Bag Acquisition Syndrome is endemic among videographers, regardless of their level of experience and few will turn down the opportunity to add yet another, slightly different shoulder bag, backpack, or hard shell case to that already over-bursting closet. But getting your gear to and from location is only one part of the equation. Keeping it from blowing over, tripping people, getting wet, getting smudged, crushed, chewed by dogs or children are all other things you need to consider. This month we'll take a look at some ways to keep your equipment safe from people and your people safe from equipment.
- Storage – these are places you keep in your home, studio, or office whose function is to keep gear organized. You have 50 USB cables, they should all be in one place.
- Carrying – these are bags or cases designed for when you're carrying your equipment to and from your storage, the vehicle, the location or around the venue you're shooting in. These are usually smaller.
- Travel – often hard-shell cases are used to transport your equipment when you're not there to baby it. Usually with customizable foam inserts. These are the things that protect your lights and stands in the backs of cars and the bellies of airplanes.
You may start out with one camera bag, but as you gather experience, you'll likely acquire a number of them suited for different purposes.
Don't be Afraid to Get Your Gear Into the Action
One reason that professional camera gear is professional camera gear is because it’s built to withstand rougher than typical consumer environments. The people designing it know that it will be subjected to bangs, bumps, abrasions, water, mud, bumpy rides, bellhops, underpaid assistants and the rigors of life on the road. During a lifetime of normal use, it's expected that the exterior of your camera will get scuffed. That said, let's take a look at some safety precautions for travel and location.
Divide your gear up into “stuff that can get banged around more” like light stands and cables, and “stuff that shouldn't get banged around” – like your camera and lenses. You can check the sturdy stuff on a train or airplane, but carry the most fragile things with you in your carry-on. See “Five Tips to Tote Your Gear.”
Tape down cables – Call this “dressing,” it'll make you sound more professional, you can say to your assistant “make sure those cables are dressed” – which just means taping them down, lengthwise, with gaffer’s tape so that nobody can get a toe underneath them and trip. Better yet, use rectangular strips of carpet and tape these down which will look nicer than even the best dressed cables.
Use sandbags for stands – This will happen at some point in your professional career: you will be outside, you'll have a light on a stand, shining through an umbrella on a lovely evening – providing great light on your subject and, gust of wind will come up, catch the umbrella and pull the whole setup over. CRASH is the noise it makes. That'll bend your umbrella in half and you may or may not break your light.
If you have a big budget, you may have the back half of one of your cars loaded with bags of lead shot which you drape over the legs of the light stand to hold it steady. If you don't have a big budget but have a lot of hangers-on (which is a relatively common thing) delegate someone to put their foot on the light stand and keep it from blowing over. You can then put them in the credits as a grip, which makes everyone sound more professional.
Keep gear organized and out of the way – When you're working on location you'll have your camera nearby and some other important pieces of equipment, maybe a microphone, a cable, and a boom stand – and you'll probably have a lot of other equipment – extra lenses, backup cables, lighting gels. Keep this stuff far from the action – against a wall, underneath a table and make sure everything is organized so that you can tell your assistant “Get me the lighting gels, they're in the blue bag, left hand pocket” in the gear you take with you everything should have a place and everything should be in its place.
Lenses – When your lens isn't on your camera, it should be in a bag (or possibly your pocket) and it should, at the very least, have the rear lens cap on. Dust which collects on the back of the lens can get dumped inside your camera body and once it's on the sensor, it's a speck in the air that stays there until you clean the sensor.
Keeping the front cap on keeps fingerprints off the front of the lens and keeps it from getting scratched if you put more than one lens in the same compartment of a camera bag, though I can't recall ever seeing a scratched lens in my professional career. I tend to leave the front lens caps at home because it's more trouble to keep track of front and back lens caps and it's extra time when you're getting back to shooting. A clear UV or “haze” filter will protect your front element and not slow you down. Follow your heart on this one. Do have a lens cleaning tissue handy, you can get clip-on packs that hang from all your camera bags or even on the camera strap itself. This easy to pack cloth is useful not just for the lens elements but the eyepiece and your glasses (if you wear them). The lenses that aren't on your camera should be in cases or bags where they're easy to find and difficult to step on.
Your camera – your camera is probably the most expensive single piece of gear you own, so be careful with it. It should always be in a secure space where the chances of it falling are limited – this means in its case on the floor, in your hands, or locked down on the tripod. Be sure not to have your tripod in a place where people might kick it over, and never leave your camera sitting on a table with the strap dangling down – a perfect opportunity for a cat or someone's foot to wreak expensive havoc. Many cameras today, like the Nikon D800, have extreme weather proofing and you can literally pour a glass of water on them without causing damage; but older cameras and things like monitors aren't built with the same specs. You can either buy protective rain gear for these, or apply the judicious use of plastic bags. In extreme heat, be sure to leave your equipment in the shade when it's not being used and if you can't get to shade, throwing a light colored towel over it will serve to reflect some of the sunlight. (If you're in cold weather check out “Protecting your Cam from the Deep Freeze”)
Microphones and transmitters – Wireless microphones are great to use on the set. Be sure to put the transmitters on a safe place on your talent, which means a belt or even front pocket. Don't let them get sat on, also, don't forget them. If you leave their empty case sitting out where it's visible, it will be a reminder to get them back before you leave. If your microphones have wires, dress them on the floor and wrap them around the boom and be careful with them while moving through the air.
Design your set so that people have an easy path – If you're interviewing a dozen school children one at a time, make sure the path from the door to the set is clear, obvious, and free of obstructions. People shouldn't have to walk over or around wires or crates to get where they need to be. If you're feeling adventurous, you can use masking tape to outline the pathway you'd like people to walk.
Yourself – Your camera is replaceable, you aren't. Don't take unnecessary risks on the set, if you're walking backwards while taping, have an assistant spot you by holding onto your belt and walking with you, so that they can keep you from tripping or stop you if you approach something dangerous.
Not only does being organized and having the right tools protect your gear and make it simpler for you to get your job done, it also projects an air of professionalism on your set and protects you from not just damaging your equipment, but yourself, your crew and your reputation. Every minute your equipment spends in the repair shop is a minute you can't be using it, so take some precautions beforehand. If you're dealing with a lot of people, a lot of gear or you do this often, check out this Videomaker article on Film and Video Insurance).
Contributing editor Kyle Cassidy is a visual artist who writes extensively about technology.