Videomaker recently produced a video series on DIY equipment, but there are some cheap tools that might have been designed for other uses that you don’t even have to build yourself. Here’s a list of five pretty handy tools that cost less than $30 that work well in the video production world. It’s not a stretch to use each of these in almost every shoot. If you’re not using them already, consider making a few additions to your toolkit and you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.
1. Foam Core: Approx. $2 each for a 16″x20″ sheet.
Often on set you’ll hear a camera operator asking for a white card. A white card is a white piece of material used for white balancing the camera. Foam core works well, as you can get a 3 1/16-inch thick, sturdy white piece that is easy to hold far away from the camera’s lens, and it’ll still be able to fill the camera’s frame when the camera zooms in. Additionally, white foam core works quite well as a reflector. The matte white finish provides a nice soft fill light when shooting outdoors without reflecting so much sunlight that it blinds your subject. Conversely, black foam core can work well as a flag when used with low-temperature lights like fluorescents or LEDs. Keep it away from your tungsten, halogen, and HMI lighting rigs, however; foam core is flammable!
2. Work Gloves: $2-$15 a pair.
If you’ve ever shot with a 1000W light, you know those things get hot! After one minute of operation, adjusting the barn doors can be a dangerous affair. That’s why it’s always good to keep a pair of work gloves close by. Simply turn off your light, wear your gloves, and adjustments are a breeze. Additionally, since touching the lamp itself with your bare hands is never a good idea (the oils from your fingers can cause the lamp to explode when it heats up), wearing gloves adds an extra layer of protection, even when handling cool lights.
3. C-47s (Clothespins): $5 – $10 for a 50 count.
Here is another tool most commonly used for lighting purposes. C-47s are extremely inexpensive and light-weight. When attaching gels to a gel frame, C-47s are often far simpler than the frame’s built-in clamps. As a bonus, C-47s are handy for wardrobe purposes. Loose clothing can be clipped behind the back to improve the garment’s fit on your talent.
4. Router Speed Control: About $24 to $30 each.
Dimmers are extremely handy whenever you’re using tungsten lights. The problem is they can be pretty expensive. While they’re meant for drills, router speed control devices just happen to work perfectly well as light dimmers. When you’re shooting in tight spaces, your lights may end up being too intense if you can’t back them away from your subject. Throw a couple of these in your travel kit and we guarantee you’ll never again have to worry about lighting in tight spaces again! (Not actually a guarantee.)
5. Sand Bags: About $28 for 15lbs.
Most shooters know they should use sand bags when setting up top-heavy lights, but many don’t think about how sand bags can help their shooting. Ever try to get extremely low angle shots where the camera has to be at or near ground level? You have a couple of options: get a table-top tripod or hand-hold it. You could set the camera on the ground itself, but getting just the right angle is a huge pain. Sand bags fix this problem. They can be molded to a variety of shapes in order to cradle your camera at just the right angle. If your shot is a little off, just push the sand around until you’ve got it right.
When you’re just getting started with video production and filmmaking, you don’t often think of the little things. Being a good shooter requires frequent improvisation and ingenuity. Keep some of these basic tools on hand and you’ll be amazed at how much you end up relying on them.
Mike Wilhelm is Videomaker‘s Executive Editor.