Nuts & Bolts
"The Zen of Camera Bags"
When I first
started doing a lot of air travel as a photographer, I bought suitcases
for all my Haliburton camera cases. I went to the local dime store
and bought four of the worst, cheapest suitcases I could find. The
terrible fabric exteriors were backed with cardboard. The suitcases
had all the protective abilities of a grocery bag. But that didn't
matter. The Haliburtons went inside the suitcases. The Haliburtons
protected the cameras from damage, and the terrible suitcases provided
a disguise that protected the Haliburtons from airport theft.
I would carry
onto the plane a camera bag with my most fragile equipment and have
a Leica with a collapsible 50 under my coat. Thus, even if something
got stolen I would have a basic working rig with me. But nothing
was ever stolen. For thirty-five years no thief has stooped low
enough to grab one of those awful looking suitcases.
brilliance in disguising my luggage was not matched with my brilliance
in the field. I would work in bad neighborhoods carrying one camera
bag (sometimes two) on my shoulder, thinking I was not attracting
attention because none of the equipment was outside the bag. And,
besides, what thief would recognize those bags as camera bags? What
Of course, I
got hit. The Bronx, New York City, New Haven, all saw the famous
flying Domke heading south in the arms of a photo-savvy thief. While
the majority of assignments are a little easier for the use of a
good camera bag, city streets, among others, are some of the places
not to display your expensive wares.
was to carry my equipment in back packs. The equipment inside the
packs was protected and organized with Domke inserts and a variety
of color-coded Domke wraps. This worked out better than I could
is a lot harder to snatch a backpack than a bag with one shoulder
strap. As a matter of fact, it is impossible, unless you want to
snatch the person along with the pack.
And, as backpacks
have become more popular, they attract less and less attention.
They simply are not the kind of designer bag that says, "Hi,
Im affluent, stylish and probably stupid enough to be carrying
something valuable in this bag." This is protection, not only
when you are on the street, but when you are carrying a bag onto
an airplane. Sadly, there are now thieves that snatch expensive
looking bags as they go through an X-ray and security check. Want
to lose all your cameras? Just pack them into a bag obviously designed
to carry a laptop computer.
Old age has
also shown me the advantage of a backpack. Carrying a heavy bag
on one shoulder for a prolonged period of time is definitely a no-no
for the senior photographer. Twice, after spending a few months
on the campaign trail, carrying everything I would need, including
high-speed long lenses, I ended up on the emergency-room trail followed
by the stay-in-bed trail followed by the dont-lift-anything
trail. Definitely not happy trails. So far there have been no problems
carrying relatively heavy loads for a fair length of time in a backpack.
So far being 16 years.
In an emergency
you can work out of a back pack, just as you would a shoulder bag,
by putting both straps over one shoulder. It is something I avoid
when possible. I can usually put the pack on the ground and rummage
around for what I need. After the first few times doing this, I
realized, it was what I did most of the time with a big shoulder
But how can
you wear a backpack at an upscale event? I now have as many backpacks
as most photographers have conventional camera bags. Big packs,
little packs, packs with and without inner steal frames and a beautiful
leather pack with a full carrying handle and concealable straps.
The leather pack comes out of storage any time that I want to say,
"No, Im not a press photographer, just a close personal
friend of the guest of honor. And, as you can see from my stylish
leather bag, Im probably quite a guy."