How to Put Together A Lightweight Photography Gear Bag

How to Put Together A Lightweight Photography Gear Bag - Mastin Labs

How many times have you shown up to a shoot and later realized that you over-packed? Or worse, that you forgot something crucial! 😬

I would not consider myself a gear-head, but I do believe that knowing your tools and how best to use them is one of the most significant contributions to your voice, style, and vision. 

To this day, my mother uses the adage, "It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it."

While this may sound like, and often is, sage advice, fervently adhering to it can be a literal pain in the neck. The weight of all that extra gear will make for a slower day and an achy back.

Below are tips on how to make the best gear choices for your shoot so that you have everything you need while staying as light and mobile as possible.

You will also see a walkthrough of what gear I use (and why) for a day-long portrait shoot in downtown Seattle, Washington.

By Chris Daniels, edited with Mastin Labs Kodak Gold 200 preset

START HERE: The Bare Essentials

You can create and deliver images to clients with nothing more than the bare gear essentials, which include:

  • A camera body
  • One lens
  • Memory cards or film
  • Spare battery

Anything else is beyond essential. Anything that you add to this list should have a specific purpose.

With any addition to this kit, ask yourself, "Do I absolutely need to add this item to my gear? Why?"

Seven Variables For Gear Selection

To know what you truly need so that you can avoid overpacking, you must assess the variables that you know about the shoot. Using these cues before a shoot greatly aids in selecting the right tools for the job.


Envision the images that you aim to create. Ask yourself, "What are the bare essentials needed for me to achieve my vision?"


This variable is to consider what your options are around things you can't control. A good and common example is when the budget is low. Maybe you don't have what you would consider to be ideal. So, ask yourself, what you do have to use to your advantage?

Team Needs

If you work with additional team members, such as a makeup artist or wardrobe or a prop stylist, etc., be sure to check with them: they may have essential kit or location requirements. Make sure that you know these ahead of time as these needs may also have an influence on your base location.

Subject Matter

Who or what is your subject? How many are there?


Where your shoot is being held has a considerable impact. Shooting in a private studio vs. walking around downtown can mean a lot of gear changes and safety precautions.

A private setting, such as a studio or home, has its own specific considerations, but if you're going to be shooting outdoors, you have to take other things into account.

The weather, sun placement, and general safety of everyone can affect your gear choices and even the bag you use. 


The time of day may impact some equipment needs, such as the need for a tripod, lighting, or light modifiers.

Does this shoot require anything that cannot go into a small carry bag?

If you need to carry items that are larger than you can maintain on your own while shooting, then you either need a place to store and access these tools safely, or you need an assistant to come along and lend a hand.

Non-essential Gear Selection

Now that you know everything in play, you can add to your bare essentials, as needed or wanted. If the vision you have requires both a wide-angle and a portrait lens, add ‘em both to your gear. If you like to bring along a 35mm point 'n' shoot because it makes you happy and you don't mind carrying it, toss it in there!

All of the gear I used to shoot all day in downtown Seattle. By Chris Daniels

My All-Day Downtown Photo Kit

What's in It:

  • Canon 5d Mark III
  • Canon Elan 7, 35mm
  • Canon 24-70mm Lens
  • Canon 50mm Lens
  • Ricoh 35mm Point ‘n’ Shoot
  • Sekonic Light Meter
  • Memory Card Case
  • 3 Spare Batteries
  • Additional Film
  • A Sharpie
  • Gaffer Tape


  • Vision: A downtown portrait-and-lifestyle shoot with two subjects with multiple looks and locations. I want to shoot hybrid (both film and digital).
  • Roadblocks: It is a low budget shoot. This means I need to produce a lot with a little. So, I decide on a minimal amount of reliable and versatile gear and use only natural lighting. Not bringing lighting on-site means less to maintain and consider, making me more mobile and able to produce a high number of quality images.
  • Team Needs: I'll use part of my budget to secure a small team, consisting of a wardrobe stylist, makeup artist, and assistant. The stylist and MUA will need a place to house props and equipment, and the models will require a place to change clothes.
  • Subject Matter: I'll be shooting two models, each with multiple looks.
  • Where: We're going to start in the center of downtown Seattle. I need to find a place where we can all meet. This place will ideally serve as a base for the needs of the stylist and MUA and will also be close to the first location.
  • When: Call time is 2:00 p.m. We'll begin shooting no later than three and will change our locations based on the natural light.
  • Does this shoot require anything that cannot go into a small carry bag? Most of my equipment can be carried in a small shoulder bag. I will also bring a large 5-in-1 reflector, which my assistant will carry.

All of the gear, aside from the camera in use, in a shoulder bag.

The result is the kit pictured above. I chose a small sling-bag to hold everything aside from the one camera that I would carry on my shoulder. This allows me to keep my kit light and even toss in a fun item (the 35mm point-n-shoot) and the Gaff tape (just in case).

In a scenario where I would be moving around more, I might go with a slightly larger bag, like the one pictured below, which can safely hold all of my gear with some room to spare.

Small gear backpack

What's in your gear bag? Let us know what you can't live without in the comments section below! 

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