If you’re anything like me, you’re one sentimental mofo. Over the course of my career, I’ve accumulated dozens of camera bodies and lenses, hard drives, cords, dongles, adapters, card readers and other accessories. Then there are the stacks of reporter’s notepads, scanned documents, terabytes of videos and photos (some needing advanced security and some not), press IDs and other assorted ephemeral trinkets of my existence.
When you have decades of ‘stuff,’ it’s easy to lose track of things, and it’s also fair to ask if keeping it all is really necessary or healthy. Who really needs outtakes from a family vacation from 2005, old Firewire hard drives, gigs of unused video sitting on a hard drive or outdated equipment?
One Thing: Advice, tips and tricks from the DPReview editors
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Well, the answer to those questions above is most people don’t.
But, if you’re a collector who has a hard time parting with old gear or can’t stop buying new gear, or a family image maker who wants to make it easier for your kids to one day revisit the family photos or a professional that uses gear and old files to generate an income, then may we suggest a few tips to better organize your equipment and files?
Start with organizing your equipment to always be ready
Over nearly two decades as a working photojournalist and documentary filmmaker, I’ve learned that when I can’t find the image, footage or equipment I need when a client calls, that’s a lost sale and, even worse, a potential loss of repeat business.
I’ve also been the one making the call to others to license an image or hire someone for an assignment, and the same holds true.
Such calls trade in minutes and not hours; it’s crucial to know where your ‘stuff’ is and how to spend less time looking and more time doing.
Even if you’re not working as a professional, it’s still a good idea to organize what you have in a way that makes sense for you but also makes sense to explain to someone over the phone. Anyone who has ever forgotten a special cable, memory card reader or other piece of equipment at home and tried to walk someone else through how to retrieve it and bring it to you can surely attest to what an asset it is to have a well-organized system, not just for you but for the sanity of the person trying to help you as well.
Starting out, we often don’t have a lot of stuff, and a dedicated camera bag is a great option. This bag isn’t just where you’ll keep all your equipment, but it’s also the bag you’ll grab and head out with, secure in the knowledge that everything you need is in one place. The bag will serve you well until the day you outgrow it.
Investing in our still and video image making may bring new equipment purchases. With additional lenses, lights, memory cards, batteries and more, it doesn’t make sense to keep it all in one dedicated bag, nor is it really practical or possible.
Even if you’re not working as a professional, it’s still a good idea to organize what you have.
This is where I advise adopting a locker and go-bag approach. Everything you own is kept in a ‘locker’ with a single daily camera ‘go-bag’ that is always packed with the essential kit needed to run out the door in five minutes. For me, my go-bag has a body, one flash, fully charged batteries, extra memory cards, a pen and notepad, a memory card reader, a 50mm prime and a 16-35mm zoom, as these are the essential items I need to take on 90% of my work. However, in my locker, I have additional camera bodies, film bodies, 80-200mm zoom, 2x teleconverter, 85mm prime, two more flashes, a set of remote triggers, a drone, lights with light stands, tripods, monopods and more, which I pack if I have a sports assignment or portrait shoot.
Give your equipment a home
Now that you’ve taken inventory of your treasures, rather than keep them on any random shelf or corner of your space, let’s give our gear a designated area to keep it safe from dust, mold and sticky fingers.
In newsrooms, we have the time-tested equipment closet, which is exactly what it sounds like: a closet with a lockable door. In the home, a special closet is great if you want to have a designated tidy space that can be away from coats, vacuum cleaners and everything else to lessen the odds of accidental damage from guests or family members looking for a hand vac or someone mistakenly throwing out equipment boxes you meant to save. Ideally, you can lock the closet, and no one else has to enter it except you and the people you trust to retrieve (and put back) gear.
When I moved into my home, I was fortunate to find an odd-shaped closet perfect for storing my decades of camera bodies, lenses, lights, light modifiers, hard drives, doodads and fandangos.
In that closet, I wanted to maximize my space and get some shelves that would let me space out my equipment in a logical way and keep it off the ground where it was more likely to be damaged by a careless foot or have something dropped on them.
|With wide and tall cubbies, this unit easily fits tall lenses as well as wide laptops. The best part about finding a cheap secondhand Kallax is that you don’t care if it gets beat up.|
Wire racks are a popular choice due to being easy to assemble and relatively affordable, but I prefer something that doesn’t have open gaps for smaller things to fall through. Like a college student in their second month at university, I turned to Ikea for my solution. I like the Kallax; it’s cheap but doesn’t look cheap, is sturdy enough in that Ikea way, has lots of open spaces and can be set up as a long horizontal shelf or a tall vertical column. I’ve used it both ways over the years, and it’s taken a licking and kept on ticking. Now I keep it in a closet, and it’s been lovely for my needs, but it’s clearly a question of taste, and you may disagree and love the look of industrial wire racks in your home.
Like a college student in their second month at university, I turned to Ikea for my solution.
The Kallax can also be found cheap on the used market. It’s been around for years and has been a popular piece of furniture (particularly among record collectors). A quick search on Craigslist as I write this turns up a few in the Seattle area, and I imagine it’ll be the same story where you live. I found my Kallax secondhand for $20 about six years ago in New York City, and it has served me well, helping protect my equipment investments without breaking the bank.
Bonus: Keep your cables, adapters, clamps and smaller accessories visible
One drawback of the Kallax (or any shelf system) is that it isn’t particularly apt at making smaller items easily accessible. For years I had used baskets and boxes that fit within the Kallax cubby to store my smaller items. For instance, I had one box that was just for all the odd cables I had accumulated over the years. Whenever I needed an HDMI micro, Lighting to USB or Thunderbolt adapter, I would tool through this cavernous box in search of its hidden gems. It was not a very useful system. I had just adopted the American sitcom trope of the kitchen junk drawer and added more steps.
I carried on this way for years, never giving it much thought. The once-every-few-months inconvenience of searching for an XLR cable or USB C-to-Thunderbolt adapter didn’t annoy me enough to do anything about it, nor did it occur to me I needed to.
That is until recently, when my colleague Jason Hendardy showed me the error of my ways.
Jason shared this tip on our social channels months ago, but I’m going to steal it here since I’ve since adopted it and can confirm it’s wonderfully simple and brilliant.
@dpreviewtv How do you organize all your cords and cables?
Jason demonstrates in the video above his trick of using an over-the-door shoe organizer to shuffle away all his camera gear appendages. Extra points for labeling so when you call someone to ask for the certified HDMI 2.1 cable vs. HDMI, they won’t have to wonder what the difference is.
Side note: Document your serial numbers
Hand in hand with organizing and finding a system that works for you, I also highly encourage you to keep a catalog of all your gear with a document of your serial numbers, the product name, purchase date and location and the price paid.
I also highly encourage you to keep a catalog of all your gear with a document of your serial numbers.
You don’t have to keep this information anywhere fancy; a text or spreadsheet document, or paper journal are all great options. The goal is to have everything documented and saved. If you are ever robbed or experience a home disaster and need to file a police report or an insurance claim, this is the information you’ll need to provide.
Speaking from experience, having been robbed, I can’t tell you how crucial this information was for me. You can save yourself a headache down the road and document as you organize.
Better living through planning
Get organized and live better. If you’re a pro, making your stuff easier to find helps you meet client deadlines and get paid. If you’re not a pro, you’ll still benefit from no longer driving yourself or your family crazy when you ask them to fetch something.
And gear is just the start; in part two, we’ll talk about file management and how good design helps the pros make sales and the non-pros discover hidden gems from years gone by.
So, whether you’re an avid collector of dongles and adapters, have a burgeoning collection of camera history with an assortment of lenses and bodies, or like to have a tall stack of books around, lest anyone think you can’t read, it’s time to discover the joy of tidying up without throwing everything out.
What’s your go-to solution for organizing your equipment? Let’s swap ideas in the comments. I’m sure there are ways to improve and learn from each other. Lay it on me!