Okay ladies and gentlemen, we all know how to pack our camera gear kits. Cameras, lenses, cf cards, computers, hard drives, etc… That’s the easy part. Obviously, I could go on about the wonderful qualities of Think Tank’s waist belt with attachments, wax poetically about Gitzo’s carbon fiber tripod and monopod line, discuss the pros and cons of the Canon 5D Mark IIs and Canon 7Ds, discuss prime lenses, etc. We are photographers so we should know what we need when we head out on assignment. But for me, the question is, what to wear? Hah! This could turn many people off, which I completely understand. For the next few paragraphs I will address the challenges of being a city/adventure female photographer and how to negotiate sweating like a pig all day, then having to look decent to hit the finer restaurants at the top of the dinner hour – all with cameras and gear in hand. This isn’t about vanity, it’s about trying to look professional, even when the assignments demand a lot of physical work. Lately, I’ve been covering so many different latitudes that I’ve had to shop for quite the range of technical clothing so I hope that this helps you gals out there who have to negotiate similar terrain.
Most technical clothes make one look like one is about to climb a mountain, or something, which may be the case and perfectly appropriate. What happens after a sunrise shoot on the top of a mountain, hiking and horseback riding, but then you must head directly to Spago’s to photograph sunset food at the Four Seasons? What about working in 100 degree heat? And then there is the problem of shoes.
Thankfully, a handful of clothing manufacturers are beginning to have some tailored technical clothes for us women, and I’m not just talking Patagonia, (which I adore). Let’s face it – men can get away with a lot more when it comes to the appearance department. To wit: the shaven head look. Guys can still look handsome and well put together and have no hair. Add some jeans and a sloppy t-shirt and voila – said man looks like an ad in Esquire. I think that jeans and a sloppy t-shirt don’t fair so well at high end restaurants for us gals.
Here are some of my favorite clothing recommendations for working under varying conditions that are field tested!
Lolë pants: These flared capri style pants dry quickly and are SPF 35 or better. When I had to shoot in the Caribbean for Norwegian Cruise Lines in front of a litany of art directors, then proceed to sqat, lean over rails, stand on ladders, shoot in the fancy ship restaurants with dress codes, climb rock walls, etc… these were the perfect bottoms. They have a tie belt which I often leave off because I usually wear it with some sort of long-sleeved top. But it’s there if you need it to strap on a Leatherman.
Mountain Hardware Skirt: This is PERFECT for hiking and then hitting the bars. A comfortable, knee-length skirt that has 4 front pockets. Wear with a pair of tight, short bike/athletic shorts underneath and you’ve got the comfort of a skort without the skort and you don’t have to worry about unnecessary reveals when climbing ladders or squatting down. (Skorts are NOT foolproof when you’ve got several people looking up as you’re climbing a rock wall). Two of the pockets snap shut for pocket money and a couple of credit cards, which is convenient if someone walks off with your bag.
Royal Robbins Cargo Skirt: Love this for airport travel. Passport, wallet, and iPhone all snap/zip into the three pockets so going through security is a breeze. No more fumbling for identification/boarding pass which I put into… uh… which bag compartment??? Same thing with the bike shorts underneath. Doesn’t look too bad with leggings either. Plus the fabric is quick dry, so when you’re having a sip of water and hit unexpected turbulence at 35,000 feet, no fear. The skirt will be dry in 5 minutes or less. Same with sweating on the job. Dries quickly and is made from a comfortable, stretchy fabric so if you sweat under the weight of your backpack or waist pack, it will be dry in time to not look like you just peed on yourself. It’s also spf 50, so when I’m driving in hot sun, I can rely on this skirt for sun protection as well.
Patagonia Fly Fishing Long Sleeve shirt for Women: I bought three of these from Patagonia for a shoot in the Caribbean several years ago and although it was so hot the rubber from my Domke rubber grip camera strap melted onto the shirts, I didn’t get a stitch of sunburn thanks to the SPF protection. Since I was traveling from one country to the next in 72 hour increments, the zipper breast pocket was perfect for stashing the proper currency to pay the entry taxes for whatever country demanded a border fee. The side pockets were large enough for my passport as well, so I could go through security checkpoints without having to let go of my documents. Sweet. They are also tailored a bit in the waist so although the material is rip-stop, the top still has a feminine fit.
Stuff A Scarf In It: Wherever you go, a simple scarf can dress up even the most lame of outfits. I have a few, they weigh nothing, take up no space and can get crammed into the bottom of a bag all day and still look good in a pinch. I’ve got a skinny one that I picked up at The Express that’s perfect for either a quick up-do for the hair or a nice tie around the neck for the evening. Another is a long, golden brown that adds a touch of class for those pesky fancy restaurants. If I lose it, fine. You can find them just about everywhere. If you want to take it up a notch, any Pashmina scarf in a neutral color is a good thing to have around, particularly if you’re headed into anything involving religion. If you’re addicted to black, it can also be your color statement (!) for the evening.
Patagonia Scoop Neck Long Sleeve Capilene T-Shirt: These are indispensable in my book. They look good – try them on for fit first – and they: a) layer well; b) wick moisture; c) look good if you’ve got the right fit. I own six – three white and three black. They can be washed in the sink and are dry by morning. They are very utilitarian because of their simplicity and work well after sweating all day. The great part about the scoop neck style is that you can add a necklace – or the aforementioned scarf – and there. Done. The armpits dry quickly, which is nice after hiking and then heading into some over-air-conditioned restaurant/bar. Sadly, I’ve invested quite a bit in other fabrics that claim to have moisture wicking properties and I’ve found this top is the best. It’s also comfortable in hot climates. I go for the lightweight ones and use them for layering. They look good under the Fly-Fishing tops.
I shot a story across the country about Farmers’ Markets so I packed accordingly, not knowing that we’d be having dinner at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. When we landed, the editor arranged for our 9pm reservation, and my assistant and I dashed down Michigan Ave., looking for a quick, appropriate outfit. We managed well, except in the shoe department. I only had my boots, and my assistant had hers. We both fit the restaurant dress code, ankles up, but as we were being served our champagne, I kept looking the hostess in the eye and thinking to myself, “don’t look down, don’t look down…” I felt a little silly having on steel toed shit-kickers with my cute dress. I don’t think they noticed and Sarah and I ended up having a meal of a lifetime. Since then, I can safely say that boots can look good in just about any situation. I like the Ariat Fat Baby boots for their wide toe bed, ankle and foot support, and I regularly get compliments on them. I have a Morton’s neuroma in my left foot, which can be painful in narrow shoes, so I’m always looking for footwear with a wide toe bed, which is a difficult task in women’s footwear. I had to throw the last pair away after a goat peed in them. (I was wearing them in the middle of a herd of goats, when one decided to relieve herself while I was dealing with the fact that my DSLR mirror had just detached itself and cracked inside the camera body. Oy.)
Crocs: Okay – we can dread these because they are, well a little ugly, even though they are very lightweight, comfortable and wildly utilitarian. Lately, the company has been stepping up in the fashion department but still maintaining the lightweight, waterproof glory that make them so appealing for travel and work. I just purchased two new pairs for an upcoming assignment in SE Asia and will cover a broad range of terrain. These certainly won’t work in the jungle, but will definitely be perfect for puddle-jumping through the cities and hitting the high-end restaurants.
The first pair I field tested (literally) on assignment in Hawaii last week. They were great – best part? I can rinse them in the sink at night and they look brand new. These are the unwashed version of a just-released Springi Flat. Great for walking on sand, in mud or on the sidewalk.
My second pair are the Wrapped Mary Janes. I find these quite comfortable and for the amount of city work I have to look forward to, plus I think these will be a great alternative shoe for visiting temples and other sacred sites. I’ll report back in a month on how these fared my assignments. (REPORT BACK FROM ASIA: Because of the heat and the amount of time I was standing, my feet swelled and these things wouldn’t budge. I’m now in the market for some leather flats that will spread along with my feet!)
Never underestimate a handy pair of cheap filp-flops in your bag somewhere so you’ve got something to wear to the loo if you happen to not have one close by, and recycle them when they get too gross. (I just had a shoot where I stayed in a luxury teepee, and the flip-flops were perfect for walking down to the moon-lit bathtubs and showers, not to mention the outdoor toilette!)
I will often take other technical shoes depending on where I’m headed and what activities I’m expected to perform.
I have a pair of Vibrams for rock climbing and warm-water work. The arch support is fantastic and for surfing on reef breaks, you still have the grip you need from your toes, but you won’t be impaled by a sea urchin. I’ve found that these are good if you’re not going to spend much time walking in sand or sandy soil as they tend to accumulate particulate which can be uncomfortable. They will attract attention so be forewarned.
For colder wading, I’ll put on a pair of 4 mil wetsuit socks under a pair of classic Crocks. This set-up works well for kayaking/wading in colder climates, like the inside passage in Alaska, and can easily be added to a wetsuit if necessary. Plus they dry well and the crocks weigh nothing. The shoes are bulky, but can be used to pack cables, small battery chargers, etc.. I’ll be taking this setup to the Galapagos in January.
Have any tips? Feel free to post or email me at susan(at)sseubert(dot)com