Gear Guide: The Ultimate Authority on What to Put in Camera Bag

I remember my first time in a Real Professional Camera Store, Samy’s Camera, in Los Angeles. I had money to burn in my pocket so that I could buy the right equipment to be a Professional Photographer, but instead of being a kid in a candy store, I was a vegetarian in a hunting store. Nothing looked familiar.

Photo by Alexandru Sutiu
Photo by Alexandru Sutiu

There were old guys who smelled like darkroom talking about things that I didn’t understand, like metering and emulsion. I slunk out of there and ate massive quantities of ice cream.

But fear not, this will never happen to you, because I am here to tell you what you need to start your outdoor portrait business. If you want to hear what I have in my studio, drop me a line and I’ll write an article just on that, but since that’s a whole other thing, I’ll stick to the outside for now. I’m assuming that you have an unlimited budget, but I’ll also put in modifications, just in case you don’t.


Photo by Peter Prevec
Photo by Peter Prevec

I’m a Canon 5d Mark II kind of gal, but I’m not going to get into a brand war with you, you just have to go with what feels right in your hand. Just know that the first thing you need are two camera bodies that are exactly the same. You can’t skimp on these. If one camera breaks/is knocked/dropped/rained on, etc., you need the other one waiting for you. Get the highest quality you can afford.


Photo by 33L
Photo by 33L

It’s a really good idea to have lenses that can cover anything that you could possibly be asked to shoot, so I have a 20mm 2.8, a 24-70mm 2.8, a 70-200 IS 2.8 and a 400 IS 2.8. If you could only have two, I’d get rid of the 20 and the 400, which are more extreme lenses. The 20 is almost a fisheye, so it would “see” wide, while the 400 is more of a far away lens for sports and the like.

Flashes, flash poppers and the cords that go with them

I like off camera flash…a lot, so I have five of each of the above, one for my camera, two for off camera, one for a potential rim light or light for the background and one spare. I know that I keep harping on it, but spares of everything are just as important as the actual things themselves.

Battery packs for your flashes, and their cords and chargers

Do you ever see someone shooting and shooting, and their flash never takes less time to recycle the charge? That’s because they have their own little battery packs that you charge while you’re at home, then you plug the battery packs into your flashes and they barely wear down the double A’s in the flash. You’re saving the environment while you’re still able to shoot as quickly as you want. Now that’s a win-win situation! I’d get as many battery packs as you have flashes.

Compact Flash Cards

Photo by Joey Yee
Photo by Joey Yee

The other day I was doing a shoot and somehow, my five CF cards had whittled themselves down to two. CF cards are cheap, people. And they get lost and people borrow them, so don’t stress it… have a bunch, and keep them on you, just in case you forget to load one in your camera before you set off for your shoot…not that I have ever done that or anything…

A reflector

Photo by Mama Tang
Photo by Mama Tang

Reflectors are probably the cheapest camera related thing that you can buy, but used correctly, they can make your pictures really stand out. I like the 5 in 1 kind, where they have black, white, gold, silver, and a gold/silver mix, but I usually only use the gold/silver mix and black sides, so if you want to go a little cheaper, just get a two sided one with the colors of your choice. My five in one kind flew off into a lake this summer and drowned, and I had serious “reflector envy” when my assistant pulled out his beefy 5 in 1 the other day. If you can’t afford a reflector, get some poster board and cover one side with gold aluminum foil from Joanns and either leave the other side white, or use some gaffers tape or black marker to make the other side black. The black side is super handy for taking light away, shading a person from the sun, and helping with contour shadows.

A really good front pack

I can not stress this one enough. Camera bags are heavy, backpacks are inconvenient, but fanny packs sit low on your hips, so they’re not heavy, they don’t bog you down, and you can carry all of your stuff in them, so it’s right there and you don’t have to worry about walking away from your bag and having it stolen…not that that has happened to me, either… Anyway, I keep my 70-200 on my camera, my 24-70 in the middle pocket with my keys and phone on top of it, my 20 in the right side with CF cards galore on top, and batteries, business cards, money, bobby pins and clips in the left. Best. Purchase. EVER.

Non-essentials, for me, at least, but I still own them:

A Meter

Same thing… a meter looks professional and cool, but it takes time to get it right, and I find that my clients lose interest quickly.Your camera wants to meter off of anything that’s 18% grey. Shady grass and blue jeans are both 18% grey, which accounts for about 95% of the situations you’ll be in, plus, you can see exactly what you’re capturing, so I feel pretty confident guessing and tweaking as I go, but that’s just me. If you have a need to be precise, go for it.

Umbrellas, softboxes, light stand and sandbags

Photo by Rob Daughrty
Photo by Rob Daughrty

Ok, I admit that I don’t use these on location often. I’m more of a natural light with a reflector kind of gal, and I like to be pretty freewheeling when I shoot. It’s pretty breezy where I am, so I have to bring a sandbag with me (don’t skip the sand bag!!! ), and my fifteen year old is my assistant (read: lazy) so I have to cart everything myself, so I get prissy about it, but when I do bring the softer light, I’m always totally mad at myself that I don’t make the effort every day, isn’t that weird?

Lens cleaner and a little non-lint producing cloth

Because it’s never a good idea to use spit and your t-shirt…

A tripod

Again, cumbersome and slow for portraits…super imperative for landscapes and long lens sports, though.

Photo by George Chiew
Photo by George Chiew

A filter to cover your lens

I know that I’m supposed to say that, so I will, but my thought is that I have a two thousand dollar lens, why would I put a fifty dollar filter on it? I just go naked, but that’s just me. You can put your lens cap on, or if you’re really fearful or live in the Sahara, get a UV Haze or a sky filter and slap it on.

Did I miss anything that you love to carry on your photographic journey? Send me a note at [email protected] and let me know!!

By BarbStitzer

Barb Stitzer is an award winning Master Photographer living in Hudson, Ohio with her husband, her teen, Zoe and her tween, Tenley. She creates beauty and memories worldwide. Feel free to find her on Facebook or check out her website.


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