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We all know about cameras and lighting equipment and all the usual stuff that photographers need to make pictures, but what about all the other little things that go into making a photographer’s life complete? You know, those items that sit forever on your shelf gathering dust until the day comes when you cannot live without it? Or the things that transform the average photographer into a highly successful one? How do you ever know what these things are until you gain enough experience to fill up your life with them one by one?

They never teach any of these things in photography school. Like business courses, they manage to leave out the most important things a photographer needs to know to be a successful professional. This list could be endless, and I’m sure you have a thing or two to add to it, but here is a list of the most basic, indispensable items that take a photographer beyond the beginnings into professionalism. Some of these may seem obvious, some not, but even if there is one thing on this list that helps you, that’s one more thing you won’t have to worry about at the last minute, and, as we all know, every bad thing that happens in life happens at the last minute.

1. Gaffer tape

You simply cannot operate any kind of business, or a life for that matter, without heavy-duty tape! It is the be-all and end-all of must haves in and out of the studio, so make sure you have a few rolls on hand at all times. They will hold clothing together, tape down seamless paper, keep wobbly stands from falling apart, stop leaky pipes, and any other minor and major disaster you may encounter. Get them in different colors – bright colors are great for taping down wires. Never be without gaffer tape!

See also: 10 Reasons Why You Need Gaffer Tape

gaffer tape

2. A-clamps in a number of different sizes

Spring clamps are available in several different sizes, and they are cheap. A combination of one, two and three inch clamps would be a great place to start. The variety of clamps for photography is endless, but these are the most basic: use them to keep your seamless paper from unraveling, or when sandwiching two boards together. When you have too many wires snaking across the floor, they can be a great way to gather them up. Get a bunch! Keep them in the studio and take them on the road.


3. A sturdy utility knife

Nothing cuts better than a good utility knife, especially a knife that will allow you to replace blades, blades that retract. Don’t forget that part. You don’t want to get hurt. When opening boxes or cutting seamless paper you’ll have a handy friend around for all sorts of purposes.

4. A Leatherman

A proper Leatherman is a solid tool that will outlive you. Get the best one you can find. It’s like the superman of Swiss army knives. Sturdy and with every single tool you will ever need and some that you won’t, including a saw. The best of these will cost upwards of one hundred dollars. Don’t skimp! It comes complete with a pouch that fits on your belt. You’ll never be sorry you bought it.

5. A dust buster

Do I have to explain this one? Especially if you’re working with a puppy or doing a Cake Smash shoot with a baby, little messes occur and can be a pain in the back when you have to bend down and sweep something up. Get one of those small hand-held vacuum cleaners and clean up that mess quickly!

6. Velcro wire wrappers

Now these little wonders will make your life neat and clean. When you roll up wires in your studio, they should have one of these wraps attached to them. In fact, every single wire in your possession should have one of these attached to it. Like A-clamps, they come in different sizes: smaller ones for the narrow gauge wires, larger ones for the heavy-duty cables.

7. Mop and bucket

Ha! Sounds silly doesn’t it? And on the other hand, immensely practical. You will hate a cheap mop and bucket. Go to an industrial cleaning supply house and get the manly kind: big, heavy and yellow. This is also one of those items that will outlive you, and every time you use it, you will thank the heavens you followed this good advice.

8. A coffee maker

Someone will always say yes to coffee. It’s one of life’s great pleasures. Even if you don’t drink it yourself, have it ready for clients and anyone else who visits you. While you’re at it, buy really good coffee. The best you can afford. Believe me when I tell you that coffee drinkers will appreciate it. They will come to see you as a photographer they want to do business with and they will tell their friends, which will be great for your business. Keep a supply of different kinds of sugars and milk (I know, fat-free is horrible, but some people do use it.) This small item will make you more friends than you can imagine. It’s the little things that matter most.

9. Extension cords

Twenty-five feet, fifty-feet, one hundred feet; grounded, heavy duty, made of some bright color wrapping, like yellow or orange. Having two of each will fulfill all your possible power configuration needs forever. Don’t ever skimp on extension cords. They just are too important in your lighting life to shortchange yourself, and the heavy-duty ones are life-long and reliable.

10. Water and soda in a refrigerator

Even if you only have a college dorm refrigerator, have one and keep it filled with water and soda. There is nothing more gracious than being able to offer guests a wide variety of things to drink, year round. If you want to know why, see the item above about coffee. If you can afford it, some things to eat, candy bars, granola bars and other kinds of personal snack foods (not big bags of chips, the tiny ones) will be a welcome sight to your clients who are likely busy and hungry people. Feed them – they will love you for it.

11. A rolling closet

Something for people to hang coats on. Something for models to hang outfits on. Make sure it’s on wheels. Once you have one, you won’t understand how you ever lived without one.

12. Plastic storage bins

Go right out to your local big-box store and pick up some small ones and some big ones. Why? Dust. There is dust everywhere in this world and there are lots of things like filters and sync cords and digital and optical slaves, scotch tape and all sorts of other little thing that attract dust. Put everything you own in the studio in them. They’ll be so beautiful stacked up like that, everyone will think you’re neat.

What’s most important about this list is the suggestion that you buy good quality materials to work with. Nothing cheap. You wouldn’t buy cheap cameras if you want to be taken seriously as a photographer, and all these little items add up to a solid business. Your clients notice everything, especially the small things. Give them every reason to come back to work with you.

What is one small tool in your studio you couldn’t work without?

James Schuck

James Schuck is a writer and photographer working in Southern California. He is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City and has photographed everything from Architecture to Auto Parts to Cookies to Portraits and Weddings.

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