bag pouches for cameras). Choose the one that best fits your camera. Finally, remove all but the full-width dividers in your camera bag, taking care to fill full-width compartments with either long lenses or multiple shorter lenses (with their pouches on). Consider where you might fit accessories, and if you run into space issues, you can always remove additional dividers or add sectional dividers back if needed.

By the way: I purchased a silver Sharpie marker and some stencils from a craft store to label the outside of each pouch for easy identification. This can be helpful when you need to quickly find a specific lens and you don’t want to waste time peeking in different pouches.

lenspouch, pouch, sharpie, stencil, lens, padding, travelUsing a silver Sharpie and a stencil, I marked each pouch to identify the lens inside.
Camera backpack lens pouchesAll of my lens pouches marked for easy identification.

Now it’s your turn to configure your camera backpack!

Boulder-Beach-Maine, landscape photography, camera bags, backpack, travel, photography, bags, gear

This approach to packing my camera bag has made a huge difference, and I highly recommend you try it for yourself.

Even with all my gear essentials, I find that I can fit more into the camera bag if needed, simply because I’m not limited to what the dividers will allow me to do. It’s still not the ever-elusive “perfect camera bag” that every photographer I know is searching for, but for me, it is just a bit closer.

What do you think? What is your ideal camera bag? Have you come up with any other inventive solutions to this issue? Do share your thoughts in the comments below!

The post How to Get the Most Out of Your Camera Bag appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Berk.

(Originally posted by Rick Berk)
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