When people walk through my living room studio, they are puzzled that I do not own or rent a permanent studio space. What many do not know is that when I’m contracted for a commercial assignment, about 80% of the time I must travel to a location or shot at the client’s home base. And, in many cases that requires transporting several 9 foot seamless backdrops and a whole lot of equipment. I don’t have a giant bus to haul all of my studio gear, so it’s been a trying experience to find the right tools to efficiently pack and tote my mobile studio.
From my arduous time in the music business and traveling all over the United States, I learned the art of consolidating, cramming and compacting. When I first started shooting, everything I owned could be fit into one camera bag and case. I traveled with a slew of speedlights, miniature lightstands and a collapsible softbox. It was the ultimate mobile setup, but after time my clientele grew and so did their demands, which needed proper equipment for capturing the overall vision safely. Over the past two years, my team has developed a system of break-out and break-down that requires a small footprint and very little time. As I acquire more and more equipment, we’ve hit speed bumps and had to adapt. But, the system has held up shoot after shoot, time and time again.
Whether you’re just starting with a few speedlights or travelling with 10 studio strobes, it’s good to have your equipment organized for time efficiency and client perception. I bring the majority of my gear to nearly every shoot, as explained in this article “The Power of Perception – Creating A Reality For Commercial Clients.” There is a level of perception that plays into hauling a truck load of gear on location. Even though you may break out just one single light, the client will notice the equipment and feel as if they are getting more bang for their buck.
My location kit consists of 8 strobes, 2 power packs, 5 collapsible modifiers, 4 reflectors, power cables, extension cables, tools and accessories. All can be packed into one giant tool box; a Stanley 37” Mobile Job Box from Home Depot which is listed at a completely reasonable rate. It’s heavy duty, well-constructed and built for abuse. I’ve seen people customize this job box with steel wheels and heavy duty clamps. But, the stock wheels work just fine for our application. This box has a padded handle that make it easy to lift. We call this box “Stan.”
When on location, safety is our number one concern. With that said, it’s important to have the proper number of sangbags to weight down stands, reflectors, blankets or anything that needs to be secured. Although I own over 25 sandbags, I’ve found that 12 is a good number to take on location. That will allow for nearly every light stand to be weighted and safe from an accidental fall or a blast of wind. Sandbags are heavy and can take a lot of miles off your car. For transport, we’ve found the Stanley 26” Mobile Tool Box is a great portable case for hauling 12 or more sandbags. We call this box “Stan Jr.”
It’s a common problem for photographers to throw around cheap light stands and allow them to slide all over the place during transport. I’ve seen photographers use huge hardshell golf cases or bulky road capsules to haul their lights stands, but for someone with a small car… it’s just impractical. The Original Roll Up from the company Standbagger fits my needs perfectly. Standbagger was founded by photographer Steve Burns who created the product when he found a lack of products on the market. Since I cannot fit a gigantic hardshell golf case as well as “Stan” and “Stan Jr.” in the back of my car the Original Roll Up is befitting and can squeeze into small places.
I do travel with several C-Stands which do not fit in the Standbagger but will break down flat and low profile that can slide into the smallest of clefts.
This is one of the first decisions we have to make as a photographer. There are nearly two dozen major bag and storage companies fighting for your business day in and day out. I’ve experimented and worked with numerous bags over the years and in my opinion Think Tank Photo provides the most efficient, durable camera carrying systems around. They are built for professional travelers and heavy duty users. The Airport Security V2.0 provides enough safe space for everything I need to get the shot. I also use and abuse the Think Tank Photo Memory Card Carrier and DSLR Battery Holder. For a full equipment list, click here.
Apple Boxes and Accessories
These days, if a piece of equipment doesn’t come with a storage container or bag, then it’s either really expensive or really cheap. Fortunately, the rest of my mobile studio has its own home in its own bag which can lay flat along with the Standbagger. In our own game of back-seat Tetris, apple boxes and props are usually found shoved in between a seat or on top of “Stan”
Sometime this past year, we came to a stark realization that we desperately needed a dolly on location to cut down on the number of loads. Our answer was the Rock N’ Roller Multi-Cart R10RT with the expandable shelf. What once took my team 5-10 trips back and forth from the car now requires one mighty trip. Setup time has been reduced in half and with the Multi-Cart shelf we can have our own space for tethering, staging and storage without having to use a client’s table space. We call this cart “Besty.”
It’s all led to this; now that packing has been covered you’re going to need a vehicle that can hold your gear. Unfortunately, a beat up VW Beetle or a vintage Chevy Camaro just won’t do the trick. I’ve found that the hatchbacks or “toaster” cars work really well. In my case a Nissan Cube; a strange looking car that has the tendency to turn some heads while driving down the road. But, the low overhead and large storage size is completely worth the bewilderment. I’m not here to tell you what type of vehicle you should own, but consider it an investment making the job more manageable. Aside from gas, a nice spacious car can make your life a whole lot easier.
At the end of the day we all have different workflows and certainly different volumes of equipment, but I can only speak for what has worked for me. So, instead of throwing all that stuff in the backseat or dragging around a cardboard box full of cables and lights, invest in some heavy duty containers. I guarantee you’re on location workflow will become more organized and more affable than ever. Your back can thank me later.
If you’re interested in hauling all of this gear on a part time basis, I’m currently accepting applications for my 2015 internship. If you're a young(18 - 25) photographer or photojournalism/marketing major looking to work hard and learn the ropes in the fashion and advertising industry, please email a current resume and current portfolio to firstname.lastname@example.org! Must live within 150 miles of Louisville, Kentucky.