Chris Prescott

Filmmaker. Photographer. Sound Designer.

What's in my bag?

I've had quite a few people get in touch recently with various questions about the camera equipment I use. Rather than reply to individual questions I thought I'd write a blog about what's in my bag. Although this seems to change constantly as I switch things in and out this is pretty much my standard setup. Having said that this is for an average shoot and excludes things like winter or alpine shooting where i'd most likely drop the majority of the kit and go for a DSLR, a couple of lenses and maybe a few filters. This is also my photography kit rather than for video, which is a whole other post in itself and usually involves a vast amount of extra (knee and shoulder crippling) kit to carry up the hills.

I've been using F-Stop ICU's and bags for a couple of years now and they definitely appeal to my OCD nature by letting you compartmentalise all your kit and giving quick and easy access to it in the mountains through a back opening system. Depending on the shoot i'll usually take along the 'Large Slope' ICU, which gives me enough space for my full setup (see full list below). The unit can also be removed from a bag and carried as a standalone case, which is useful if you want to dump most of your kit and go shoot something nearby.

F-Stop Large Slope ICU with all the camera equipment used on an average shoot. See full list at the bottom of the blog.

I've spent a lot of time playing with different lenses and camera setups but i'm pretty happy with my current line up. The 3 lenses I use give me coverage at f/2.8 from 14mm to 200mm (and f/5.6 to 400mm using the extender). Although the 70-200mm is a particularly heavy beast the quality of photos it produces makes it hard to leave behind. The only other lens I use is the Canon 100mm Macro but mostly for video work as the 70-200mm covers most of my photo needs.

I often get funny looks from other photographers when they see me shooting with a Canon 6D rather than the industry standard 5D MkIII but having shot with both I found the two cameras to be very similar in terms of features and image quality but with the 6D being smaller and considerably lighter (200g), which is a big bonus when you're already laden down with all the other gear.

As you can probably tell i'm also a big fan of my filters and they're a key part of my setup. Rather than going into too much detail here I wrote a blog a couple of months ago that goes into a lot of detail on the filters and what I use them for here.

One of my gear top tips has to be the use of round screw top food containers to keep lenses in. The cases specifically marketed for lenses can cost a small fortune, add loads of bulk and generally only protect the lens a bit anyway. The food containers can be picked up for £1 each in a lot of bargain stores, are totally crush proof and waterproof as well. By adding a small length of sling with heavy duty duct tape I can clip the cases to my harness gear loops and access them while shooting from a rope without always needing a bag.

I spent a lot of time getting annoyed with various camera straps that never seemed to work quite how I wanted them or were massively uncomfortable until I was sent some gear to try out from Peak Design. One of the best pieces of kit they make for shooting from a rope is the 'Capture Pro Clip', which is basically a tripod plate attachment that you can fix to a belt or harness and I have one that lives permanently on my shooting harness (Black Diamond BIg Gun). The pad conveniently fits over the front gear loop of the harness and is held in place with a couple of cable ties to keep it from moving. The clip allows you to fix your DSLR out of the way whilst ascending ropes, moving positions, changing lens etc. When combined with the beefy 'Slide' strap it gives lots of different options for attaching your camera as they are fixed with quick release buckles, which allow you to quickly switch the camera from being round your neck to attaching it to the harness gear loop and back again.

That's pretty much everything I have in my bag. I generally try and keep my DSLR out and ready to shoot as much as possible and rarely put it away or use lens caps (you're not going to get good photos if it's buried in a case inside your bag!). If I do need to get rid of it i'll shove it under the rucksack lid so it's quick to get at.

The key thing to remember is that kit is secondary to everything else and learning how to take a good photo is far more important than the gear that you're carrying. Although it's tempting to think that by buying more gear you'll be able to take better photos (something i've definitely been guilt of in the past!) learning to use what you already have is far more important and your bank balance will definitely appreciate it. Spend some of the money you were going to blow on a new piece of gear on a trip somewhere to shoot something special, I guarantee it'll be more memorable and give you better results than being broke at home with a £2,000 lens.

The final thing to note is that the gear mentioned in this blog is a comprehensive list of what I use but certainly isn't what I take on every shoot. I spend time in pre-production considering what i'm going to take on each shoot depending on the scope and purpose of the shooting and tailor my kit accordingly. Something I was definitely guilty of when I first started out, and probably still am to some extent, is taking way more gear than is really needed. Although this might cover you for every possible shooting scenario what is more likely to happen is you cursing your extra heavy rucksack as you sweat to keep up with your shooting subject who has a tiny rucksack full of lightweight gear and has just pissed off over the horizon never to be seen again.

Here is the full list of kit I use for all the gear nerds out there:

DSLR and Lenses -

  • Canon 6D
  • Canon 14mm f/2.8 Mk2
  • Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS Mk2
  • Canon 24-70 f/2.8 Mk2
  • Canon 100mm Macro f/2.8 IS
  • Canon 2x Extender Mk3
  • 3x Canon Batteries

Filters - 

  • LEE Filters Soft Grad Set
  • LEE Filters Hard Grad Set
  • LEE Filters Big Stopper
  • LEE Filters Little Stopper
  • LEE Landscape Polariser
  • LEE Pro Glass ND
  • LEE Filter Holder
  • LEE Lens Adaptors

Extras - 

  • Gitzo GT2542L Tripod
  • Gitzo GH2780QR Tripod Head
  • 2x Canon 600EX-RT Flashes
  • Canon ST-E3-RT Flash Trigger
  • Lastolite Ezybox Softbox
  • 2x Lightstands (for flashes)
  • Peak Design Slide Strap
  • Peak Design Capture Pro Camera Clip
  • Peak Design Pro Pad
  • Canon TC-80N3 Intervalometer
  • F-Stop Large Slope ICU
  • F-Stop Loka
  • F-Stop Tilopa BC
  • F-Stop CF Wallet
  • Apple iPad (for remote image reviewing with clients)

Finale Ligure

I've just arrived back from a weeks climbing in Finale Ligure in north west Italy with the people from UKClimbing and Rockfax. It definitely provided a contrast to the shooting and climbing over the winter months (lots of sunshine, short walk-ins, cafes, good food, no numb fingers etc) and it was great to properly explore an area i've only been to briefly before.

We were lucky enough to be staying in Colletta di Castelbianco, a tiny 13th century village in the Val Pennavaire of Oltre Finale, which gave great access to the surrounding climbing. As one of the aims of the trip was to explore the area for the new Rockfax guidebook to Finale we visited a different crag and area every day and this gave a good opportunity to take photos in lots of contrasting locations. It's often difficult to get the balance right between shooting and getting a chance to climb but it worked out really well on this trip, where i'd usually just climb an adjacent route and shoot across, something that sport climbing on bolts allows you to do with ease (and is much less hassle than rigging ropes!).

Although I probably took a lot more camera gear than was needed I ended up using most of the kit I brought. The LEE grad ND filters especially came in handy as a lot of the crags we climbed on faced north (to avoid the sun) and so often had brightly lit backgrounds and dark shaded foregrounds.

I've only begun to process the images from the trip (I shot around 8,000 in total!) but below are a few of my favourites so far.

Martin Mckenna climbing La Cengia Allegra (7a) at Bric Scimarco. Shot on Canon 6D + Canon 24-70 f/2.8 + LEE Filters .6 Soft Grad ND.

Natalie Berry climbing Pudong (6c+) at Terminal crag, Oltre Finale. Shot on Canon 6D + Canon 14mm f/2.8

Natalie Berry climbing Orly (6c+) at Terminal crag, Oltre Finale. Shot on Canon 6D + Canon 14mm f/2.8

Natalie Berry climbing Orly (6c+) at Terminal crag, Oltre Finale. Shot on Canon 6D + Canon 14mm f/2.8

Finale Sunset. Shot on Canon 6D + Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS + LEE Filters Landscape Polariser + LEE Filters .9 Soft Grad ND.

A Month of Contrasts

The last month or so has felt pretty hectic with a variety of different shoots going on. Spring always seems to be a funny transition period between summer and winter activities where you can be freezing cold trying to shoot winter climbing one day and then be sweating your way up a fixed rope the next in blazing sunshine. Below is a brief summary of some of the contrasting shoots i've been on recently.

Pink Panther - Ben Nevis 

The first shoot of the month was a trip to the North face of Ben Nevis for the final winter shoot for Hot Aches latest film 'Transition' with Natalie Berry and Dave MacLeod. We were lucky enough to get brilliant ice conditions with a number of rarely formed routes in perfect condition. We headed to 'Pink Panther', a grade VI 6 first climbed by Godefroy Perroux. We were also blessed with perfect weather (a rare occurrence for winter climbing in Scotland!), which made the day much more manageable. Everything went smoothly and we'd bagged some great footage and were walking back to the van by 4pm.

Dave MacLeod on the first pitch of 'Pink Panther' on the Upper Cascade area of Ben Nevis. Shot with Canon 6D + Canon 70-200mm + 2x Extender + LEE Filters Landscape Polariser.

Paper Doll Militia

The next shoot of the month was something entirely out of the ordinary as we'd arranged a shoot with Sarah from Paper Doll Militia, an aerial theatre company based in Edinburgh.  The main aim of the day was to put Hot Aches new Sony FS7 through its paces but also gave the chance to get some great stills in the theatre's black box space. The image below was shot using a couple of Canon Speedlites positioned off camera.

Sarah from Paper Doll Militia. Shot with Canon 6D + Canon 70-200 + 2x Canon 600EX-RT Speedlites + 2x LEE Filters 0.6 Soft Grad NDs.

Hamish Teddy's - Dunkeld

I also headed to Dunkeld in Perthshire over the Easter weekend to check out the sport routes. They have a long and rich history, being some of the first bolted routes put up in Scotland. The rock is generally very good with lots of features, allowing lots of different possible sequences for each of the routes there. It's also a great place for photography with the surrounding woods having a mythical feel to them with hidden grottos and ancient trees. It was one of the first opportunities for me to try out my new Canon 14mm, which turned out to be really great for shooting in quite a confined spot between the trees and the crag and provided a more interesting perspective on the routes. I have a feeling it's going to end up being an essential part of my camera setup in the future.

Natalie Berry on the classic 'Hamish Teddy's Excellent Adventure' at Dunkeld. Shot with Canon 6D + Canon 14mm f2.8 + LEE Filters 0.6 Soft Grad ND (held over lens!).

Forgotten Twin - Aonach Mor

Scotland was lucky enough to get 40cm of fresh snow over the last week of March, which resulted in brilliant Spring skiing conditions in Lochaber. I headed to Aonach Mor (which is conveniently serviced by the Nevis Range ski area) with the hope of shooting some of the steep lines there. The day certainly provided with a lot of steep skiing going on, including the 3rd descent of Forgotten Twin, a grade II gully route, which included a 20ft drop from the massive cornice (camera safety was supplied by a rope around the waist attached to a buried ski).

Peter Mackenzie dropping off the cornice into Forgotten Twin on Aonach Mor. Shot with Canon 6D + Canon 24-70 + LEE Filters Landscape Polariser.

With things now turning warmer i'm looking forward to getting out and shooting more summer time activities with MTB and climbing shoots in the calendar over the next month or so. We also head off to Chamonix and Finale Ligure in 3 weeks time for ski touring and sport climbing respectively.

Lee Filters

I've been using Lee Filters in a number of different ways since the early days of my photography career. They're one of my 'go to' items in a lot of different situations and have become an invaluable part of my setup, which i'm rarely without. Although they're most frequently used by landscape photographers, and therefore are perhaps perceived by photographers specialising in other areas as not being of much use, they are in fact extremely useful for many different applications.

I thought it might be of interest to briefly explore some of the ways in which I use the filters and the results they achieve. Lee recently added some of my images to their website and usefully provided a break down of the way in which the filters were used (see images below).

Lee ND Grads

The Neutral Density (ND) graduated filters are the filters I use mostly frequently, in fact for the majority of my outdoor photography i'll be using at least one. They help balance the exposure of bright skies and dark foregrounds with the 'soft' graduation being the set I most frequently use.

Although they're commonly used when the camera is mounted to a tripod I use the soft grads handheld a lot as well. This gives me greater flexibility in movement and allows them to be used in situations where using a tripod isn't an option, such as when hanging from a rope. They are particularly useful when shooting in high contrast situations such as with a climber on a North facing aspect where they might be in shade with a brightly sunlit backdrop. It's often not possible in these situations to expose all areas of an image correctly (even when shooting in RAW) and i've found the soft grad filters to be the only way of achieving the correct exposure without having to heavily process images in post-production.

Although I often use the 0.3 (1 stop), 0.6 (2 stop) and 0.9 (3 stop) soft grads I find the 0.6 is the one I mostly frequently have on the camera as it provides a good middle ground and is often about right for most daytime situations. The way the filters mount to the lens allow you to rotate the grad to any position you need it such as in the image of James Pearson below.

James Pearson on the 4th ascent of Rhapsody (E11) at Dumbarton Rock. The Lee soft grad 0.6 helped achieve the right exposure between the shaded rock face and brightly lit sea in the background.

Lee Big Stopper

The Big Stopper, a 10 stop ND filter is something that adventure photographers maybe wouldn't consider has a place in their toolkit, especially when shooting human subjects. It can however be used to achieve some more abstract results and can add energy and movement to images.

The way I use it most frequently is to compose a shot with the camera locked off on a tripod and to then take two images both with and without the Big Stopper. The image with the Big Stopper uses a slow shutter speed (usually around 30 seconds) to add motion blur to anything with movement in the image (clouds, rivers etc) and the second image without the filter has a much faster shutter speed that freezes the subject in motion. The two images are then brought into Photoshop with the long exposure image layered on top of the normal shot. I then briefly drop the opacity of the Big Stopper layer and selectively erase the layer to reveal the subject from the image underneath. Once this is done I switch the opacity back to 100%, merge the layers and then apply any processing. It's important to make sure you correct the temperature of the two images first so that they match before merging them as the Big Stopper has a slight blue colour cast.

I used a Big Stopper during shooting for 'The Ridge' at Loch Coruisk to help frame Danny as he rode along a tree trunk. The clouds were coming straight towards us and by adding motion blur through long exposure it helped to draw the eye to the centre of the image, which was further reinforced by the movement in the river bottom right. This framing was further helped by the light on the mountains behind Danny, which helped lift him from the background.

Danny MacAskill during shooting for 'The Ridge' on the Isle of Skye. The Big Stopper helped add movement to the clouds and river and frame Danny as he rode along the tree trunk.

Danny MacAskill during shooting for 'The Ridge' on the Isle of Skye. The Big Stopper helped add movement to the clouds and river and frame Danny as he rode along the tree trunk.

Lee Polariser 

The polariser is also something I use frequently and is something that perhaps more photographers can imagine using. It helps remove glare from reflective surfaces and boosts contrast between blue skies and white clouds (such as in the image of Danny on the In Pinn below). The new Lee Landscape polariser is another great addition as its slim profile allows it to be used on lenses as wide as 16mm. Furthermore, the slight warm bias of the filter helps enhance certain colours in outdoor shots.

Hopefully that gives some food for thought for photographers who might be looking for ways to mix things up a little with their images. I highly recommend trying some of the filters out if you get a chance with a set of soft grad NDs and a Big Stopper being a good place to start.

Going 'Lightweight'

The term lightweight can often be a bit of misnomer when it comes to photography and filmmaking gear. Unfortunately it's not often at the front of the manufacturers mind when designing a new camera or lens (aside from the GoPro and other 'action' specific gear). In fact it seems the better the gear the heavier it is, especially where lenses are concerned.

Natalie Berry skinning up the slopes above Montchavin with Mont Blanc buried in cloud behind. Shot on a Canon 6D with a 24-70 and Lee .6 Soft Grad.

I've spent January out in the French Alps to ski and shoot stills but unfortunately it's turned out to be one of the worst seasons for snow in years, which has led to a lot of touring and searching around for better conditions. This has given me the opportunity to try out some different camera setups when out in the mountains. Although I spend a lot of time trimming down technical climbing gear and clothing, going lightweight in terms of camera kit has always been a challenge for me, mostly due to the fear of missing out on a shot due to not having the right gear. It was definitely a shock when I first got into the filmmaking side of things as the amount of gear required seemed to triple when compared to shooting stills. Although every piece of gear I carry on an average shoot is important to the end results it can also be pretty appealing to just throw a DSLR with a single lens into your bag and feel the benefits of a lighter pack on the uphills. Although I chop and change my gear a lot i've found for me I can get by using the following kit for a standard climbing or skiing day for photos only - 

  • Canon 6D (almost the same as the 5D Mark III but more compact and lighter).
  • Canon 24-70 f/2.8
  • Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS
  • Lee Filters Soft Grad Set

Although the 70-200 is a heavy monster weighing in the same as my carbon fibre touring skis I still can't bare to part with it due to the amazing images it produces.  Although it's an ever changing thing, and hopefully with the advent of compact mirrorless cameras the gear will continue to get lighter, for now it's a case of knuckling down and slogging out the uphills with a big pack on feeling reassured i'll be able to get the results I want.

If only all filming days were as easy as this one. This is the camera and tripod setup we usually carry into the mountains on a standard shoot.

2014 A Year in Pictures

2014 has been a pretty crazy year and I can't quite believe it's almost over already. Looking back through the images i've shot over the last 12 months i'd actually forgotten about half the shoots i've been on. I managed to take about 30,000 photos since January, which isn't bad going really! I thought it would be interesting to post up a photo from each month of 2014 to summarise what some of my most memorable shoots of the year have been. Merry Christmas everyone and here's to 2015.

Redemption: The James Pearson Story

We've been hard at work over the last couple of months shooting and editing for our next major Hot Aches production 'Redemption: The James Pearson Story' following James's rise and fall from grace as one of the world's best trad climbers. We're almost at the picture lock stage with another two weeks of sound design, dubbing and colour grading to go.

The film is set to premiere at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival on the 21st November 2014.

Thanks to The North Face and Wild Country for supporting the project.

James Pearson at the start of crux of Rhapsody (E11) at Dumbarton. Image: Chris Prescott/ Hot Aches Productions

© Chris Prescott 2016. All rights reserved.