In the camera bag of… Mikolaj Nowacki!

In our special “In the camera bag of…” Panasonic LUMIX Ambassadors tell about their camera bag and what items they bring to a shoot. This time photographer of the Polish edition of National Geographic, Mikolaj Nowacki shows us what’s in his bag.

What type of camera bag do you use?

“I don’t use a proper ‘camera bag’. For my photo trips I use a Timberland bag made of water resistant canvas, and Domke belt with attached Domke and Lowepro pouches. I like to travel light. And I don’t like to look like a ‘professional’ photographer. This Timberland bag I also use as hand luggage when travelling. There is enough space for everything, that is essential.

I’ve chosen this bag because it’s large enough but not too large, water-resistant and nice. Besides travelling I use this bag almost every time and everywhere. I always have a camera inside, either GX8 or smaller compact LUMIX cameras like LX100 or TZ100.”

What do you take with you on a shoot?

“When I travel and use the bag as hand luggage, I carry with me my LUMIX GX8 with two or three prime lenses, spare batteries, paper notebook, laptop, wallet, documents and some other small things: like keys, a small torch, ball pens, pencil, ear plugs, earphones, sun glasses and a nasal aspirator to clean camera sensor and lenses.

When I’m out on a shoot, I often don’t use a bag at all, especially when I’m embedded on ships where I do my long term photo-essays. All I need then is my Domke belt with two or three pouches attached. When working on streets or doing a reportage I like to have as little gear as possible. So I leave my laptop in a hotel and for my cameras, lenses and smaller stuff I use both the Domke belt and the Timberland bag. All the heavier stuff I keep in belt pouches to unload my spine.”

Is that one of the advantages of a compact camera, that you can travel light(er)?

“Yes, that’s why I chose to use Panasonic in 2009. My first camera was the LUMIX LX3, at that time the best compact on the market. I just needed it for my personal travels, holidays, bike or mountain excursions, parties etc. I needed something very light and very good. At that time I still used a full frame DSLR with heavy lenses. I was tired of taking it everywhere and really wanted something small, light and unobtrusive.

In 2013 I was in New York. I had only this LX3 camera with me. Back then I had my solo exhibition at prestigious VII Gallery. I went to New York City for ten days and didn’t intend to shoot. My goal was to meet editors and visit museums. However, having the small LX3 with me all the time encouraged me to begin shooting – ‘just for my family and friends’ I thought. Quickly I had become so involved in discovering this incredible city that I found myself shooting all days. After a week of taking photographs I had a photo-essay which later won awards and has been published by CNN- (see http://cnnphotos.blogs.cnn.com/category/mikolaj-nowacki/)! It wouldn’t have been possible without this small LUMIX with bright Leica lens.

When my work was shown in 2015 in New Zealand I brought with me the advanced compact, LUMIX LX100, successor of my favourite LX3. A few days after the festival I went on a ship and sailed to the Island of Tiritiri Matangi, a beautiful island which is nature and scientific reserve. For two days I was shooting like crazy with my LX100. My article and a photo from the island appeared this summer in the Polish edition of National Geographic.

I just love shooting with only a small Lumix camera with a large, 4:3 sensor and an excellent Leica lens. However usually when I shoot an assignment or a bigger story I have more stuff: mirrorless GX8 or G7; three prime lenses- Leica 15mm (equivalent of 30 mm full frame) f/1.7, Panasonic 20mm (eq. 40 mm)  f/1,7 and Leica Locticron 42.5 mm (eq. 85mm) f/1.2; Panasonic flash and flash external triggers; small, lightweight tripod; just in case G7 or a compact- LX100 or TZ100; small Gorilla Pod for a compact camera. Carrying all this is still half of the weight I took with me before I started to use the LUMIX system.”

bag

action-shot

The New York skyline

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takahe-flock

Can you think of a moment everything went wrong or the opposite: everything came together during a photo trip?

“I’m not sure if it’s an anecdote because my life was in real danger. However it’s one of the most significant memories from my photographic life. Everything went wrong.

First a short introduction- I like to photograph the Odra River and the connection people have with this river. The Odra is the river of my childhood and the second largest river in Poland. I’ve photographed it for more than five years now, from its source to the estuary which is about 800 km.

So once, it was the end of winter, I took my camera and a tripod and went out shooting. My intention was to climb a high former electricity pylon in the suburbs of my home town, Wroclaw (Breslau). There were no electricity cables any more but it was high and challenging to climb- something like 60 meters up on a steel construction partly without a ladder. I did it many times before. From the top of the pylon you have a great view on the river. I wanted to take a few landscape shots around sunset. I waited for something called ‘afterlight’- when sun lightens clouds from below. Sometimes it looks as if the whole sky is burning.

It was cold up there but I was prepared and I waited patiently for sunset. Unfortunately there was no afterlight and instead, quickly after sunset it became completely dark, an unusual phenomenon. I didn’t like it and decided to climb down. When I climbed down I suddenly felt a very strong wind. Quickly after it started snowing very hard. It was a blizzard. I was still almost at the top of the pylon and was afraid that this wind would blow me down. So I hugged a ladder strongly with my both arms and decided to wait up there until the blizzard would weaken. Suddenly I saw lightning and at the same time I heard thunder! The thunder hit a field near the pylon. I was almost sure the next thunder would hit the steel construction I was on, and would kill me. So I decided to climb down as quickly as possible. I was almost running down this ladder. I knew that if I were lucky I would have a few minutes before the next thunder. My school knowledge told me that thunder hits the highest metal points in the area of storm. And this 60- meter high former electricity pylon was the highest point in a radius of a few kilometres! And I was still almost at the top of it! Damn!

I was almost running down this ladder. When I was close enough to the ground, I jumped. I fell down on the ground and even without getting up I started to recede from the pylon on my hands and knees. The blizzard was still very strong but I didn’t care. I only wanted to be as far as possible from this steel construction during the next hit. I got up and started to run away. When I was about 150 meters from the pylon, I stopped and turned around to see the next thunder. To my surprise the storm moved and the next hit was farther away on a field. I was incredibly lucky!”

Do you have tips/pointers for our readers for items they shouldn’t forget on a shoot/ photo trip? And more in general, any advice for our readers?

“My tip is to remember that on a photo trip the most important gear should be doubled. It’s good to have a second camera, even a compact to be able to finish an assignment if the main camera is broken. I always take a lot of batteries- four or five to each type of a camera. I even have a spare battery charger.

After a day of shooting I make a first and second selection of photos from that day. I make two copies of these selected ones. I keep one copy on an external hard drive and another on a 64 GB pendrive which I have with me all the time.

Another tip is when you go out shooting don’t take too much gear. Remember your spine! I worked for daily newspapers for eight years. My camera bag weighted about ten kilograms- consisting of wide, bright zooms, tele- zooms, prime lenses, 300 mm, f/4, flash, batteries. I started to have spine problems. Now I’m happy to work with a lightweight GX8 and two or three prime lenses (I have zoom in my legs) or only a compact. I can now work all day and don’t feel the weight of the gear. It’s really priceless!”

Mikolaj's Hints & Tips

Safety first! So double your most important gear! Sometimes it might happen that your camera breaks, your battery is empty or your SD card is full during a shooting. The most important thing is to always have a plan B to finish your assignment. The best thing you can do is to have everything twice. So have a second camera with you and pack enough batteries and memory cards.

Travel light! Even a light camera bag will feel heavy after two hours on your back. Just imagine to carry a ten kilogram bag with you all day long. A light and camera gear safes you a lot of pain and strength. Now you can concentrate on your shoot and take amazing images. Good luck!