On every shoot, whether it is landscapes for a personal project or a high pressure adventure assignment, there is a group of small “essential photo accessories” that you need to have regardless of what bodies and lenses you’re using. I think the best “carrying case” for my “essential accessories” is a vest. But I never liked photo vests. They seemed best designed for press core and stadium-arena sport shooters and not for outdoor adventure shooters.

Instead I use a fly-fishing vest from Patagonia. It is made of a non absorbent fabric, has a padded neck, lots of pockets, and ends about mid rib cage. It was designed for those wading in deep water – something I commonly do. The short length of the vest doesn’t interfere with a pack’s waist belt and I’m always wearing a pack of some kind. Most photo vests are longer and do get in the way of a waist belt. Forget the padded photo vests unless you like the feel of wearing a flak vest. I mean seriously, if you really need to pad your gear, keep it in an adequately padded camera bag.

Production image of adventure photographer on a rock climbing shoot with his female climber at Tres Piedras, New Mexico

Photographer Michael DeYoung on a climbing shoot at Tres Piedras, New Mexico. Equipment used is a Canon 50D with 17-40 lens, wearing the Patagonia fly fishing vest, with a Think Tank Speed Racer fanny photo bag.

Yes, I get some strange looks sometimes like when walking down a desert trail or an urban downtown setting wearing a fishing vest. Hey, it makes a good conversation starter if nothing else. What about what I usually carry inside? Here are my 10 photo vest essentials.

1. Media Cards in a Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket. This is the best CF card carrier on the market. It comes with a tether so it is always attached to a D ring on the vest.

2. Hoodman Loupe for viewing your LCD in bright conditions.

3. Electronic cable release in a heavy duty soft waterproof bag you can get at REI.

4. Lens pen, microfiber cloth, blower brush: I included these as one item since they are all related to cleaning lenses and viewfinders in one way or another.

5. Singh-Ray thin mount Lighter Brighter Circular polarizer: You still can’t duplicate the effects of a polarizer in “post.”

6. Singh-Ray 3 Stop, soft step graduated neutral density filter. I use the gradient filter a lot in Lightroom 3 but nothing is better than doing it right in the field. Still an essential filter for many location situations.

7. Singh-Ray Variable Neutral Density filter. Want silky water in bright daylight? Shooting more HD video in daylight? This filter is indispensable.

8. Disposable hand warmers (winter) and Mosquito wipes (summer).

9. Step up ring with rubber band- so I only have to carry one size filter for all lenses.

10. Gerber or Swiss Army tool: Occasionally you have to be McGyver. Be sure to remove this if you are taking your vest on a commercial flight!

11. Emergency chocolate bar. Chocolate is not a food. It is a life essential no different than oxygen and water. Comes in handy in many situations. For example, you are at Yellowstone quietly and patiently photographing a bear with cubs. Some clown with a point and shoot comes charging up to the scene and steps in front of your lens just as the bear cubs stand up on their hind legs. You could shoot him – it would be justified – but that might spook the bears. Instead, you could offer some fine chocolate while kindly explaining how f*!#ing inconsiderate he just was! He sees you’re wearing a fishing vest and thinks you’re a cool, regular guy. I’m not an authority on this but I think the Park Service would prefer that outcome over the justified shooting. It’s less paperwork for them. Worse yet the bear is charging and this could be it for you. You might as well go out with life’s best simple pleasure. Have a piece of chocolate. Don’t let a dire situation leave a bad taste in your mouth. On that note, 90% bars are the only way to go.

If you noticed, I listed 11 items under the “10 photo vest essentials.” That just proves that there are three kinds of people in this world, those who can count and those who can’t.

Seriously, you don’t have to limit yourself to 10 vest items. Some other things I commonly carry include: 1.4X tele-converter (especially when using telephoto lenses), spare batteries (usually AA), and even a strobe or small lens. Don’t make it too heavy where you never want to carry it. Find a balance that works for you.

Finally, wearing a vest for airline travel always has allowed me to get away with carrying more photo gear than I can fit in my regulation carry on and my personal item. Seems like whatever you are “wearing” isn’t considered luggage.
Male photographer photographing Musk Ox north of Nome, Alaska