Last week, we looked at the essential equipment needed to create a versatile two-light kit that works all sorts of subjects on location. But the list of what it takes to make a basic setup function at the professional level is quite long. So this week, we’re delving into all the essential things besides lights and stands that will take your studio lighting setup—or that two-light location kit—to the professional level. From super-specialized light modifiers to basics and backups, there are countless lighting accessories that could be considered essential—or at the very least make your job easier and your results better. Here’s a look at the lighting accessories I consider to be essential.
Carts And Carriers
Unless you’re planning to never leave the studio, you’ll want to invest in a functional and reliable cart to help take your equipment on the road. That could be a simple, collapsible two-wheel cart from an office supply store or something more deluxe like a four-wheel cart like the Rock-n-Roller or Krane AMG500.
The former is a sort of “industry standard” for a lot of folks, while the latter is an up-and-comer that can change form to become a dolly, a two-wheeler or other configurations based on your needs. The most deluxe production cart, in my opinion, is the Magliner. These cost about as much as a cheap used car but also have just about as many options available. It’s built like a tank and can double as a rolling desk on set. With a good cart to get your gear from A to B with ease, you’d be surprised what you can accomplish even when working alone.
Additional Light Modifiers
Beyond the basics of umbrellas and softboxes that diffuse light, there are many useful light modifiers that focus it. Grid spots and snoots are perfect for adding a hair light on a portrait subject with dark hair, or an edge light to set apart their shadow side from a dark background, or for creating a halo of light on a background. Instead of carrying specific equipment for this—which most light manufacturers also make—you can often get away with carrying a roll of Rosco Black Cinefoil. This heavy-duty aluminum foil is matte black so it won’t reflect light and can be rolled up for a makeshift snoot or unfurled to create a lens shade or flag. (It’s sold in smaller sizes packaged as “Photofoil” as well.)
I also like to carry black and white foamcore sheets in poster sizes. These work well as flags and reflectors and can even be found in versions with black on one side and white on the other—perfect for cutting your shopping list in half. And for full-length portraits, in particular, I take a portable V-flat on location with me. This could be the aforementioned white/black foamcore but this time in 4×4 or 4×8 sheets. The smaller ones can be hung from a stand, while the larger ones can stand on their own. In each case, they provide ideal fill light, negative fill or flagging to keep light away from where you don’t want it. The biggest problem with big flats is their size, but since they’re just foamcore you can cut them down to whatever works for you.
Backups, Gaffer Tape And Sandbags
One of my favorite sayings is, “Two is one and one is none.” This sounds like nonsense until I explain that it’s about the importance of backup equipment. Backups are essential because it’s not a question of if things will go wrong, but when. And through that lens, two of something means when one breaks you’ll have one functional. And even worse, if you only have one thing—be it a light, a stand, a camera or a battery—then you’ll have none when it breaks. So always bring a backup of any of these above items that would make it impossible to do your job if it went kaput at an inopportune time. And when things break on set, my favorite repair tool—as well as my favorite all-purpose tool—is a roll of gaffer tape, such as ProTapes Pro-Gaff.
Named for the electricians responsible for managing the lighting on a motion picture production crew, this cotton tape doesn’t leave a sticky residue as duct tape would and peels off most surfaces without damage—though it holds tight as can be. Gaff tape is really essential for every photographer, no matter what you shoot. So are sandbags. These simple devices typically weigh 15 to 30 pounds, and a pair of them can hold two light stands securely so they don’t tip over. If I’m working outdoors or using big light modifiers I’ll use a lot more sandbags, but one per light often works just fine for simple indoor setups.
Cases, Clamps And Tools
Some people look at equipment cases the way others lust after cars and motorcycles. There are a million ways you can spend practically a million bucks on cases for cameras, lenses, lights and more, but I like to ensure I have my grip equipment in one case and my lights in another. This way, with the right case protecting my equipment, I can also consider other lighting accessories that are easy to add to their permanent home in the case that goes with me on every assignment.
(One of the best things to add to your kit in this regard is the repair tools that are necessary for your gear. This could be the hex wrench that fits your tripod’s joints or a Leatherman-style multi-tool that can help you fix almost anything in a pinch.) Whatever you choose for a case, make sure you don’t pick the one that looks the best but rather prioritize the one that fits your gear best. That’s a sure way to make your traveling life easier. Pelican makes waterproof, practically indestructible cases that are sized for everything from a single compact camera to a whole lighting kit.
Another tool that will make your life easier is a #2 Pony clamp—or several of them, ideally. These 2-inch spring clamps are great for everything from holding reflectors to adjusting wardrobe, and they should practically be considered necessities. I feel like I’m living dangerously if I only bring a couple on location, but the good news is they don’t cost much, so bringing along four or six or more is still really affordable.
Two full-size light stands are essential as outlined above, but low stands are also important. I always carry a floor stand to put the light just above ground level—ideal for illuminating backgrounds or for hiding out of frame in an interior or exterior location. And if I’m planning on holding reflectors or large light modifiers, I also like a C-stand. They’re built for the studio so they’re not at all easy to take on location, but they’re so large and stable and heavy-duty they can sometimes save the day.
They can take a beating and do a great job of holding my reflectors or silks and scrims in exactly the right position. In a pinch when I need to travel light, I’ll remove the grip head from a C-stand and take it on location while leaving the stand at home. The grip head can mount on any typical baby pin, which is found on practically any light stand you may have. Just beware that the light stand can’t hold as much weight as a C-stand, and it will need to be steadied with sandbags to be especially safe.
Last but most certainly not least is an assistant. Not only is their second set of hands unbelievably helpful for lugging gear, holding reflectors and more, but that second set of eyes and brains can truly save the day. And this holds true whether you’re hiring a trained professional or just bringing along your brother to carry bags and tape down cables. Sometimes the most valuable piece of equipment on set is a good assistant. And in terms of bang for your buck, the going rate for good assistants makes them a steal.