The photoshoot of a lifetime just landed in your inbox, but there’s a major snag. You can only bring one small bag of gear with you. What makes the cut and what doesn’t?

Somewhat recently, an opportunity arose with a client that required me to travel incredibly light, much lighter than I am used to on a commercial shoot. While I’m not one for large entourages or truckloads of gear, there are a few items that I’d rather not leave the studio without. The whole event got me thinking about what is truly essential for a photoshoot and which items may be weighing us down. This kind of exercise is beneficial for photographers to consider, as it could change the way they shoot and the gear they buy.

In no particular order, here are the items that I managed to pack during my “small bag challenge.”

1. Camera

A camera is obviously going to be on my list of items to pack. Although for me, it’s not just one camera but two as there is no way I would want to risk a camera failing and not having a backup at hand. For many years, the Canon 5DS has been my workhorse, but more recently I’ve been using the Canon 5D Mark IV instead. As space is of a premium, it makes more sense to have two identical cameras as it means just one set of accessories is needed. If you don’t have two identical cameras, even two bodies from the same manufacturer will help you to not double up on various items.

2. Lens

For the same reasons mentioned above, I will be packing two lenses. On this occasion, the lenses won’t be the same, but having more than one in my small camera bag gives me some security if a lens was to break. My two favorite focal lengths to shoot on are the 50mm and the 100mm. These two lenses tend to cover the vast majority of situations I find myself in. It wouldn’t be ideal if my Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens broke, and I had to resort to shooting on my Canon RF 100mm f/2.8 L Macro IS USM lens, but I could make it work, and it’s better than not having anything to shoot on at all.

3. Power Bank

A slim-lined power bank such as the Belkin Boost Charge USB Type-C Power Bank has enough juice to charge any phone a good few times. This means that everyone can stay connected while we work and things tend to run more smoothly when everyone is charged up. A good power bank can charge multiple items at once, is reasonably light, and takes up little space in a small bag.

4. Battery Chargers

While I always make sure my batteries are charged up before a shoot, I still like to take chargers for my various batteries with me. Mains chargers will charge things quicker but I do have USB versions of my battery chargers and these take up much less space in my bag. If I’m shooting somewhere off-grid, the USB versions are what I’d take anyway. One advantage of the USB chargers is that I can use the power bank mentioned above to charge them. For my camera batteries, I use the Jupio USB Charger Kit and for all things AA I use the Panasonic Eneloop Batteries and Charger.

5. Memory Cards

Several memory cards will keep me shooting all day without having to overwrite anything. I like to make sure everything is wiped before a shoot and that I have everything organized in a way that I know which cards are which. A handy CF card wallet not only helps with this but also gives the cards a little additional protection. After a shoot, I move this wallet to my person so it never leaves my side. A lost camera bag and its contents would be devastating, but a lost camera bag containing several memory cards full of images would be even worse. As you will notice in the picture above, I like to keep the capacity of my cards on the smaller size and spread the load rather than having fewer cards that can store more on them. The reason for this is that if a card fails I’ve only lost 16 GB worth of images and not 256 GB worth if I was to use much bigger card sizes. For as long as I can remember, I have always used Sandisk Memory Cards, and as they have never let me down, I have stuck with them.

6. Lens Cleaning Kit

Dirty lenses can give you hours of extra work in post-production later. It goes without saying that your lenses should be clean before you start shooting, but it’s no guarantee that they will stay clean for the duration of a day. That’s why a small lens cleaning kit is a worthy addition to your camera bag and will help you to keep things as clean as a whistle.

7. Gray Card

Color accuracy is important to me especially when it comes to skin tones. A collapsible gray card folds neatly in my small camera bag and helps to give me something to reference from when I come to process the images later. This particular gray card can also double up as a handy flag for those moments when you need to stop light hitting your lenses and giving you lens flare.

8. Gorilla Pod Tripod

A full-size tripod will unfortunately not make the cut when traveling light. I don’t tend to use a tripod anyway so I won’t miss not having one. On the rare occasion that I might need to use a tripod, something like the JOBY GorillaPod 5K Mini-Tripod would work in a pinch. This type of tripod can also double up as a stand for an off-camera Speedlight which is more likely how I’d use one of these. Thanks to their flexible legs, these things can attach to just about anything that may be close to. I’ve used them on handrails, lamp posts, and even the back of a chair when some height was needed.

9. Speedlight Kit

A single Speedlight like the Canon Speedlite 580EX II is all I’m going to be able to squeeze into my small camera bag along with some colored gels and a cold shoe so I can mount the light on the above-mentioned tripod. This light is there to add a little to the scene rather than do a lot of the heavy lifting, which you may expect from a full lighting setup. While I do like using lots of artificial light in my shoots, this small bag challenge will not allow for a full lighting setup.

10. Trigger Set

A small trigger set like the Vello FreeWave Trigger and Receiver Kit will allow my camera to communicate with my speedlight wirelessly. My triggers use AA batteries which is handy as they are the same type I use in my speedlight. This means only one battery charger is needed to charge both pieces of gear and helps to save space in the camera bag too.

11. Tape

A few rolls of ProTapes Gaffer Tape will always come in handy on a shoot. Be it for quick repairs, holding things together, labeling things up, or even used to mark things out. If you can’t fit full rolls inside your small camera bag, then a few half-rolls should be plenty. You may find that with half-rolls, you can fold them flat so they take up less space.

12. Black and White Material

A folded piece of material which is black on one side and white on the other has a hundred uses while out on a shoot. You can lay on it if you find yourself shooting low angle, you can shield yourself from the elements with it, and you can use both the black and white sides to either add or subtract light in your scene. This may seem like a silly item to add to the list, but a piece of material like this has so many uses. I use 8 by 4 ft sheets and can easily squeeze one sheet into a small camera bag on top. As an added bonus, the folded sheet adds some extra protection to the gear in the bag.

Notable Omissions:

The laptop, full-size tripod, and lighting kit were never destined to make the cut for this small bag challenge due to their size. While those items are all important parts of a photographer’s arsenal, it is more than possible to produce great work without them.

So there you have it, all the items that I managed to pack during my “small bag challenge.” It may not be the most exciting gear list you’ve ever read, but it is a thought-out collection of equipment that would allow me to do my job and, most importantly, travel light on this occasion. While the contents of every photographer’s bag will be somewhat different, I believe many of you will relate to the items that made the cut. I must admit that I found the whole process quite liberating and urge you all to try a similar exercise yourselves. You may just be surprised to learn how little you need to take with you on your next shoot and how that freedom may enable you to explore places you never thought possible.

Could you comfortably shoot with just the contents of this camera bag? Are there any important items you think were missing from the list? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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