Helen Bartlett / Family Portraiture

Best camera bag for portrait photographers


What portrait photographers look for in a camera bag

The search for the best camera bag for portrait photographers is at an end.  Most photographers I know have a huge collection of camera bags.  As years go by, we select different models, try different manufacturers and styles until we find the ‘holy grail’ of bag, the one that we can see ourselves sticking with for years.  Each person has different needs but as a family photographer who has gone through my fair share of camera bags I thought I would share what I’m using now and why I feel I’ve found the perfect camera bag for family portrait photographers.

As a family portrait photographer, I use three different types of bag.  I have my ‘big bag’ where I cart all my kit to and from my shoots, this needs to fit my cameras and lenses and a all the associated straps and belt packs that I use during the shoot itself.

I also have a smaller ‘travelling light’ bag, for the days when I’m meeting my clients out and about and don’t have an opportunity to put things down.  On these occasions I will be carrying the bag for the whole session, bringing less equipment and moving around a lot with all my kit on me.

I also have some at-home storage bags for additional lenses and equipment that I don’t use so often.

I use different camera bags for the different situations.  All are really useful, and I find I look for different things in each. I’m now using bags by F-Stop for all three things and thrilled to say that I have become an ambassador for the brand


Why F-Stop camera bags for my work as a portrait photographer

I first heard about F-Stop from my landscape photographer friends years ago.  Joe Cornish is an F-Stop ambassador and my friend David Ward is also a big fan.  When we used to go on landscape photography trips the vans were always full of F-Stop bags and I found myself envious of their obvious benefits.

The bags open at the back – so the zip is on the same side as your body.  This has two huge advantages, firstly the cameras can’t fall out and, as someone who once had the zip fail on a large camera bag while shooting a wedding and nearly lost two cameras and four lenses onto the concrete (thank goodness for the additional safety side straps in that case), this is a huge benefit to my piece of mind.

But also, having the bag open this way up means that when you put it down you don’t get the side wet that goes against your back.  If you put your bag down onto wet grass or mud this makes a huge difference and keeping things warm and dry makes for a happy, and considerably less muddy, photographer.

The other big selling point to me is the huge amount of additional space in an F-Stop bag on top of the main camera compartment.

Modular construction of F-Stop bags

F-Stop bags are modular, you choose your bag and then your internal camera unit that slips inside and is safely secured in place.  So, you can put in a large ICU and still have space for those important extra items. On a landscape trip it tended to be filled with sandwiches and extra layers.  When I’m heading out to photograph family portraits then it’s my black rapid double strap and my belt pack along with my beloved paramo waterproof trousers.

I had planned to buy an F-Stop bag for years but not got around to it, and then, last year, when I visited Photokina with Canon, talking on their stand and showing my work to a wider European audience, I discovered the F-Stop bags anew as they sponsored the Canon Professional Services lounge and I was able to see all the options. This time I didn’t hesitate.

I now have three bags: a medium sized Ajna which is my every day camera bag.  A cool and trendy Dalston which I use when I’m travelling light, and which has earned me so many complements as the most stylish camera bag friends have ever seen, and then an extra-large ICU here at the office where I store lenses that aren’t in current use.

My main bag, the F-Stop Ajna

The F-Stop Ajna is, to me, is the best camera bag I’ve ever used and I’d really recommend it to family portrait photographers or any photographers who have to cart their gear from one side of town to another.  It’s lightweight, a great size and super comfy to wear.  It’s also not too wide which I find helpful when getting on and off the northern line in London at rush hour.

It fits my regular gear very happily and there’s also a pocket for memory cards.  I use one of the F-Stop Gear optional accessory pouches for storing batteries and other bits and pieces such as lens clothes and lens/body caps.  There are also plentiful small pockets for snack bars and painkillers and the other bits and pieces most photographers carry to their shoots.

I love the space above my ICU which I fill with my belt pack and camera harness and the big pocket on the front stores my water proof trousers.

Recently on a landscape trip I attached a tripod to the Ajna and I’ve never had a camera bag that felt so comfortable with that extra weight, usually tripods feel both unbalanced and unwieldy but the combination of different straps meant it was very secure and I hardly noticed the extra weight I was carrying.  While I don’t ever take a tripod on family shoots it’s good to know I have the option should I need it.

Out and about - the F-Stop Dalston

I’ve always been keen on camera bags that aren’t’ too obviously camera bags and the F-Stop Dalston certainly fits the bill here.  Mine is an awesome nasturtium colour and while far from subtle, it’s bright in a very cool way.  I love it and have had so many complements from friends and clients as well as fellow photographers.

I’ve never been a fan of over the shoulder bags as I find those to be damaging to my back so I love the double straps of a traditional rucksack although the Fitzroy design does offer a single chest strap if you prefer that style and the Florentin and Kalamaja are more traditional shoulder bags.  The straps are well padded and comfortable if you are wearing the bag all day even when worn over a camera harness like a black rapid which is no mean feat.

Access to your cameras is through two size pockets with weather sealed zips in case it rains.  I find these to be really useful as I can swing the Dalston round and get into them without taking the camera off my back and putting it down.  There’s a side opening ICU in the pack so you could, if you wanted, take that out and use it as a normal rucksack.  Normally who would want to use a camera bag as a normal rucksack? With the Dalston, it’s so cool, I’ve already done so.

There’s also a top opening so you can stash extra stuff on top of your cameras if you want to bring a jacket or even a book for the tube ride home and also a laptop slot for your computer.

At home storage bag – F-Stop Pro ICU XL

For my office storage I have been using the F-Stop Internal Camera Units for a while now.  Like most photographers I have a wider selection of equipment than my usual ‘go-to’ kit.  One a normal day, for example, I’ll be heading out with two Canon 1DX mark II cameras and a Canon EOS R. Alongside them I’ll have my regular lenses, the Canon EF 85mm f1.4L, the Canon EF 35mm f1.4L Mark II, the Canon RF 50mm 1.2L and the Canon f1.8 IS Macro STM.

Back at home there’s a plethora of other equipment from the little Canon M5 to the long lenses Canon EF 70-200 f2.8L and Canon EF 100-400 f4.5-5.6 L. There are wide angle lenses and macro lenses, all kinds of things and they all need to be safely stored between jobs.

This is where the internal camera units come in.  Well-padded to protect the equipment but also a lovely regulation shape that could be stacked neatly and also fits very well into the drawer of a filing cabinet (well, it’s good to use all the available space).  I’ve found these to be the perfect answer for equipment storage.

In Conclusion – F-Stop Gear – the camera bag solution we have been waiting for

To sum up, I’m a huge fan of F-Stop Gear and honoured to be an ambassador for the brand.  After many years of searching I’ve finally found camera bags that do everything I need and are perfect for my job as a family portrait photographer.  Do take a look for yourself, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

To read more about my work as a family photographer do take a further look around the website where you can discover how it works, browse my prices and get in touch to book a session