• A Videographer's Guide to Organizing Gear: Inside Look at a Pro's Backpack

    March 20, 2024

    Nick's gear bag opens to reveal the main compartment, carefully organized to accommodate his primary camera system. His packing reflect Nick's commitment to professionalism and preparedness, vital qualities for any serious photographer or filmmaker. 

    Organization, not just for convenience ..

    ...but as a vital component of a professional workflow. 

    With a nod to the unpredictability of industry Nick’s bag is not just a collection of gear; it is his safety net, ensuring that no matter the circumstances, he can always deliver. 

    Gear Selection and Flexibility

    Nick relies on a range of gear depending on the project at hand. For smaller jobs, he opts for Nikon gear, keeping the load light and efficient. However, for larger shoots, he needs to utilize a mix of equipment, including drones, gimbals, and multiple camera bodies, such as RED cameras.
    He takes advantage of the modular setup, utilizing interchangeable camera inserts (ICUs) often also pre-packed for specific applications. This allows for quick transitions between different types of shoots in between different packs. On the other side, he also stores the gear in the Camera insert at home in the Camera Units and just shoves in the pack what he needs.

    "For me, it is the best way of keeping my gear organized when I'm not traveling. I just have things stored in Inserts at home like this, also ready to be put in a pack."

    One of the most draining tasks next to shooting is to carry all you need with you from place to place. Arriving tired on set or just getting worn out throughout the day are two things Nick tries to prevent as best he can.
    All the f-stop packs have a "comfort weight" as we call it and recommendations for carrying gear safely and comfortably, but what if you just need more? 

    Weight from not only the camera gear but also batteries, cables, hard drives, computer, and accessories quickly adds up. Nick has a high tolerance for the weight he can carry – so his comfort weight may not be the same as for someone else of the same build. A lot of factors come in here like condition, muscles, resilience, etc. Some say Nick is a packhorse when it comes to carrying gear - We call that dedication!

    The first thing he does is to make sure he selects the right pack for the right needs. Every pack is purpose-built, and the f-stop pack up from 50 L has thicker padding to provide more carry comfort for heavier packs, longer trips, etc. His go-to pack is the Tilopa 50 L due to the compact weight distribution which allows him to carry everything as close to his weight center as possible. If he would need more room, he takes the Shinn 80 L.

    Organizational Strategy

    Central to Nick’s workflow is the organization of his gear.

    When packing, he rather takes the time he needs than pack in a rush. It needs to fit and fulfill his needs so smart arrangements will save him time, having to repack, and avoid any frustrations. When packing the Inserts for specific jobs, he just takes all dividers out and rearranges gear how it fits best.

    Another big focus when arranging his gear is distributing the weight as evenly as possible and ensuring easy and fast access to essential items.

    "I've always taken the approach that I can work harder and carry more as long as it's going to give me the best results. But I need to balance that with not being tired and wearing myself out or being slow. I need to be able to be agile. I need to have the gear that I need and not take too much whilst also having enough that I'm not left lacking."

    My biggest tip for packing

    Be creative Arrange the gear in how it works best for you specifically. 

    “I've been packing these bags for some time, and I find that the more creative I am and the more I allow myself to experiment and take my time instead of rushing, the better the outcome. Having redundancy in gear, even if it makes the pack slightly heavier, is far more important to me than the weight of my pack alone. Obviously, carrying weight safely is crucial, which is why I ensure everything is secured at the bottom. But as long as I'm packing safely and taking care of myself, avoiding arriving on set tired, I find it to be incredibly valuable.”

    Nick Leavesley

    Main Compartment: Configuration

    At the center lies his workhorse camera, a state-of-the-art RED model paired with two more Camera Bodies and lenses alongside a drone in this setup.  He makes sure he is equipped to tackle any photographic challenge and be flexible and versatile for whatever he gets his teeth hooked in. To complement his RED setup, Nick also includes a compact DSLR as a backup camera, ensuring redundancy in case of equipment failure or unexpected contingencies. 

    Heavy equipment like the RED Brain camera, together with the V-Log and also the monitor adaptor for the RED 7-inch touch screen, is placed at the bottom to prevent any long-term warping of the camera insert and maintain balance during transport. He finds it's nice to be able to just put it pre-assembled straight in the bag. It saves me from having to assemble everything.

    Nick is all about adaptability and preparedness. Through investment in versatile gear and a flexible organizational system, he avoids stress and saves time, so he can handle a broad spectrum of projects. Every aspect of his setup is designed to maximize efficiency and creativity in the field. Not needing to worry about where things are or having to repack his pack to stay organized is highly valuable for him and keeps him focused on what in front of him. 

    Items such as a drone (DJI Mavic 3 Pro or DJI Air 2), lenses, sound equipment, and accessories are strategically positioned for convenience and efficiency. He carries the Drone in a Protective wrap and due to the depth of the Insert can place another Lens stacked on top (in this case a 200 mm)

    Adjacent to the main camera setup, Nick's gear bag houses an array of essential accessories He brings small accessories and cables in dedicated pouches and compartments to prevent loss and ensure easy access.

    A robust V-lock battery pack ensures uninterrupted power supply throughout long shooting sessions, while a specially designed adaptor allows seamless integration of a seven-inch touchscreen monitor, enhancing monitoring and playback capabilities on set. Nick's dedication to detail extends to the placement of smaller accessories such as backup cables, chargers, and adapter plates for quick retrieval when needed. This organization not only maximizes efficiency during shoots but also minimizes the risk of misplacing or losing valuable equipment in the field.

    He also always carries a variety of Gatekeeper Straps, allowing him to attach miscellaneous items outside the pack. Sometimes, he attaches a lens (in a case), a tripod, ropes, etc. One or two small carabiners are always found hooked in the gatekeeper attachment points.

    "You never know when you're going to want to clip something to your bag, whether that's a water bottle or just a random kind of bag or something that needs to be carried. Sometimes I also use these gatekeepers to carry longer lenses, so if I'm doing any telephoto stuff, these will be perfect. I always go overkill on how many gatekeepers I need because on shoots, I often change this setup live. It's nice to be able to have the flexibility and plenty of gatekeepers to do that.

    Must haves: Additional Accessories

    • Carabiners - you never know what you need to attach and need the extra room! ( even if you have already gatekeeper straps) Just being able to clip a water bottle or anything else is great
    • Backups of Quick releases or adapters are indispensable for monitors, allowing for easy mounting to a camera—essential during video shoots. Similarly, magic arms prove useful for various mounting needs. You never know when you're going to need to mount something to a camera, especially when you're doing video.
    • Power bank to power the phone or also the computer 
    • The Ignite DJI power plate is a key piece of gear; all his REDs are powered by V-mount batteries ( TV fifties ) due to their reliability, quick charging, and longevity. This setup is especially efficient when using two batteries on an Ignite DJI hammerhead, providing power outputs for charging a laptop or powering the RED and other accessories. This setup is invaluable for running a follow focus, a Teradek, or a wireless transmission system, with the ability to power these devices from the same source.
    • Drones are a staple in Nick's bag, as clients frequently request aerial shots. Having a drone readily available enables Nick to meet these demands effectively. It's nice to be able to offer that
    • A backup camera: is essential to ensure continuity in shooting even if the primary camera fails. Whether a compact mirrorless or a simple point-and-shoot, having a backup can save the day.
    • An SD card tool: is a must-have for Nick, typically tethered to his belt loop or kept in his pocket for quick access. This tool is invaluable for swiftly removing stuck cards or when time is of the essence.
    • A variety of adapters! Micro B USB adaptors and a plentiful supply of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 and 4 cables ensure compatibility with various devices, which is crucial for maintaining workflow flexibility. extension cable for the monitor on the RED, ensuring he's prepared to build out his camera setup in any configuration needed. 
    • Having a thumb drive on keys or a USB-C to A cable is always handy for quick data transfers to clients or devices. You never know what you're going to need to give a client or how quickly 
    • Never leave a charger in checked luggage: Understand the unpredictability of travel. Keeping a charger for the main batteries in carry-on luggage averts potential issues if checked bags are lost or delayed.
      "Suddenly you realize that your pack is lost and then don't have a charger. So having just a single charger for the main batteries you're using just gets you a whole load of problems."

    Mobile Editing Suite: Workstation Essentials

    At the top of Nick's gear bag lies his mobile editing workstation. Nick always tries to bring a powerful laptop at all times. Currently, he is using the 16-inch M1 MacBook Pro. 

    In a dedicated compartment within his gear bag, Nick stores a variety of hard drives and memory cards essential for data management and backup. Portable SSDs provide redundant storage solutions, safeguarding project files against loss or corruption. Spare cables are readily available for connectivity and data transfer. Data management remains a top priority, with redundant storage solutions and backup drives ensuring critical files are consistently safeguarded. 

    “I try and tailor my workflow around USB-C. I think it's a great format and allows a lot of flexibility and all of the computers I use can take USB-C. But I do need to make sure that I have cables in place so that if a client doesn't, I can give them a USB cable. 

    Data Management: Safeguarding Projects

    To store data securely and have all necessary resources at your disposal. At the end of the day, clients are paying a lot of money. He therefore maintains a few in-progress hard drives and hot spares ready, just in case of failures or the need for backups. When working in a team or with multiple bags Nick makes it a practice to distribute a project across two bags, mitigating the risk of total loss due to damage or if someone loses a bag. In challenging shooting environments stress levels can be high and distractions frequent. So you need to calculate this in.

    “Given my frequent juggling of multiple projects, the ability to store five or six projects simultaneously is essential. This is particularly vital when working with RED cameras. TB quickly add up!”

    In addition to video, Nick also captures stills, organizing hard drives by year or project. These drives contain not only the images but also the Lightroom catalogs. He maintains a separate directory for RAW files from Capture One at the top of each drive. Additionally, Nick always packs a few backup micro SD cards, which are easy to overlook but essential. For instances where a client needs a quick photo directly from the camera or a device, I ensure an SD card to lightning cable is on hand for immediate file transfer, facilitating instant sharing of quality images.

    The importance of having all data backed up and securely stored can not be overstated. Losing data is not an option; thus, whether through cloud backups or multiple hard drives, safeguarding data is imperative. 

    Nick's favorite packing hack

    The front pocket! This is one of my favorite parts of the Tilopa because it allows me to store my batteries in a very efficient way, especially the V-mounts. It's deep enough that I can store two of them stacked sideways, effectively fitting almost double the number of batteries in this space. At home, I might even have up to eight V-mounts neatly packed in this top section.

    The Full Gear list:
    Nick's Hybrid Filmmaking Set-up 

    • Main Camera Gear:
      • Red V camera
      • Red 7-inch touchscreen monitor with monitor adaptor
      • D0 lens for the Red camera
      • Top handle
      • Audio adapter for the Red
    • Additional Cameras:
      • Stills-only camera Leika
      • Nikon Z9 DSLR or mirrorless camera
    • Drone:
      • DJI Air 2S drone
      • Drone batteries
    • Supporting Equipment:
      • Ronin 4D gimbal
      • Various lenses, including a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens
      • Various cables and accessories for mounting monitors and cameras
      • Counterweights for gimbals
      • Tripod / or rods for cable organization and Installation 
    • Audio Equipment:
      • Microphone 
      • Headphones
      • Audio cables
    • Monitoring Equipment:
      • DJI Ronin monitoring equipment
      • Red camera monitoring equipment
    • Storage and Data Management:
      • Multiple hard drives (totaling up to 8TB)
      • Card readers for CFexpress and RED mags
      • Backup USB-C cables
      • Backup micro SD cards
      • Various other SD and XQD cards
    • Computer Equipment:
      • 16-inch M1 MacBook Pro laptop
      • Various USB-C, Thunderbolt 3, and Thunderbolt 4 cables for data transfer and charging
      • Laptop power cable
      • USB-C hub for hard drives and other accessories
    • Power Management:
      • Ignite Digi power plate
      • TV50 batteries for powering equipment
      • Power cables for charging various devices, including laptops and cameras
      • Power bank for mobile devices
    • Organization and Miscellaneous:
      • Camera bags Tilopa 50 L paired with the XL Camera Insert
      • ICU Gate for organizing gear within the bags Camera Insert 
      • Protective Wrap used to protect the Drone
      • Laptop sleeve (not frequently used)
      • Accessory pouch for organizing smaller items like cables and accessories
      • Gatekeepers for attaching additional equipment to the bag exterior
      • Water bottle for hydration during shoots
      • Passport and personal belongings stored securely in the bag

    Connect with Nick . https://www.instagram.com/beyondnick/

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