Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of shooting due to my time off with family during the holidays. I thought I’d share some of my tips and some things I do before going on a casual shoot since a lot of you seemed interested in more photography/filmmaking content. While these tips could apply to professional paid gigs and studio shoots, I’m just going to be focusing on the casual stuff like vacations, local events with family/friends, and other events where you’re just shooting for fun and aren’t really expecting anything.
I usually don’t carry much on these casual shoots, because for one, you’re probably there to do other things besides taking pictures (at least most of us anyways). What I do carry is usually just the camera, a lens, and a bag. I prefer to carry very light and minimal to reduce the risk of damages and theft, and also to be more flexible to focus on whatever I’m suppose to be doing.
The bag I use is a very old Manfrotto backpack that I got in a bundle years ago. You can’t even buy it anymore, and I honestly wouldn’t recommend it either. It’s a decent bag that I’ve had for awhile and it does a decent job at holding my laptop, lenses, small tripod, and other gear that I may need to bring. I am looking for a more protective and better camera bag, so if you have any suggestions, post them in the comments! The point is, you need to get a bag. Why get a bag when you’re going minimal on a casual shoot? So you can store your stuff in there if you don’t want a camera dangling around your neck. Even if the bag isn’t waterproof, it’s better than carrying your gear in your hand or pockets if it rains.
Carrying a bag also gives you the convenience to put away your gear and camera if you don’t want to flash it around or hold it. Although not the best idea, I sometimes use the backpack to store bottled water, paper, and other junk that I was forced to take at events such as zoos. Most people carry backpacks to events anyways, so it’s very doable and convenient to have a backpack on you that carries your gear as well as other things you may want to carry on your back. If you don’t have some sort of protective bag, get one!
Many people want to carry a few lenses with them so they can get the perfect shot. Even with a backpack, I wouldn’t recommend carrying more than two lens for a casual event. I usually carry just one lens that I pre-picked for the occasion. For an example, if we’re going on a nature hike, I’d bring my wide 16-35mm f/2.8L to capture any cool landscapes. If I’m going to some festival or someplace where I know I will probably be zooming a bit, I’d bring my 60D crop sensor with my 24-70mm f/2.8L lens for some flexibility there. If I’m going to some sketchy city place, I’ll bring my nifty 50mm f/1.4 lens. I really try to avoid bringing a telephoto lens unless it’s safe and I really need it, such as air shows.
Pick a lens with a focal length that will be appropriate for what you’re doing. Another huge factor to keep in mind is the f-stop. Will it be very bright to the point where your f/4.0 lens will do? Or is it going to be a rave and you’ll need a f/1.2? I always keep two things in mind when selecting a lens, focal length (for composition), and f-stop (for exposure). Another factor to consider is the safety of the area, whether from others, nature, etc. Should you bring your expensive 70-200mm L lens? Will my gear be safe while climbing rocky hills? Will it get jacked because it’s so flashy and you’re in a ghetto area? Will you drop it off the boat? Keep these things in mind when selecting a lens. If I know I’ll be outside on a bright day, I always bring an ND filter. It allows you to keep the exposure under control without having to drastically change your f-stop or shutter speed (which can be problematic for video recording). An ND isn’t always needed, but if you have it, use it!
I always recommend carrying light and minimal, but there are some things you just don’t compromise. Bring a spare battery if you’re shooting all day or your current battery is low. All the times where I thought my current battery would last for the event, it didn’t. Batteries are so small, you can just throw one or two in your bag and it wouldn’t make a difference in load. OEM batteries can be pretty pricey, so you can opt for high quality 3rd party batteries if it’s more affordable. Yes, there are junk 3rd party batteries out there, but there are also some pretty good ones (look at the reviews!). I have a few Canon OEM batteries and a few 3rd party batteries that I bought on trips and they all work great. The most important thing is that you have a backup battery. A great place to find good 3rd party batteries is B&H Photo. I usually don’t carry a battery charger on single day events, unless I’m on vacation.
For storage, I can usually get by with a single SD or CF card. I know some people snap like crazy and prefer bringing a few backup cards, but if you do, I recommend getting a card case holder. I usually don’t carry flash, and use the natural lighting the best I can.
There are two crucial settings that my camera is set to when shooting. One, I ALWAYS shoot RAW for stills. It gives me the flexibility to pull more detail from the shadows/highlights, adjust the temperature/WB, and ultimately gives me more data to mess around with in post. The workflow isn’t that heavy when shooting RAW stills, unlike with shooting video in RAW. If you want to shoot RAW, check before shooting! I find that sometimes, my camera resets to JPEGs for some strange reason. I also shoot with a flat profile (Prolost Flat) so the picture is more unsaturated and unsharp so I can manually adjust things in post. (I use this for video as well so things are easier to color grade).
So that’s just a few of my tips on casual shooting. The purpose is completely different from a paid or studio gig, so you definitely want to prepare and pack a bit differently. I recommend bringing just the essentials, including a bag and backup batteries. Be cautious about the amount of gear you’re bringing. Remember, you’re not being paid to shoot. You’re likely there with family and friends, so don’t get too distracted with your camera and just have fun.