Two accessories I could not do my photography business without. What are yours?

Kirk Tuck's Multi-Cart. Indispensable. 

We photographers tend to be a myopic bunch when it comes to gear. We are focused like little laser beams on the miracle of cameras. After that we are riveted by whatever the latest lens lore is. When we exhaust that topic we move on to sexy lights and then we're pretty much done. Oh, there are the printer/paper people but I think of them like the mole men from the Incredibles movie. Kind of trapped in the darkness and always trying to take over the world...one pigment print at a time.

But after some video shoots and some back-to-back photography shoots I've pretty much come to the conclusion that if one understands the physics and ballet of making portraits and doing interviews that pretty much you can make do with any modern camera on the market (always excluding those hard core sports jobs people love to toss in to screw up rational discussions) to do most work and no one will ever know the difference. Especially if you are showing off on the web. But after loading and unloading the car a number of times in short order, and after pulling hundreds of pounds of equipment across hot, dark, heat radiating, asphalt parking lots in a desperate attempt to reach the front door various client offices and so partake of the life affirming air conditioning, I would say, without equivocation, that the most useful and welcome piece of gear I own is also the most pedestrian: my Multi-Cart. Give me a Multi-Cart and enough bungee cords and I'll bring the most complete lighting-photo-prop inventory on to your location that you can imagine. If it fits in a Honda CR-V we can (and will) bring it, toss it onto the cart and drag it into your headquarters or your remote location. 

I can't remember how long ago I bought this cart. It was purchased at least 14 years ago to replace an identical cart that died when we worked at a Dell facility and someone decided to move a 1,000 pound, fully configured server enclosure (heavy metal, six foot tall cabinet) all the way from one side of a large building to the other----on our cart. The front wheels gave up the ghost just as we wheeled it into the carpeted shooting area. They just collapsed. Not the fault of the cart or the maker as the specs say the carts are good for loads of up to 500 pounds. The first cart was a noble machine that gave me good service for a very long time. Probably since the dawn of my current photo business, or nearly so...

We haven't attempted moving automobiles or server configurations or bags of cement with this one. We move gear in and out of client spaces and practical locations all over Texas. It's too cumbersome to fly with, sadly.  But I know that the cart has real, important value in my photography.

I was reminded of how important it is to arrive with enough energy left to actually be human and to be able to shoot without a pounding chest and a dizzy brain when one of my previous assistants regaled me, over a glass of wine, with a story about her time assisting a very famous (very famous!) London and New York based portrait photographer-celebrity who was, at the time, doing a tremendous amount of work for the New York Times Magazine. My friend had been hired as second or third assistant for a series of location shoots. On the first day she hopped into the van that would take the photographer, his gear and two other assistants to meet with the client and a famous subject on some urban location. 

When they arrived and had scouted the location in a big office building the photographer instructed his "people" to go and get the gear. My friend went with the other assistants to the van which was parked in a garage across the square from the first location. Having worked with me extensively she immediately searched the van for a cart. There wasn't one. She asked the other assistants and they shrugged, grunted and started to pick up cases with heavy power packs and head. They gestured at some 50 pound stand bags and started shuffling the 100 yards to the building and up to the 18th floor. They made about five round trips to get everything to the location. 

While the photographer was fresh as a daisy his "staff" was sweating bullets and gulping down water. Of course my friend realized that there would be a second part to all of this. They would have to retrace their steps back to the parking garage once the job was completed. And this would go on at location after location for the better part of a week. 

My friend finally plucked up her courage to ask the photographer why he didn't have a cart. His reply?  "That's what I have assistants for..."  She finished out the week and went off to find a photographer with at least the barest grasp of primitive physics and workplace efficiency.

The cart is a daily fixture in my world and has been for the last twenty years. If it were to die or disappear tomorrow I'd have another one here as quickly as I could source it. We have back up cameras and lenses but if the cart goes "Kaplooie" then all bets are off.  We'll be "on vacation" until it is replaced.

The other vital component of my photographic life...

I bought a set of background stands way, way back in 1981. They've been used in just about every studio portrait shoot I've ever done, and they've travelled to locations all over the world with me. I take them for granted. They just work every time. I put a canvas or paper background on them, we raise them up and they work away for me without even the slightest protest. I can't imagine doing 80% of my work without them. I have no idea where they were made. They were marketed by a company called RPS. The go up to about 10 feet. They have a cross pole that breaks apart into two pieces and also telescopes. This makes it easy to break down and pack for travel. 

In addition to backgrounds I've also used Super Clamps to hang cameras from the cross bar and stands over the top of sets. It comes in handy when I need to shoot from directly over head. In the old days we'd rig up the camera with a long cable release. Then we switched to a longer, electronic cable release. Now we just stick Panasonic GH4's up there and trigger them with our iPhones. We even get to preview the shots on the phones and change settings. But what doesn't change is the background stands. 

Lately I've noticed that they are slipping a bit and it's harder to tighten them down even when I use a wrench and a screwdriver to tighten all the joints. I've also discovered (in a few embarrassing failure events) that one of the stands in the set no longer stops at the maximum extension when going "up" with the stands. It will come right out of the bottom tube and leave me standing there with a wiggly pole in my hands, balancing a half a nine foot roll of seamless paper, and with a shocked and silly look on my face. I guess it's time to retire the first set and replace them but for some reason I keep mending them and keeping them in service. 

These are the devices that supply the real continuity in the business of making photographs. The cameras come and go and the lenses and even the lights are more or less transitory but the background stands are like family. Family with a long history.  I can't imagine an other investment in gear that has returned so much, so often for so little.

The background stands and the cart are the two accessories that I use every day and can't imagine surviving without in this game. They feel even more vital to me than tripods! I am curious. I know not everyone shares the same viewpoints as me. What are the accessories that you can't work without in your photography? Please share. 

Kirk Tuck's Background Stands are Twice as Old as His College Age Kid...Wow.


Michael said...

1) Cinefoil for improvised flags/gobos/softbox reshapers.

2) Lens pen lens cleaner. Best invention on Earth, way more effective than microfiber cloths.

Honeybadger said...

Love my multi-cart. It's a real back saver. Where I used to pick up boxes to move them around, I use my cart now, and my back thanks me. I also use it to move my photo display from my truck to art venues, and that little fold up seems to really enjoy itself.

Anthony Bridges said...

That's funny. I just bought a cart similar to that at Home Depot to haul lighting gear.

The other day I photographed kids goofing around in smocks used in the semiconductor industry for take your kids to work day. The building we were in is looong. The end of the hallway like 1/2 mile long and disappears into perspective. Plus there is parking. Couldn't imagine hauling strobes, backdrop, stands, sandbag, back-up camera, etc in a facility like this without it.

Jim Simmons said...

Sekonic 508 Zoomaster light meter. Homemade wooden framing device for finding the camera location before dragging the view camera/500 series Gitzo all over the place. I use it with a stick notched one side for 4x5 and the other for 6x7 for determing which focal length lens to put on the camera.