How you pack and organize your belongings directly impacts your experience. This is true of all forms of photography, but perhaps especially night photography. After all, you will need to access your belongings repeatedly in the dark. I am going to describe how I am currently packing for my night photography trips. And probably like you, this will change over time. Even if you don’t do night photography, you might find much of this useful as general organizing and packing tips.
The camera backpack I use for hiking and traveling when photographing at night
There’s no such thing as a perfect camera bag, of course. But so far, I’m loving this Tenba Solstice 20L bag. It’s comfortable even despite the weight, has sufficient padding to protect the gear well, and is logically laid out. It also stands up easily on its own, as the bag, like many Tenba bags, holds its own shape due to the padding. It’s also water-resistant and even has a waterproof bag inside the top compartment, should you need to use it. As a bonus, it doesn’t scream “I am a camera bag” to others, although it does look like an extra nice backpack, something the average person might not use for muddy socks and underwear.
It also has deep side pockets for drinks or other gear. Most of the places that I photograph are in the desert, so it’s good to have lots of drinks. I can easily fit two 32-ounce drink bottles on my backpack, one in each side pocket. I usually keep drinks in the side pouches because if there’s a leak, it won’t leak into my gear. If I only need one bottle, I will sometimes keep a roll of orange gaffer’s tape in one of the side pockets.
Back access to the camera bag
I prefer to have a camera backpack that opens from the rear. This is so if it is muddy, I can access all my gear without taking off the backpack. If my waist strap is on, I simply take off the shoulder straps and turn the backpack around so it is facing me and then access everything from the back without having to take the backpack off and put it on muddy ground.
With the back open, you can see that I have two cameras. On the left is the rather large and heavy Pentax K-1 with an attached Pentax 15-30mm f/2.8 lens. On the right is a Nikon D750 with a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 lens. Above the cameras is a large microfiber cloth, and to the right of that, two Vello Shutterboss II intervalometers. One of them is for the Pentax since its connector differs from Nikon connectors. To differentiate, I have this labeled with orange tape that says “Kentax” (see what I did there?). Above the cloth and intervalometers is a thin yellow bag. That is a small emergency first aid kit. And above that is a Think Tank pouch with chargers and random things.
What goes on the top compartment?
This is a view of the bag looking down. I have removed the gray Think Tank bag for this photo. The idea of the Think Tank bag is that I keep all my belongings that I ordinarily don’t need out in the field, such as battery chargers, USB cables and various other accessories. I leave these in the car or in the motel room.
After I remove the gray Think Tank bag from the camera backpack, I have lots of room. Right now, I have the yellow first aid kit, a Nikon body cap, and an extra LensPen. This hardly takes up any space. What I usually place in here when I am about to photograph are things like snacks and an extra shirt or jacket and a beanie.
Sometimes I put a roll of orange gaffer’s tape inside as well. Gaffer’s tape makes everything right. You can tape down the focus ring of your lens, tape cables to keep them out of the way, keep a broken battery door from flapping open, or a thousand other uses. It’s the secret weapon in your night photography bag, the tool that makes everything alright.
Inside the zipped pouch you can see a yellow Allen wrench, a spare remote shutter cable release, and a small microfiber cloth. You can never have too many microfiber cloths. I keep these here because I may need to access this in the field, but it’s not something I really need unless something on the tripod loosens or some other emergency.
Exterior pouch to keep things easily accessible
I like to keep my light painting equipment easily accessible. This is a pouch that I purchased at an Army/Navy surplus store. Inside I store the ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device that I use for almost every night photography outing. The ProtoMachines is a high-end handheld light painting device that is capable of producing all colors of the RGB spectrum, also giving you full control over saturation and brightness. It also allows you to store eight presets and has a timer. I use the timer sometimes, although I do still count to myself when doing light painting. But most importantly, it has the most beautiful light for light painting I have ever seen.
I also have pepper spray inside this pouch, which I keep for protection. I’ve never had to use the pepper spray, and hope I never will. I sometimes remove the holster from the backpack and wear it on my belt if I am not going to have the entire backpack with me for evening easier access.
What is all the tape for?
The white tape is glow-in-the-dark tape, while the orange tape is just some horrible looking gaffer’s tape that I should remove but have not. This is the light painting device of a working night photographer. It ain’t pretty, but it’s functional and harder to lose in the dark.
Storing small things conveniently in the front compartments
Finally, a view of the front compartment of the Tenba bag. Here, I keep a plastic cover for the camera if it begins sprinkling or if I am doing photos near a waterfall or the ocean. Salt water and electronics do not mix. You can see the white string of this bag peaking out on top.
Lots of batteries
Below that, you can just barely see some orange battery holders. I use these for storing extra batteries for the ProtoMachines and the intervalometers. Easy access. And in the innermost pocket at the bottom of the photo, you can see several battery organizers, one for the Pentax K-1, the other for the Nikon D750. I like having lots of extra batteries because you never know how many batteries you are going to plow through on a cold night. Better safe than sorry. I prefer these battery organizers because it keeps everything neat and accessible, but also because the contacts of the batteries never meet. Also inside is an SD card holder, which you can barely see…you can see the thin yellow stripe.
Where does the tripod go?
When I am doing night photography, I usually carry a 26″ Feisol carbon fiber tripod. If I wanted to, I could attach this tripod to the side pocket and strap it in or use straps and strap it to the front of the backpack. However, in practice, I don’t do this unless I am hiking relatively far. If there is one weakness of the Tenba Solstice 20L, it’s that it is not the best backpack I’ve had for attaching large tripods. Then again, many people don’t have a tripod larger than 26″. Regardless, I can carry all the equipment you see here and still be able to slide it underneath the seat of an airplane. I’ll live with the trade-off.
Finding your way in the dark
I keep everything in a specific place, and can find everything even when it is completely dark outside. If I don’t want to blow out my vision because it is dark and I am trying to photograph Milky Ways, I can still access my belongings without turning on my headlamp.
I hope this gives you some ideas. How do you pack for night photography? What would you do? Feel free to start a conversation below in the comments section. Thanks for reading.
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Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure photos. My latest book, “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time” is available there and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Booktopia, Books A Million, IBS, and Aladin. If you enjoy the book, please leave a nice review.
Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like)
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night
A Photographer Captures Haunting Nighttime Images of Abandoned Buildings, Planes, and Cars in the American Southwest – Business Insider by Erin McDowell
A Photographer Explores Southern California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols