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Traveling With Light

Oct 9

In Gear at 6:24am

Occasionally folks have asked, especially in terms of speed lights, how many do I travel with and how do I pack them? So, here goes.

Will enumerate the above as we go. This picture is a tad dated, as we now travel with a couple other things. Been experimenting with the Lastolite Micro Apollo speed light boxes. And, we have tried some magnetized grid systems, which are cool. But the above is a kit we travel with, presented in all its various pieces.

First piece of the puzzle is the case, which is a Thinktank Logistics Manager. Any sensitive gear we have that we throw in the hold of an airplane goes into these now. They are tough, and well designed.

Of course, the flashes come first. I carry a mix of ten SB 900 and 910 units. They work, and are quite durable. Some of my 900 speed lights have easily more than a half million air miles on them, and remain in working order. Along with them, we have accumulated over the years a bunch of SD-9 external battery packs. I tend to use the packs that are proprietary to the system. It just presents less of a danger for over-clocking your flash. Chargers are crucial. We use Maha quick chargers, with Powerex batteries. That combo has worked well for us. We keep two mesh bags in the case–green for charged batts, and red for uncharged. We don’t use ring flash too often, but we throw a Ray Flash in there for good measure.

We use a variety of sizes of the ThinkTank cable organizer bags, for three SC-29 cords, flashlights, tape, gels, utility knives, head lamps, etc.  We also bring along two sets of Pocket Wizards, with multiple backup Wizard to PC cables, and camera remote cables. We are currently using the PWIII’s and the newer PlusX models. The PlusX units are outstanding. Affordable, no frills, and they work. Also into the case goes a spare Hoodman Loupe.

Additionally, we take two small light shapers with us, the Flashpoint Beauty Dish, and the Flashpoint Snooted Grid. Mixed in are some Honl bits and pieces, like speed gobos, and some velcro straps for attaching cutters and flags to the speed light heads. Also, invariably, a roll of gaffer tape makes it into the case.

For coloring light, we bring along a couple of the Strobist gel kits, and mixes of other gels, which we organize into our color correction kit, and our theatrical gel kit. Both are housed in ThinkTank gel wallets. A former assistant, Will Foster, had the idea to cut the seam on the ThinkTank flash card organizers to make room for small flash gels, and ThinkTank got wind of it, and started officially making them.

An additional light shaper I’m quite fond of also travels in the kit, and that’s the Lastolite Speed Light Soft Box. It collapses really small, and has an interior diffuser, which I like, so for a small light shaper, it puts out a nice quality of light.

Throw in some various magic markers,  and the instruction manuals for all the products, and we are good to go. This case, you may have noticed, has blue tape on everything. Whatever is blue taped, goes in this bag. That way, it sits on the shelf, complete, and we know, when we’re moving fast to the airport, it’s complete. Yank it off the shelf, throw into checked baggage, and when I get to location (presumably it has followed me there) I can light just about whatever I confront. The whole thing doesn’t travel all the time, but most of the time, for sure.

I hope this is helpful to those folks who have asked about what we travel with in terms of small flash, and how it’s packed. Many thanks to Lynda Peckham, at our studio, a fine photog, and organizing force of nature, who created the packing system, and shot the above pix. More tk….

MikeScott says:

on October 9, 2013 at 6:53 am

Nice “small” kit, but where do you pack the c-stands?

Marc Austin-Zande says:

on October 9, 2013 at 7:23 am

So beautifully organised Joe. I have to bite the bullet and buy some decent bags as right now, I carry three bags just for my speedlights, battery packs, batteries and shapers. I look at your shots in this story and I want to cry… just so beautifully organised!

Thank you Joe

Paul says:

on October 9, 2013 at 7:35 am

Thank You Joe for such precise description of Your strobist setup! ‘Been curious about it since I’ve read Your book :) I’m in the middle of buying a lot of studio gear and was considering a backup in speedlites – You gave me a straight to the point setup!

a reader since… always 😉

Geoff Penn says:

on October 9, 2013 at 7:46 am

… and I thought the blue tape (which I noticed on your London visit a while back) was there to cover the engraving “Stolen from Joe McNally” on all of your gear!

Thanks for sharing Joe, – very useful and very much appreciated.

Marco P. Garavaglia says:

on October 9, 2013 at 8:06 am

Thank you for your insight. I have been emulating your work and remain vigilant to any of your posts and works. Best wishes always, Marco

MikeScott says:

on October 9, 2013 at 8:26 am

Nice “small” kit. Where do you pack the C-stands? :)

Anders Wester says:

on October 9, 2013 at 8:43 am

Really nice to see, I would say it’s almost what I bring along as well but, not that amount of course. And, I don’t bring everything everytime. B
ut you sure have some good equipment there and now when I think of it, I might have read about the gear at your site earlier and hence I have it myself. 😉

Ronnie Ryne says:

on October 9, 2013 at 8:45 am

Joe, I have looked for those mesh bags and can not find them, can you give a link to them or give a vendor?

Don Lupo says:

on October 9, 2013 at 9:03 am

Thanks, Joe! Super helpful, as always.

Kyle Stanley says:

on October 9, 2013 at 9:08 am

I heard from a fellow Photographer here in the Philippines who was with you and Mrs. Wong from FPPF on the Jeepney shoot this past year. So many flashes that you carry and to keep it all organized is quite impressive. Great work as always Joe.

Christopher Campbell says:

on October 9, 2013 at 9:16 am

I wondered what you were doing with the blue tape. Now we know! You know, you could give a whole seminar on just keeping your stuff organized.

Dave says:

on October 9, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Ronnie, try a sporting good store. Dick’s has that sort of thing, REI must have them as well.

John Leonardelli says:

on October 9, 2013 at 1:23 pm

This is great kit of lication gear but did you not forget bags full of ball bungee cords and Think Tank Red Whips. ? The Logistics Manager can swallow a ton of gear so it can be Travelling with Light but maybe not Travelling Light!

Malinda Hartong says:

on October 9, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I’m loving the EZ boxes you inspired by Lastolite. My favorite for lighting head shots on location!

Mauro Photographer in Italy says:

on October 9, 2013 at 3:49 pm

This is an awesome set up! So much stuff on a bag! I’m also curious to know… how much is the weight?
Thanks to share with us.

Paul says:

on October 9, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Great setup I find My Ipad works wonders for caring all my Owners manuals & product manuals saves lots of space. Might be helpful for you.

Robert Bain says:

on October 9, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Mesh Cable bags…

Joe, What about stands and/or clamps etc.?

Joe McNally says:

on October 10, 2013 at 6:06 am

Hi Robert…those are in other bag(s), due to their length. We often travel with Lightware cargo bags to accommodate stands and grip.

Podajniki says:

on October 10, 2013 at 9:30 am

Very nice set is definitely not one proesjonalny photographer dreams of such a kit that facilitates and enhances the work of the photographer.

Casey Prout says:

on October 10, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Hey Joe,
Great stuff, you mention adding in all the manuals. I think that’s great and you should keep physical ones on hand just in case. But I would suggest a tablet with a digital copy of all the manuals packed as well. That way if you have a very specific thing your looking for its easy to search. And less cumbersome to use. And you would still have the paper copies just in case you dont have battery power in the tablet.

Jedna Chwila says:

on October 10, 2013 at 4:11 pm

what an organise! perfect! :)

Chris says:

on October 12, 2013 at 5:17 am

Hi Joe,

this is a big collection of flashlights. I´m sitting here with a big smile. It´s funny to see such a large amount of equipment, a lot of lights in a case. I guess you have much trouble when you are at the airport, right? :-)

Paul Jacob says:

on October 13, 2013 at 9:36 am

wonderful! Neatly arranged kit. I am waiting to add the new BLE device gecko that can be programmed to trigger in a variable manner for unmanned photo sessions.

Click To Shoot Photography says:

on October 14, 2013 at 4:37 am

Very very helpful indeed. Makes your job a whole lot easier while being out there on the field!

Brian Moore says:

on October 16, 2013 at 6:12 am

Joe, with all those speedlights, you must carry lots of batteries. Have you ever found any products that keeps them tidy in your bag??

soheyla says:

on November 5, 2013 at 1:38 pm

thanx dear Joe

Jorge says:

on July 7, 2015 at 1:53 pm

I’m really impressed with how you organize all of your stuff. I have a question though, what kind of the tape is the blue one you use to label speedlights and other equipment? Is it painters tape or another kind?

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