10 Tools Event Photographers Should Have in Their Bag
Here is a list of must-have items that I always carry with me when I am hired to photograph corporate events of any size. While I always have these items with me, this is by no means an all-inclusive list. And while some of the items might seem obvious, I am always surprised that many event photographers don’t include these items on their checklists.
Checklist? Maybe I should have included a “checklist” on my top ten items list. As an event photographer, I find checklists invaluable to not only make sure I haven’t forgotten anything, (hey, it happens) but also to help ease my anxiety as I prepare for an event. Another trick I have learned is to keep my camera bag organized in such a way that every item has an assigned place. That way, if there are any empty spaces anywhere in the bag, I know I have forgotten something. This also helps at the end of the day to remind me if I have left something behind.
Okay, so here we go and in no particular order of importance……,
After many years and much money spent, I have finally found a flash bracket that I am happy with. I have settled on a Custom Brackets RF Pro. It’s lightweight and separates the flash from the camera. More importantly, this rotating bracket gives me both horizontal and vertical flash positions. I bounce flash a lot and this helps me keep the shadows to a minimum as well as letting me adjust the flash into a plethora of angles and directions. It works both with the camera in portrait or landscape mode. As a plus, I can also set the camera and flash down and it stays upright and easy to grab.
Tungsten and Fluorescent Gels
Without delving too deep into color temperature how’s and whys, different light sources emit light in different colors (temperatures). Here is a great article giving a thorough explanation. Relatively speaking, Daylight is blue, tungsten or incandescent light is orange, and fluorescent is green. Flash is similar to daylight. When the light sources falling on your subject are the same, everything is fine, but if multiple light sources are hitting your subject you can get ugly and distracting colors, particularly in skin tones. This mixing of lights can be hard to correct for, even in Photoshop. This is a common problem when using flash in tungsten or fluorescent-lit rooms. To make my life much easier in post, I will gel my flash to match the dominant light source in the room. I carry two different colors of gels. For tungsten, an orange gel or 1/2 to 1/4 CTO and a fluorescent (green) gel for fluorescent-lit room. You can purchase 12 by 12 gel sheets at camera stores or light shops and just measure and cut to create strips. I then just Velcro over the front of my on-camera flash. In a pinch, I have also taped or rubber-banded the gel in place.
Two Remote Flash Triggers and a Commander
My triggers of choice are Pocket Wizards, though I have heard that less expensive brands are also available and just as reliable. Having radio transmitters used to be critical before I upgraded to Speedlites with wireless communication and control, but I still find them valuable in certain situations. One of my favorite tricks is to place a second camera with a wide-angle, mounted on a tripod, close to the stage and armed with a Pocket Wizard. I carry a second trigger in my pocket and use this to fire remotely for some great close up stage shots without me having to be stage side. I can then focus on other shots from different locations throughout the venue.
I know a photographer who carries one of these where ever she goes. I used to think it was too much, but every time we worked together, I would end up borrowing it. I finally caved and started bringing one myself and while I don’t always use it when I need it, I need it. Getting elevated can help crowded room shots and gives a slightly different perspective. It also works great as a workbench or a makeshift place to rest your feet if you find you have a few seconds. It’s easy enough to leave this item in the trunk if you don’t think you will need it but I always have one available.
The one filter that Lightroom doesn’t emulate very well, I use a polarizer for outdoor shots to add pop to colors, remove glare and reflections and capture beautiful blue skies and clouds when possible. More importantly, a polarizer can give me an added four stops which is helpful when you are using fill-flash in bright outdoor situations. Golf tournament group shots come to mind. Being able to slow the shutter down by 4 stops oftentimes gets my shutter speed into a safe, flash sync number that I need it to be for outdoor flash. Handy tool to have.
USB Flash Drive
Small, portable, I always carry a few of these for delivering images on the fly, transferring to others, slide show presentations, and well, you know what they are used for.
SD-CF Card Reader
Most laptops and computers have built-in SD card readers but only a few have CF card readers. Since I shoot dual cards, RAW files on my CF cards and jpegs on my SD, if for some reason I need to transfer files to a computer other than my own, let’s say to a marketing rep, then I have learned to have both options available.
Portable Light Stands With Umbrellas
Depending on the situation, I may leave these in the trunk, but I always have them nearby just in case. Impromptu headshots, speaker shots, even magazine cover shots are possible if you have a ” light stand and umbrella kit” handy. My kit consists of 2 Manfrotto 6 foot stands similar to this one, and two 60″ Westcott Satin umbrellas with adaptors so that I can mount Speedlights. I store my kit in a Manfrotto light stand bag which neatly holds the stands and umbrellas and is small enough so that I can easily throw the whole thing over my shoulder. This kit is also handy in situations where maybe a small stage or presentation is not lit. Five minutes setup and my images improve 100%.
Monopod & Tripod
These are must-haves. I use a monopod regularly for shooting keynotes and large rooms with my Mark IV and 70-200. See my article here for details on this combo. I Use a tripod for low light levels, mounting a second camera as mentioned, and for shooting booths and large crowded rooms. Tripods open up a whole world of possibilities that are just not available hand-holding.
Believe it or not, I didn’t always carry a laptop. But as digital has evolved, and with the popularity of social media, many times our clients just expect to have images available on the fly. While I currently shoot large RAW files and smaller jpegs that I can just download to them, sometimes I still need to adjust or resize and a laptop becomes a necessity. I have a small enough laptop that I fit in the front pocket of my camera bag and have it with me just in case.
One of the best investments you can make. However, this is not as easy as it seems. I can easily spend 12 hours on my feet for large events and have walked upwards of 12-15 miles a day photographing major conventions. Comfortable shoes that also look good and are outfit appropriate depending on the setting clients you are working in should not be overlooked. I’m a tennis shoe and hiking boot kind of guy and while both qualify as comfortable, they are not always appropriate. Over the years, finding the perfect shoes for every event has been an ongoing mission. When I have found shoes that I like, I will oftentimes purchase 2 or three pairs to be able to switch out during the day and to make sure I have an extra pair should they discontinue the line. It can be rejuvenating to switch to clean socks and fresh shoes in the middle of a long day or right after a long day is about to become a late night. Comfortable shoes, a must-have.
Well, there you have it. A small list of top items that I always carry with me when photographing an event of any size in Las Vegas or San Diego. I am sure you can think of at least 20 more items to add to this list and I welcome your suggestions and thoughts. Until next time……