Stephen Kirkpatrick

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gear Check

When I teach a photo workshop or lead a photo trip, the participants always want to take a peek in my camera bag. I can’t tell you how many times a workshop student has looked into my bag, then looked at me with an expression of confusion and said, “But everything in here is old or dirty or broken.”

When I say I’m not a technical, gear-oriented kind of photographer, I’m not exaggerating. I keep my equipment to a minimum for several reasons. One, I like to be able to carry almost everything on my back. That’s a big advantage not only when hauling gear through the Amazon rain forest or across the Alaskan tundra, but also when you’re trying to cram it all into an airplane overhead bin.

Using less gear also enhances my response time. The more cameras I have, the more I have to think about before I shoot. In wildlife photography, stopping for even a split second to consider which camera or lens is better for which type of shot can mean ending up with no shot at all.

And finally, buying more gear means spending more money in a profession that doesn’t exactly rank at the top of the list of highest-paying jobs. Hence the completely accurate comment above about everything being “old or dirty or broken.” I use a piece of equipment until it just won’t go anymore, then still try to coax out at least one more shot.

Since most of my workshop students are amateur photographers with “real” careers who spend all of their disposable income on their photography hobby, their gear is almost always newer and more elaborate than my own. In fact, I once arrived home to find a UPS box waiting on my doorstep. Inside was a fairly new camera, along with a note from one of my former workshop students. It read, “Please take my camera. You need it more than I do.”

In My Gear Bag:

• Nikon F5 – the workhorse

• Nikon F4 outfitted with a unique, high magnification macro set-up

• Two Nikon F100s used primarily for underwater photography  

• Two Subal underwater housings, strobes, ports and various attachments

• Four lenses – 500mm, 180mm, 60mm, and 17-35mm zoom

 2x Tele-converter, extension tubes and split ND filter

 Two tripods

• 10 rolls of Fujichrome film

• My first camera, a Nikon FE I’ve owned since May 13, 1981. I no longer use it, but can’t seem to part with it.

• And finally, two universal outdoor photography essentials – duct tape and toilet paper

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