I am not a stunt man. I don’t own a mountain bike or rock climbing gear. Sure, I have leapt from a plane but I am no skydiver. Frankly, any parkour moves would break my bones. But this doesn’t mean that I am not adventurous. Far from it. Not all adventures have to be extreme.
As a portrait photographer and nature lover, I am often skipping across slippery rocks in creek beds and hanging off tree limbs for a shot. This is partially because I love to find unique perspectives. Though the main reason is because I love the outdoors just as much as I love photography. For me, getting dirty amplifies my experience behind the camera and invests me in a portrait shoot.
To be as intimate as possible with a location, I can’t pack a roller bag or have a large DSLR shoulder sling hanging off me. I need a bag that is compact, light, maneuverable and very durable. Needless to say, I was very eager to see how Manfrotto’s new stunt bag would handle during a typical, on-location portrait session.
Holding the bag, it was clear that the pack was specifically designed for those who are dedicated to the extreme. With specific GOPRO® connections for additional shooting angles and a storage pocket for a hydration pack, the stunt bag is an obvious choice for extreme photographers. Yet, with the bag in my hands, I could tell that it was equally crafted for photographers who, like me, are just as interested in getting outside for their own sort of adventures as the Evel Knievels of the photography world.
The Offroad backpack seemed to be the perfect size for my upcoming portrait shoot. The medium sized bag housed everything I needed for my planned location in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. I fit my compact Fujifilm kit (Fujifilm X-T1 and three Fujinon prime lenses) snuggly into the bag’s protective pouches. I slipped a single speedlite, receiver and trigger into the compartment right below the pack’s rigid, protective shell. I also easily managed to find a spot for a cellphone, swimsuit, extra shirt, insect repellent and some snacks into the bag. All packed, I headed out to one of the area’s many trails that runs over creeks and through woods.
At the trailhead I met my beautiful friend Casey and fellow photographer Micah Mackenzie. After hugs and high fives we started down the trail into the thick of the forest.
I immediately wanted to start making some portraits, an urge I experience daily. So, I effortlessly unzipped my bag’s butterfly opening (one of my favorite features) and pulled out my mirrorless camera from one of the two protective pouches. As we went on, I kept my camera out knowing that around every corner there would be an opportunity to click the shutter.
We leapt over boulders and romped like a bunch of hippies down the path. The deciduous trees wrapped us in hues of green and the nettles and dangerous ivy even had an acute beauty. Zigzag roots cut the trail but I felt at ease knowing the stunt bag would protect my gear from the inevitable tumble I usually take in the woods.
Before long we had worked our way down to a gently flowing stream. The mountain water was cool and I was relieved to be in the shade. Further downstream we found an area with some beautiful rocks and natural pools. It was a sublime spot, one that is seemingly made for relaxation and, in this case, for portraits.
I set my bag down on the rocks along the water’s edge. I knew that we would be in the creek bed for a while. I wanted to change lenses. But what I really wanted to do was wade deeper into the crisp water.
Forgetting that I had packed a swimsuit, I hastily grabbed a wide prime lens from the stunt bag’s secondary pouch and walked away from my bag. I couldn’t wait to get wet. Sloshing into the creek, I wasn’t worried about bag I left behind or the gear inside of it. With every step my body became wetter and I held my camera a bit higher.
Our thirty-minute respite was exactly what I had hoped for. We laughed, made some photographs and soaked in the summer sun that fought its way through the canopy. It was a superb way to end a relaxing adventure and reinforced my belief that you don’t need a lot to have a great portrait shoot. You don’t have to have a massive bag crammed full with a DSLR and an army of lenses. All you need is a small amount of well-protected gear, a stunning location and good company.
Learn more about my work at http://www.andrewfaulkphotography.com and Micah’s work at http://www.micahmack.com. For more portrait photography tips and tutorials, visit my blog at http://www.andrewfaulkphotography.com/blog.
The sun knocked its way through the curtains and freckled light over our white bedspread. I could tell by the golden hue that it was a spectacular morning. As usual, I had missed sunrise but was still motivated to make the best of my day off, ready for a day out in Tokyo. After adjusting to the light, I quietly wrangled my legs from the tangled sheets and slipped off “my side” of the bed.
With coffee mug in hand, I moved into my office. My workstation was impeccably clean with all of my inspiration mindfully placed on the shelves. In contrast, the rest of my space was a catastrophe. A few days worth of consecutive portrait shoots had me spread thin and apparently apathetic about returning my gear to its proper place. The modifiers were on the floor with two, uncased flashes to keep them company. A half-eaten bag of Fisherman’s Friend cough drops (I eat them like candy when I am shooting), a loose trigger and a pouch of CTO gels were all bunched together. Partially hidden under the mess was a roller bag with another forty pounds of the gadgets, gizmos, nun chucks and yo-yos that I convinced myself I needed.
I was ashamed that I hadn’t taken the time to take care of my things. Like Tokyo, I had gotten too fast for my own good. I had broken my number one photographic rule. It is essential to be mindful not only when making photographs but in everything you do. I sat my coffee down and took care of the gear that takes care of me.
When I was done the only item left on the floor was my beautiful National Geographic A5290. The medium sized photo bag was calling my name, seeming to know that it was the perfect bag for the day ahead. I thought for a moment about what gear I would want for the day. I reached for my Fuji X-T1, two lenses and a half dozen other items that we all put in our bags (i.e. phone, wallet, a copy of Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson, etc.).
By ten a.m. I had worked my way into the heart of Tokyo. People were out in throngs scurrying here and there. Commerce. Noise. Bustle. I walked slowly against the human river, an eddy in the current of Japanese youth culture. I refused to be swept downstream. I would not run from one thing to the next.
I had only taken ten photographs but I didn’t mind. My purpose for the day was to see, to shoot, to enjoy the process and not concentrate so much on the product. My purpose was wrapped in a calmer, more sustainable pace. After all, only one shot in a hundred (or a thousand for that matter) ends up being seen. My masterpiece is still waiting to be made but running around spraying the world in burst mode wouldn’t turn me into the photographer I want to be. But being aware, being present to the world around me would eventually lead me to greatness.
I broke free from the masses onto a side street and kept my leisurely stride. I wanted to admire the nuances of the alleyway without being run over. Out of the crowd I immediately felt at ease. But I wasn’t alone. An elderly gentleman with a pleasant disposition stood on the edge of the alley.
“May I take your photo?” I asked.
He didn’t respond in words but with his eyes and in a language that any portrait photographer understands. I reached into my bag and easily pulled my camera from its place. I didn’t worry about what lens was on the body. Nor did I worry about taking a light test or pulling a grey card out. Instead I estimated my settings, focused and pressed the shutter once. Simultaneously we gave each other a small bow and I walked on my way.
A stone’s throw from the glitz of Ginza is Tokyo Bay. Like any other city’s waterfront, the Tokyo bay is a perfect respite from the hustle of the concrete. I strolled along the water’s edge and watched the gulls float amongst the high rises and bridges. A bay cruiser’s motor then overpowered the gull’s call telling me to move along.
I found a nice sun-kissed spot and put my bag down gently. My camera and lenses were still in their place because I wanted to see the ocean with my eyes, not a viewfinder. I loosened the bag’s crafted leather straps to access the perfectly placed “me compartment.” I grabbed my book (yes, a real book) and an apple.
Between bites and pages, I looked up and watched giddy lovers, the lonely and the lavishly dressed pass me by. They might not have noticed me, but I noticed them even though I didn’t feel the urge to take their photograph.
As I walked home intense clouds formed. The storm was coming but again, I didn’t mind. The drizzle started but my cadence remained steady. The cloud tears felt cool as they slide down my cheeks. I felt that the rain complimented my solitary day. Though, I was anything but sad.
I walked through the door, customarily took off my shoes, went into my office and returned all of my gear (and book) to its proper place. I left the memory card in the camera. Why would I hurry to process the images? None of the pictures had to be edited or immediately ‘liked’ on Facebook. No client was expecting a quick turnaround. I didn’t need the shots for my blog. No stress, no pressure. It all could wait.
It was the perfect day.