14 Unusual Items That Will Make You A Better Portrait Photographer

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14 Unusual Items That Will Make You A Better Portrait Photographer

14 Unusual Items That Will Make You A Better Portrait Photographer

To perform a basic photo shoot all it takes is some creativity, a camera with a lens and a subject to shoot. Depending on preference and circumstance, the location is a controlled studio, a real world environment or a hybrid of some kind. Step it up by adding some flash, a reflector or a combo of both. That is all there is to it, right? Well, that depends on a couple things. How smoothly do you want things to go and how professional do you want to appear as a photographer?

Anticipating and being ready for anything is crucial to ensuring that clients walk away with the impression that each session was effortless, simply because you are a master of your craft. Bringing the right gear with you is the first step to making that happen. The tools are easily overlooked and aren’t as obvious as one might think. The following is a compilation of some of those items and their uses…

1 ) Gum and/or mints: This doesn’t need much explaining; nobody likes bad breath and doing something as simple as chewing on gum can make people feel more at ease. Just make sure your talent loses it before you start shooting.

2 ) Straws:  To avoid touch-ups to lipstick on your subjects, have straws ready to go. Whether or not you are the one providing refreshments, having clean straws for the talent will prevent the need for constant attention to makeup so that you can focus on the task at hand.

3 ) Clothing Pins & Safety Pins: Wardrobe is always an issue. No matter how well one plans, there always seems to be some piece that sticks out in an odd manner. Keeping these on hand will save a lot of frustrating time in Photoshop.

4 ) Music: This can be a little tricky for environmental photographers. There’s no right way to do this when in the field, but one gadget that works well (for iPhone 3G/4 users) is the AirCurve from Griffin Technology. It is small, lightweight, easy to use and it amps up that little speaker very well. Start up Pandora, ask the talent what his or her favorite musician is and go!

5 ) A Small Mirror: This isn’t just for makeup and hair touch-ups. When there is a particular facial expression needed, mirrors are crucial for working with the talent and getting consistent results.

6 ) LED Flashlight with Laser Pointer: Another directing tool, this will save your butt in more ways than one. The flashlight is pretty straightforward for helping in the dark. The laser pointer is useful in directing where everything and everyone goes without having to run all over the place. If you find yourself on a ladder, bring it up with you and leave it up there until you are done.

7 ) Velcro Wraps, Straps, Fasteners & Ties: Organization prevents accidents. Keeping wires, cables and other gear together will not only make you look more professional but it will keep the set running like a fine tuned machine.

There are many other items, big and small, that are such staples to the industry that they could almost be considered borderline camera gear. Those items include, but are not limited to…

8 ) A-Clamps: Highly useful for holding reflectors, backdrops, props, clothing etc.

9 ) Ball Bungees & Hook Bungees: These are life savers for equipment transportation and organization.

10 ) Gaffers tape: Best. Tape. Ever.

11 ) Card Stock and Aluminum Foil: Great for making snoots, gobos, flags or reflectors on the spot. Get some different color stocks and kick a little color into the images.

12 ) Leatherman: Apart from being able to fix most equipment malfunctions, this is an essential tool for building contraptions on the spot.

13 ) Fishing string: Great for hanging odd things and tying things up that don’t get too much heat. It’s strong, easy to use and almost never shows up in photos.

14 ) Foam Core Board: For many photographers this probably doesn’t need to be said, but having a supply of white and black foam core is a must. Like the card stock, this is way cheaper than purchasing “real” reflectors/flags and can be cut down and used in a lot of different ways.

Sure, there are pieces of specialty equipment for almost all aspects of photography but they can be pricey and it isn’t always necessary to get them. A-Clamps, for instance, are cheap heavy-duty pieces of equipment that fill many roles and do it as well as most of their specialty counterparts. All of the items listed in this article can also be great for those moments when you are in need of a piece of equipment that you don’t have, that doesn’t exist or that you simply didn’t think to bring. What does one do in that situation? Build something quickly. It’s probably not pretty and may be just temporary, but it works. Admittedly, this is to be avoided. However, most people are curious by nature and pulling a DIY-on-the-fly can sometimes be a great way to start a conversation with the talent. Who knows, one of those contraptions you build may turn into a refined piece of equipment you use every time. Bottom line this stuff saves you time, headaches and money.

What piece of equipment do you have that doesn’t necessarily qualify as camera gear but, because you never conduct a shoot without it, has become a permanent part of your camera bag(s)?


Andrew Wagle is a commercial account manager at C.R.I.S., a digital camera repair company located in Chandler, AZ. Andrew’s photographic education, hardware knowledge, and digital imaging expertise is a major contributor to the company’s BBB A+ rating. Andrew is also the social media coordinator and moderator of the company’s camera repair blog; focused on care, maintenance and repair tips for digital cameras and imaging equipment.

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18 Comments

  1. March 13, 2012 at 1:53 pm —

    Thanks for the tips! Feather dusters are great for tickling kids 🙂

  2. January 13, 2011 at 4:51 am —

    Thanks for the tips, I thought I had everything I would need in the gear casses ie, large plastic totes but you gave me some ideas to make things a little eaiser and more useful. The portrait I uploaded was lit using foam board taped together to make a ‘V’ shape 4 3×4 pieces, then a cardboard scrim to keep light spill off the background. I moved this around and raised it up on chairs tilted it you get the idea, 6 ft away with more foam board, reflectors for fill. I shot a 1200 watt monolight turned down in an attempt to simulate light from a window, I love the result, my stepdaughter was patient as always when I use her as a subject. thanks for the great article and tips. Let me know if you like the image. Regards and Respects ; Clark

  3. January 7, 2011 at 12:31 pm —

    I just discovered the best new tool! It is my son’s 1 1/2 foot diameter bouncy ball (you know the ones with the handles that they sit on and bounce around?) I used this on a child shoot, and instead of squatting, and killing my knees I was cruising around on this little ball! It was comfortable, moved around with me and my knees and back didn’t hurt when I was done! Seriously a good itda!

  4. Airtioteclint
    January 7, 2011 at 10:08 am —

    Pretty nice tips here, things like this can be very useful sometimes =)

  5. January 7, 2011 at 4:19 am —

    awesome post! thanks a lot for sharing…

  6. Carol
    January 6, 2011 at 5:39 pm —

    I usually bring a long curtain rod with me – it’s easily propped on two chairs and makes a great place to drape fabric for backdrops

  7. January 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm —

    Excellent Article!

    It would be great if we could get some more details, like places to buy some of this stuff, and What Length the ball bungies are for Flash Units, etc…

    THANKS FOR THE IDEAS

  8. January 6, 2011 at 3:06 pm —

    Love. This. Post.
    I never do a shoot without Smarties for kids 3 years and up. They don’t melt or stain and you can give 1 at a time to make them last forever!

  9. January 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm —

    All great tips! I have a little bag that stays in my car that has some of these items in it ready to go, but I just learned of some more things I should carry! Thank you!

  10. Jo Ann
    January 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm —

    Great tips! I always have plastic bags that have many uses and knee pads for protecting my knees when shooting

  11. January 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm —

    Awesome list! If using Pocket Wizards, I love the Hildozine Pocket Wizard Caddy: http://www.amazon.com/Hildozine-Remote-Transceiver-Pocket-Wizard/dp/B0014DNS06 Straps it right to your light stand so you never lose it and it doesn’t get tossed around…it’s pretty cheap and worth it.

  12. January 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm —

    Great tips! I always carry a pack of tic tacs with me for the young ones – I shake them during the shoot to get their attention and then if they are old enough (and their parents allow it) I give them one at the end of the shoot for being such good picture takers 🙂

  13. January 6, 2011 at 11:53 am —

    Wow!! I never thought of this, especially the clothing pin! That would definitely in handy 🙂

  14. Dawniele Castellanos
    January 6, 2011 at 11:43 am —

    Thanks for posting.
    Love that little speaker amplifier. I have wanted to take music out with me on shoots and didn’t wank bulk and extra “stuff” to carry. This little gadget might work.

  15. January 6, 2011 at 10:18 am —

    Thanks for the tips!! Your awesome! =)

  16. January 6, 2011 at 9:21 am —

    Glad you posted that last photo of the flash…I had no clue what a ball bungee was, but that photo explained it PERFECTLY! This is a great article!!!

  17. gwendolyn
    January 6, 2011 at 9:20 am —

    A lint brush!
    Lotion
    Baby wipes
    A pack of hair combs from WalMart. It’s only a couple of dollars. If a client’s hair needs fixing I have a brand new comb they can use and then keep.

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14 Unusual Items That Will Make You A Better Portrait Photographer