I may have started out life as an English (and philosophy — dual!) major, which should reveal a real preference for books over people, but what I love is fieldwork. In any given week, what gets me through other days is the knowledge that by the end of the week I will have spent a day, perhaps two, doing fieldwork. Sometimes that fieldwork might be nothing more than “windshield surveying” as Fred Kniffen once termed it. Other days I might get invited to spend some [time in a rice bin][bin]. It doesn’t matter. I’m out in the world, getting my boots muddy, as Ray Cashman likes to call it.
I am regularly approached by students and faculty at UL-Lafayette who are interested in doing some sort of qualitative work, and, because technology seems like magic, they always start with what kind of gear I carry. I’ll start there, but over the course of the next few posts, I want to explain a little how I approach fieldwork and thus why I use the equipment I do and why I use it the way I do. As you will learn in a moment, my equipment is not the best there is, but the way I use it regularly produces pretty solid results, and that’s what we’re after isn’t it? A solid documentary record for people who otherwise potentially exist only as abstractions.
Here’s the gear I carry on a regular basis:
The DSLR body I use is the [Canon EOS 450D] (also known as the Rebel XSi). I was using a 350D before, but moved up to the 450D because I wanted to standardize around SD cards for my equipment and the 450D makes it easier to change things like the ISO and it has a bigger LCD on the back to double-check your shot.
My main lens is a [Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS] (see figure above). It doesn’t open up quite as wide as the Sigma 24-70mm EX DG I had been using, but it gives me a bit more zoom on both ends of the spectrum and it has a faster, quieter focus as well as image stabilization.
I have two alternate lenses that I carry with me: one is Canon’s “plastic fantastic” 50mm f1.8 lens which lets me shoot inside dark metal shops at ISO 800 and still get remarkably clear shots. If a main door is open, sometimes I can shoot at 400 or, with a steady hand, stop the camera down enough to get a workable depth of field.
I have also just picked up, as a Christmas present, a [Canon EF-S 55-250mm f.4-5.6 IS lens] (see figure above) for shooting my daughter’s various events and that I have begun to try using to photograph farmer’s at work in the field and to do some nature photography — see below. The 50mm lens is always in the bag, but sometimes the zoom stays at home.
Always in the bag is a [Moleskine notebook with grid pages][moleskine] — I am in no way a steady hand when drawing a line or drawing to scale and so I need all the guidance I can get. The Moleskines are really a good size for fieldwork and they have proven themselves able to withstand the kind of abuse I dish out.
Also always in the bag are ear plugs — I work in metal shops, cough drops — because nothing is worse than listening to your own cough when trying to transcribe a recording, spare pencils, lens cleaning materials, and a tape measure.
When I know I am going to be interviewing somone, I drop an [Edirol R-09][r09] in the bag with me. Like the Canon, it records everything to an SD card — and, an added bonus, it uses AA batteries. (My backup camera is a point and shoot, a Canon A590, which also records to an SD card and uses AA batteries.)
*My thanks to Henry Glassie for showing me the poor man’s version of the disappearing photographic background.*