The eventual usefulness of stuff

I admit it, I am a pack rat. Or at least it may appear so to the untrained eye. I hate throwing things away, but empty orange juice bottles can be used to make great flash diffusers; one of the dozens of loose, mismatched screws will eventually prove itself priceless by fixing my tripod head; and that old rubber boot with a hole in it… well, you get the idea – things come in handy, eventually.

Giant ree salamander (Bolitoglossa robusta), Tapanti National Park, Costa Rica [Canon 7D, Canon 16-35mm, Canon 58EXII speedlight]
I apply the same principle of eventual usefulness when packing my camera bag. In addition to the usual stuff – cameras, lenses, flashes – I also like to throw in a few paper clips, a rubber band, and a piece of rope. Not that I have any idea how I will use them, but I know that sooner or later my life may depend on them.

When I was in Tapanti National Park in Costa Rica last year I spotted high in a tree a huge arboreal salamander. The animal was at least 2 m above my head, and there was no other way for me to take a photo than to climb the tree. And so I did, but the forest was getting dark, and hand-holding the camera was not an option – I needed a tripod. But tripods do not work very well high in the trees, and I struggled to immobilize the camera, while at the same time trying not to spook the salamander. Then I remembered the piece of rope I always carry. Ha! I quickly tied the tripod to the tree trunk, and was able to get a few long-exposure, wide angle shots before the animal slinked away.

Tree frog (Osteocephalus taurinus), Sipaliwini, Suriname [Canon 7D, Canon 14mm, Canon MT-24EX twin light]
A strategically placed rubber band held my flash in place after I had lost a custom-made plastic ring that normally allowed me to attach it to the front of my 14mm wide angle lens, and I was able to get an intimate portrait of this pretty tree frog in Suriname a few months ago.

I am convinced that at some point I will also find some good use for the 10 ft of steel wire I always carry in my camera bag.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. A man after my own heart, Piotr…but it does make for heavy camera bags. Some years ago I began working with Peter Parks who was one of the OSF (Oxford Scientific Films) originals after I moved back to Oxford. He is an artist with a lathe and builds rigs of incredible precision so it was with great trepidation I showed him the table-top I then had when he expressed an interest in seeing ‘how I was working’. Revealed to his gaze were those bits of tape, wire, croc-clips and blue-tac that one (usually) managed to keep out of the frame that were the means to an end…my optical bench was Neolithic compared to his but it worked… Now I have the space but the methodology is endemic and I carry it with me! Lovely images by the way… amazing what can be converted to a ‘tripod’.

    1. Paul, you are so right about the weight of camera bags. I don’t remember the last time I traveled on the plane and didn’t have excess baggage (and it wasn’t too heavy because of my clothes or toiletries.) I often get in trouble with the airport security because of my miscellaneous additions e.g., I used to carry two steel, threaded rods that I used to anchor my flashes in the ground (still lighter than tripods.) I don’t anymore because on several occasions TSA people thought that they were some sophisticated antennas that would, presumably, remotely trigger an explosion or something.

  2. Stephen says:

    I can definitely relate to this post.

    I was wondering what you used to diffuse the flashes in the photos above?


    1. Stephen, I plan to have several posts about my light diffusion techniques – stay tuned!

      1. Stephen says:

        Excellent! Cheers.

  3. James says:

    It would be cool to see photos of your impromptu apparati!

    1. Alas, I usually only have one camera with me when I am in the field.

  4. Priceless McGyver moments … :-)

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