- What's in the bag? -
Photo Assistant Toolkit Breakdown
Assisting / 13 July 2020
Here we go, yet another ‘what’s in my bag’ post but hopefully this one is a little different. I’m going to run through the assisting kit that I bring to set each day and the various tools and tricks that I’ve picked up over the last 7 years as a photographic assistant.
As an assistant having a toolkit of essentials with you on set can for starters make your life easier and also make you a more valuable member of the crew. One of the best things to hear from the photographer is - ‘Wait, you have one of those with you?!’ - it shows that you know your stuff and you have thought about what you may need and prepared for the situation.
This kit has evolved over the years and has grown as new needs have arisen, this isn’t a definitive list but includes a bunch of things that have helped out in various situations. There are days where I bring this and don’t even open it and then there are days where I keep running back to grab yet another tool.
If you are just starting out as an assistant you won’t need all of these things immediately but there are certain items that will make life a lot easier. I’ll do my best to point out the essentials vs the ‘nice to have’ items. Plus it can seem like a lot of equipment and it’s not necessary to spend a good amount of money on a kit right off the bat.
The photographers you are working for are quite likely to carry a number of these items as well but carrying them will provide some extra coverage. Things can be forgotten or they might break and to able to provide a replacement in that moment will be appreciated.
It would also be great to hear suggestions of what could be added to the kit that may have been overlooked or solutions you have found to be useful for your own kit.
Hip pouch tool kit
When I’m working on set I’ll always be wearing a tool pouch on my belt, this is for immediate access to the most common tools that are needed on a day to day basis. You could get away with just having all of this kit in the bag and running back and forth but I’ve found the quick access of this really helpful. Fewer trips, things are resolved quicker and every 30 seconds you save on set will be appreciated in the long run.
In the pouch
Leatherman multi tool - Probably the first thing I would recommend any assistant get when building out a kit. It’s a lifesaver and useful for so many things.
1 inch high vis gaffer tape - Gaffer tape is the do everything tool of the photo industry. It’s worth paying for the proper stuff, ProGaff is less likely to leave any residue behind after use so you are less likely to cause damage to a location or studio..
½ inch gaffer tape - 2 or 3 colours - I use these to mark tripod or light positions, the colours can help keep track of which setup.
Rechargeable USB Torch - great for focus checking in low light
Croc clips - great for securing gels
Grey Card (QP Cards)
Laser measuring tool - This is a recent addition and one of my favourites, I have a habit of sketching out the lighting diagram of whatever the setup may be to build a record for the photographer should it need to be recreated in the future. I used to do this with a tape measure and it was a nightmare. Now I stand where the subject would be and can measure the distances of all the lights in a quarter of the time (Plus lasers are cool).
Blu Tack - Always useful for still life shoots.
Lens cloth / lens wipes
Heat Proof gloves - for working with continuous lighting
Post it notes - great for little reminders or lists
Main Kit Bag
I currently use an old Dakine camera backpack for my assisting kit as it has a back panel access and an ICU which keeps things organised nicely plus the ability to strap a tripod or stand on the front if necessary.
Most of this should be fairly self explanatory and again the kit is evolving so some of this will continue to be a part of the kit while other things may be deemed unnecessary depending on how much use they are getting. The digi kit is a growing area that will become it's own kit in time as I expand into providing my own digital operator kit - there will be a post about that when it is all up and running.
So what’s in the bag
More Tape - As I said tape fixes a lot of problems so there’s even more tape in the bag.
1 inch White Gaffer tape
2 inch Black Gaffer tape
Clips and Grip
A clamps - these are bigger and more robust for jobs the crocs cant handle.
Bulldog clips - good for small jobs, still life and styling.
Superclamps x2 - These aren’t used very often but every now and then can be helpful. I often use one for mounting timelapse cameras up high in the studio.
Ratchet multi bit screwdriver
Allen key set
Scissors (Keep track of these, they have a habit of disappearing from time to time for some reason)
AA / AAA Rechargeable batteries
Anker USB power bank
USB Plug adaptor - plus lightning cable and USB C to A cable
This and the power bank are great for keeping phones or tablets charged, these are more often used by clients who may need a charger.
Digi Kit lite
USB C Hub - this includes 3 USB type A 3.0 / HDMI / USB C 100w Power pass through / SD Card reader.
USB 3.0 CF / SD Card reader
HDMI / VGA / DVI to Displayport adaptor
Wacom Bamboo tablet
Tether Cables - these are backups in case the photographers cables fail and have been useful on a number of occasions.
5m Micro B to USB-A
5m Type B to USB-A
Lens cloths / Wipes
Lens cleaning fluid
Rocket air blower
White cotton gloves - good for still life shoots where fingerprints can be an issue.
Plasters / Pain killers - always helpful to have to hand on set if anything happens.
Sticky back plastic