Sixteen Crucial Items I Take on Every Photoshoot

Sixteen Crucial Items I Take on Every Photoshoot

You'd be surprised how just a few extra items packed in your camera bag could help you to steer away from many problems that may arise while out on a shoot. Consider adding these 16 objects to your photographic arsenal.

It's always the most insignificant things that can turn the flow of a shoot on its head. When things start to go south, either productivity or the quality of the images begin to suffer and both of these are a photographer's worst enemy. The following items mentioned in this article have all earned their place in my camera bag because they have in some way helped me to keep a potentially problematic shoot on track.

1. Headlight

While having some form of illumination with you is always a good idea, I would much prefer to have a headlight with me than a regular flashlight. It's rare that on a shoot I have the luxury of having a spare hand to hold something like a flashlight anyway. Thanks to the built-in strap, I can attach the light to my head and then concentrate on more important matters. If you need the light somewhere other than on your person, you can also use the handy strap provided to fix it to someplace else. That's something you can't easily do with a regular flashlight.

2. Hand Warmers

It doesn't matter what time of year it is or whether I'm shooting outdoors or not, I always have a multipack of hand warmers in my kit bag. Obviously, they are great for keeping our extremities warm, but they can also help to keep camera batteries from prematurely dying while in extreme temperatures too. You'll notice a lot of the items on this list are geared towards keeping the whole team on a shoot as happy and comfortable as possible. Warm hands and feet make for a happy team that is focused on the job rather than being preoccupied with thoughts of frostbite.

3. Universal Phone Charger

Continuing on with the theme of keeping everyone on a shoot happy, a universal phone charger is a useful item to always have with you. Not only will you be able to charge your own phone with it, but anyone else who needs a top-off too. You would not believe how often I get asked if I have a phone charger while I'm working. If your client, talent, or anyone on your team can't use their phone because it's dead, then you'll find they get a little tetchy and anxious. Neither is a good thing on a shoot, and because of this, I'd rather help people to stay connected. Believe me, the opposite is actually worse for the flow of a shoot.

4. USB Battery Pack

To go with the universal phone charger, I like to bring a dedicated USB battery pack along with me. Many of these battery packs come with multiple USB slots so you can actually charge more than one device at a time. What I really like about this piece of kit is the fact that it doesn't need to take up any of my valuable plug sockets in the studio, as it's battery powered. In addition to this, because it is a self-contained unit, I can strategically place it somewhere where it won't be in my way. There's nothing worse than having people unnecessarily crowded around my computer or camera just so they can charge their phone.  

5. Screwdriver

A good screwdriver will save the day on a shoot, and because you want to be prepared for all eventualities, I would opt for one with multiple heads. I've seen many people recommend packing multitools in their kit bags, and while they can be great for small jobs, I would rather have something with a more substantial handle I can actually hold. If you've ever had to remove a screw from something that is well and truly fixed in place, then a real screwdriver is going to be your best bet of budging it.

6. Medication

While I don't condone dispensing medication to people unless you are actually qualified to do so, having a few items at hand to ease the symptoms of feeling unwell might just help to stop a shoot from being cut short. Personally, I like to have a few sachets of something like Theraflu and a packet of acetaminophen in my bag at all times. If you or someone on the shoot starts feeling ill, then you may just be able to buy yourself a few extra hours by having some over-the-counter medication with you.

7. Protection From the Sun

Things like sunscreen are always a must while on a shoot, but in this case, I am talking more about clothing items that can help to protect you from the sun's rays. Even if hats are not your thing, a baseball cap worn in various ways can be enough to shade you while the sun passes over. I'd also add a bandana to this list due to the many ways that too can be worn. It's never a great idea to allow yourself to be distracted by the elements while shooting when you really should be concentrating on other things.

8. Heavy Duty Garbage Bags

You can never have enough trash bags with you while on a shoot. Apart from being used for the obvious, a couple of these doubled up can be used to lay or kneel on while shooting those impromptu low-angle shots. If your location is a little on the wet or dirty side, then trash bags can act to protect people's footwear too. It may not look pretty, but for less than a dollar, you have managed to keep your team's footwear dry and clean, and a happy team always makes for a better shoot.  

9. Bungee Cords

I have actually lost count of how many sets of these bungee cords I own. They really are such a great bit of kit to have. Personally, I prefer the ones with the lockable carabiner on each end as I don't have to worry about them coming loose. I use these things for strapping my bags and kit together mostly, but they are also a helpful tool for anchoring things like light stands to trees, etc.

10. Pen and Paper

A pen and paper might seem like an obvious one but there are times when you will still need to write something down the old-fashioned way. Labeling things, writing signs, drawing maps or lighting diagrams, or maybe just writing a simple note all require a pen and paper.

11. Space Blanket

Just like the trash bags, a space blanket is a good thing to lay or kneel on while shooting low angles. The added bonus of laying on a space blanket is that due to its thermal properties, it should actually help to keep you warm. There really is nothing worse than having to lay on a cold floor while shooting. What I like about these blankets is how small and lightweight they are. They really don't take up much space in my bag and the silver lined blankets can actually double up as a makeshift reflector if you find yourself in need of some extra fill.

12. Tent Pegs

Tent pegs are not just great for camping, but can also be used to help keep your gear pinned down. On some of my light stands, backgrounds, and reflectors, I have carefully drilled holes in the corners so I can slot in a tent peg and drive it into the ground. Even if you don't want to start drilling holes in things, tent pegs can still be used to help hold things down. If I know the location where I will be shooting at is a good place to use tent pegs, then I would rather use a bunch of these over heavy sandbags any day. Like many of the items in this list, tent pegs are reasonably cheap and don't take up much space in your camera bag.

13. Spare Change

Again, this might seem like an obvious one, but I always like to keep some spare change in my camera bag. If someone on your team needs money to pay for parking or the like, then I'd rather be able to solve the problem there and then rather than delay the shoot while someone goes to find change. It might sound unnecessary, but I like to keep things running smoothly at all costs.

14. Snacks

I like to have a few snacks on hand to keep mine and the team's energy levels where they should be. Ideally, I'll go for something healthy and also not so healthy to cover all bases. It's crazy how people's sugar levels can affect productivity on a shoot. Just be careful when you decide to give out these snacks; if people have them too early, then you might find that after a sugar high, you get the dreaded sugar crash. I always like to use chocolate as a secret weapon to help get people through the final hour of a shoot. 

15. Tennis Balls

I always pack a few tennis balls in my kit so I can use them as markers while on location. By cutting a tennis ball in half, you now have two brightly colored domes that you can place on the ground to clearly mark where people should stand. I also use tennis balls with a hole drilled in them to fix to the legs of my light stands if I'm worried their metal edges might scratch the floor of where I am shooting. A drilled tennis ball is also a good thing to place on the end of any sharp objects which happen to be at eye level. Lastly, if you happen to be shooting kids or dogs, then a tennis ball can be a great aid in getting your subject to look exactly where you need them to.

16. Plug Cubes

To be able to turn a single plug socket into three with the help of a plug cube has saved me a headache on more than one occasion. You never want to overload a plug with too many appliances, but when the hair and makeup artist arrives with more gadgets than you and the crazy location you are shooting in only has one working plug socket, you'll be glad you found space to pack this tiny but useful item.

So there you have it: 16 items that I find crucial to have on every photoshoot. Everything on this list is reasonably easy to get ahold of, doesn't cost a great deal, and most importantly, won't take up too much space inside your camera bag. Each item mentioned here has earned a place in my bag because it helps my shoots to run as smoothly as possible. For me, I'm always trying to create the best environment I can to maximize the chances of making the pictures that I want to make. Being able to avoid or quickly solve problematic situations will allow you to concentrate on the important things like actually taking photographs.

Do you already carry any of these items on the list? Anything you think I should have mentioned that I didn't? I'd love to hear your recommendations in the comments below.

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Alexander Petrenko's picture

I’d look strange with headlight on my head, applying sun cream in studio...

Deleted Account's picture

Are you sure it would be the headlight and sun cream? ;-)

Paul Parker's picture

Headlights are gonna be all the rage in 2018. Just you watch. ;)

Deleted Account's picture

My wife used to make fun of mine. Now, I have to ask her where she left it when she used it last! :-)

Paul Parker's picture

Haha that's brilliant! Such a game changer when out in the field. Actually anywhere for that matter!

Paul Parker's picture

Every photographer has a niche. Maybe that could be yours. ;)

Pedro Quintela's picture

Correct me if I´m wrong, but I didn´t read two important items.
I always carry at least a couple of clean microfiber cloths. They are handy to clean everything, cover the lens or eyepiece, for instance.
The other is a hat, you need to cover your head while out there in the sun.

Paul Parker's picture

Micro fibre clothes is an excellent suggestion Pedro!

Peter Gargiulo's picture

I assumed protection from the sun included a hat. However, being without hair, I always have a cycling cap. Protection from the sun, and the visor flips up for when I need to shoot.

Paul Parker's picture

I mention a baseball cap for the same reason Peter. I like how the peak can be moved around to catch the sun whereever it is (Personally, I don't care if it looks wonky etc). Love the use of a cycling hat for shooting. The ability to fold the visor makes it ideal. I'm going to look into that for myself. Many thanks!

Deleted Account's picture

I wear a medium brimmed floppy hat so the brim will easily flip up when shooting and it protects my head, face, ears and neck,

Paul Parker's picture

By a medium brimmed hat do you mean like a trilby? I quiet often wear the hat in my profile pic when shooting & that will easily fold up & move out the way of the camera's eye piece.

Paul Parker's picture

Love that hat! Wasn't aware of that website so thanks very much for the recommendation. Instant bookmark. :)

Kirk Darling's picture

Or just give up shooting verticals.

Paul Parker's picture

Hahaha! If you looked at my portfolio for the last few years you'd be forgiven for thinking I had already done that!

Kirk Darling's picture

It's the nature of shooting for the web.

Paul Parker's picture

That's definitely part of it Kirk. We see the the real world in landscape orientation & in the last few years I've found myself more comfortable in that mode. Almost feeling unatural doing vertical...

Peter Gargiulo's picture

Yes, I also have a Tilly for the same reason. Protects my ears and neck, but flops up when I need to shoot.

Paul Parker's picture

I somehow voted this down by mistake! Upvoted! Big hat fan :)

Mark Houston's picture

Leather work gloves.
Small makeup brush ( the kind that looks like a lipstick tube)
Super Glue

Paul Parker's picture

Excellent additions Mark, I use super glue a lot actually.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Nice article. I carry gum, water and instead of sugary stuff I take a banana or an apple, a bit more messy but way more effective. I also almost always carry wet towels (disinfected wipes).

Paul Parker's picture

Thanks Motti, wet towels is something I always forget to bring. Going to look into buying some now. Thanks for the inspiration!

Dave Knoernschild's picture

Thanks, some real good tips!

Paul Parker's picture

Much appreciated Dave, I'm all for trying to make life easy while on a shoot and these items really have. Hope they make your life easier too. :)

David Laymon's picture

I always keep a few extra bottles of water in my Jeep, plus a first aid kit, and my ever trusty Swiss Army knife in my pocket.

Paul Parker's picture

I do prefer standalone tools but if I had to have a multi tool then the Swiss Army knife would be the one I would pick in a heart beat. Can't fault them.

Kirk Darling's picture

Or I could just bring my mother along. 'Cause she's going to have all that stuff in her purse.

Charles Gaudreault's picture

you win !

Paul Parker's picture

Hahaha! I would love to see that Peli case!

Jay Jay's picture

Surprised you didn't mention what i'd consider the most important piece of gear there is- gaffer's tape. i have it rolled around pens that i can then stick in my camera bag and other places (i even have several strips on top of each other on the back of my camera for extreme emergencies).

Another important piece of gear is an extra set of memory cards for when you somehow ran out of memory when you took a few extra videos too many, etc.

I usually forgo a head mounted light, preferring to look a little hipper with a mini flashlight held between my teeth, which gets zero laughs compared to the head light. :)

Paul Parker's picture

Excellent additions Jay, I do actually keep double sided tape wrapped around the handle of my screwdriver. Your other suggestions are very valid too, but when compiling the list I decided to lean towards the less than obvious ones rather than the ones which we've talked about on the site in the past.

Loving the thought of your flashlight technique btw!

Kirk Darling's picture

I've become exceeding cautious about providing medication of any kind to anyone. In fact, I won't do it anymore, not even a Tylenol.

Paul Parker's picture

I hear you Kirk, I'd try to avoid it if I can myself...

Darrin Price's picture

Just lol'ing at the need to take medication. Why not a first aid kit? Why not anti-histamine tablets, aspirin, paracetamol, cough mixture...

Why not just do a proper risk assessment before each shoot?

Paul Parker's picture

All valid additions Darrin, the few I mention are the ones I specifically take with me & I'm glad that I do. Saved the day a few times.

Regarding a risk assessment it's pretty much going to be the same issues every shoot:

Flu, colds, headaches, sickness, pain.

I'll always remind the team to bring anything they regularly take such as asthma meds, hayfever stuff etc. I can't be a walking chemist!

Niels Veeneman's picture

im missing the most crucial item Gaffers Tape !!!!!

Paul Parker's picture

It's true Niels gaffers tape is a life saver. I didn't include it on the list as its appeared in other lists we have made here before. Definitely a crucial item though. :)

Dina Heidrich's picture

I also carry many of these, including water. Also...model release and pen, chalk and disposable bar coasters to mark where models and props go. Also for landscapes I hike to: a bear bell!! Safety trick I used while I trail rode horses.

I was just at Scott Lake in Oregon jogging (read: panicking) to our camper because of lightning-my husband was inside and heard the bell. He figured it was me or a well-fed bear😉