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Digital techs are expected to be the Swiss Army knife of a photoshoot.  We are the de facto go-to person when any technological issues arise, be they with computer, camera, or lighting equipment.  As such, it is important that digital techs not only stay up to date with the current technological zeitgeist but also have a deep knowledge of the role of the photo assistant.

 Now, I am a firm believer that everyone on a photoshoot ought to be able to focus exclusively on whatever task they are assigned to in order to do their job as well as they possibly can.  I will almost never accept a job that requires me to simultaneously fill the roles of first assistant AND digital tech (and they do come around often) because, though I'm also an excellent photo assistant, trying to do two very different jobs at the same time inevitably makes the quality of both suffer.  That said, I still arrive at each job fully prepared to jump in and play second or third or fourth assistant when necessary.  

Furthermore, some photographers and assistants arrive less prepared than others, so it is important to me that I carry essential tools and accessories that I might not personally need on set, but that are commonly used (and forgotten) by the assistants, especially when working with a new client.  Covering for a photographer or assistant who has forgotten an essential piece of kit is a great way to get hired again for the next job.  And of course, there are a number of tech-specific items that I simply can't do my job without.  Therefore, I carry an extensive "survival kit" with me on every job in addition to my camera and computer kits.  Above all else, my motto is "BE PREPARED!!!"  The Boy Scouts taught me well.

I wanted to make this list to help techs who are just starting to build their own kits, but a few of the items I carry may be a surprise to seasoned techs as well.  If you're just starting out, it is by no means necessary to run out to B&H and Home Depot and buy all of this stuff right away.  That said, there are definitely a few essential tools and accessories that you should think about carrying on every shoot (see the "Essentials Kit" list below).  You might already have some of these items lying around, too.

Ultimately, every photoshoot has unique requirements and what I decide to bring along can vary greatly depending on whether we will be working in studio or on location, whether I am using my own computer equipment or the photographer's kit, and how familiar I am with the gear that my client always brings to set.  Therefore, my survival kit is actually two complimentary kits that are housed in a carry-on size 1510 with the laptop lid organizer and a slightly larger 1560.  The 1510 contains all of the absolute essentials and comes with me on every single job, no matter what.  The 1560 contains all of the larger accessories that aren't always necessary if I'm working with a familiar crew that I know will come to set well prepared or if running Capture Pilot isn't necessary. 

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The night before each shoot I think long and hard about what I might need in order to make the job run smoothly and I completely unpack and repack the kits, ensuring that every item is present and functional.  Occasionally, I might need to add or subtract a few items from the "essentials kit" depending on what the job calls for.  If I am not 100% sure whether or not I will need a particular accessory, then the answer is "yes."  I can't tell you how many times that "frivolous" gaffer glass or second wifi router would have really come in handy.  I've learned my lesson: when it comes to a digi tech survival kit, less is almost never more, as long as everything fits into an organized and compact package.   Here's what's inside mine.

 

Pelican 1510 "Essentials Kit"

  • "Bare Necessities" Belt Pouch
    • Leatherman Wave
    • Sekonic L-508 Light Meter
    • Small Flashlight
    • Gaff Tape (2" Black, 1" White, 1" Orange [for securing tether cables], and various 1/2" Spike)
    • 12' Tape Measure
    • Sharpies, Pens and Pencils
    • ColorChecker Passport
    • Focus Target
    • 4x CF Cards
    • 3x SD Cards
    • Tenba Reload Universal Card Wallet (red and green pockets to organize fresh and shot cards)
    • Lens Cleaner and Microfiber Cloth
  • Sensor Swabs (full frame 35mm, full frame medium format and crop frame medium format)
  • Pec Pads
  • Sensor Cleaning Fluid
  • Rocket Blower
  • Shoe Mount 3 Axis Bubble Level
  • LCC Plate
  • Arca Swiss and Manfrotto Tripod Plates
  • 1/4-20 to 3/8-16 Adapter
  • Super Clamp
  • J-Hook
  • AA, AAA, and CR123 Batteries
  • Cube Tap
  • Cable Management Accessories (zip ties, twist ties, bongo ties, velcro wraps, and carabiners)
  • Spare Tether Cables and Extensions
  • TetherBoost Pro + Battery
  • Backup MacBook Pro + Magsafe Charger
  • i1 Display Pro
  • Cable Kit
    • 6x USB 3.0 A to Micro B
    • 2x USB 3.0 A to B
    • 1x USB 2.0 A to B
    • 3x USB 2.0 A to Micro B
    • 2x USB 2.0 A to Mini B
    • 2x Thunderbolt
    • 4x Apple Lightning
    • 3x FireWire 800
    • 1x 1/8" Audio Cable
    • 2x Lightning to Headphone Adapter
    • 1x eSATA
    • 1x DVI
    • 1x HDMI
    • 2x Displayport to Mini Displayport
    • 1x USB Gooseneck Reading Light
    • 1x 2A USB Power Adapter
  • Computer Accessory Kit
    • 2x Lexar Card Readers
    • 2x USB 3.0 Hubs
    • 1x Firewire 800 Repeater
    • Thunderbolt Adapters: 2x Each FireWire 800, Gigabit Ethernet, DVI, VGA, and DisplayPort
    • 1x SATA to USB 3.0 Adapter for troubleshooting hard drives
    • 2x FireWire 400 to 800 Adpater
    • 1x USB Power Meter
    • 1x Earbuds
    • 1x Magsafe 2 Adapter
    • 4x 32GB Thumb Drives (empty)
    • OS X Installer Thumb Drive
    • "Essentials" Thumb Drive (Capture One settings, client specs, software installers, etc.)
    • DiskWarrior Thumb Drive
  • Personal Kit

 

Pelican 1560 "Extras Kit"

  • 2x Apple Airport Extreme
  • iPad
  • TetherTools AeroTab S4 iPad Mount
  • iPad Hood
  • 2x 500GB Hard Drives
  • ColorChecker Classic
  • 3x Pocket Wizard Plus III
  • Wacom Intuous Small Tablet
  • Extra Mouse
  • Extra Keyboard
  • Label Maker
  • Extra Label Tape
  • UE Boom 2 Bluetooth Speaker
  • Audio Cables
  • Headlamp
  • Dual Camera Battery Charger w/ Canon, Nikon, and Phase One Plates
  • 2x 13,000mAh USB Batteries
  • Computer Tool Kit (torx drivers, spudgers, tweezers, etc.)
  • Large Dark Cloth (for when the DigiShade Pro just doesn't cut it outdoors)
  • 25' Stinger
  • Power Strip
  • First Aid Kit
  • Tool Kit  
    • Large Flashlight
    • Utility Knife + Spare Blades
    • Large Phillips/Flathead Screwdriver
    • Small Phillips, Flathead, and Torx Drivers
    • Standard and Metric Hex Wrenches
    • Stubby #7 Tripod Plate Screwdriver
    • 25' Tape Measure
    • Cable Tester
    • Bubble Level
    • Scissors
    • Adjustable Crescent Wrench
    • Slip-Joint Pliers
    • Wire Cutters
    • More Sharpies, Pens, and Pencils
  • Grip Kit 
    • Additional Gaff and Paper Tape
    • 2x Super Clamps
    • 2x 2" and 2x 1" A-Clamps
    • Magic Arm
    • Cube Tap
    • Various Studs and Adapters
    • J-Hooks
    • Safety Cable
    • 2x Ratchet Straps
    • 3x Bungee Cords
    • Gloves
    • Sticky Velcro
    • Gaffer Glass
    • Paracord
    • Binder Clips

 

Location Extras

If we're going to be on location, I'll usually bring a few extra personal items, including:

  • Water Bottle
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Spare T-Shirt
  • Windbreaker
  • Umbrella
  • Pocket Hand Warmers (seasonally)

 

I hope you've found this list useful!  Feel free to ask any questions or let me know about your favorite tools that I've left out in the comments section!

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