The Bug-Out Bag: Items You Shouldn't Go to a Shoot Without

The Bug-Out Bag: Items You Shouldn't Go to a Shoot Without

For the majority of my life, I was a soldier in the United States Army. As a part of military life, I learned how valuable it was to be prepared for all the things that could go wrong. Many soldiers will build a bug-out bag, also known as a go-bag. A bug-out bag is essentially a bag full of items one might need when in a pinch. Now as a photographer, my bug-out bag is full of all the little items I often am asked if I have or things that can make any shoot go easier. These things have often meant the difference between success and failure on a shoot. Here is the list of stuff I put in my bag.

1. First-Aid Kit - The first-aid kit in my bag is very minimal, mostly because I have a larger one in my car and my studio. Having a Band-Aid on hand is never a bad thing. I have had to use them to bandage minor cuts, and often models ask for them when high heels have gotten the better of them.

All the contents of my bag laid out.

2. Pen - I have had requests for a pen more often than any other item. People need them to take down numbers, write notes, write checks, really for tons of different things. No one seems to carry them any longer, but they are regularly requested.

3. Permanent Marker - Like the pen, having a Sharpie with you just seems to come in handy more often than not. It has been used to color in nails, fix stains on black clothing, and fix a mark on shoes. The uses are endless, but you don't figure that out until you have one with you.

4. Snacks - I always carry a few granola bars or energy bars in my bag. Too often I have been on set longer than I intended or had a model who had not eaten and was getting tired or frustrated. Having a small pick-me-up available has saved numerous shoots. 

5. Super Glue - Single-sized use Super Glue is a complete life saver. It has been used to fix nails, repair clothing, repair equipment, hold up props on the set, and build props last minute. Along with gaffer tape, which again I keep in my car and studio, Super Glue is a must.

6. A Lighter - from lighting cigarettes to candles, melting tips of eyeliner pencils to burning the frayed ends of clothing, having a lighter on hand turns out to be something everyone should have.

7. A Flashlight - I think we all have had moments when shooting outdoors, where time just got away from us. I have used my flashlight as a focus assist in dark quarters, as well as looking around our area upon clean up to ensure no expensive items are left behind. 

8. Double-Sided Tape - Double-sided tape can be used to hold clothing against the skin, particularly when a blouse is very loose, but you are trying to avoid showing cleavage. It has been used to create and hold folds in clothing, and to keep things just right for the perfect photo. 

9. Nail Clippers and File - In my experience, nails seem to be the most overlooked item of personal hygiene. Numerous times I have had people arrive to be photographed, only to discover that their nails are long, dirty, or unkept. While some of these items can be fixed in Photoshop, it is easier to ask the model to fix it during hair and make-up. 

10. Tylenol - Any pain killer will do, and in fact, I have Motrin, Tylenol, and Midol in this bottle. From headaches to cramps, various aches and pains can send a shoot completely off course. Being able to offer a small relief for anyone on your set is always appreciated.

11. A Box of Straws - Once your make-up artist is done with their work, you don't want it to get messed up, but you also do not want your model to dehydrate while you are working. Having a straw available solves both these issues. 

12. Breath Mints - Let's face it, having bad breath is a major distractor. I work under the philosophy of when in doubt, pop one anyway. One of the first things I do when meeting with someone or just before everyone shows on set is to pop a breath mint. These are the little things you can do to make sure that you aren't distracting those you with whom you work. It is just a part of professionalism but often is overlooked.

13. Stain Remover - Make-up gets on clothing all the time. In my studio, I have face nets that a model can use when pulling clothing overhead, which prevents make-up transfer, yet it seems whatever precaution I take, make-up often finds its way onto the clothes. Having something immediately on hand can save the day. Use this with caution, particularly if the clothing has been "pulled" from a designer or boutique. Often these people want to fix their clothes.

14. Lint Roller - A must when shooting anything black. Hair, lint, and other particulates find their way onto clothing all the time. Instead of wasting valuable time fixing it in Photoshop, do it on set.

15. Safety Pins -These things are life savers. Broken bra straps, clothing that lays weird, holding accessories in place; a safety pin fixes it all. Although often brought by stylist, it is never a bad thing to have on hand.

16. Cotton Balls - Used with nail polish remover (item 23) or for make-up application. Cotton balls are a universally useful item to have.

17. Tissues - Blowing noses or wiping tears, don't leave these out.

18. Lotion - Nothing is more frustrating than sitting down at the computer, zooming in on your photos, and seeing dry skin patches. Having lotion on set, particularly for elbows and knees, can save you a massive headache later on.

19. Push Pins - Used for making hems, fastening clothing back, and numerous other quick fixes. 

20. Clear Rubber Bands - Although I always try to communicate with my hair team before a shoot, there are times when we get wild on set. These bands can be used in the hair or for fixing items together.

21. Wet Wipes - From cleaning hands to wiping down spills, I don't know how people operate without these handy little wipes.

22. Static Guard - Used to eliminate static on clothing. There is nothing worse in the world than trying to get static charged clothing to work for a photo.

23. Nail Polish Remover - As previously stated, nails are often overlooked. Models frequently have shown up with nails colored in a way that will not work with the clothing or that are chipped. Asking them to remove the nail polish is the easiest solution to this problem. Don't fix it in Photoshop, just take it off before the shoot.

24. Spray Deodorant - Make sure you get the spray kind, as using a roll-on that someone else has used isn't good. I also carry a brand that will not show on black or white clothing. After hours of shooting, I have often been asked if I have this item on hand.

25. Lens Wipes - I wear glasses and they get dirty. If I can't see, I can't shoot.

26. Sunscreen - If you are working outside, this becomes a must. No one wants to see you or your model change colors after a few hours of work.

27. Scissors

28. Clear Nail Polish - Stops stockings and nylons from running if a snag has occurred.

29. Blotting Tissues - Blotting tissues help absorb oils on the skin, preventing your model from getting shiny.

30. Hand Sanitizer

31. Chapstick - Give lips some moisture so you aren't photoshopping on new lips.

32. Anti-Shine Gel - I use this with men in particular. Many men do not arrange for hair or make-up for a shoot. This gel is used to reduce shine on their skin. A must for anyone working with men. A little dab of this stuff goes a long way.

33. Binder Clips - Used more than any other item on this list. They don't even go in the bag. They are clipped to the strap because I reach for them so often. Primarily used to clip ill-fitting clothing.

34. Thank You Cards - This industry is about remaining memorable to your clients. Thanking them for their business, in writing, certainly makes you stand out from the competition.

35. Blank Cards - Used to hand payment to hair, make-up, models, or whoever else you might need to pay. I have always thought it was more classy than giving them cash in the open. Additionally, you can write a note inside thanking them for their work. Photography is all about relationship building.

36. Hair ties

37. Bobby Pins - Get those loose hairs under control.

These are the items I have found over the years to be essential. While I might not use them every time I work, not having them would have made my job much more challenging, if not impossible, on more than one occasion. My bug-out bag sits on top of my camera case and goes on every shoot I do. If you were building your bag, what are some items you might add?

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27 Comments

And don't forget this :D

David Parish's picture

With the kitchen sink already in my bag, not sure I could fit the sewing machine! In all seriousness, my bag with these items is fairly small.

Kitchen sink :D Dude you've made my day. #MacGyver

Rodford Smith's picture

Not my exact selection, but emergency kits are as individual as the people who carry them. I have a photo backpack for my camera gear, including things like spare memory cards and batteries, spring clips and gaffer tape. Besides having that on board, I also put a hard-sided, waterproof case containing first aid, fire starting and other equipment which goes in top part. Even without that I keep three or four food bars of two or three different types in the outside pockets of the bag. It's amazing how often having a few hundred Calories handy can save the day, even if that is just a matter or reviving someone's flagging energy. :-)

David Parish's picture

I agree on those food bars! Completely turned around a shoot on a few occasions for me!

Anonymous's picture

"10. Tylenol - Any pain killer will do, and in fact, I have Motrin, Tylenol, and Midol in this bottle. "

This is absolutely asking for a lawsuit.

"Any pain killer" will definitely not do, and you never ever ever EVER mix painkillers in a bottle.

Aspirin allergy is a very real thing with very real, potentially fatal consequences that could visit whoever mistakenly takes it long before you get them off the location.

You don't specifically mention aspirin (though 'any pain killer will do' is alarming enough).

But two of the medicines you mention here, as I understand it (I'm english), contain ibuprofen. Up to 20% of people allergic to aspirin may have the same symptoms when encountering other NSAIDS like ibuprofen.

If you do not want to accidentally hospitalise or actually kill someone, never assume your drug tolerances are the same as anyone else, and never mix painkillers in a bottle!

Never take a painkiller or any other medicine (even sore throat lozenges) onto a location without the instructions from the drug packaging.

Yeesh.

(And yes, I really did register just to say this. I like Fstoppers much of the time, but do try not to get people killed.)

Only in USA. In every other country people use common sense and know by themself which kind of pain medicine they can take and would only thank you if you had one in stock. If they have alergies they know about them and not just take pills and sue afterwards. People think. You are not working with kids...

Anonymous's picture

I'm not in the USA.

And what I am saying is, the jar in the photo says "Tylenol" on it. But it's a lottery -- it also contains ibuprofen!

Here's a scenario that would also harm an adult who checks they can take the medicine:

You're busy. Someone says "do you have any painkillers?" "Sure, they are in my bag pocket, just over there". Said person looks at jar, it says tylenol, thinks "cool, those I can take". In a hurry, empties two into their hand, takes them with water... goes into anaphylactic shock.

Not a very difficult scenario to understand. To know any different would require the unwitting recipient to be able to tell the tablets apart visually. In my experience that is not possible.

It's bloody dangerous to mix tablets in a jar.

If you take two medicines onto a shoot, take them in separate jars. It's not difficult and it is essential.

David Parish's picture

Mike - thanks for your feedback, honestly mix the pills in a bottle has been a common practice of mine for more than 21 years. Tylenol and Asprin are shaped very differently, Asprin being primarily round and Tylenol being an oval. I have never faced an issue, but I have also never had anyone bring up this point. Thanks for pointing it out. You are right, separating them takes very little effort. Again, I appreciate the feedback.

Anonymous's picture

No worries; my apologies for the rather direct tone and thanks for your response.

gabe s's picture

Please don't reuse the chapstick on different people.

David Parish's picture

Ewww... no. When asked for, most people use a Q-tip to apply.

Tam Nguyen's picture

What about toilet paper? You never know when you need some.

Rodford Smith's picture

Sanitary hand wipes can substitute for that.

David Parish's picture

Valid point! The tissues and the wet wipes have both been used for that purpose in the past. Perhaps I should add that to the bag.

I would add individually wrapped alcohol swabs to your first-aid kit.

David Parish's picture

Good idea! There are a few in the first aid kit, but you could always use more! Plus they can be used to clean other surfaces, like my glasses, in a pinch.

Do you have a link to the bag in the top picture? I can't seem to find it anywhere.

Jay Jay's picture

Forget that scotch tape. Everyone *really* needs to have a roll of gaffer's tape on them. I regularly wrap a generous amount around sharpies, as well as light stands, so it's always there when i need it in a pinch.

spencer skelly's picture

Totally missed your reply before saying the same thing, I love having gaffer tape when I need it.

Jay Jay's picture

Next to my camera, gaffer's tape is prob one of the most important pieces of photographic equipment i have

spencer skelly's picture

Great list! Some things will definitely be added to my bag. Another thing I do is wrap some gaffer tape around various items so I have it when I need it... which is way more often than I would think. Even a foot around a sharpie doesn't add much bulk, but a ton of use. A cigarette or two can help, especially at weddings. A small bottle of water helps, too.

Jay Jay's picture

I have a battery grip, so i also tape 2 2" strips to the back of the grip, one on top of the other. I pretty much have it on everything, bc it really does come in handy when you need it.

Jonathan Schwind's picture

Insect repellant. Summers in the south can be downright brutal.

Dana Goldstein's picture

OK David I know it's a year old article now, but I have to say this: add a small pack of tampons to that kit and you'll save the day sooner or later. It's probably the first thing every woman photographer who read the article thought of. :) Great list otherwise and a very happy successful new year to you!

David Parish's picture

That is a solid recommendation! Thanks!