Equipment Tips

December 5, 2003 tips & tricks

[12/5/03] From: Adrian Kill NHDTV

Cable ID can be a pain in the butt, so a simple and cheap way to id your myriad of cables is by saving the little plastic thingies off you bagel, bread, muffin and rice cake bags. They make handy reusable labels that you can mark up with a sharpie. And snap onto your Audio and Video cables. They make cable ID a snap. Cheap to boot.

[10/28/03] From: Kent Earle, Photographer, WBZ TV Boston

For years I struggled to level my tripod head in the dark. I tried carrying a mini pen light, but always ended up losing it eventually.

I finally came up with an idea to provide perfect illumination of the leveling ball, and every photographer that has seen it has stolen the idea!

Look under the camera plate at the back of the tripod. You will see the place where the tripod handle attaches to either the left or right side.

Using a zip tie, attach a mini keychain light (the kind you squeeze in the middle to illuminate a tiny light bulb) to the unused tripod handle attachment point. It is that simple!

Now, any time you are in the dark and need some light on the leveling ball, just squeeze the little key chain light, and it shines a tiny ray of light right into the glass leveling ball. voila, you now have a balanced tripod head any time, day or NIGHT!

[10/17/03] From: Curt

Len Hood Shadows… Are you suffering from lens hood shadows from you cameralight(Ultra-light). Try a little ball head from a still camera tripod. Turn it up side down. It gives you a couple extra inches and folds back down when not in use.

[2/23/03] From: Jimmy Herring

I was recently browsing through the Tips and Tricks section on and have a trick that works for me and may work for other hard core types. I work for a contract company at Ft. Polk Louisiana and along with numerous other camera operators provide all-weather 24/7 coverage of troops training in the field. This coverage includes walking over all types of terrain, through muddy fields, mosquito and snake infested swamps, spider webs by the thousands and just about anything else that can snag on a camera or foul a lens. To add insult to the misery, about half that time is at night using and Astro scope and night vision goggles. Bright light at night time is a no no whether in bad guy country or in training. The trick I use is to carry a couple of cheap, clear shower caps, the thinner the better. One I slide over the lens and hand control and with the other I cover the entire viewfinder. Quick to install and quick to remove or just peel back enough to see. Works great for rain, dust and just about anything else that can reach out and grab you and your gear.

[2/23/03] Nigel “Nige” Fox

If you have carbon fibre tripod legs that stick go to a locksmith and go buy some graphite powder.

Make sure you take your sticks OUTSIDE (this can be very messy) and put the powder on a paper towel and polish said legs accordingly. Viola no more sticky legs but fast moving items.

For a light portable dolly you should also consider the “Wally Dolly” packs down the same size as a tripod bag you can find them at

[1/31/02] Dylan Reeve, New Zealand

Something to add to your kit, especially if you shoot a lot in hot weather is a bladder-style water carrier, such as a CamelBak ( or Hydrapak ( You can get them as comfortable low-profile backpacks, or if you already wear a backpack when shooting, the bladders can be purchased as inserts for existing bags.

As well as being able to carry more water, more comfortably than with a sipper bottle hanging off your belt, the sipper tube makes it possible to drink easily, even while you are still rolling. They can be a bit expensive, but it’s far better than dehydration.

Mountain Bike Review has a fairly large number of water carriers listed on their site,

[12/02/01] Terry E. Toller

$12 Pocket Mic Stand.

I found a mini tripod at a local sporting goods/outfitters store. I used an adaptor to go from 1/4X20 thread to 5/8X27 and placed a universal mic swivel on top. This stand fits in my pocket and only cost $12.

‘Lil Lights

I purchased a set of three bookshelf lights at Home Depot. They are 12 volt lights and work fine with BP90s, Gelcells and even off of your car battery. You get three lights for $30. I have 20 foot cord with 4 pin XLR connectors as well as an off/on switch.

I mounted one of the lights onto a peice of angle aluminum and attached a norman umbrella adaptor. There are cheaper adaptors, check your local camera store.

This light has an amber gel placed over the front glass. I use it when interviewing firefighters or cops on scene at breaking news stories. It is only 20 watts but adds enough light to seperate the subject’s head and shoulders from a dark background.

[8/28/01] Terry E. Toller

While working for FOX in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, I created what I call the “Metro Light”. Named after the Metro Police Department who would force the media back so far that our on-camera lights would not reach the scene.

It is a very simple design on the style of a nine-light used on movie sets. Four off-road lights mounted to a frame allow each light to tilt and pan. The frame itself can tilt via the Norman light stand adaptor. There are two switches which allow you to use two or all four lights.

The “Metro Light” is a great long throw light! You can light the parts of the scene you want to see. Or, you can point all four lights at the same object for even greater distance.

The “Metro Light” works off of my car battery and has never caused me a problem when it came time to start the car. This light has a 20-foot cord with a four pin XLR connector. I also carry two 50-foot extension cords just incase. Each cord has four, four pin XLR connectors on the female end so I can power other 12v lights, monitor or a portable microwave transmitter.

I also carry a 200 amp hour gel cell battery just incase I need to set up lights in an area where I can’t get my car. The battery is mounted on a set of folding “wheels” (what you use to carry luggage in the airport) with large wheels. With an inline diode, the battery is connected to the car’s electrical system when not in use. The diode allows current to flow to the battery to keep it charged but does not allow current to flow from the battery to the car.

[8/15/01] Larry Jandro (Freelancer), Currently at home in Scottsdale, AZ, USA

The standard tripod shipping tubes which open at one end are very expensive – up to $300.00 from the manufacturers.

I discovered that a hard-shelled golf club case is every bit as good, in fact better. Better because they open like a suitcase which is much more convenient than wrestling with it standing on end and because they usually come with built-in wheels.

Even better is the fact that they can be had for about $80 in many golf pro shops. A bit of foaming to the inside, or use of a packing blanket protects your valuable tripod and head.

They even sell these cases in “double-wide” so you could add C-Stands, grip arms, or even your set of golf clubs to it..!

Just Jibbin’ Ya
[7/9/01] Terry E. Toller

Here is a jib and dolly setup I made for about $150. It sets up in about 15 minutes and gives great results and smooth movements.

The dolly is a piece of ½ inch plywood with four solid plastic wheels. I turned the wheels on a lathe to put a groove to run on the aluminum, 1-inch track.

The jib mounts on an old tripod I had in storage for many years. The main support is 1X2 inch by 8-foot aluminum. The main support from the tripod is ¼ inch aircraft grade aluminum as is the camera support.

I put a small fluid head on the camera support with a modified handle. It is connected to a handle at the main support so you can tilt the camera even when it is 10 feet in the air. I have sold two of these jibs (without dolly) for $400.

This rig is designed for small cameras such as the Canon GL-1, which is on the top of the jib. My GL-1 is modified. It has an onboard stereo mixer for two mics and two line inputs. I also made a bellows shade for it and use a French flag to prevent sun flair.

Just Pop a Hole in it!
[3/8/01 From: Adrian Kill]

I just modified my portabrace Mixer case so that I can put my diversity receivers inside it and not have the flap open allowing not only the elements in but also the receivers to fall out.

This is a simple fix cost is only a few dollars. Select rubber grommets that will allow your antennas to slide through but still afford a degree of tightness. Punch holes in the vinyl window slightly smaller than the grommet. Pop them in the holes and there you have it.

New Gear, Yea ha……
[From: Lenzpointer]

The excitement of getting new gear…….I have not felt that feeling in awhile, not to say that I’m not happy with my gear. I love my kit, and because it’s mine, I have personalized it. (Mine in the sense that I’m the only shooter on it. My company CTV, owns it.) I have been reading some of your replies and I have to agree, NEVER POOL, let the photogs take some type of ownership, what we do is we don’t number our kits, were color label them, everything in my gear had a blue tape sticker on it, this is better than numbering because you can cut a piece of tape down for small stuff, i.e.: Wireless, Chocolate Bar Batts (have blue dots on them) with numbering you can’t get small stickers or even write that small on the little stuff. Also make sure that your photogs all take time for general maintance of their gear, and schedule head cleanings and bigger maintance for once or twice a month. Happy shooting.

Think Fast
[From: Lenzpointer]

If you are shooting outside on a bright sunny day, try bumping up the shutter speed anywhere between 500 or 2000. This will blur your background and sculpted out your interview. Great if your background is busy, also put your talent or interview around 10 to 15 feet from your lens. This is a tip for new shooters, vets probably already utilize this tip.

Feeling weighed down?
From: Chuck KPLC

As cameras become older, the viewfinder has a tendency to not stay where it should.  Wherever you leave it, the weight of the eye piece pulls it down.  I have found that if you take a wide rubber band that will snugly fit around the viewfinder,  you will no longer have this problem.  Cheap and quick,  you can find these rubber bands holding together vegetables at the food market.


We all have things in our trucks we can’t live without.  A cooler, a book, or as one photog reported, clean underwear.  Check out what other’s have IN THEIR TRUCKS.

From: Bob Murdock – WFXT Boston]

The Steady – “Bag-Pack”
Make a trip to your local “budget” dept. store, Bradlees, Target, Wal-Mart ect. and purchase a lightweight nylon back pack. You know, the kind kids use for school books and look like they are made from pup-tents! They usually cost around $5, much cheaper than the good canvas type back pack. Unzip the main compartment and fill it with styrofoam packing or shipping “peanuts”! Now you have an ultralight steady bag you can wear on your back! This works well for me. After the camera, pod, fanny-pack, and misc. stuff I usually don’t have any room left on myself to carry anything. I can put this on my back and forget about it because it weighs well, .. nothing!! Got kids? Recycle their old bags. I got the shipping peanuts from an engineer at work so my steady bag-pack cost nothing to make! The peanuts are a bit extra spongy compared to a real steady bag but I find it suits my ground shot needs quite well. It also has an outer zipper pocket I can store tapes in! I’ve only found one major flaw, the ribbing from fellow shooters at my shop! “Hey Murdock, you need some Pokemon stickers a beanie hat and shorts!!” What a great group. Oh well, I’ll have the last laugh at the next fire!

“sand” bags
Terry E. Toller

You can make your own using heavy canvas but instead of sand, use shot. Shot only costs a few dollars for 10 pounds. End result is that you have the same weight but it takes up less room. I suggest you leave it in the plastic bag it comes in. Maybe even put it into a second bag. That way, you don’t have to worry about lead dust leaking from the bag.

August 13, 2001

Sandbags Here’s another sandbag tip- Rice! We travel quite a lot and lug our camera, lights and equipment with us. Carrying forty pounds of sandbags on and off the plane just doesn’t make sense. Instead, we carry string-pull nylon stuff stuff sacks and make a quick stop at a grocery store for bags of rice. The rice goes in the stuff sacks and when the shoot’s done, we find a local food pantry for the rice. Nice deal all the way around!

Andrew Martin Multimedia Director


One thing I’ve found pretty useful when you don’t have a steady bag available is to use, oddly enough, some kind of book, preferrably something thick, like a phone book. With this, you can turn clumps of pages to adjust the height you need to tilt the camera for the desired shot. Works great for ground shots, and is useful when you are lacking a tripod…just set the book on a surface, such as a table and flip some pages until you have the right height. Just a quick remedy I find useful.

Noelle Bye

From: Richard W. Adkins

Proper tape storage depends on what tape you are talking about.

  • Field Tapes: Field tapes are stored without a box under the driver’s seat of the news vehicle, somewhere between the lost french fries and the Rolaids wrappers. These tapes are best stored only partially re-wound.
  • Master Tapes: These tapes are far more important than Field Tapes, so extra care is required. In our shop, they can usually be found behind edit machines, or in the cool dark areas under the workbenches. If the tape is really important, it’s best to hide it in another department, or the news director’s desk.
  • Resume Tapes: These tapes are generally stored in an air-conditioned home or apartment. These tapes are stored in a clean tape box, free of dust and static.

I know this doesn’t help, but gosh it was sure fun to write, and it seems to be true!

From: Thomas Garland

I ran into a situation a few weeks ago while covering a shuttle launch. I had a program monitor hooked up so that the talent could see NASA tv and make reference to it, however as everyone knows, at 5pm in the afternoon in Florida sun, seeing a monitor not an easy task. The hood on it gave little help, so I found new trash can from the office (its a 8 gal. rectangle shaped can) and cut a hole in the back, placed the monitor inside it. This gave it about a foot of “shade” (A lot more than my hood that is on it now) and it works great. We also ran into a big bug problem that night, and it might be easy to add some pool screen to it to keep the bugs off.


To protect my color gels and spun glass I roll them up and stick them inside a cardboard paper towel roll…

From: Michael Teiper

Got a wireless handheld “stick” microphone and no decent way to mount it to your camera with easy access? Well try the local hardware store for (don’t laugh) broomstick holders. Yeah. The kind you mount to the wall to hold brooms, rakes etc.. They are easy to adapt to almost any camera, they don’t say “Porta Brace” on the side so you don’t get gouged some outrageous price for them, (Home Depot sells nice ones with plastic rollers for about a buck each), they can be bent to the snug hold that fits your needs and they’re simple enough even a reporter can use it!!! No more cheesey clamps, velcro, flimsey mike-stands, krazy-glue, bungie-cords or welding rods….just a @#$%^&* broom clamp. Go figure.


On the subject of hidden cameras’. Something that might work as far as acquisition is concerned, is the Lipstick/Peanut Camera. We’ve used Panasonic’s version in the Navy’s F-14’s and our Marine Corps F-18’s to get shots of the pilots in close quarters (Cockpits).
Sgt. Schrubb, Combat Photographer/Motion Media (Videographer), USMC


One of the best inventions to come to the TV News Photographers arsenal has to be the Wireless Microphone!   They allow you to get sound and shots never before possible with a wire.  The interview with a window washer on the 10th floor of a building shot from the ground…   The reporter stand-up shot across a river… What did we do without our wirelesses?

For a while our station didn’t have enough wireless mics for everyone, so we had to trade off with each other.  The challenge was how to attach the receiver securely to the camera, and make it easy to remove when necessary.

Enter The BEC Group wireless receiver mounts.   These aluminum metal boxes are felt lined and custom fitted to today’s most popular wireless systems and mount securely to the back of the camera.  The receiver simply slides easily in and out of the mount.

No more velcro, no more duct tape, and no more twist ties.

Check out The BEC Group‘s website for more information.


Go to K-Mart and buy a shotgun strap. It costs a whopping $1.97!!!! Also go and buy a bungee cord (this costs even less) and you have your own homemade PICK UP STIX.

I have a Vinten tripod so this may not work with all tripods. (1) Take the spreaders off the bottom of the sticks and place one strap at the bottom and then (2) take the other end of the strap and place it over your pan-tilt handle and (3) use the bungee cord to keep the legs together.

Sort of cheap but hey it works.

Create your own Steady Bag
from Ken D’Errico Chief Photographer at WLBZ-TV, Bangor, Maine:

Get a bag made out of canvas, with a handle and zipper. Go to the grocery store and buy all the dry beans they have.

Leave them in the bag and put inside the canvas bag. Poof, instant steady bag, cheap!

We made 5 for the cost of purchasing 1 real one!

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