Twenty+ Non-Photographic Essentials For Location Photography

Twenty Plus Non Photographic Essentials for Location Photography

We all know about checklists for our photography gear. Making sure we don’t get 50 miles out in the desert and find we forgot our tripod mount, or sync cord, or stands or worse. Much worse. I have a checklist that I go through, and I also have started to keep packed for location work. So much of my work lately is out of the studio… and in the studio I already have enough gear that I don’t really have to touch most of my location gear.

Organization is the key to productivity.

So is being able to work quickly and efficiently. And having what you need is one of the most important things to provide peace of mind. I love it when someone asks “Do you have any hairpins?” “Yep.” “A steamer?” “Yep.” “Wouldn’t it be great if we had something to mount that little thing to that other little thing?” “Yeah, I got somethin’…”

And almost all of it is in my location kit B case. It isn’t too big, but it gets the job done. In it are mostly non-photographic tools that go with me everywhere. That kit saves my butt on many a job, so I thought I would share the most essential tools and things I carry. And most of them aren’t expensive or hard to find.

Before we get started down that road, I want to remind you that we do workshops all over the country. Visit my Learn to Light site for more information on the workshops. They are fun, intense and full of information that you actually use… on site with me and your team. Take a look and if you see something you are interested in, and have questions, give me a call.

The summer has had a lot of not-so-good economic news, and there doesn’t seem to be much on the horizon to cheer us up. A lot of people are wondering if Photography may be the way to go to earn a little income. I think that is possible, but working smart and being prepared will be your biggest asset when confronting the competition and dealing with clients.

Learn to Light at a weekend workshop

Non Photography Essentials
EDIT: Check the comments for more ideas.

1. Bed Sheet with Hole in the center
If you have ever been on a location with a model and no place for her to change, it can end up wasting a lot of time as you look for somewhere for her to find a little privacy. Finding a cheap bed sheet at Target and cutting a hole in the middle of it makes a perfect small changing room. Find someone who knows how to sew and they can put a nice edge on the hole so it doesn’t rip. If you don’t know anyone, simply use gaffer’s tape, folding it over the cut edges for a trim.

When a model needs a place to change, she can poke her head through the middle of the sheet and change under it. Not perfect, but a very nice quick changing room. Mine is a white one so I can use it as a large bounce if I need to, but most of the time it serves its purpose as a changing room.

2. Shower Curtain
I love shower curtains from Target. Get the white cloth ones… not the plastic ones. The plastic ones have flourescents in them which can add strange color and if it is cold they are stiff and unusable. The white, cloth shower curtain is a staple for my location kit. I have 3 in different cases.

They make great scrims for shooting a light through. They can be taped to a wall for using a bounce flash. And they can make a nice, large reflector for bouncing natural light. Stretch them between stands or clamp them to a painting pole and they are a great light source.

Put a speedlight or a ProFoto behind them and they become a large 5×6 foot softlight. And they roll up into a tiny little space that takes up almost no room.

3. Clamps
Clamps… man I love clamps. I have big ones and medium ones and tiny ones. And I have a lot of them. Some with magnets, some with hooks and some old time metal ones… the ones that look like wood clamps. A visit to Home Depot will get a whole bag full for around $20.

If you can get the large clamps (like on my cover shot) they will have holes in the handles. And those holes can work for hanging fishing line or cord or even bungees. I don’t necessarily buy the expensive ones even though I do have 6 of them for the studio, as I find the cheap ones work great and if I forget one or lose one, it doesn’t hurt too much.

From clamping a piece of cardboard to a stand for a bounce to clamping the shirt behind the model to pull it a size smaller, the clamps get used all the time at nearly every shoot. And with the hole, you can mount a speedlight umbrella bracket to it. Very sweet.

I am not counting the Magic Clamps and the Manfrotto’s that I have as they are actually made for photography.

4. Flashlights
If you have ever been shooting in a very low light situation with a model all in black, you know the experience of having your camera “hunt” for the exposure… going back and forth because it can’t find something with contrast on it to make the focus. With a nice flashlight, an assistant can hold the light on the model’s face and the camera will have something to focus on. Don’t worry, in most cases there isn’t enough light to affect your exposure.

I have a small one that goes in my camera bag, and a pretty good sized one for the kit. I also have a 10million candle flashlight that comes in handy on location when it starts to get dark and you just need some light to get packed up by. You can use that for those tricky backlit shots with a lot of flare that also keeps your focus tricky.

BTW, you can even do a headshot with one of them if there is enough ambient. Keep it charged and keep it with you on location, you wont regret it. They are only about $25, so they wont break the bank.

5. Fishing Line
Yes. Fishing line. Keep a thin and a medium roll of fishing line. You don’t need hooks or sinkers or worms, you just need the line. It is very easy to touch out of a photograph and can be used to pull bridal gowns into the wind, or holding something vertical that seems to be sagging. Make sure you have something to cut it with and keep it tightly wound… believe me, you don’t want to let it get all unraveled in your kit.

6. Clothesline
A cheap roll of clothesline is something that goes with me everywhere. I can lash something down with it, or tie something together. Or hang the shower curtain with it. There are so many things you can do with 50 feet of line. And it is something that if you need it, there is nothing else that will do.

Cotton line is my favorite. I don’t use the plastic as the knots so often will not hold.

7. Tupperware
Heh. Yeah. They can keep some stuff dry when it decides to rain. I live in Arizona. I have heard about rain… it could be bad for some gear. I have a few small ones and one big one that will hold my laptop if needed. They can also hold the super glue, fishing line and small clamps, so they do double duty.

8. Superglue and Gaffer’s Tape
Oh yeah. Gotta always have a little tube of super glue. Again, if you need it there is nothing else that will do. I have actually super glued a stand together on a shoot. It held for the shot at least.

Gaffer’s tape in black and white always go along as well. If I want it to be removed later, I gaffer it up. If not, superglue to the rescue. Gaffer’s tape is used for other things than photography, soI am including it here with the other non-photo tools.

9. All-in-one hammer/knife/saw/wrench Thingy
You can see the one I use in the cover shot. Make sure you have one with you at every shoot. The possibilities of the uses are endless. And it is so much easier than carrying a whole tool kit. On large shoots, I do carry a tool kit, but most of the time on the small shoots, the non-gear gear kit is what goes with me. BTW, don’t forget and pack this away in your camera bag when you fly. Or you can spend some time looking for another one.

Lots of non-photography tools that I carry in my kit for location work.

10. Garbage Bags
Self explanatory. And they can be used for covering gear in the rain, keeping models hair dry, holding wet shower curtains, and for already worn wardrobe. I use the Glad black 40 gallon ones. Big and tough.

11. Walkie Talkie’s
I like the little Motorola ones. Good distance, clear reception and they don’t squawk all the time. Great for keeping in touch with team members who may have to be at some distance. Sure saves on shouting and waving arms around like an idiot.

12. Umbrellas
Not photographic ones. Shade umbrellas. Or even those little cabana things. Shooting in the hot sun can be tough on your head and tough on your camera. A black camera and lens out in the sun in the Arizona desert can get hot enough for third degree burns. And, worse, the lenses have been known to get hot enough that the elements can slightly shift.

I use lighter color ones, and beach umbrellas clamped to a stand to keep the camera and flashes cooler.

13. Shoe Shine Kit
If you have ever shot with a model with scuffed shoes, it is wonderful to be able to clean up the shoes a little. I carry the three most popular color, with a brush and a cloth. Tips are welcome. Pick one of these up at Target.

14. Lint Roller
Absolutely a must. I don’t want to sit at the computer and touch out lint or dust or pet hair… Not one minute longer than I need to. And to be able to practically eliminate that with a $4 lint roller? Sorry, it goes everywhere with me.

15. Makeup Box / First Aid
Hit the local Ulta store and be prepared to spend about $25-$30. You need some powders in a bottle, the shaker kind. Lighter, medium and darker for skin tones. Don’t get the compact type because we don’t want to pass on something from one model to another. With the shaker powder the model puts some on her hand or a paper towel and then pats on it with a round sponge applicator (get a bag of those) or a brush. If you get brushes, get a pack of mediums and get cheap ones. More than likely you will not be passing them from one model to another. They are one use only. A bag of sponge applicators are about $4 – should last you a long time. These are for moments when the model has forgotten to bring something you need. In most cases, hopefully, she will have it or you will at least be working with a Make Up Artist.

Nail polish and Polish remover are important. I found one of those little sample kits at Ulta with about 12 colors in it. For $4. It is another one of those things that when you need it, there is no replacement. A couple of packs of fake fingernails aren’t a bad idea either.

If you have a MUA, then this is not necessary. But if you don’t, a little kit like this is very nice to have around. I do not deal with all kinds of makeup… just powder and nails.

Add in a couple of first aid things as you build a kit. Band aids, neosporin, aloe vera and some cotton balls make up my little first aid portion. I also have some tweezers and such. You can fine a little first aid kit at Home Depot or Walgreens.

16. Hair Ties, Hairspray
Absolutely important. Grab a bag and a can of hairspray. Get some hair clips as well. Again, black and white are all I get… colors become to difficult to match. I saw an infomercial about some clips that can hide bra straps so I bought a kit of those as well. They are pretty cool and work with for a lot of styles.

17. Bungee Cords
Big ones, small ones, ball bungees and multiple hook ones. Spend ten or fifteen bucks and get a whole bag of them

18. Anti-Static spray / Steamer
A spray can of anti-static spray can take the wrinkles out of pants and blouses that have static in them. And a steamer can work miracles on a dress or even a t-shirt that has been twisted en-route. You have to access to electricity for the steamer, but it goes with me in the kit anyway.

19. Mirrors
Small and medium mirrors are great for touching up hair and makeup. I keep a bunch in the kit bag to make sure that I have something when it is needed. They are cheap, and light so they travel well. I have also used them to bounce a little light where I want it as well.

20. Extension Cords / Multiple Outlets
Oh yeah… you must have an extension cord or two, and a couple of the surge-protector kind of multiple outlet strips. These are the things that can make the difference between moving quick and fast and being delayed while someone runs to Home Depot for an extension cord. I also carry a couple of screw-in bulb/cord outlet with the on/off chain on them. Easy to control the extraneous lights when you can turn each off one by one if needed.

Oh, and a few more:
Clothes Pins
Sewing kit
Lens cleaning solution
scotch tape
tethering tools (for lines, not shooting)
ground spikes
extra stand mounts
vice grips (1 medium, 2 small)
allen wrenches
4 Bogen super clamps
carpet knife
loupe (spare)
small lint brush
… little things that are so important…

Thanks for visiting. I hope you enjoyed the article and please leave any questions or comments you may have. BTW, you really should follow me on Twitter. Lots of good ideas come daily.

See you next time on Lighting Essentials.

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  1. For waterproofing (and anything other than one-time-very-brief use) consider replacing your garbage bags with trash compactor bags. The plastic is WAY tougher, and they basically never rip or tear, which garbage bags invariably do under any kind of extended use.

    • Great idea. I don’t really use them more than once, but the toughness is a good consideration. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Absolulely GREAT list. Many of them I already have and take, but there you have a few that I had not thought of or that are improvements on what I already take to location shoots.

    Not only is the “non-photography” gear as important as camera and lights, but I would also add that the way you PACK it is crucial. I always pack everything everytime in exactly the same way and in the same bag and in the same pocket/place in each bag.

    Not only does is help me notice before hitting the road if there is something I have forgotten, it also helps me grab things fast while on location. I do alot of portrait work with children, and fumbling around looking for things or making them wait too long leads to a less successful shoot.

  3. Wiz, you amaze me with the knowledge you carry around in that head. I’ve moved to Washington but you’re still giving me tips that can help me out no matter where I am. I’m grateful to have been able to work with you once, I learned so much from that shoot as well.

    I, for one, would love to see many more posts like this. Imparting that knowledge to photographers like me which are trying to establish themselves is one of the greatest things you can do, in my humble opinion anyway.

    By the way, if you ever have a workshop in Spokane, WA I’ll be there.

    • One coming up in Seattle in a few weeks. Special Friday shoot added for those who have attended other workshops.

  4. This fairly well mirrors what I keep in one of my bags – but I’ve recently added a set of Allen wrenches.

    And water is one thing that we can all hope goes without saying… but is an absolute requirement at least here in Arizona. Lots of water.

    • You are correct sir. I forgot that I do indeed carry one of those little multi-head screw drivers and Allen wrench set. Good points.

  5. Sharpies, they always seem to come in handy.

  6. You should add a sewing kit and safety pins – a small set is fine in a pinch – those ones you can snag from the hotel room are plenty!

    • I do carry a sewing kit. I forgot because it is actually in my camera bag and not in the little kit box that I use. Good catch!

  7. I will also add sunscreen and UV protection lotions. Sunlight during long shooting may be harmful wether for pphotographer as for models.

    And i am also getting used to travel to location with one or two small foldable ladders…


    • Excellent. Sunscreen is a great one. I need to get a step-stool. Good call.

  8. Really great post! Do you keep all that extra stuff in tupperware or are you using a different container?

    • I have a case and a Tupperware with smaller tupperwares in it. The case is an old split top case I used to use for my RB’s.

  9. Thank you – good information.

  10. that’s a good information!sun screen is really a great addition to your list!thank you…..

  11. Flashlight I use is the little 6 LED ball light at the Ocean job lots 6bucks and lasts forever on two AA. It also has a head strap so you can use as a “miner” set up on your head in low light.

    much better light with no weight and you can hand hold with the camera while taking a picture.

  12. I always have a film tube of Tylenol or some other kind or aspirin in my bag. But I’m guessing you include that with your first aid kit.

    Something that years of camping and backpacking has taught me is to never buy any small accesory in black or camoflauge. When I drop something, I want it to stick out from its surroundings. Red, yellow and bright blue are my go-to options in flashlights and knives and anything else.

    Also, small walkie-talkies are good if you are shooting on a larger location.

  13. Again, Great post, Don!!

  14. Great post, you reminded me that I really need to go get some of those clamps at home depot. I keep totally forgetting. Although I have to say that this list is a little to large for me, because I basically park my car, and have to walk quite a few blocks to even meet my clients downtown. I can’t imagine carrying all this stuff for a shoot. I would definitely die. But I can see that if you were at just one location it would be easy to have all this in your trunk in a big duffel, like a bag of tricks. So far my biggest savior has been a pen. From signing model release forms, to writing phone numbers down It’s invaluble. I also make sure I have tons of spare batteries, to supplement my recharchables. Anyways great stuff. I’m going to have to try the bedsheet trick, although i imagine the sun would have to be fairly low in the sky before you could get it to fully come through a bed sheet? or am I missing something here? Do you have like 15ft stands?

  15. Great list! I wear a pair of gardening knee protectors for those low angle shots. Looks odd, but my knees are grateful! If I am going to a zoo or place with glass between the subject and the camera, I have a black lined wide brimmed hat. It is white on the outside to reflect heat from the sun and the black side helps decrease reflections in the glass and aids in seeing the LCD.

  16. Thanks for this Don. Some things I had never thought about but made perfect sense. I will have to add some of these to my kit. Good thinkin

  17. Don:

    I like to keep a couple of dry-cleaner hangers with me, along with shiny round card stock (as in the top of most aluminum take-out carriers). I shoot a lot of products, and the hangers and cards are perfect additions to add \"kicker lites\" just where you need them on a tabletop set…



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