Not everyone is a fan of the humble photographer’s vest. If you read through the 90+ comments on Peter Phun’s post, “21 Signs You’re a Real Photographer Now,” quite a few ridicule the very idea of pros wearing vests.
As one put it:
Photo vests look stupid… on anyone… unless you are fishing for trout.
I beg to differ.
Better Than Shoulder Bags
Unless you’re wealthy and can afford to hire a sherpa, probably the worst thing about traveling with camera equipment is having to haul it around with you.
Shoulder bags are convenient for carrying your gear on and off planes and trains, but when it comes to actually going out for the day shooting, forget it. They’re a giant albatross.
That’s why I always transfer the gear I need to a photographer’s vest when I arrive at my destination.
Sometimes, I skip the shoulder bag altogether. If I’m flying to a shoot, I don’t have to pack the vest since I’m wearing it on the plane, and all of those pockets are perfect for airline tickets, schedules, itineraries, bottles of water and a pound or two of trail mix.
My primary vest has about 20 pockets and allows me to carry these accessories:
- Two extra lenses (including my 70-300mm Nikkor)
- A pocketful of memory cards in a Think Tank lightweight wallet
- One or two extra camera batteries
- Several micro-fiber lens cleaning cloths
- A polarizing and at least one or two neutral density filters
- A map and pocket compass
- A rain poncho
- A few ziplock bags to use as impromptu camera rain covers
- A city guide or topo map, which fit nicely in the big rear pocket.
Easy to Carry
Most good vests have a number of inside pockets, too. I carry my passport and wallet in a hidden interior pocket. There is room for tickets, train schedules and the like. I can also carry a sandwich and a bottle of water with me.
If I buy a few postcards or a small souvenir, I can toss them in an extra pocket and keep my hands free.
Because you’re wearing the vest, you never really notice the weight — especially if you’re careful to distribute larger items carefully. I can literally spend 12 straight hours in my vest, and while I’m thrilled to get if off when I get back to the hotel, it’s completely comfortable.
I suppose there are downsides to wearing a photographer’s vest. Critics would argue that a vest makes you stand out as a photographer — or, worse, makes you a target of thieves.
Of course, you’re a far bigger target if you’re carrying around an expensive-looking shoulder bag with an expensive-sounding brand name.
Choosing a Vest
When choosing a vest, look at several different brands and designs. The most expensive vest I have costs less than $100, so there’s no need to break the bank.
It can be tough to judge one vest against another when shopping online, so I prefer going to a professional camera store or big sporting goods store to compare my options. Hunting and fishing vests are very similar to photography vests.
I’m aware of the fact that many photographers won’t wear vests because they think they’re “stupid.” This is another way of saying that the photographer would feel stupid — a.k.a., self-conscious — wearing one.
And yes, I’ll admit it — I’ve been on the receiving end of jokes about my vest.
For example, I was deboarding from a tropical cruise a few years back when I noticed one of the crew members carefully eyeing my outfit, which included the vest and brown fatigue shorts.
“Visiting or invading?” he asked me dryly.
I guess it was a little funny.