Many of us have done remote shoots where we’re miles from home (or a store) and we forgot one or more key pieces of gear that make or break a shoot. And it’s often the little things: batteries, SD cards, gaff tape/zip ties, plastic bags or specific tools we didn’t think to bring or didn’t think we’d need.
Missing one key element while you’re focused on trying out a new lens is all it takes to shut down a shoot. Who likes that feeling?
Being that it’s a brand new year and many of us are planning trips to shoot that elusive spot on our bucket list, let’s start it right but making sure we don’t make avoidable mistakes that can foil a good shoot.
Following is a checklist in no particular order of what I bring to most shoots; large or small, it’s in the bag or in the car. Obviously, you’d never leave without your camera, lenses, phone, laptop, chargers, cables, stands, tripod, cam/laptop bags, so we won’t even go there. But here are a few things you might not remember to take without a list. I know I forget.
Flashlights: As a photographer you can’t have too many flashlights. Large, small, UV, red lens (for night shoots), rechargeable; drop one in every bag where you don’t even have to search for them. I like a mix of battery-powered and rechargeable types so you’re never at a loss for light. They’re also great for light painting.
UV Pen & Flashlight: You can get a good, small, aluminum housed UV flashlight from American Science and Surplus for about 12-14.00. That and a UV marker let you instantly see in a dark bag or room what you’ve got in UV labeled bags. It also helps you find things you’ve dropped in the woods. A sharpie isn’t a bad idea either.
Always check you batteries before you leave and keep extras in the bag for all devices you expect to use.
Velcro: I’ve started Velcroing the backs of everything. It’s on the back of my phone and legs of tripods (to use the remote phone app Triggertrap), and the back of remotes. It’s on every light stand, every road case, flight bag, tactical bags, flashlights, gels etc. The list of things it’s not on is shorter. At this point, I can stick anything to anything and if you try it you might want to, too. There are also Velcro straps you can get with cable loops that can stay on your cables for fast, easy packing. There’s nothing like the sound of Velcro in the morning. Or napalm.
Plastic Bags & Tarps: To keep moisture out on wet trips I keep lots of zip lock bags in different sizes handy. The kinds with labels are great if you want to really organize things. It’s good to keep plastic sheeting and/or tarps in the car to spread out before you set up a project to stay dry. If you’re in a cold climate a good insulated, reflective thermal blanket is also waterproof and can be used as a reflector. If it rains you’ll want to be able to quickly throw a plastic sheet over everything if you’re far from your vehicle.
Multi tool: These come in the standard stainless steel version that looks like a pair of pliers with a Swiss army knife array of other tools – knives, scissors, files, bottle opener – in the handles. There’s also the stainless steel credit card sized multi tool that can be indispensable, too.
Allen wrench set: Great for when you need to repair a Manfrotto tripod on the fly. Instead of just the one wrench that fits I bring a flip out all-size version.
Knife: If you don’t have the multi-tool with you have a good, sharp folding knife. Great for cutting the zip ties or boxes you’ve brought. And who hasn’t made field tripod out of pine branches? Besides me.
Duck Tape: A few rolls or duck or gaff tape is a lifesaver so many times.
Backup Drives: At least one good 1-2TB all-weather backup drive is always preferable to none.
SD Cards: Always have a few new and pre-tested (by you), quality 128+GB SD data cards in your bag.
Remote: If you’re doing any time-lapse, light painting, self/group portraits you’ll want a good remote, preferable a cable release type.
Batteries & Chargers: Bring fresh, long-lasting backup batteries for everything from remotes to speed lights to the camera itself. Plus your chargers. Easy to forget in a rush.
Zip Ties, Carabiners, & Clamps: You might not think you’ll need them but on a hike or camping trip with inclement weather looming they let you turn your tarp into a lean-to, cover and lash a gear bag, food or tripod to a tree on a severe slope. Millions of uses. Get an array sizes. Available at Lowes, Depot, Target or any hardware/outdoors store.
Battery Pack: I use a Goal Zero Yeti 150 (watts) which is just a bit smaller than a car battery but much lighter and has a pull out handle. It’s got (2) USB charge ports, (1) 12V cigarette lighter type port and (1) 115V line voltage outlet to use in the field. It’s an amazing sense of freedom to be miles from an outlet and still have 3 styles of power backup for lights, cam battery/laptop/phone/iPad/iPod recharge. They also make a smaller version that’s 100 watts and larger/heavier 450W and 1500W versions. Charge it before you leave from a wall outlet (6 hours) or charge it with Boulder Solar panels (extra and takes 17 hours). Mine was on sale at 179.00 over the holidays but they are usually available for 229.00. It’s already paid for itself.
Power Strips/Cords: In case you can get to an outlet extra cable and a good Isobar strip allows you a lot more flexibility for placement of lights, etc.
Road Cases: Not just good for carrying precision gear and keeping it dry, they usually also have acoustic foam in them (if not, put some in yours) which can be used as a soft, dry work surface in the field. Also, if you’ve covered yours is covered in Velcro, like mine you can stick all your other Velcro backed items to is like a field desk (or step stool). You know, all the things you’d otherwise spill, drop or lose.
Thermos & Insulated Travel Mug: Who doesn’t want a good cup of coffee (Irish or not) when things go South? Or SouthxSouthwest, for that matter. A full cooler is essential for long trips.
Water: Bring a case of bottles. Leave it in the car. Trust me, dehydration is a big deal.
First Aid Kit: Can be simply band-aids and alcohol or a full military field kit found on Craigslist, but have something.
GPS App: If you don’t have a GPS active on your phone a good, dedicated unit in the car is a big help. If you do, a physical unit is backup. And maps don’t fail when batteries do.
Weather App: Again, if your phone doesn’t have one, add one you like before you leave.
Pen & Pad: For those who like to journal their adventures old-school or who are just forgetful, like me, throw them on top of everything else and no one will accuse you of travelling light.
Fire: Matches, lighters, magnesium fire starter, a blowtorch striker or a mag lens. You need fire and tinder.
Badges: Are you shooting an event? It’s easy to forget your entry badge. They’ll charge for you a replacement or you might not be able to get in at all.
Again, before you leave on a long or short trip, charge everything, back up and wipe any data cards you need with you (unless you archive everything on them: personal choice), check your GPS/weather apps, fuel up and go. Oh, and make sure your coffee or camera bag isn’t still on the roof.
About the author: Mike Brannon is a well-published, award-winning guitarist/lighting artist/writer/ photographer, and apparently likes slashes, nature and anything to do with guitar or light. You can find his photo work here, lighting design work here, music here and here, and writing at EnLIGHTenment, AllAboutJazz.com, Vintage Guitar and Jazzreview