It’s not actually true that you never know what to expect while shooting on location. After you’ve been doing it for a few years, there are a number of things that you know might happen.
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 — in short... knowing what will eventually go wrong and being prepared for it is what makes you a professional and the bride’s cousin Doug, a chump. Today we’ll look at gear that can save your rear.
Over the years I’ve bought a lot of camera bags and I’ll probably buy a lot more. One thing I’ve found consistently true though is that it’s 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. I’m using both full frame DSLR’s and Micro Four Thirds cameras, depending on how much I feel like carrying, and whether or not I have an assistant. On long trips it’s 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, don’t neglect something to carry your tripod, light stands, and things like sliders or booms. This is where I’d usually skimp — as long as the zipper is sturdy, I’m 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 you’re traveling a lot, check your gear and have people to carry your stuff, hard shell protection can be really nice. But whenever I’m 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, they’ll take up very little space in a light stand bag. Apart from plugging in your lights, they’re 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. They’re 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 I’ll 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 there’s 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 it’s 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 it’s manual focus, an 85 1.8 is a remarkable lens.
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I don’t often use filters, but I keep a set in my bag anyway because when you need them, you need them. I don’t 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 “hide in your bag” I actually mean it. Put these things in an inside pocket where you’ll forget about them and won’t at some point take them out thinking you won’t need them this time, because the day you don’t think you’re going to need to tape a camera to a tree is the day you’re 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 that’s in mine might not be the same as the stuff that’s 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 — 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 it’s filled with things like gauze and sutures and the only thing I ever used out of it was the aspirin. So, over the years I’ve 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 “possibly needs” 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 don’t 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.Kyle Cassidy is a visual artist from Philadelphia. Currently he’s working on a feature-length production of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and a top secret 360 video project.