Packing for a trekking trip to India & Nepal

I'm heading off to India and Nepal, for two months of photography in early January but I have the same dilemma I always have when I travel. What camera system should I take? _mg_5668.jpgAs much as I don't like to focus on the gear aspect of photography, because I feel there is already plenty of that on the internet, deciding on what sort of kit or quantity of kit to take on a major trip is an important decision.

The first question I've had to ask myself is this : what is it I intend to photograph, and for that, I already know the answer - people, shrines, temples and landscapes.

I learned a lesson a while back when I discovered that taking too many systems, caused too much conflict for me. One system tends to get overlooked for the other, and inevitably becomes a bit of a dead weight that I wished I'd hadn't taken with me. One of the greatest constraints is portability. It's really a burden to have discovered that the camera bag is a lot heavier than I thought, once I've been carrying it for a few hours. But it's also frustrating to see images that I know I cannot capture because I don't have the right lens with me and I come up against the same wall each time : compromise._mg_5667.jpg

I think I've got it sussed this time. I will be taking my Mamiya 7 kit with a wide angle, standard and portrait lens in one little bag and that's it. I've bought the same stock of film to use throughout the trip so I don't get frustrated at having the wrong type of film in the camera at the wrong time. So I've settled on Portra 160NC, because:

  1. It's a lovely people film. Skin tones are lovely
  2. It has fine grain and is a decent speed
  3. It's also quite nice for landscapes
  4. It's a negative film, so it's latitude is a lot wider than slide film. It's easier to scan and it's also a lot kinder to higher contrast situations which are common in Nepal. The light is often extreme there.

But I think the most important thing for me was that If I were shooting digitally, I would miss the beautiful rich tones I get from Portra+medium format. It's as simple as that._mg_5669.jpg

So here is the complete list of what is in my bag for this trip:

  1. Mamiya 7II
  2. Mamiya 50mm wide angle (my favourite wide angle, equiv to 24mm in 35mm land)
  3. Mamiya 80mm (eqiuv to 40mm lens in 35mm land)
  4. Mamiya 150mm (equiv to 75mm lens in 35mm land)
  5. Sekonic L608 light meter (I don't trust the Mamiya meter when using the wide angle as it's essentially a spot meter)
  6. Lee full ND kit (2 & 3 stop hard / soft grads + full NDs + Circular 105mm polairser filter
  7. 100 rolls of Kodak Portra 160NC film
  8. Manfrotto monopod (for indoor or shaded shots)
  9. Gitzo 1220 tripod (for landscape shots)
  10. Lowe Pro Stealth Reporter DW400 shoulder bag

I wonder what you found the most surprising in this list? It sounds like there is a lot, but it's quite compact and well below the carry on requirements. Having one system means I remain focused on using that system. Having the same film means I don't have to worry about changing ISO on the camera too (I know this sounds ridiculous, but I like to cut down as much chance of error as I can).Most folk tend to go for backpacks for their camera gear. I've lost count of how many bags I own at home and not one of them is ideal. I have backpacks but in general I really loathe them and here are my list of reasons:

  1. Every time I want to take a photo, I have to take the bag off my back and open it on the floor. It does not give me immediate access.
  2. Backpacks encourage me to carry more than I should
  3. Using a shoulder bag means I have access (through a zip in the roof of the bag) to it's contents. I can do this while on the move or in confined spaces where there is a lot of bustle going on
  4. A shoulder bag encourages me to cut down the amount of gear I take. There is no space for a 'just in case' lens or something that may not get used. Because the shoulder bag has to be light, it is inevitably as comfortable as a backback is.
  5. I've had things spill out of a backpack that hasn't been zipped up fully. I don't have to worry about that with a shoulder bag.

All these ideals and thoughts are purely my take on things and I'm sure everyone has come up with their own way of packing for a trip.  I want to be comfortable while I'm away and free to do what I want to do, which is immerse myself in the pursuit of photography.

ps. I'm still on the look out for a 65mm lens (great for street scenes), so my wee bag may get a bit bigger yet.