Photography Field Tips #1

One of the earliest lessons I learned in photography was to cultivate good field habits.  That is to establish habits and routines that not only help you stay organized, but keep you from going crazy if you have a lot of gear.  Accessories are the kiss of death sometimes and unless you have a way to keep track of them, you’ll lose stuff or not be able to find something when you need it.  One of my oldest habits is to always put my lens cap in my left pocket.  Usually it’s my pants pocket, but it can be jacket or vest pocket, too.  Don’t get me started on cap keepers, either.  Never had one, never will.  When I was in camera retail I sold them by the boatload, but would never be caught dead with one.  Noob city.  Nope, the pocket rule has always worked.  Only lost one lens cap in 25 years.  I think that’s pretty good.  Whenever I don’t follow the rule, I screw myself up royally.

The other day is a perfect example.  I was out in the woods as usual, looking for signs of spring.  I didn’t find any, but I shot a little anyway.  I remembered distinctly that I didn’t want to put my lenscap in my left pants pocket where I always put it because I was going to do a lot of ground shooting and it’s uncomfortable to have a 72mm cap in there.  I also couldn’t get to my jacket pockets because of my backpack straps.  But it belongs in one of them that’s for sure. That’s all I remembered when an hour later I reached for my lenscap because it started to snow hard.  It wasn’t there.

Frantic pocket patting ensued.  I must have looked demented.  Or like I had OCD.  That great George Carlin routine about losing things went through my head.  I even checked the upper parts of my pockets because yes, indeed, it might have fallen upward!  I went through the obvious places in my backpack.  I changed the battery so maybe it ended up in the main compartment where the old batteries go…nope, not there.  Am I sure it’s not in my pockets?  More pocket patting.  Nope, not back yet.  I knew I shouldn’t have put it in my left front pocket…I knew I’d be crouched down a lot and it must have squirted out while I was shooting.  A quick review of my shots gave me the locations where I’d have to stop and search.  Back down the trail I went.  Eyes down, scanning for a black disk and hoping it fell on some snow and not the leaves which could hide a Sherman Tank.

Imagine looking for the same stupid leaf you liked on the side of the path only coming from the other direction.  OMFG it was torture…was that the little plant I stopped to look at?  Oh hey, here’s where I found that old jar.  It must be here.  After much snow scraping and leaf kicking I didn’t find it.  Ok…it must be down where I shot that club moss.  Yeah, I spent a lot of time there, so it must be there.  How much further was that?  Oh there it is.  More snow kicking and leaf sweeping.  No cap.  OMG.  Is it where I shot that weird tree?  Or was it when I went to shoot the birch bark?  Tramp down the trail some more, always scanning the ground.  What if someone stomped on it?  What if someone kicked it?  What if a dog thought it was a toy and chewed it all up?  I’ll never find it.

So…to make a long story short I got all the way back to the first thing I shot and still didn’t find my missing cap.  I decided to search my backpack again and then it hit me.  I put it in the side pocket.  But not the left pocket, the right one.  There it was.  Shining up at me, smiling with glee that it was once again found.  If I could have kicked myself, I would have.  What a dope.  I didn’t follow my rule and it screwed with me.

The Offending Pocket

You can imagine what I’ll be remembering to do on my next few trips out into the field.  Negative reinforcement, baby!

So what other rules do I have?  Not all that many, but one that I live by is to keep my fresh batteries in one spot.  Here –

Keep your good and bad batteries straight or you'll go nuts.

If I find batteries anywhere else in my pack, I know they’re used.   I don’t really have a designated place for them, just that they don’t go back into that little section.

Oh, so I probably should show you the whole rig, huh?  Well here it is with my travel tripod stuffed in the back –

My most used camera bag - a LowePro

It’s a LowePro Street & Field Rover Light.  Stupid name, great bag.  The top section is basically one big pocket and is great for non-photo stuff like snacks, shell jackets, hats, gloves and other stuff.  I’ve got a trash bag in there all the time as well as some peanut-butter crackers.  Oh and an extra memory card, filters, a space blanket and folded paper towels.  And I can’t forget my Swiss Army knife and flashlight.

The bottom section opens like a clamshell and has padded sections like any other camera bag.  I haven’t moved them around much.  My old E-300 (which I used to take these pictures) fit better than my E-30 does mostly because it doesn’t have a penta-prism and is flat on top.  It does the job though –

The E-30's home away from home

As I haven’t acquired a large telephoto zoom at this point, this bag still works.  I’ve had it since 2003 and it’s been everywhere.  I use it as my primary carry-on all the time when I’m flying.  I can cram toiletries and other stuff like my Bose headphones, a book and my iPod in the top and all my camera stuff below.  But the best thing about it is that it’s a real hiker’s pack with excellent padding and adjustment potential.  When hiking with a camera I usually have it hanging from a D-ring on the right shoulder strap.  Like this –

With a wrist strap, the camera hangs at hip-height and is manageable on the trail.

Most of the time I don’t even have to detach the camera and can leave it on the D-ring (or D-link as I stupidly labeled it).  It is an unusual arrangement, but it works for me.  The D-ring is also a handy hanger for gloves.  Sometimes I hang a water-bottle pouch from the waist belt.  Not only is it good for water, but for a long telephoto making it easy to do lens changes without taking the pack off.  The only downside is when you slide down a hill in deep snow.

So yeah, I’ve gone down a tangent that has nothing to do with rules for the field.  Digression is the house special today.  As rules go I think the lens cap location is key as is keeping your batteries straight.  Anyone else got any good field habits they want to share??  Feel free to chime in!

5 thoughts on “Photography Field Tips #1

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  1. Strangely enough, lens caps are also a front left pocket for me, too. Along with my keys. Those are the only things I ever use that pocket for. In the 99%+ of the time I’m doing something other than shooting, front left is still the key pocket, with nothing else in there. I feel strange on those rare occasions when I don’t have keys on me, so they are not in that pocket. Unlike you, I have lost lens caps, but I lose them because they are lightly made and they break or weaken and come off the lenses. I’ve never lost my keys.

  2. I also keep my lens cap in my front left pocket. Occasionally I’m wearing a dress or something without a left pocket and it confuses me. Maybe a backup rule would be good — “if left pocket present, put it there; if not, use back pocket in bag” or something.

    The lens cap rule came about unconsciously, though. I should develop some more field habits.

  3. I don’t normally use lens caps, instead preferring the protection of a lens hood. Can’t take that quick unexpected shot through a cap 🙂 I do however love that camera hanging set-up. Even though I don’t use the cap much, I do use the “same stuff, same pocket” technique, and when I deviate from this is when I end up rummaging through every conceivable nook and cranny looking for what “should be right here darn it!”

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