Alakazam! The Magic Bag of Tricks

Just like every good magician has a bag of tricks, so should every great videographer. In previous articles, we’ve written about The 3 Types of Support: tripods, lights and mics. This is the “other” gear, the magical essentials that you should carry to save a shoot or awe a client by being prepared and pulling a rabbit out of your … ummm… bag, at the critical time.

Before I get to making magic, though, let’s talk about the bag itself. Your bag of tricks needs to be strong and durable. It needs to have lots of compartments, both inside an out, for organization. I prefer professional photographer bags, with names like Tenba, Domke or Lowell Pro. If you’re looking for smaller hip packs, try Travel Smith. These bags are expensive but well worth it in longevity and durability. The last thing you want is to spend all your time collecting equipment and then be unable to find it or lose it because of a rip in a seam of the bag.

So what’s in the bag? Well, I’ve broken it down into four sections. You will need: professional items, patches and adaptors, protection and provisions.

Professional Items: Typically these are the items pros use. They sometimes cost more and are usually found only at specialty photography stores or film production rental houses and not at your local supermart. One of the first items up your sleeve should be a reflector. Either a soft one like a pro-grade Flex-Fil or a cheaper version like a silver car window reflector is a must. A hard version is also important – for example, a 4×8 sheet of insulation foam board that is white styrofoam on one side and shiny silver on the other (check your local building supply store – they will know what you’re talking about). Cut the board in half or quarters and take it with you. The hard board can be used in heavier wind and can be tilted to direct light onto your subject, without anyone holding it, while the soft type can be strapped to your belt and carried anywhere you run.

Tools

Don’t go anywhere without a good multi-tool. A quality pliers/knife/driver combo is worth its weight in magic wands. However, even though you may have a screwdriver on that tool, I also suggest that you get a screwdriver multi-tool. Choose one that has not only large and small Phillips/flat interchangeable heads, but also a star or socket end, since more and more electronics are being built with star screws instead of Phillips. Don’t forget a folding Allen wrench set. Keep these tools as small as possible, yet sturdy enough to do the job. Oh, one other professional item you might pick up if you are electronically inclined is a butane soldering iron. You can use it anywhere, and it works better than saying shazam!

Tying and Holding Equipment: What would we do without rope? It can be used to hold things down, hold things up, keep them from blowing or falling or as a curtain rod. You can even use it to tie up your assistants before you cut them in half. (Please don’t try this unless you’re a professional magician.) Pick up some spring clamps, too, while you’re at the hardware or local specialty wood shop. A few small and large ones should do the trick. My favorite use for them is to attach my hard reflector to my light stand to act as a fill card for my key light.

Rubber bands may seem like a funny tool, but they work great. Next time you buy a disposable underwater camera, keep the strong rubber band wrist strap. I have used this band to hold all sorts of things to my camera or tripod. If you can’t find those, try Velcro straps or cable zip ties. Remember that you can link cable ties together end to end to make them as long as you need before you cinch them tight.

Let’s not forget our old friends the C-47s, a.k.a clothes pins. How else would we attach gels to our lights? Just make sure that you get the wooden spring type. Plastic melts and metal gets too hot to handle quickly.

One of the most important professional items you’ll need is a dense black bolt of cloth, known in the biz as Duvateen. Check your local rental houses for a small bolt or two. You can use Duvateen for a myriad of things. Try it as a background, to block out windows, to flag off sunlight or as a hood to help you see your monitor in the best possible way. You can use it to cancel out reflections in a window, painting or photograph. If it’s big enough, it can even make you and your rabbit disappear.

Patches and Adaptors

The best way to sum this up is… get as many different adaptors that fit your camera connections as you can afford. For example, if your camera has a mini jack for the mic input, you should get every audio adaptor that adapts to a mini plug. You can’t go wrong here. But where do you get all these things? Well, Radio Shack is a good place to start, but you might try looking for a radio parts supplier. It’s usually a warehouse or hobby shop that caters to the serious electronic/audiophile types. A place where you can find resistors and circuit boards will definitely have what you’re looking for.

Once you have collected a small pile of adaptors, be sure to keep them all together in a smaller pouch or case inside your main big bag of tricks, so you can find them in a hurry.


Protective Gear

When the hand is quicker than the eye, having protective gear on or available could save the show and maybe your fingers. Here are some simple items you should have in your bag of tricks. Good thick leather gloves help you handle hot lights and sharp gear. Ear plugs help with shoots with factories, rock bands and construction sites, because sometimes getting the great shots requires getting in close. A rain poncho comes in handy for those surprise showers or splashy, wet, damp conditions (look for the kind that folds up into a tiny pocket-size package, and be sure to carry a larger clear plastic bag to protect your camera too). Some other commonly-forgotten protective items are Band-Aids, a small medical kit, sunscreen and bug spray. Save room by getting one product that both blocks UV and keeps the bugs away. Beware, though, small containers of bug spray often contain 100% DEET. Although great against bugs, it will melt plastic and should be applied to clothing, with very limited amounts on your skin. A few drops go a long way. Lastly, whether strapped to your head, held in your mouth or clipped to your shirt with a gooseneck to direct the light, a good hands-free small flashlight is a must. Having both hands free to do work, while still being able to see, is efficient and safe. And hey, don’t forget a backup set of batteries for everything.

Provisions

Ah, yes! A gear bag wouldn’t be complete without food, energy, sustenance! If there is one shoot that has worked through lunch, there will be millions! So pick a bar, any bar. Whatever your provision of choice is, whether it be energy gel, granola bars or trail mix, be sure it can withstand the heat, cold and crushing gear and is hopefully nutritious. Water and hydrating drinks are a must, too. Stay away from the sugar and sodas, though. They will only spike your energy, and you’ll be dragging again before you know it.

Well, I hope my bag of tricks helps prepare you to mystify and amaze your clients. Remember, keep your items small and compact, and keep your bag organized, because, no matter what, the show must go on.

Michael Reff is a Senior Photographer for Turner Broadcasting.

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