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Don’t Forget The Essentials

Leaving the studio to shoot on location whether in Jamaica or simply across town can be exciting, fun, and is always a challenge. Most photographers love travel and cite the chance to see the world as a top reason for getting into the biz in the first place. Having worked in far-flung locales such as China and Alaska, I can attest to the lure of unknown lands and the promise of exotic subjects that I’ve never photographed. Yet there’s a danger associated with travel. Have you ever arrived to a location shoot and realized with horror that you’ve forgotten some essential piece of gear? I have and let me tell you that it’s not a fun place to be.

Once I had the pleasure of setting up an outdoor portrait session in a small Arizona town only to find halfway through the process that my assistant had forgotten the flash batteries. It wasn’t only embarrassing, it was also a major hassle to postpone the shoot for 20 minutes while he sped off to the nearest store for some AAs. I was fortunate that the subject was understanding and that I wasn’t in such a remote location that batteries were unavailable. Yet it was this brush with disaster that persuaded me to change my process so that I never had to wonder if I was forgetting the “small stuff.” 

See more: Studio vs. Outdoor Photography

photographer shooting female outdoors

When it’s time to pack and prepare for a location shoot, I now approach the process with nuts-and-bolts practicality. There might be thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment to transport, set up, and possibly repair on site, so it pays to be thorough in the packing. The last thing you want is to waste your or your client’s time scrambling to make up for an oversight, or worse, being unable to perform your job because of missing or faulty gear. Knowing in advance what you’ll need is half the battle, remembering to bring it is of course the other half. To help get you started, here’s a breakdown of what you should never be without on your next location shoot.

Packing Equipment and Accessories

Obviously you’ll need your cameras! And lenses. It almost goes without saying but I know photographers who have either lost or destroyed these items while traveling, so don’t neglect to include backups on your list. Also, list the lenses you need so none are missing when you need them.

male photographer setting up camera in canyon

Photoshoot Checklist

Then there are the many smaller items and accessories.

Here’s a list of items that absolutely must be available while working:

1. Extra memory cards with more capacity than you think you’ll need.

2. Extra batteries for camera and flash. Don’t forget to charge them before walking out the door.

3. Battery charger. Yes you may need to recharge on-site.

4. Tripod. This should always be with you.

5. Sensor cleaning kit and lens cleaning cloth. These can be lifesavers when dust shows up.

6. A laptop if shooting tethered, and a laptop stand such as Savage Universal’s Air Flow Tech Table to protect your setup.

7. Necessary cables for cameras, lights, and computer.

8. Backup media for ensuring you keep your files intact.

9. Flash units and/or lighting. Be prepared by bringing a complete set of lights and battery packs.

10. Extension cords, power strips, and plug adapters. These will be essential!

11. Light stands, umbrella heads, and ankle weights for anchoring your stands.

12. Reflectors. These can be key when using ambient light.

13. Pocket Wizards for remote flash operation.

14. Gels and filters for lenses and flashes.

15. Clamps of various sizes for holding down anything from fabric to backgrounds.

16. Velcro straps and

 for instant adhesion.

17. A spool of fishing line for making nearly-invisible modifications to fabric.

18. A backdrop travel kit that setups up quickly with no tools required.

19. Shade umbrellas. Here in Arizona these can make the difference between a comfortable experience and a hellish one, both for you and the model.

20. A step ladder. You never know when you’ll want to get higher up for perspective, or simply to be able to reach something tall such as a car rooftop.

21. Clean towels and a blanket. These work great for wrapping around your model to keep clothes looking clean between shooting, or just for general clean up.

22. Lint rollers are fantastic to have on hand. You can instantly clean dark clothing with them.

23. Shoe polish kit. Your model’s shoes may need a touch-up before shooting.

24. A black sheet with a hole cut from the middle. This is an excellent portable changing room for your model – just poke the model’s head through the hole, and change clothes underneath for instant privacy when needed.

25. Knee pads. If you’ve worked on your knees before, then you know why this is important!

26. Bags and cases for everything.

27. If traveling by air, bring your passport and driver’s license.

28. Food and water. Snacks and hydration are keys to success on set.

29. A good hat. A wide-brimmed hat is great for shielding the sun from your eyes and camera screen.

The Beauty of Lists

I encourage you to make your own list before heading out for your next shoot. Because the necessary gear differs according to the style of shoot, you’ll want to modify it depending on your subject. Either way you’ll guarantee that you don’t forget anything by checking off the items one by one. Remember it only takes one mistake to potentially ruin a location shoot. Make that list and you’ll give yourself a much better chance of success.  

Elias Butler

Elias Butler is a professional photographer and writer based in Arizona. He's written a book titled "Grand Obsession" and has been published in Sierra, USA Today, and Arizona Highways among many others. See Butler's website here.


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