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Gearing up for Burning Man

Just some of the gear I'm packing

Preparing for Burning Man is only slightly less daunting than packing for a polar expedition — or perhaps a mission to Mars is a better analogy.

Each year my packing list grows longer and more complex (it now spans 8 pages of closely-spaced typing), and each year I nevertheless forget several important items and end up cursing myself out there in the Nevada desert when I discover that I forgot to bring, say, the superglue that I need to re-attach the sole of my shoe so that I don’t have to walk 3 miles back to camp barefoot on the blistering, 120-degree surface of the alkaline lakebed.  Or the charger for my camera battery. Or my can opener. Or, even worse, the beer. Or any one of the hundreds of other things that make life bearable in the extreme environment of Burning Man.

Most important of all is the camera gear, of course.  Forgetting a key item there can basically wipe out the main purpose of a two-week, 1500-mile trip.  These days I try to build in some redundancy, carrying multiple copies of important items, so that certain things can break or get destroyed by dust, and I can still go on shooting.

I now bring two complete cameras, plus spare lenses in case one of the two main lenses goes kaput.  Lots of memory cards, of course.  Here’s a photo of the main camera gear as I’m organizing it for packing.

Key items include (not all are shown in photo):

Canon 40D camera
Canon 350D camera
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS lens
Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS lens
Canon 28-135 IS lens (backup in case of main lens failure)
Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens for night shooting
Big camera bag (holds both cameras with lens hoods)
Camera backpack (holds one camera plus assorted gear)
6 Memory cards ranging 1 1GB to 4 GB in size
Card Reader
Compact Manfrotto light stand with umbrella bracket
Canon 430EX Speedlite
Canon 580EX II Speedlite
Lots of rechargeable AA batteries for speedlites
2 Spare rechargeable batteries for each camera body
Battery chargers for each camera and for the AA’s
Gels for flashes
Flash radio triggers (this year Yongnuo RF-602, expendable)
Westcott 5-in-1 Reflector
Improvised car sun-shade reflectors
White shoot-through umbrella
Black/silver umbrella
Lightweight tripod
Kodak Zi8 Video camera
Alcohol lens wipes, air blowers, and compressed air for cleaning cameras.
Macbook computer (for downloading images from cards each night)

And that’s just the main stuff.

Of course, I certainly won’t use all of it.  I never seem to get ambitious enough to haul out the flashes and do some radio-triggered off-camera lighting under the difficult conditions of Burning Man.  I’ve never yet used an umbrella (too much wind), and I rarely bother to recruit a volunteer to hold a reflector.  But you never know, I might want it, so I bring it all.  Better to have it and not use it than leave it home and wish I had it.  I think.

By the way, if you’re a photographer going to Burning Man you might want to check out my “How to Take Better Photos at Burning Man” tutorial on my training site.

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  1. Philipp Ebensberger says:

    a lot of stuff you have to carry with you 🙂
    i hope one day i also have the chance to go there an hopefully could take photos
    funny thing for me as an german
    you used the word kaput which is actually an german word and means broken 🙂

  2. I’m jealous. For many reasons! One would be “What’s in the Bag” I was lucky enough to have my Girl Friend reach into my Backpack and hand me my next lens and you need to write an article on Hot Swapping gear. Burning man has too many good things to shot and I just don’t know how you can deal with that much equipment. I know you will but I just don’t know how… Good Luck, can’t wait to see the pictures

  3. Darren says:

    And I thought I took a lot of gear last year. I would take two bodies again, but only so that I didn’t have to ever change lenses. The dust was everywhere, and I don’t think I ever found a spot where I was comfortable changing lenses. I’d also leave the flashes and umbrellas at home, too much stuff to carry along with all the water in the heat.

  4. jerry says:

    Phil, these photos of burning man 2010 are absolutely spectacular! From the human interest shots of amazing faces and bodies, to the Fantastical art works in the burning night sky, to the brilliantly lit activities, to the spontaneous nonesensical improvisational characters in all their wildest glory, you more than captured, documented, and interpreted this amazing fest of human ingenuity, creativity, and just plain fun.

  5. Marleen says:

    Phil, enjoyed your photos as always. One question, how do you protect your gear, and change lenses in that environment?

  6. admin says:

    Marleen, I adress the question of protecting gear in my tutorial “How to Take Better Photos at Burning Man and Beyond” here:


  7. Mike says:

    Thanks Phil for all the info. Great photos of an amazing looking event!

  8. Ken Kondo says:

    I’ll be there 2 and I’m taking your advice of having 2 cameras with similar lenses. I opted for a non IS 70 200 4 L and the 24 70 2.8 L and I used silicone tape to tape the seems and cover the rubber parts. Silicone tape is very nice as it doesn’t use adhesive. I also have filters on both lenses.

  9. Virginnia says:

    Am enjoying your articles and vids, being a novice owner of a Canon SLR at 73. You mentioned in a video how to organize camera bag so the lens hood fits better. I have searched this site and even used search and don’t see a mention anywhere. Please provide a link. I own a Canon EOS Rebel T6 with some basic accessories in an Amazon kit (just arrived and I’m unpacking it). Abt 40 yrs ago I had a Canon AE 1 which I loved, but it’s no longer working. Thanks very much.

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