Saving Money With Photo Essentials From The Hardware Store

Saving Money With Photo Essentials From The Hardware Store
Working on a project and realizing there's a tool or small part needed to get the job done can be a common occurrence. That's as true with fixing a leaky faucet as it is with completing your next photography project. Many times a project or formal piece of photo gear will benefit from a seemingly random tool or building supply pickup, saving you both time and money as you work. This list will include something of benefit for anyone with a camera.

It's a little insane how reliant I've become on hardware stores for photography production. I'm constantly casing different hardware stores to get ideas, see what tools and resources are available, at what cost, and perhaps most importantly, memorizing store hours. When a store associate asks if I need help finding something and go a dangerous step further asking what I'm trying to do, it’s always fun asking them to handle objectives from a photographer's perspective. Here’s a shopping list by aisle of gear and supplies you might need at the hardware store.

Organizers

Hook and Loop Cable Ties

For such a small price, few items will help you organize, save space, and at least look like you have your act together, than hook and loop cable ties.

Rolling Tool Chests

These can make excellent carts for studio work, storing cables, and of course, tools.

Portable Tool Boxes and Bags

My styling kit is highly organized in one portable tool box, with another dedicated specifically for beverage styling. I also have a small tool bag for grip, including a magic arm, super clamps, swivel umbrella adapters, and other clamps. The side pocket ends up getting gaffers tape and a bunch of electrical items (to follow).

Shelving

When I finally organized all of my gear on a few shelves in one area, life became so much simpler. It became easy to inventory gear ahead of a project, anticipate what might be required, and even updating insurance records.

Tools

Multi-Tool

I keep one in my vehicle, one in my primary gear case, and another in my pocket. They’re just that helpful.

Locking Pliers/Vise Grip

Removing stripped screws, can also be used as a heavy duty clamp.

Hex Keys (Metric)

Tightening set screws and all manner of grip.

Adjustable Wrench

Another general utility item that can replace a wrench set with one tool in a pinch.

Precision Screwdrivers and Torx

Most useful for electronics work in the studio. See my post, How to Upgrade Your Tech Repair Workflow, for more ideas.

Tape Measure, Protractor, and Level

Recording a setup in the event you need to replicate it in the future.

Tap and Die Set (Metric)

My carbon fiber Manfrotto tripod has taken a few baths in salt water over the years. It usually ends up getting a thorough rinse in the shower but over the last decade the threads on the tripod head started to corrode. A little cutting grease and a tap and die set will clean the threads up good as new.

Razor Blades

Opening boxes, cutting flags, removing labels.

Paint Brushes

Useful for styling or dusting off an intricate item.

Electrical

Extension Cords

After the holiday season, these are always on sale. I always go back and forth about orange vs darker colored cords. Gaff taping cables to the floor covers most of the color anyway but I buy a few of different colors and lengths whenever they’re on sale.

Grounded Single to Triple Outlet Adapters

Allows you to free up an outlet or two, potentially saving you from having someone unplug your gear extension cords for their own equipment. If you’re at an event, it’s also cheaper to lose a shared splitter than a power strip or extension cord if you need to leave before, say, the DJ.

Two to Three Wire/Prong Adapters

It's super rare but on location, some locations might use two prong outlets. Not as safe as a grounded three prong, but what can you do if you need to plug a device in to get the job done? $0.70 adapters can save the day. It's always the small link in the chain that snaps first. All of these adapters go in my grip bag.

Attachments

Spring Clamps

Commonly available in 2”, 1”, and 3/4’ sizes. I have many of each, but the 2” clamps are the most useful, securing backdrops, flags, and bounce cards.

Socket Set Screws (Metric)

An assortment of these can be incredibly helpful. I’ve needed to replace different size set screws in backdrop supports, tripod heads, and they’re super simple to replace. Vise Grips also help if a screw is stripped.

Carabiners

Dowel Rods

Wire

Duct Tape

Zip and Gear Ties

Miscellaneous Items

Sand

Light stands need sand bags. Typically 50 lbs of sand costs $4, which costs far, far less than an insurance claim or damaged reputation.

Microfiber Cloths

Flashlights

I'm lost without a flashlight packing up in the dark and doing an inventory check before leaving a location.

Moving Blankets

These are awesome for laying out gear and props on location.

Nitrile Gloves

Painting, styling, and avoiding leaving fingerprints on items.

Hearing Protection

If you're an event photographer and loud music fills the air, you'll be thankful you can still hear after a few years of work.

Thrifty White Tile Board

For full length studio portraits with an in-camera reflection. I learned this one from the awesome and talented portrait photographer Zack Arias, and it's an outstanding addition to a portrait.

Telescoping Paint Pole

Add a Kacey pole adapter and you have a mobile, hand-held light stand for off-camera flash. I learned this one from another incredibly humbling photographer, Joe McNally, who would regard this as being part of a “voice activated light stand.”

Candy Bars and Batteries

Getting hangry while running errands is never fun. The checkout aisle loaded with caffeine and Snickers bars will bring reprieve. If you need spare batteries for Pocket Wizards or speedlights, this is also your chance. Speaking of speedlights, if Joe ever reads this, why do I get the feeling that he'll have something comedic to say about being mentioned next to the checkout aisle?

For the non-photographers, if you're looking for that special something for the photographer in your life, (hint hint), after B&H, a gift card to the hardware store is the next best thing. I regularly use all of these items in my photography work, hopefully you will find at least one item on this list helpful. What did I leave out that you find useful?
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3 Comments

william mitchell's picture

Plastic pipe for background cross bars and do it yourself scrims and reflectors.

Jordan Bush's picture

This is a great idea, thanks! I just picked up a galvanized pipe today for the same idea to use with two Manfrotto Super Clamps and 039 hooks.

Mica Geltz's picture

You know it's a very good idea. I should try it now. When I was working at the https://www.trustmypaper.com/write-my-essay-for-me I faced with a lot of troubles as photographer. There was a lot of things that I didn't learn at the college time. So now, I guess, I will fox it.
Thanks!