Neutral Gray Card
No matter how you set the white balance on your camera—be it auto, by Kelvin temperature or with a tungsten/flash/daylight preset—you can do it better if you first shoot a gray card. Even if you don’t actually select your white balance until you adjust your RAW files in post, you can do that better too with a neutral gray card. Simply place the gray card in the scene under the primary illumination (meaning, if the room is lit with tungsten light as well as windows, first determine which is having the primary influence on the most important elements in your scene) and shoot away. Then you can always use the eyedropper-style white balance fix when you’re processing your raw files. There are several great options, including the QP card, the Datacolor SpyderCHECKR and a collapsible gray card that works a lot like a pop-out disc reflector.
Yes, you should already have backup batteries and a charger in your kit, but you should also consider something you can call on in an emergency. This could be a portable battery pack for charging small electronics in a pinch or it could be something like a solar charger if you’re traveling remotely. I have a Boosa M1 Power Bank that can charge my smartphone, my camera or even my tablet if I run out of power on location. You can also use something that charges even if you’re far from electricity—like an Anker 21-watt solar charger that rejuvenates your batteries with nothing but sunlight. This is obviously an ideal backup plan if you’re going to be working remotely for any amount of time without access to reliable electricity. A hiker can even strap the charger to their backpack in order to charge on the go.
Sometimes, all you need is a simple white or silver reflector to take otherwise plain lighting to the next level—adding fill or bouncing indirect sunlight as a key. It isn’t particularly practical to carry around a poster-sized chunk of white foamcore, however, so thankfully some smart designer eons ago invented the pop-up reflector. These reflectors are typically round and consist of fabric stretched over a thin metal frame that twists and collapses on itself for storage. A three-foot-wide reflector, for instance, can fold down to just 10 inches across. That’s why I always carry one in my camera bag; you never know when you’re going to want some fill light for a portrait, for instance. If you really want to get deluxe with your pop-up reflector, try something like a Westcott 6-in-1 Illuminator, which is actually translucent diffusion material with a zip-off cover, making it way more useful than a traditional reflector alone. You’ve got two levels of diffusion, silver, gold, sunlight and black. It’s practically a studio grip kit in a single package.
I shoot a lot with strobes—both on camera and studio style—and that’s why I always carry a sheet of orange gel. Something in the neighborhood of 12 inches square is usually sufficient for any application. I use this gel—technically a ¼ or ½ CTO (color temperature orange)—to shift the color balance of a flash to make it match indoor incandescent sources. In short, it produces a tungsten white balance from a strobe or flash. This is the perfect way to keep from creating mixed lighting, which causes color shifts no matter which way you set your camera. Without it, you set your camera to flash and the incandescent lights in the scene will look orange. If you set it to tungsten, anything flash or daylight will come out blue. To solve this problem, stick an orange gel on that flash. The CTO will make it tungsten balanced as well, and now all your lights match.
Regular folks regularly joke that anything and everything can be fixed with duct tape. But photographers and production professionals know it’s really gaff tape that’s the do-it-all solution for whatever ails you. Need to secure a cable to minimize the tripping hazard? Gaff tape. Forgot your pony clamps and need to affix a reflector to a c-stand? Gaff tape. Want to tell your subject exactly where to stand or mark the precise spots on the floor for reconstructing a particular lighting design? Gaff tape, gaff tape, gaff tape. This miracle product is like duct tape but without the sticky residue. Easily tearable, it holds tight but comes off practically anything without leaving residue or damaging the surface. Gaff tape can be a lens shade or a clamp or it can simply repair the rip in your camera bag. The next time someone touts the benefits of duct tape, tell them that gaff tape is the real hero—or show them since you should always have some in your bag.