Gary Dowd  

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Traveling light(er)

Traveling light(er)

I think it’s fair to say that everyone has heard about the crisis situation in the Middle East. So you can imagine why I was a little nervous about accepting a request to report on the humanitarian efforts going on in Kurdistan. World Compassion and Samaritan’s Purse, two organizations I admire, have been racing against the clock to reach as many displaced families as possible with emergency shelter and food, as well as blankets, heaters and other much needed items before the bitter cold winter sets in. I would be spending several days with each organization, capturing stories of families forced from their homes and living in desperate circumstances. For me, the deciding factor was the incredible need. With plenty of press focused on the ugliness of the war, few were bringing back compelling stories that would motivate compassion for the refugees. How could I not take the opportunity to help communicate the need to folks back home?

With an unknown security situation on the ground and working by myself “run-and-gun” style, I wanted to pare down my gear to a basic kit and pack as lean and light as possible – yet still have enough equipment to do the job right. My biggest challenge was how to ensure that I had sufficient camera and audio gear in a carry-on bag that would meet international air travel requirements in addition to performing as my main gear bag on the ground. It had to be bombproof, would need to carry 2 pro bodies, a set of lenses, audio and support gear – PLUS be able to carry my 13″ Macbook Pro – all in a bag that offered good protection, had backpack straps AND would legally fit in the overhead of any aircraft. Tall order.

I sent an email to ThinkTank Photo. A few years ago, I picked up their Modular Component Set and it’s served me very well for several years in extreme conditions – across 4 continents in a dozen or more countries. The first thing that came to mind was their Airport Backpack series. I knew the build quality was going to be excellent and, since ThinkTank products are designed by pro photogs who understand what it takes in the field, I knew that any bag I chose would help me pack and work efficiently. As soon as I mentioned I was covering the crisis in Iraq, there was no hesitation – they wanted to help.

I had an Airport Accelerator a few days later. It turned out to be a great choice.


It took a bit of planning but I finally had the internal dividers configured to handle all of the gear I needed to pack.

Here’s what I loaded into it:

Canon 5D MKII with 24-70 f/2.8 lens, Canon 7D with 70-200 f/2/8, Canon 16-35 f/2.8 lens, Canon 50mm prime, Sony wireless mic system, Zoom H4n recorder, 2 hard drives, 8 camera batteries, 2 chargers, 3″ viewfinder, rode shotgun mic, 2 ThinkTank card wallets, ND filters, essential audio cables and adapters, earphones, 13″ Macbook Pro, iPad mini. And I still had room for passport, travel documents and a novel. The backpack straps made it both easy and comfortable to carry through airports from Charlotte to Toronto to Istanbul and beyond. I think I may have been just a tad over legal weight but it didn’t show. I wasn’t disappointed in the field either. The Airport Accelerator helped  me keep everything organized and accessible while running from location to location. I like the open access and the zippered compartments help my cables and cords separated and readily available.

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My shoot turned into long hard days in refugee camps shooting context and interviews with families, humanitarian staffers and officials – even one with the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Karim Sinjari. I met brave people facing unimaginable hardship, who have lost loved ones, and who are facing the prospect of a brutal winter without adequate shelter. Despite their circumstances, I was also greeted with a hospitality that was humbling. These are a beautiful people and I hope the stories I’ve brought back will help motivate a generous response of support for those organizations that are bringing aid to Kurdistan.

I can’t wait to go back.


If you want to learn more or donate to the relief efforts. Please visit