Using these tools can save you time - and headaches - when DP’ing your next project.
Many thanks to Bud Simpson for the guest post!By default, filmmakers are gear-heads and equipment-junkies. The profession is always changing, and therefore so are the tools that we use. However, there a few timeless accessories that every beginner DP should own, and carry with them on each project.
These lesser-known, but tried-and-true accessories can save you time - and headaches - when DP’ing your next project. Because as a director of photography just starting out, you’re constantly learning how to work quickly and efficiently while simultaneously engineering ingenious workarounds for the problems that arise on set.
And without the basic tools for caring for and maintaining your equipment, troubleshooting technical issues that arise, and capturing the best possible images with your gear, your job becomes frustrating and more time consuming.
So why make your job harder when there’s an easy fix?
Of course, a DP should have access to the equipment, lighting gear, and lens kits he or she will be working with on the project, as well as a working knowledge of the equipment. Additionally, they should spec out supporting gear such as external monitors, grip and stabilization, and whatever else they’ll need for the shoot.
#1. LED pocket light
Light leaks and lens flares are considered to be a desired effect by some DPs. Especially if they’re trying to achieve a more natural aesthetic. A small, pocket-sized LED light is great to have in your camera bag. It’s especially handy when you’re in a pinch and want to add a light leak or lens flare.
In this shot, a production assistant is off frame-right shining our CAT LED Pocket Light directly into the lens. In this shot, we were trying to convey a sense of positivity and lightness. So we used a pocket light to emulate a ray of sunshine was coming from a window serving as a backlight.
Our LED pocket light was about $10.
Have you ever been working on set in complete darkness, fiddling with a flashlight in one hand and searching for lens cap with the other? It happens. As a DP, you need to be prepared for early morning call times, and late-night wraps, when there is little to no light.
A headlamp is a must-have accessory for safe, handsfree work while on dimly-lit sets.
Check out the battery-powered lighting section of your local hardware store. We picked up a set of two for about $25 on Amazon.
#3. Basic tool kit
The director of photography is a master at problem-solving and technical troubleshooting. Part of that comes from having the right tools for the job. You should always have a set of Allen wrenches of varying sizes, a flathead screwdriver, needle nose pliers, and a handy multi-tool, such as a Leatherman.
A $25 tool kit will ensure you’ll never be without the proper tools.
#4. Household assortment organizer (for adaptors and connectors)
Keep your odds and ends straight with an easily stored organizing bin. You’ll no doubt find yourself searching for adaptors and connectors on shoots.
Therefore it’s a good idea to start collecting cold shoe mounts, standard 1/4” tripod screws, including female-to-female and male-to-male adaptors and reducers. Keep all of these knick-knacks in one place. So when the time comes, you know exactly where to find them.
This will save you valuable time on set. You can purchase a small organizer for about $10.
#5. At least two memory card cases
Imagine shooting 256GBs of perfection and losing it because you accidentally formatted the wrong memory card. Take guess work out of the equation and purchase two card holders. Label one as EXPOSED (or DO NOT FORMAT, so everyone knows not to touch them). And label the other as READY TO USE.
It’s a good idea to purchase a few extra SDXC cards (10 or more), as well as C-FAST cards, and SSDs for media storage. In general, always be sure to have more than enough cards for whatever camera you intend on using. Just be sure you have a method for clearly separating those that are ready for use, and those that need to be backed up.
Two SD memory card cases cost about $30, at $15 per case.
#6 A production bag
You should always transport your "A" camera and your most fragile equipment in padded hard cases. For everything else, find a bag that’s specifically designed for cameras, lenses, and accessories, plus anything else you’ll need for a day of shooting.
My messenger bag from Peak Design has a padded space for my laptop and production documents (such as releases and call sheets), two compartments for lenses and/or my "B" camera, as well as a zipped pocket for pens, lens cleaning kit, soft pouches for ND filters, and my trusty LED pocket light.
Each night before a shoot, you should pack this thing with everything you need for the day.
A good production bag will run anywhere from $60 to $300.
#7 Lens (and sensor) cleaning kit
What’s the point of spending thousands of dollars on glass if you don’t maintain it properly?
Lenses and sensors should be cleaned before and after every shoot, especially if shooting outside, or if you’re changing lenses often.
A simple lens kit should include the following:
• Bottle of cleaning fluid
• Microfiber cloth
• Pre-moistened cleaning wipes
• Retractable cleaning brush
• Air blaster, and
• Carrying case
This Lens Cleaning Kit from Zeiss includes all of these items, and costs about $30.
#8 Variable ND filters, polarizing filters, and a soft case
Variable ND and polarizing filters allow you to adjust the intensity and quality of the light entering your lens. When used properly ND filters can reduce highlights in full sun conditions, and allow you to shoot with a shallow depth of field without blowing out your image. Polarizing filters can assist DPs in dialing in skin tones and intensifying the quality of some colors such as a blue sky.
Both are essentials for beginner DPs.
Remember, these optics should be treated just like your finest glass. Grab a soft case for easy storage and transport.
Here is a price breakdown:
• ND filters: $170 - $200
• Polarizing filters: $75 - $130
• Filter pouch: $10