Pre-Production 3 – Equipment

Convertible Setup
Setup shot for Emma in her Convertible

Right Tool for the Job

As far as production goes, equipment can simply be thought of as “the right tool for the job”. This works on 2 levels, the choice of and purchasing of the equipment in the first place, and then the choice, transport, care, and use of the equipment on the job.

At the purchasing/selection stage I’d recommend you bear a few things in mind. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” holds true for a great deal of camera gear, so beware of making a false economy with some cheap gear. Off the top of my head I can think of the example of tripods, where I must have owned a great many in my 15 years of shooting, the vast majority of which broke within a few months of heavy use due to being cheap and crap. My 11-year-old manfrotto, however, at a seemingly expensive £200, is still going strong. I’m trying to make a point about reliability here; as it should be obvious to anyone that equipment that frequently breaks down is not worth carrying around with you and will eventually end up costing more than the expensive one did in the first place. No piece of equipment is immune from failure, but there are certainly brands (usually the professional ones) that are far more reliable than others.

In a straight choice between 2 reliable professional brands, always bear in mind the versatility of each tool – a flash head that can be adjusted through from 1/32 power to full is more versatile than one which only goes down as far as ¼ power. Likewise, if you’re on a budget, a constant aperture zoom is arguably more versatile then 3 or 4 primes, though it will obviously not be quite the same quality. Size and weight should also be borne in mind; and if something is too big or cumbersome to carry around it will tend to stay in the boot of the car or the office. Other seemingly unimportant factors like power consumption ought not to be overlooked, and don’t forget compatibility with existing gear in your armoury.

You may notice I haven’t exactly been very explicit about particular brands. That’s because I have no desire whatsoever to get into a “discussion” with anyone who’e evangelical about their equipment. It’s just gear – as long as it works how and when it’s supposed to, who cares what’s on the label?


This next bit should be blatantly obvious, but I’ll say it anyway since even I’ve come a cropper now and again (yes, it does happen, though thankfully not very often!) Before you set out on a job make sure that:

  1. Everything is charged, including all spare batteries (you are carrying spare batteries aren’t you?)
  2. Everything is cleaned, particularly lenses and chips (by which I mean the filters in front of the chips for all the pedants out there.)
  3. Everything works – test fire where necessary. This won’t guarantee it will work on the shoot, but at least it may give you fair warning of any upcoming problems.
  4. You’ve got ample supplies of formatted memory cards and blank CD/DVD’s
  5. All the settings on equipment are back to what they normally are, for example if you’ve just been shooting something for “straight to web” and usually shoot RAW.

Transporting the Gear.

Selecting which gear to take on the job will hopefully be very straightforward, as you’ll have answers to all the questions you asked up front, so it should be a simple matter to decide whether this is a job that calls for 1 body and a standard zoom lens, with batteries and cards stuffed into your pockets, or every case you own and 4 mains lighting heads. Obviously at this stage your choice of camera bag becomes important. I’ve clearly developed some sort of fetish for camera bags over the years as I’ve owned a vast number. In regular use at the moment I have:

2 shoulder bags, a camera rucsac, 1 rolling case, 2 hard cases, 4 clear sided plastic cases, 1 tripod bag, 1 lighting stand/reflector bag, and a set of “webbing” style pouches and belts.

Now, I don’t use all of these on every shoot – I’m not that mush of a fetishist! What I will say is that having this selection enables me to get the gear I want exactly where I want it with the minimum of hassle, and allows me to shoot the job as effortlessly as possible. As an example of picking and choosing my gear for the job in hand, I can’t think of a better instance than some of the golf jobs I shoot. When I’m shooting instruction pieces I’ll take the full camera rucsac, a rolling case with lights/stands, spare flashes, tripod, the vagabond power pack, the reflector bag, and probably 1 of the clear sided cases with lots of extra bits in. I can do this because I know that not only will I have time to set things up and light them properly (and I’ll be expected to, as they demand high-quality shots), but that we’ll be moving around from location to location in golf buggies, so weight and transportation is not a major concern. At the other end of the scale, I often have to follow people round as they’re playing, and this obviously offers no chance to set things up, so I opt for just the basic camera essentials which I carry in the webbing gear as it allows me a great deal of freedom of movement. Tomorrow I’m doing the lot, as I’m shooting a feature which requires me to shoot studio portraits, some reportage (probably in the rain), and will also require me to put my whistle on for a sit-down dinner afterwards.

Related Posts: Production for Photographers – An Intro, Pre-Production 1 – Production Begins at Home, 2 – Organisation, 4 – Car and Mobile/Laptop, Useful sites, Production on the Job, Post Production.


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