When I was first starting out as an architectural photographer it seemed like every shoot I would go on I would forget something critical. I learned a lot of lessons that way, each horrifying episode etched indelibly into my mind. Rather than get too upset, I would figure out a way to make-do and resolve to never make the same mistake again. Nowadays, when I am on location I always have a camera and a back-up. I have plenty of batteries, all the cards I could ever want, flash triggers, cables and even an extra lens. I try to be sure that if I have been hired to do a job that I have everything I need to keep working without missing a beat, and without my client knowing anything is wrong.
Through trial, and lots of errors I think I finally have a pretty good grasp of what I absolutely NEED to get the job done. Now for the interesting bit, what I like to squirrel away on the outside pockets of my camera bag is all of the other stuff. The items that help me get out of jams and let me do my job better. I might not use these items everyday but they sure help out from time to time. Some of these items are really helpful for photographers of all kinds and some are more helpful for people that specialize in architecture like myself.
Above all, there is nothing worse than carrying a metric ton of junk to a shoot, “just in case”. As a professional, my back is important to me, an injury could make life miserable or even put me out of work. So, this list is aimed at items that are small, lightweight and really useful. To keep things light, I am always on the lookout for small travel-sized versions of common items. For instance, a whole roll of gaffer tape can be a pain to lug around day-in and day-out, and there is no way I would ever use the entire roll on one shoot. So, why not carry a tiny roll? The effort of carrying all of the weight in the full roll just insures that I almost never have it with me on a typical shoot. With a small roll, I always have it, and there is usually more than enough to make it through the day.
So without further adieu, here is my list of super-useful, lightweight, life savers:
1. Small pad of paper - If i need to make any notes it is handy to have this around
2. Pen - I won’t get very far writing notes without this guy
3. Air Blower - just in case I have a dust issue, this usually lives in a sealed ziplock to keep dust away, otherwise this might make things worse.
4. Cards - I am often asked for business cards while on a shoot. I like postcards because I can fit a few different images on there, like a tiny portfolio.
5. Lens Cleaning Wipes - two part, one wet for cleaning, one dry for…well, drying.
6. Tripod Tool - These are supposed to stay on your tripod but they promptly pop off and get lost. Now I just keep one in my bag’s front pocket. It is for tightening the leg clamps on my Manfrotto tripod.
7. Loupe - for viewing the camera’s back screen during the middle of a bright sunny day.
8. Thumb Drive - I always need these, I buy them by the box.
9. Lint Roller - This is handy for clothing and upholstery. Travel sized of course.
10.Mints - After a morning coffee and a long drive it can smell like I have been roasting sewage in my mouth, just in time to meet my new client!
11. Rag - This does double duty, it is one of those super absorbent evaporative cooling rags. I can clean up a spill or soak it, ring it out and wear it around my neck to cool down when I am shooting outside in summer heat.
12. Band Aids- Once in a while you need one and you’ll wish you had them in your bag.
13. Multi Tool - Pliers, screw drivers, scissors and pocket knife in one tiny package.
14. Flashlight - This is a tiny one made for doctors, it has lots of power and very nice quality light. Works great at what it is supposed to do, but I have also used it to skim a little rim light on food shots.
15. Suction Cup Hangers - I use a large white cloth silk with grommets to bounce light when I am shooting interiors and I don't have white walls. When the walls are dark or when I have nothing but windows, these give me an easy way to hang a silk on glass.
16. Retractable Lens Brush - Handy for quickly removing dust from the lens.
17. Allen Wrenches - These are one of the more useful tools in the bag. I can make quick Tripod repairs or remove an l-bracket. These are big though, I think I might just switch to a couple single allen wrenches and drop some bulk. I only really use two or three of the sizes anyway.
18. Gray Card - This is really a back up for my Color Checker Passport, which I have been known to forget from time to time. This does everything you need if you have already calibrated your camera. For a more detailed explanation of color management visit here.
19. Antacid- Long shoot day, upset stomach, no problem.
20. Gaffer Tape - Baby sized roll, no sense carrying an extra couple of pounds in a big bulky roll. This is plenty for most jobs.
21. Sticky stuff - Easily removable, I use this a bit more often for food, to keep a prop angled just right or a spoon from sliding out of place on a plate.
22. Clothes pins - Useful for pinning extra fabric back on clothing or curtains
23. Tiny A-Clamps - When you need a little more grab than the clothespins, I use them to attach gels to lights.
24. Large Zip-Lock Bag - good for carrying home anything damp or covering your camera in the rain.
25. A-Clamps - These are still small, but big enough to clamp a reflector to a light stand or hang a silk.
26. Tiny Tripod Legs - When shooting interiors I often end up with my camera scooched back as far as I can possibly go, sometimes that puts my camera on a window sill, or a shelf, or counter. I just pull the head off my full sized tripod attach it to this little thing and I am set.
27. Cinefoil or Blackwrap - A bit of black foil for fashioning a quick snoot or gobo. I just grab a couple feet and fold it up.
28. Lens Cloth - I actually use this for my glasses all of the time. Just another option to manage dust.
29. Zip Ties - I once had to take down a bunch of construction webbing while photographing a building, with these I was able to put everything back to normal when I finished.
30. Aspirin - or whatever works for you.
31. Glass Cleaning Wipes - I find these really useful, I can quickly take care of a dirty countertop, fingerprints on a mirror or shower surround without looking all over for the cleaning supplies.
Well, that is about it…for now. This is a evolving list, some things might be added or lost over time. I find these items worth the effort to carry with me every time I go on a shoot. Have you got any other camera bag items you can’t live without? Let me know I would love to hear about it. Happy shooting!
A quick note on how the main image was made. After setting everything up as carefully as I could on an old marble slab I use for food photography, I used a Dynalite Baja B4 with a large profoto deep silver umbrella. I love the combination of softness and crispness you can get with this umbrella, it is almost like shooting with a beauty dish.