Grip Gear: A Guide For Natural Light Photographers
Grip gear and equipment is a really fun part of photography. It is an area of production that exists to back photographers up in creatively solving problems. Whether you need a mini A-clamp, or a Black Bird 220 (a $10,000+ cinema light stand) or something in between there are endless grip possibilities to solving problems that may arise on shoot day.
For this reason some photographers like to be as prepared as possible when heading out for a shoot. Some take their grip bags with just the essentials items and backups, others take 20 foot 18 ton box trucks filled to the brim with stands, clamps, flags, silks, solids, scrims, floppies, sandbags, shinies, furniture pads, apple boxes, stingers, splitters, cube taps, generators, dollies, taco carts (not of the crafty sort), and 30 kinds of tape. If you’re new to grip gear this is going to be a great post for you, and if you’ve been into grip gear for a while this should inspire new stuff in you as well, because no matter what level you play the photography game at, you might find some undiscovered possibilities inside. Let’s take a look!
First off, grip equipment is usually some kind of support system or device that holds two things together, or even something that modifies light. Think a light stand or a tripod, or even an A-clamp, or reflector, all support, hold, or modify the shoot equipment in some way. Your grip kit depends entirely on what kind of photographer that you are and how your workflow streams into existence. When you are just starting out there’s a huge chance that your grip collection will be able to fit into a single bag or two, and consists mostly of stands, A-clamps, gaffers tape, a pair of work gloves, a tripod, color correction gels, a leatherman, a light meter, some grey cards, a lens cleaning cloth, and lots of spare alkaline or rechargeable batteries (That’s what mine consisted of starting out). Many photography problems can be solved with these materials, and the more problems you can solve easily on the fly, the more skilled of a photographer you will become.
This guide will break down what 3 different kinds of photographers might need during their productions, how they would use the items, and why. I’ve chosen this structure to appeal to you, our readers, as many of you are in one of these three categories. Many image creators have a go to set of tools that they like to carry, and they all vary greatly. I hope by presenting these 3 photographers situations (+ some cool grip-centric resources) that it will inspire you to create a grip kit of your own, and advance yourself to a new level photographically, because creative problem solving is awesome!
Here is Photographer A’s profile:
-Natural light photographer
-Dawn/dusk prone but can shoot in any light
-Has fast glass
-Shoots everything under the sun but really loves people and portraits
A likely grip kit for this photographer might include a solid yet lightweight tripod. A tripod improves image quality immensely by increasing sharpness and lowering camera shake. You may not be able to tell at first glance on your 3” LCD but at 300% zoom, it makes a huge difference. Plus tripods can be useful for capturing landscapes beautifully, framing up architecture correctly, or freeing up your hands to assist yourself while making a portrait (with use of a shutter timer or release of course). If you’ve invested in great lenses then a great tripod is the camera support item that is going to help maximize your investment by providing sharpness to your images.
The next essential photo item for photographer A is a 5-in-1 pop out reflector, like this Westcott version. They are reasonably affordable and can serve one extremely well as they are so multifunctional. They combine a silver reflector, a gold reflector, a white diffuser or what is called a scrim, and a solid black negative fill all in one. These can be useful for bouncing warm or cool light into the shadows on your subject, making the light softer by letting it pass through the scrim, or blocking light where it is not desired. One can do a ton with just sunlight, but the possibilities start to really become endless when one can modify the sunlight and coerce it into collaborating. This is also one of the ways you can develop a unique look. When one uses tools that are specialized or out of the ordinary, or even ordinary tools used in extraordinary ways, elements uncommon appear and lend themselves to making the photographs one of a kind. Reflectors, flags, silks, and scrims come in all shapes and sizes, and different specialties too. Some stop more light or diffuse in different ways and even bounce light in different patterns back onto your subject.
This photographer might also be into the use of a V-flat. One of photography’s unsung heroes that is finally now beginning to really become popular as photographers such as Sue Bryce are advocating for them and making them known as an integral part of her business and an integral photography tool. A V-flat can stand on its own as it is constructed of two 4×8 foot foamcore boards, gator foam boards, or insulation boards taped together at the long edge creating a hinge. This tool can be used as a large negative fill card, positive fill card, backdrop, wedge wall, faux wall, or faux wall/floor. The possibilities are endless and they are made of cheap materials accessible to everyone. FITB has 9 and is constantly figuring out new things to do with them. And you can too!
So if you don’t have any grip gear, try finding some camera support or sunlight modifiers to play with and see what suits your photos best! To get a better idea of what modifiers are available to play with, check out ours at the studio or on our website! We have tons of tools available and are adding more regularly.
-Shoots with natural light and strobes or off camera flash as a supplement
-Semi-pro portrait and still life shooter, exploring the idea of entrepreneurship and owning a small business
-Has a 9-5 job but uses all free time to work on photography
-Is building a strong portfolio and starting to care about the photography community at large
-Has a car full of gear on shoot days, just in case
Photographer B used to be Photographer A a few years ago. Since then, it’s been realized that every photo shoot is a legit production and should be treated as such. Problems like not having enough hands have been solved easily by having a C-stand with a gobo arm, a reflector holder, a light stand, some sandbags, or possibly even an assistant. These are essential photo tools because they are the most versatile.
As photographer B you’ve probably amassed a worthy collection of light modifiers, fill cards, bounce boards, flags, and silks. As well as the support to float or fly them to the correct position to improve your photo, namely C-stands, Bogen style light stands, or boom arms. A C-stand can replace a person holding one of these things on set and never gets tired or hungry. It gives you extra ‘hands’ on set and is safe when handled properly with care. Grip gear becomes truly essential when trying to achieve a certain look with your photography. When one has a photo assignment or project that requires a specific lighting style or look, its essential to nail that for your client. Sometimes it doesn’t take any grip gear, and sometimes it can be like trying to solve a puzzle that manufactures its own pieces minute by minute. It’s a challenge for sure, but always remember with enough grip gear you can turn yourself into a crew of 2, 5, or 10 which is incredible for your work and your clients as well! Check out this Rocket Jump Film School video on C-stands if you need a refresher on best practices and safety guidelines, and stay tuned for FITB tutorials on how to use the specific gear available to you in our studio.
-A studio strobist at heart with a soft spot for dreamy natural light
-Shoots commercial studio assignments, lifestyle and advertising projects, and products for clients regularly
-Is a full time lone wolf freelancer as well as spouse, parent, and socialite
-Constantly wonders how to stay on the cutting edge
-Sometimes rents a sprinter van filed with gear when shooting on location or rents a studio with on-site grip gear available
Photographer C is a bonafide commercial photographer decked out with a small business, production budgets, rental resources, and a happy family at home that supports every venture and trip that needs to be taken. Since Photographer C likes to work alone, the natural instinct is to invest time and effort in knowing where to get grip gear, camera support, and light support that allows maximum flexibility for a single person crew to have the foot print of a 10 person crew. For this reason C-stands, boom arms, rollers, and carts to carry it all are this photographer’s best friend group. Having so many opposable and stable heavy metal friends made C’s career a great one so far, and is one of many secrets to making a production happen on budget and on time. Really, grip gear and rigging equipment is one of photography best kept secrets. With it many impossible-feeling and energy consuming tasks can be handled with ease. It all starts with a plan and the know how to execute it safely and to be on point.
The grip gear that makes photographer C so good at his job is whatever he needs to get his shot. After you’ve amassed experience with grip gear you will be able to know what looks you can get with what off camera grip gear. You might build sets for each photo shoot which grip gear can help to support. You might need to put a huge muslin or canvas backdrop in the air on top of a roof for a 20 person group portrait and need gigantic stands. You might even need some specialty equipment only available at local rental houses like the beloved Texcam here in Houston. They have a ton of awesome stuff to play with and so do we here at FITB.
I hope that this scenario of different situations has inspired you to try your hand at utilizing grip gear in order to better your images and yourself as a photographer! If it has, let us know in the comments or on instagram with the hashtag #fitbgrip
Do you identify with one of these 3 photographer profiles? Let us know! At FITB we are here to not only facilitate your shoot’s journey to successful completion but to also help where we can on your journey to becoming a better photographer too! Hit us up with any questions or comments, we’d love to engage with you!