What makes a great photographer? Besides a good pair of eyes, great intuition, some technical know-how, and sometimes sheer luck, no great photog can do what they do without their gear. And the contents of a gear bag can say a little, or a lot about a person.
The What's in Your Bag series features remarkable photographers from the 500px community and gives us a peek into what they consider their essential tools on the go. This week's feature is Christopher Boffoli, a 500px success story who uses tiny plastic figurines and real food to create masterful scenes with macro photography.
After uploading photos to 500px, his work went viral in more than 50 countries, and an editor in Europe bought his images for syndication. Since then, he has done interviews with press across the globe and has been contacted by literary agents and galleries. He was also featured in a recent interview with the Toronto Star, on Oprah's website, and on the NBC Today Show.
Who are you, Christopher?
I am a writer, photographer, filmmaker and artist. My work has appeared in newspapers, magazines and online publications around the world. I currently reside in Seattle, Washington, USA.
What's in your bag?
I tend not to store my gear in a bag, nor do I shoot out of one bag. I've got large storage drawers in my studio and will tend to assemble whatever I need for an assignment/shoot. There is quite a bit of diversity in the way I shoot so the kit will be very different based on whether I'm doing editorial shots for news, portraits, commercial and/or macro food work, HD video, etc.
The other thing that I wanted to say right off the top, which is going to seem really paradoxical given this feature, but that is really
important to me, is that I think gear is over-emphasized. All too often when I encounter other photographers, especially if they're guys, all they want to talk about is gear. And sometimes I see certain editorial photographers here in Seattle who are covered with all manner of belts, straps and gear belts with accessories that would make Batman envious.
While I obviously understand that the equipment we shoot with is tremendously important (and I appreciate the technology that makes my work easier than it has ever been in the past) I think it is also vital to remember that we should never let gear get in our way. Sometimes making do with less helps us to be more innovative. I constantly remind myself that what I'm shooting with is never more important than who or what is at the end of my lens.
So, on to explaining the contents of the image above:
Spring-loaded, 42" 5-in-1 reflector. Essential for outdoor portrait work. The results are so much better than using fill flash, which I think always looks fake. Also unzips for use as a diffuser. A piece of white foam core makes for a decent reflector in a pinch.
Rocket blowers. The one with the red bottom has a built-in HEPA filter. No use blowing more dust into your camera.
Singh-Ray Variable neutral density filter. Can dial it down 8 stops. Expensive but handy for shooting wide open portraits in bright light.
CF cards. I love that these keep getting larger and cheaper. Pay attention not only to the storage size but the transfer speed. Occasionally I forget these in pockets and they go through the wash. I'm always amazed that they still work on the other side. Solid state memory is amazing.
Remote shutter and timer. Way overpriced for what it is. But very handy for macro work and long exposures.
Mountainsmith Borealis AT pack. This is my travel bag. It holds 2 DSLRs, a few lenses, and everything else I need when I have to travel across the world. It's really mostly for transit as its size makes it impractical to wear while shooting. It also makes you a target for theft if you wear it out in the street in the developing world. But it offers lots of space and still fits in overhead compartments on airplanes. Best bag for getting from point A to B.
Canon 5D Mark II. I shoot with a pair of these (the other was used to shoot the image of my gear). When shooting editorial images it is impractical to change lenses on the fly. So I'll usually put with a wide-angle on one and a telephoto on the other. One goes on each shoulder and I'm good to go. I like to use Up-Straps as they have a rubber pad that is non-slip and distributes weight well. They also weave kevlar into the straps so not only are they incredibly strong but they are almost impossible to cut.
Battery grip for the Canon 5DM2. I use it less for the expanded battery space than I do for the extra shutter button when shooting vertical.
Canon 70-200 2.8L II Telephoto. The editorial workhorse of the arsenal. Heavy but built like a tank. Great water and dust resistance.
Canon 2x Extender III. I use this most often when shooting SWAT team stand-offs where the police keep the media way back. Doesn't really offer the best quality for shooting wildlife. But for editorial work it is fine.
Canon 580 EXII flashes and Speedlite transmitter. I prefer to use available light whenever possible. But there are times when it is helpful to be able to add a bit of electronic light.
Lenses. (From left to right and top to bottom): Canon 85mm 1.2L (my favorite portrait lens. Expensive and heavy but stunning bokeh, light sensitivity and color reproduction), Canon 24-70 2.8L (the wide-angle I use most for editorial/photojournalism images), 100mm 2.8 macro (This lens was used for every image in my Disparity "Little People" images). Not pictured (as it was used to shoot this image) is the Canon EF 16-35mm wide-angle.
Manhattan Portage bag. Machine washable, small and light. This is what I'll usually use when I'm street shooting, whether I'm in a village in Burma, in the desert in Jordan, or on a ranch in Patagonia. Lots of little pockets. Holds a surprising amount of gear. Doesn't look like a camera bag so it doesn't attract attention.
Media credentials. Essential to getting closer to where the news is happening.
Sound gear. Audio-Technica wireless lavalier microphone and receiver, a Sennheiser MKE-400 micro boom with a "dead cat" wind screen, and an Olympus digital recorder for interviews and for recording ambient sounds, say at night on the streets of Saigon.
Apple iPad 2 with photo adaptors. Astounding battery life and versatility makes this an essential piece of kit for travel. I've been a diehard Apple user since we had the very first Macintosh at home when I was a kid. Their modern product lines are better than anything they've ever made.
Apple 13" Macbook Air with 1.8GHz Dual Core i7 processor and 256GB solid state memory. I tend not to do a lot of heavy duty editing of images when I'm on the road, mostly because I have long days of shooting and it is all I can do to get back to the hotel, download images off the cameras, clean my gear and charge batteries. But when I do need the horsepower, I like knowing I have a super-thin, super-light laptop that can handle it. I tend to upgrade computer equipment every year or so. I like having the latest technology.
Apple iPhone 4. Another game-changer. Whenever I arrive at a news scene I'll usually shoot a quick iPhone image and send it off to my editor. The fact that I can also shoot 720p HD video clips and e-mail them to my editor, almost in real time, is huge.
Other World Computing (OWC) bus-powered, 500GB pocket drive. Best portable backup from the road. I also use OWC Mercury Elite drives in my studio. They're very well-made and highly reliable.
Tripods. A Gorillapod (tricky to pose sometimes but great for wrapping around railings), Manfrotto sticks and heads, a carbon fiber set and a heavier set that's a bit more steady for macro work.
For more of Christopher's photography, check out his 500px page and his website