I see so much photographic equipment being described as professional these days that I sometimes wonder of the term has any meaning. When John Downing took the classic picture of a stunned Margaret Thatcher leaving the Imperial hotel in Brighton, England, after the IRA had bombed it, he had been having a drink in the bar. The bomb went off and John couldn’t get to his room to get his ‘proper’ cameras. But he he had a Canon Sureshot, the same as my mum used on holiday, in his pocket.
And it was on the Sureshot that the pic was made.
That makes it a professional camera in my book. Cameras are not professional, people are. An Olympus Pen in Sebastaio Delgado’s hands is a professional camera. A Nikon D4 in my sister’s is not.
Since it’s a while since I’ve been a day to day editorial photographer shooting anything and everything from wars to fashion, I thought I’d ask a friend of mine, Keith Waldegrave what his professional working kit consists of. He works for one of the UK’s biggest and most successful national publications and never knows from one day to the next what country he will be in let alone what assignments he will be asked to cover.
It follows that his equipment must be up to any photographic task he is likely to be handed but most importantly must be tough, reliable and manageable. Here’s a run-down of Keith’s basic working gear.
Two Nikon D3 bodies with (all Nikkor) lenses 14mm f2.8, 24-70mm f2.8, 80-200mm f2.8, 28-300mm f4.5-5.6, 300mm f2.8 plus Nikkor 1.4 ands 2x converters and two Nikon SB800 flash guns. It is kept in a Tamrac wheelie bag that has a pocket for his laptop, used for editing and sending pix to his London office from wherever he happens to be (photographers don’t go in to the office much in these days of easy mobile sending).
Depending on the job, Keith will often take just one body with the 24-70 f2.8 zoom, flash and extension lead for bounce flash off handy wall or ceilings. That way the gear can be carried in a Lowepro shoulder bag easily.
On a foreign, the two D3 bodies, 2 flashguns, 24-70 and 80-200 or 28-300 are taken depending on the nature of the story – but not both long zooms. Mobile dongle, cables, laptop, adaptors and all the paraphernalia and personal stuff are put in the wheelie bag and taken hand baggage Thus, no danger of losing anything to the baggage handlers and no back-ache from hauling all that stuff the absurd distances from check-ins to gate these days. There’s a Lowepro shoulder bag in there too, for working out of the hotel.
Incidental gear is a set of Elinchrom Quad Ranger lights with assorted brollies, Lastolites, soft boxes and so on for important interviews and big buy-ups. Those are used with battery packs to be independent of the mains and for locations where main power isn’t available.
Other bits include a monopod for when the 300mm f2.8 is doubled up to 600mm, car power inverter for charging everything on the move and mains extension lead for when you must have mains power and the socket is too far away – amazing how often that happens!
Oh yes, and tripod and step ladder but they are only taken when necessary.
Looking at Keith’s kit, two things strike me. First, how comprehensive it is. There’s not much that can’t be covered with it. Secondly, how minimal it is. Nothing extraneous there at all.
A newspaper photographer from a hundred year ago will have had very different equipment but he will have applied the same philosophy. Cover the maximum with the minimum. No duplication, nothing in the bag just because you like it or use it occasionally – and that will need to be removed if you going on a foreign and need to travel light.
The wheelie bag stands ready by your front door or sits in the boot of your car. The phone rings and you are on your way. It’s just you and your cameras. Everything is charged up and ready to go because putting everything on charge was the first thing you did on getting home from your last job.
As I write that I can feel the heat and bustle of African city, I can hear the sound wall of AC/DC’s guitars at the Rainbow, Finsbury and smell the oil and salt water of a tanker aground in Scotland. And now back to my present day reality.
I’m in a southern French village. I am not about to race off anywhere more exotic than the boulangerie. And yet, beside the front door is my camera bag. In it is are two camera bodies, a Panasonic GH4 and a GM1 as backup. There are 7-14, 12-35 and 35-100 and 100-300mm zooms. A flash gun. Spare batteries. Spare SD card. It’s a professional outfit!
All Micro four Thirds gear, of course, and thus a fraction of the weight of Keith’s Nikons. But Keith may have to produce an image under conditions where an amateur would judge that the result wouldn’t be worth it. Bigger pixels, in this context, are always better. No picture editor will be interested in your back problems while a hungry editor is looking over his shoulder, waiting for his front page picture exclusive to appear (Actually, he won’t be interested even when the editor isn’t looking over his shoulder).
Nonetheless, I have reproduced Keith’s professional working outfit in a different context.
A newsman from the New York Daily Graphic in 1920, Keith in London in 2014, me in 1990 and me in 2014 all have one thing in common. Our camera bags and the reasoning behind their contents. Since I’m in France, I’ll use a French phrase to express my feelings. La plus ca change, la plus c’est la meme chose.
So what is professional equipment? Quite simply, it is not equipment labelled ‘Pro’, it is the equipment professionals actually choose to use. Which leaves me with my MFT gear. Is it professional? Not many professionals in my field use it. And I’m not really professional now. So no, it’s not.
But I still approach my photography and choose my equipment in a professional manner. Witness my bag by the door. So maybe my MFT equipment is amateur gear chosen by a professional. Does that make it professional gear, then? I don’t know.
More to the point, I don’t care.
PS Keith’s gear (2 bodies, 4 lenses) weighs in at 9.17 kilos or 20.2 lbs or 9 bags of sugar. Mine (2 bodies, 4 lenses) weighs 2.5 kilos, 5½ lbs or 2 bags of sugar. Of course, the performance is different and the comparison not exact.