Let’s start with a classic. One of the most popular options (because of its convenience and practicality) is the photographic backpack. There are of all sizes and colours and if you are carrying a considerable amount of equipment it is certainly a comfortable option. However, depending on where you travel to and how you shoot, the backpack can, on the one hand, slow you down: you (normally) need to take the backpack off to access the lenses and accessories, and on the other hand, because they are very identifiable, they can attract unwanted attention.
Furthermore, a good backpack is often expensive. So, what other options are there?
2. The Shoulder/messenger Bag
Another classic used by many photojournalists, the shoulder bag offers more agility when it comes to accessing your equipment: you have everything you need at your fingertips. Versatile and resistant, messenger bags are also available in all sizes and colours. I would however, recommend choosing a model that is discreet and allow you to go unnoticed (or as unnoticed as possible).
The down side is that if you have a lot of equipment to carry and/or spend many hours out shooting, this type of bag will make your shoulder ache after a while. My advice: carry as little equipment as you can. Often a camera and a fixed lens such as a 35mm is enough to resolve almost any situation!
3. The School Backpack
In my opinion one of the most practical and versatile…oh and cheap too. No, I’m not suggesting you use the one you had as a child, nor does it have to be a school backpack per se, but the kind of backpack that you find at any sports of department store that is not specifically sold as a camera bag.
Today there are a lot of accessories such as padded inserts that, coupled with a normal backpack, can make for a very cheap alternative. Your camera will be protected at all times and when you take the camera out you have a normal backpack that you can use to carry other things.
Note: These padded inserts can also be used with the messenger bag which means that with one cheap accessory you can turn many of the bags that you might already have into camera bags too.
Remember, being discreet is always a good thing and the less it looks like you’re carrying expensive stuff around, the better off you will be.
4. The ‘Undercover’ Bag
Normally one does not go to places that are dangerous, but camera theft is a major problem, especially because thiefs are increasingly able to identify expensive equipment and/or you may unknowingly wonder into an area that is unsafe. For these situations we can take the advice of a World Press Photo award winner and good friend of “The Raw Society” Samuel Aranda (you can read the interview here).
Samuel has covered all kinds of conflicts and difficult situations throughout his career and one of the ways in which he transports his camera is using a plastic bag or tote bag with added padding.
Walking around looking like you’re carrying some fruit of your day’s groceries is no doubt one of the most discreet ways to travel with your camera. Using this method may seem a little bit extreme, but it has its advantages: Aside from being very discreet it is also incredibly light and when you are not using it, you can pretty much put it in your pocket.
Assuming you are not off to a zone of conflict, I would opt for the tote bag. The good ones are resistant and when not being used for your camera, are great to carry other knick-knacks.
Overall, the best thing to do is to go as light as possible when roaming the streets, because in the end, the important thing is to shoot and not worry about carrying stuff. And this brings be to my final point…
5. No Bag
DO NOT bring backpack or shoulder bag or anything for that matter. And here I’m referring specifically to when you are on the street. Any of the above solutions are good options to transport your equipment on the plane or car or any means of transport, but once you are in the place, leave everything in the room and just take your camera. If you need to drink something stop at a bar and enjoy watching the place and its people. Focus on taking pictures, because in the end, that’s what you’re there for, is it not?
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