Think Tank roller with pouches for use once on location.
Photography is a pain – pain in the shoulder and back that is. When I started in this profession I carried my gear in an over-the-shoulder Domke bag. And at the time I also carried all the gear I owned to every job. So it was simple, when I obtained more gear, I purchased a larger bag, the Domke Little Bit Bigger Bag to be specific.

So in my case, like many photographers, all the years of carrying gear over my right shoulder has led to shoulder pain. Nothing severe, just enough to be noticeable. So over time I've come up with a few techniques and tips to avoid this pain and hopefully if you're just starting out, allow you to avoid it in the future.

And it all starts by getting that gear off of your shoulder. Below I offer five tips.

1. Use a roller bag like the Think Tank Airport series or roller case such as the Pelican Case to get your gear to and from the assignment. It allows you carry maximum gear without putting any strain on your body.

2. Tip one gets the gear to the location, but then what? I'm a fan of the Think Tank Modular system which allows you to then use accessory packs to carry and organize your gear once there. You can load up that large roller bag or Pelican Case, then easily customize later. The belt and pouch system distributes the weight evenly on your hips and if you add a harness, you won't even notice that you are carrying camera equipment.

3. Change your traditional camera straps to something like the BlackRapid line of products. These across the chest camera slings do not put as much pressure on a given shoulder. Plus they have the added benefit of not allowing the camera to slip off your shoulder. Once you get use to it you almost forget about the camera hanging at your side.

4. Match gear to the assignment given. In previous blog posts I've talked about traveling light, with minimum gear. It is a hard habit to break and you will spend lots of time second guessing yourself, but if you really take a look at what gets used and what never leaves your pack, you can start to hone your packing.

5. I suppose I would be remiss if I didn't mention diet and exercise to strengthen your shoulder or back. We all know what is right, but let's face it, even if I was practicing good healthy practices 30 years ago, I'm pretty sure I'd still have some of the same issues as I close in on 50. Just be practical and remember that the body does start to wear out, so why speed the process by lugging too much when you're young.

So slow down, pack right, really think through what gear you bring and be sure to take care of your body. And get out there and shoot.


Porta-Brace video camera case and Think Tank Photo roller bag. 

Planning, research and organization are essential. The first thing I do when given an assignment is start asking questions like, when, where, still, video, deadline.

Next comes the logistics, such as will I fly or drive, be staying at a hotel or aboard a ship at sea, need a rental car or will I use my personal vehicle?

Answers to these questions greatly impact what gear I need and how and what I will pack.

Next begins the research phase of the trip. I start with the writer if one has been assigned and see what research has already been done. Sometimes a draft of the story has already been started. Next I'll contact the program manager or subject matter expert, introducing myself and requesting any and all background information they can provide. I also ask them what I can expect to see and if there are any restrictions when I'm on location. Never want to find out for the first time that cameras aren't allowed or something is classified when I arrive.

Finally I print out my Gear Pack List. I'm big on lists and the only way to ensure that you have everything you need when you arrive is to make sure you pack it. I downloaded this list several years ago from another photographer and over the years I've personalized it to include all the gear I own and everything else that I can think of. I just use a sharpie to cross out what I will not need for a particular trip and then use a red pen to check off items as they are packed. Hopefully you have the time to really contemplate what you are going to need, but even if time is tight, the list will ensure you are prepared. Many times it's a give and take, for instance, if I'm driving to location, it is easier to load more gear than I might need, however if I'm flying, then taking a small boat to meet a larger ship at sea, packing light and tight becomes more critical.
Pelican 1610 case with 1615 padded divider.

Most of my jobs require both video and still photography in some capacity, however, during initial conversation I have to determine which is primary. Is this part of a full video production with interviews and lighting requirements, or are they only interested in B-Roll and maybe a short clip for YouTube? For the latter I might be able to get away with just the D3S to shoot both still and video.

All my gear gets packed in either an Airport International Rolling Camera Bag from Think Tank Photo, a Pelican 1610 case with a 1615 padded divider set or a Porta Brace video camera bag. Other less breakable items such as a tripod, light stands, cords, light modifiers, chargers, etc., get packed into a soft duffel or regular luggage with clothes. And don't forget plenty of bubble wrap. I've checked all of these bags on different occasions, with the exception of the Porta Brace, and never had a problem. Although the Pelican hard case almost always pushes the weight limit.

One last bit of advice. If possible arrive the day before the job starts to allow for lost or delayed luggage. It also gives you time to break out and check gear, get batteries on charge, etc. But just in case, I always travel with a laptop, compact flash card reader, one camera body and lens with flash in my carry on so I can at least  capture something if all else fails.

For advice from photographers who have traveled tens and hundreds of thousands of miles each year, Think Tank Photo has posted two free articles, "Fear for Your Gear - Part I," and "Fear for Your Gear - Part II" INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL. You need to provide your name and email address to gain access to the PDFs, but it is well worth it.