PHLEARN MagazineFast-Acting Gear for Fast-Action Sports: Inside Matthew James’ Camera Bag

Fast-Acting Gear for Fast-Action Sports: Inside Matthew James’ Camera Bag

A former press photographer for the UK media, Matthew James Harrison is now based in Copenhagen, focusing on action and sport photography, as well as corporate and editorial. He has shot for leading brands like Adidas, Nike and Cycling Plus Magazine.

Today, Matthew lets us take a look inside his camera bag and explains what equipment he relies on for high-action and professional photoshoots.

How do you go about deciding which gear is essential to your work?


I start from the ground up, basically. Depending on the importance of the event I always make sure I have my absolute essentials, including a Nikon D5, Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70 2.8 and Nikon 70-200 2.8. From here I start to think about the creative angles I want to achieve: Do I want flash? How many? Do I need Pocket Wizards, or tripods? Ultimately it also depends on the client’s budget and where the images will appear. These days I don’t enjoy dragging around a boat-load of gear if I’m not going to use it. Here in Copenhagen everybody cycles from A to B, so it’s not always possible to take everything with you.


Nikon D5

20.8MP FX-Format CMOS Sensor, EXPEED 5 Image Processor, 4K UHD Video Recording

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Nikon D5. Quite simply, this camera is ready for anything. When it comes to shooting 100m hurdles at night, or a music festival in the middle of the afternoon in the summer, the D5 never lets me down. It’s a 21st century workhorse. I also shoot with the Nikon D800, which I hated to begin with. But once I got to know it a bit better it became my go-to camera for travelling with. It easily fits into any bag and doesn’t weigh a ton when I’m on the move.


Nikon NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED

Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22, Six Extra-Low Dispersion Elements

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Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G

Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22, Three Aspherical and Three ED Elements

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Nikon NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G

Aperture Range: f/4 to f/22, Silent Wave Motor AF System

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Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G

Aperture Range: f/1.4 to 16, Silent Wave Motor AF System

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My Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 is ideal for a mixture of assignments, including sports and portraits. When I first started photography I remember thinking that owning one of these lenses would instantly make me a pro. Now I realise that using it helps create images that most amateurs can’t, or don’t, create because they either don’t own one or don’t really know when to use it. I teach photography workshops around Copenhagen and showing people how to use it always yields pleasing results.

Additionally, the Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 is equally as important, as it stays in my bag at all times. Most scenarios are achievable when using it, and the image quality is just top-notch.

My most recent purchase is the 16-35mm, which I use sparingly for wide-angle shots. I spent four weeks in a campervan in New Zealand and it came in really handy. It’s nice to use for sports from time to time, as the client isn’t expecting it.

It’s never a bad idea to own a 50mm f1.4, which I keep in the bag for special occasions. It’s great for portraits and low-light situations, and I always forget just how great the image is until I use it again. Someone once said to me, “You don’t own a 50mm?” I couldn’t understand the fuss, until I bought one!


Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight

Compatible with Nikon i-TTL, Tilts from -7° to 90°, (Updated Version)

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Nikon Speedlights: SB-910 and SB-800 (old but reliable and still going strong).

I’ve always relied heavily on these two small but powerful sources of light. During my days working for a newspaper in the UK I also carried around a Metz, which was cumbersome and heavy when attached to a battery pack. Once I became a freelancer I had to make a touch choice regarding the Metz and chose to abandon it in favor of something smaller and more flexible. Now I use them for every lighting situation, including sport and pro portraits.


StreetWalker Rolling Backpack V2.0

It’s a new addition to the team, but this backpack is relatively light and, thanks to its wheels, gives me a break from lugging it around everywhere. When I hop off my bike it’s good to take it off my shoulders and walk with it a bit before I start shooting. Think Tank bags are the best quality and the zips last a lifetime (unlike other well-known brands).


I use 2 x Pocket Wizard Plus III for triggering my flash strobes, and I have a Nikon SC-30 cable as backup. This allows me to shoot off-camera flash, which is a must for me. I also own a very simple Manfrotto monopod, which is light and easy to use.

If you want to see more of Matthew’s action sports photography, or check out his other work from portraits to corporate, visit his website. You can also follow him on Instagram and Facebook. And, for those of you interested in starting your own photography business, read our full interview with Matthew for some tips to run a successful photography business.

Jennifer Berube

Jen is the Editor-in-Chief of PHLEARN Magazine, where she helps shape inspiring stories and handy tips for aspiring and seasoned photographers. She has worked as a photography writer for many years, contributing to numerous industry-leading publications. Proudly Canadian, sometimes globetrotter, self-taught photographer, Jen is temporarily settled in Spain.

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