Lately I’ve found myself checking and rechecking my camera bag, making sure everything’s ready to pick up and go. For the most part, this means making sure I’ve got all my batteries charged, memory cards emptied, that I’ve got my press pass and that I’m carrying at least three lenses. All this seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how much of my bag is filled with non-photographic equipment. Out of context, much of these items may seem innocuous, but the truth is that Id be hard pressed to work a night without any of it. Every photographer has his or her own particular way of shooting, but I highly recommend considering at least some of this gear if you intend on taking photos for a living.
I was part of a small group of photographers working the city during Hurricane Sandy, and without a police scanner we would have been seriously lost. Or at the very least, we would have been fishing for shots rather than listening in to emergency and first responders as the storm came in. Likewise, when covering the NATO/G8 protests in Chicago and the Occupy protests in New York, the police scanner proved itself a powerful tool in determining where I needed to be. For photographers working in big cities or those who regularly work spot news or emergency scenes, nothing beats having one of these hanging off your hip.
There are also a few iOS and Android apps that connect to police and fire frequencies, but I’ve found these to be a bit spotty. They work by connecting to websites that stream emergency channels, which can change or go down with little warning, and can also eat up your phone’s battery life (more on that later.)
When covering the Democratic National Convention earlier this year, I was going through the security line when one of the guards made a snide comment about my kneepads. “Going tactical, eh?” he asked with a smirk. And yeah, while it looked silly and absurd, those kneepads ended up the most valuable bit of gear I carried that day. I ended up spending almost eight hours on my knees on an incredibly uncomfortable two by two foot metal step next to the stage. The first night I hadn’t brought the pad and ended up wrecking my knee. I’ll never make that mistake again. You never know how long you’re going to be covering a story, and the very last thing you want to do is end up with a busted limb half-way through.
Also, nothing in the world’s quite as embarrassing as tearing your pants from knee to groin when climbing over a chain-link fence. Trust me on this.
My apartment (and really almost every building south of 36th street) went without power for quite a while in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Nothing is more frustrating than having a ton of great photos, but not having enough power in your phone or laptop to transmit them to your editors. Thankfully, I carry a couple of portable power packs that allow me to keep charged for days. I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping your phone powered- aside from the fact that it keeps you connected to your editors and loved ones, it also keeps you plugged in with social media, shows maps and directions and can, in a pinch, even be used as a flashlight when you’re taking photos knee deep in a flooded basement apartment. You can find great ones fairly cheap online, and some even come with hand-cranks that allow you to charge your batteries, even when the power pack is dead.
4) TRASH BAGS AND ELECTRICAL TAPE
Few things get my heart pounding harder than shooting in a torrential downpour without the means to cover my gear. Once, I literally dumped a trash can in the street trying to find a plastic shopping bag to give me camera at least a basic level of protection (earning me a mean stink-eye from the police detective next to me, and a jacket covered in day-old rice and white sauce.) Now most professional level cameras (like the Nikon D3 or Canon 5D Mark III) have a fairly robust level of weather sealing, but do you really want to put it to the test necessarily? I own a couple of rain-bags, but the best protection I’ve ever had has come from a combination of plastic-bag sections and water-proof electrical tape. This comes with some down-sides (such as the inability to change lenses and making it a bit more difficult to adjust your in-camera settings,) but I find the trade-off to be worth it.
Bandanas are to photojournalists as towels are to intergalactic hitchhikers: there’s literally nothing they’re not good for. It’s great if you’re covering a police scene where there’s lots of pepper spray in the air, or maybe a large fire with lots of smoke. In a rough spot, you can use it to wipe dust and grime off your filter (I wouldn’t wipe down bare lens elements with this. You could end up permanently abrading the glass or damaging the coating.) It’s also great to staunch a bleeding head wound, keep sweat off your camera and the sun off your neck. Be aware though, that when worn incorrectly or with abandon, you will be expected to know how to play an acoustic guitar.
Following an impromptu poll among my photographer friends, I’ve included some of their suggestions below: