Inclement weather, dead batteries, missing assistants, cars that break down, tripod legs that snap, shoots being delayed for hours, getting kicked off of locations, duck attacks Ã¢ÂÂ in short… knowing what will eventually go wrong and being prepared for it is what makes you a professional and the brideÃ¢ÂÂs cousin Doug, a chump. Today weÃ¢ÂÂll look at gear that can save your rear.
Over the years IÃ¢ÂÂve bought a lot of camera bags and IÃ¢ÂÂll probably buy a lot more. One thing IÃ¢ÂÂve found consistently true though is that itÃ¢ÂÂs best to spend the money and get the right bag than to spend half the money three times.
Get a bag that fits your gear but is also reconfigurable. IÃ¢ÂÂm using both full frame DSLRÃ¢ÂÂs and Micro Four Thirds cameras, depending on how much I feel like carrying, and whether or not I have an assistant. On long trips itÃ¢ÂÂs very nice to be able to pack the small cameras into the big bag and fill the rest of the space up with clothes.
Get a bag that fits your gear but is also reconfigurable
When shopping for bags, donÃ¢ÂÂt neglect something to carry your tripod, light stands, and things like sliders or booms. This is where IÃ¢ÂÂd usually skimp Ã¢ÂÂ as long as the zipper is sturdy, IÃ¢ÂÂm usually fine with an off-brand to keep my aluminum tubes safe. On bags that hold cameras and lenses, have a look at companies with a lot of expertise and experience: Domke, Lowpro, Manfrotto, and ThinkTank as well as popular up-and-comers like Crumpler.
(Check out this Videomaker article about camera bags.)
Hard shell or soft?
If youÃ¢ÂÂre traveling a lot, check your gear and have people to carry your stuff, hard shell protection can be really nice. But whenever IÃ¢ÂÂm at an airport and see some poor fool at baggage claim sitting on a stack of Pelican 1630 road cases waiting for their assistants to show up, I feel a bit of relief at just being able to walk out the door, carrying my own two bags. Granted, if I drop them down the side of a mountain, my gear is probably done for.
2. Extension cords.
You can never have enough access to power. I have a couple of 12-foot kitchen extension cords that pack small. If you wrap them long, theyÃ¢ÂÂll take up very little space in a light stand bag. Apart from plugging in your lights, theyÃ¢ÂÂre useful in the airport when fighting with other passengers for outlets and in the hotel when you want to use your laptop in bed.
Clamps are expensive if you pick them up at the hardware store, but cheap if you get them at the dollar store. I have about ten large ones and ten small ones. TheyÃ¢ÂÂre useful for quickly putting up backdrops and clamping cables to booms.
4. Lens brush & lens cloth.
I rarely bother cleaning the front element of my lens, but IÃ¢ÂÂll often find a big gob of something has attached itself to the sensor of my camera and for that reason, the lens brush is what ends up getting used the most, but microfiber cloths are cheap and you can clean your glasses with them, so thereÃ¢ÂÂs not much of an excuse to not have one in your camera bag. They even make ones with maps of various city transit systems on them, so itÃ¢ÂÂs doubly useful.
Lightning to micro USB, miniplug to quarter inch, Nikon to Panasonic — what are the things you might possibly need to adapt from? An inexpensive adapter may open up a range of possibilities for new, inexpensive lenses to put on your camera. Even if itÃ¢ÂÂs manual focus, an 85 1.8 is a remarkable lens.
I donÃ¢ÂÂt often use filters, but I keep a set in my bag anyway because when you need them, you need them. I donÃ¢ÂÂt worry about thread size, instead I just get large filters and hold them over the lens. In my camera bag I have a graduated ND filter for darkening bright skies, a graduated tobacco filter, which is probably cheesy, but what the heck, and a circular polarizer for getting either blue skies or reducing glare on windows or water.
Essentials to hide in your bag
When I say Ã¢ÂÂhide in your bagÃ¢ÂÂ I actually mean it. Put these things in an inside pocket where youÃ¢ÂÂll forget about them and wonÃ¢ÂÂt at some point take them out thinking you wonÃ¢ÂÂt need them this time, because the day you donÃ¢ÂÂt think youÃ¢ÂÂre going to need to tape a camera to a tree is the day youÃ¢ÂÂre going to need to tape a camera to a tree. My Domke J2 bag has a number of hidden compartments, but the one I stash stuff in is a zippered area inside the lid. The stuff thatÃ¢ÂÂs in mine might not be the same as the stuff thatÃ¢ÂÂs in yours.
7. Electronic Gizmos
USB cable, spare SD card, SD card reader, flash drive.
8. Gaffers Tape
In 2007 I was making a documentary and found myself staying for a week with a group of survivalists in Missouri. It was there that I learned one of the most useful photography hacks ever Ã¢ÂÂ wrapping gaffers tape around a business card. This allows you to pack the tape flat instead of in a roll. I put about 20 feet on a card and put at least one in every single camera bag that I own. This one trick has saved my bacon more than anything else.
9. Pens, notebook, & model releases
I have a very small notebook, a pen and a sharpie in my bag as well as a set of very simple & generic model releases I printed out and stapled together in a booklet.
10. First Aid Kit
I bought a first aid kit years ago and itÃ¢ÂÂs filled with things like gauze and sutures and the only thing I ever used out of it was the aspirin. So, over the years IÃ¢ÂÂve replaced almost everything in it with the things I find myself needing most on the road:
- Aspirin (or some type of pain medication)
- Band Aids
- Alcohol wipes
- Finger nail clippers
- A comb
- Disposable rain poncho
Where do you go from here?
The more time you spend doing video, the more accurate your list of Ã¢ÂÂpossibly needsÃ¢ÂÂ gets. Do you have a second shooter in your crew who uses a different lens mount? Then, maybe an adapter is something you should pack. Are you continually waiting around for things to happen? Then snacks and something to read might be a thing to keep in your bag. You donÃ¢ÂÂt necessarily need a backup for everything, but you need a backup plan that covers everything. What will you do if your lens breaks? What will you do if your tripod leg gets broken off? What will you do if your SD card goes bad?
Like a Boy Scout, be prepared.