Your Camera Bag Might Be Hurting Your Photography Skills

Pride, LGBT, Pittsburgh, Low light, Leica, Leica M10, Leica 28mm, street photography

It’s common practice to throw your camera into your camera bag to get it from point-A to point-B. Who could blame you, that keeps it from getting bumped and bashed off of obstacles along your way, right? Sure. Unfortunately, this does you no good when serendipity strikes and a great shot lands on your lap. Your camera is in your bag… Either on your back or in your car on the back seat (usually out of reach, right?). Let’s talk a bit about what you might be missing by leaving your camera in your camera bag.

I’ve compiled a handful of images that would have never happened if I’d have needed to pull my camera from a bag on my back. Often, moments are so quick that the 15 or 20 seconds it takes to pull your camera out is 15 to 20 seconds too many. By the time you pull your camera, lock exposure/focus (if you’re shooting with auto focus) the moment has passed and your image is lost forever. Serendipity is a cruel mistress.

Badwater Basin, Death Valley, street photography, national park, asian, Leica m, leica m10-p, furnace creek
This image would never have happened if I didn’t have my camera hanging from my neck ready to go. I loved the way the harsh light laid the shadow along the woman face and the contrast between the proximity of the tourist to my camera and Badwater Basin in the background.

The number of images you miss by leaving your camera in your backpack is probably pretty small. Unfortunately, they are the ones you remember forever… The images burned into your minds eye. I will forever remember being in Boston and watching in disbelief as a fire truck rushed past and the passenger (closest to me) had a cigar in his mouth and was smoking it as he zoomed past. Had I had my camera out and ready I’d have had an amazing image as I panned with the firetruck and cigar smoking firefighter.

pittsburgh, street photography, street fight, raw, low light, leica, leica m10
I stumbled upon a knife fight in downtown Pittsburgh while walking back to my car one evening. Had I not had my camera out and ready to go I’d have missed this completely. Within a few moments they were done and the police were there.

Often, when I’m tired and heading back to my car for the night I’m tempted to say to myself that I’ve put in a good days work and it’s okay to put my camera in my bag and b-line it back to my car. That is never a good idea though. Almost every time I’ve put my camera away Serendipity shows it’s face and I miss an amazing moment. I recommend never succumbing to the desire to put your camera away and always keep it out and ready.

Benedum Center, Pittsburgh, street photography, Leica, Leica m10, cultural district, the streets of Pittsburgh
This shot would have never happened with my camera in my backpack. I was tired and ready to go to bed as I headed back to my car. Luckily my camera was hanging around my neck with the proper settings already in place.

In fact, I go a step further and always keep my camera in the ready position. If you ever pass me in the street you’ll notice that my camera is always half up and my finger is on the shutter release. I’ve missed too many awesome shots to ever walk around with my camera in my bag.

Obviously, if you’re a landscape photographer you may be thinking to yourself that this does not apply to you, right? You like to hike to where you are going to shoot, take your time to set up your tripod, affix any filters you may use, and wait for the light. WRONG! Even when I’m hiking in Death Valley I have a camera in my hand at the ready. My Leica M is always around my neck while the D850’s are resting in the bag for the tripod/light shot.

I’d have missed the woman with the umbrella walking in line with her friends along the trail in Death Valley had I not had my Leica out and ready. By the time I pulled my camera out they would have been clustered together instead of evenly spaced as you see above.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it’s sometimes a pain in the butt to carry a camera everywhere you go. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the anger/dissapointment I get from missing a great shot is far more powerful than the slight discomfort I get from carrying a camera everywhere. At the end of the day, a little discomfort is worth the increasing the chances I’ll capture a great shot. A great shot is thrilling!

Pride, LGBT, Pittsburgh, Low light, Leica, Leica M10, Leica 28mm, street photography
The image at the top of this article (and here) was taken in Pittsburgh after the Pride festival had concluded. Had I set my camera bag down and fished through it for my camera I’d have missed the girl dancing in the light for her friends. I was lucky to have my camera in the ready and stumble upon this at the end of the night.

Street photographers understand candid moments. Candid moments are the measure of a street photographer. Those of us who stick to candid photography, documenting life as it happens, feel like posing people and trying to pass it off as street photography is an affront to street photographers everywhere. With that being said, nothing ruins a candid moment quite like setting down your camera bag in front of your subject, fishing through it for your camera, dialing in your settings while they look at you, and then trying to recreate what you initially saw because the moment has surely passed.

street photography, leica m, coney island, brooklyn, workout, balance, new york
Walking down the beach in Coney Island I came across this scene. A moment later, after they realized I was photographing them, the moment passed.
Street photography, Death Valley National Park, Zabriskie Point, sunrise, golden hour
My D850 was on my tripod taking photos of the moon as it set in the distance… Meanwhile, the camera I always have at the ready, my Leica, was around my neck and, well, ready.
Walking past Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh while it was raining yielded a really interesting shot. I had my camera out and ready with a little bit of a slower shutter speed just as this gentleman was walking by. I love the abstract look this photo has and it’s one of my favorite that I’ve taken in Pittsburgh.
Nashville, street photography, musician, guitar
This guy was hustling down the street in Nashville, I’d have never caught this image if I’d have had to stop and fish through my bag for my camera. I followed him for several blocks and have clearer images but this was my favorite because it portrays the speed at which he seemed to be moving towards his destination (a gig perhaps).
Thambar, Leica, Leica M, Leica M10, street photography, Pittsburgh, Omni William Penn Hotel
A couple walks in front of me, past the Omni William Penn, in downtown Pittsburgh. This image isn’t a product of Photoshop manipulation but rather it was shot using Leica’s Thambar lens which gives images the dreamy look you see above.
Pittsburgh, street photography, panning, motion
As I was walking back to the parking garage one evening I heard the hollow engine noise of a scooter zipping through town. Luckily, my camera was out and ready because just as I turned around to look he was barreling down the street past the Benedum Theater.
Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Street Photography, Fine art, skateboard, sunflare
Walking through Venice Beach you’d be crazy to leave your camera in the bag. As I was leaving I stumbled upon this guy sowing off on top of the graffiti wall next to the skate park. Moments later he had fallen (without getting hurt) off the wall.


All of the shots above involve serendipitous moments, unplanned and spontaneous. None of the shots would have happened if I had to take time to pull a camera out of my bag. These days, my camera bag (or backpack) is used primarily for holding my camera in my house, hotel, motel, or wherever I’m sleeping and transporting it on an airplane. Aside from that, my camera is usually on the car seat next to me or around my neck. Life is short, iconic moments are even shorter, always be ready because that one shot you miss may haunt you forever… Wow, that was grim. Let me try that again. Life is short, iconic moments are even shorter, always be ready because you’ll be old and brittle soon. Dang, still grim. Well, you get my point. Happy shooting!

If you’d like to keep up with my current work and/or thoughts please head over to Instagram and follow @PhotolisticLife. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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2 replies on “Your Camera Bag Might Be Hurting Your Photography Skills”
  1. says: Lewsh

    There was a special program on PBS about Gary Winogrand which showed him shooting with a Leica which was always at chest level with a finger on the shutter button. The way he moved, it was hard for people to know whether he actually took a picture or not.

    1. says: John Barbiaux

      That’s awesome! Yeah, I def. didn’t invent the approach. I can remember watching some of the greats work their way through the streets and they were so smooth that nobody really noticed them. To be honest, these days, if the weirdest thing that happens to you is you get your photo taken by a stranger then I think it’s still considered a good day.

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