Whether you're putting together a professional kit, assisting, or just wearing multiple hats at your own shoot, knowing which tools to bring on set separates the dabblers from the pros. Resource Magazine's guide to kits covers make-up; hair, food, and wardrobe styling; set building; model making; producing; and even baby wrangling.
This article has been contributed from the Winter 2008 issue of Resource Magazine, courtesy of the publisher. To subscribe to the magazine and explore Resource’s online features, visit the Resource Magazine website.
Photographs by Hiroki Kobayashi.
It may be called the photo industry, but there’s a lot more to it than just snapping pictures. Someone has to set the stage, both metaphorically and literally, and perform the day-to-day tasks that keep the gears running smoothly, such as building sets, styling hair, wrangling babies, handling money . . . the list goes on.
To aid them in their tasks, people use a vast array of kits that are lugged from shoot to shoot. Many years of experience and knowledge have gone into accumulating the contents of these kits, which now lay fully bare and thoroughly poked, prodded, and analyzed for your edification. Much as the samurai has his sword and the writer his pen, these professionals also wield the tools of their trade. So read closely, take notes, and share with your friends, because you’re about to get a lesson in what makes a master a master.
Food Stylist: Karen Pickus
Bottom row, from the left:
Measuring spoons: To keep those recipes as accurate as possible.
Melon-baller: It's just fun to say. Plus it's good for hollowing out strawberries.
Finer brushes: To add a delicate layer of sauce or olive oil.
Zester/Channel knife: This combination device will make short work of your fruits. The zester will finely julienne the rind, while the channel knife will peel it off. Go around the whole piece of fruit and you've got yourself a spiral. Neat!
Q-tips: Combined with hot water or Windex will clean your filthy fingerprints off the plates' rims.
Top row, again from the left:
Scissors: A good pair of scissors can be used for everything: opening packages, snipping herbs, fending off ninjas . . .
Metal spatula: Good for lifting, turning, and moving foods. Did you know you could also scrape with it? No you did not.
Metal spoons: Plop your toppings on with these, like chopped tomatoes over garlic bread for that perfect bruschetta.
Metal spreaders: For icing, buttering, and spreading goodness.
Serrated knife: No bread product is safe from a serrated edge.
Rubber spatulas: These can do more than scrape the bottom of a bowl. Not only are they more flexible and less noisy than spoons, they can also withstand high temperatures, so they're safe to use in frying pans.
Knife: A smaller knife is good for paring fruit and peeling and coring apples. This particular one happens to be Japanese. . . . Maybe I should have saved that ninja joke . . .
Smaller thin blade knife: Like the big one, but smaller.
Smaller serrated knife: The smaller one is the perfect size to slice tomatoes with ease.
Chef's knife: You have to have one. It's called a chef's knife, after all.
Thin blade knife: The best knife for filleting fish and dicing cheesecake. Just don't do one right after the other.
(Even bigger) Chef's knife: The general, all-purpose knife you'll end up using the most, especially if you chop a lot of onions or garlic. And frankly, who doesn't?
Pastry brushes: To dust your dishes with flour, or slather them with BBQ sauce or olive oil.
Little metal spatulas: See comment for "Smaller thin blade knife."
Chopsticks: Keep these on hand to make you feel cooler when you use them instead of a fork.
Hair Stylist: Vassilis Kokkinidis from Artwing
Hairpins (waved, with enamel coating, smooth surface) and curl pins: Carry a whole mess of these. But don't use too many, or your model will end up looking like a hedgehog.
Snag-free headbands: Please note the "snag free" part. No one likes having her hair yanked.
Bungee bands: Yeah, you've always wondered if it's possible to bungee jump with enough of them tied together but you'll never try, will you, coward?
Colored hairspray (multiple colors): This will hide those gray hairs and botched dye jobs in a jiffy.
White and colored powder: Powder can soak up oils and make the hair fuller. But be careful with the white stuff or it will look like old man makeup in a community theater show.
Hand steamer: A beauty salon staple in the palm of your hand (also works great on vegetables).
Electric curlers and rollers: Use for curls, or to achieve that sexy and hip chain-smoking-middle-aged-housewife look.
Curling iron, wave iron, hair straightener iron: The most important part of using an iron is remembering to unplug it when you're done.
Porcelain conical wand: It's basically a curling iron (insert Harry Potter joke here).
Hair extensions (different colors), hair pieces, wigs, wig caps, ponytails, bangs, hair clips: Bring enough faux-hair to recreate Cousin Itt. That way you'll always have a backup solution when styling someone non-photogenic.
Hair dryer: The only thing that will blow more hot air than the producer.
Diffuser: Snap this onto the hair dryer to muzzle its strength and add fullness and body.
Clippers: When using these, keep an eye out for any choice pieces to add to your already-immense hair clip collection.
Trimmer: Put unruly 'burns and 'staches back in their place.
Brilliantine: Only use a small amount to soften dry hair and make it more manageable. Unfortunately, the effect on the subject's mental faculties is minimal.
Styling crème, styling lotion, straightening lotion, De-Frizz smoothing lotion/shine, grooming crème, setting lotion, styling foam/mousse, gel: With enough lotion, crème, foam, gel, and other miscellaneous gunk you can manhandle anyone's hair into doing damn near anything, even if you have to lay enough down to form a protective helmet around the skull.
Sculpting wax, precision wax: Apply lightly. No one wants to be mistaken for an exhibit at Madame Tussaud’s.
Egyptian Magic Multi Purpose Balm: This stuff will do anything and everything, from salving burns and moisturizing dry skin to conditioning hair and removing makeup. Just don't eat it.
Thickening spray: Makes thinning hair look fuller. The prematurely balding will thank you profusely.
Gloss spray: Don't use too much, or the model's hair will shine more brightly than the sun.
Hairspray: It may be a hit musical but no one appreciates you belting out show tunes at six in the morning.
Shampoo/Conditioner: Not everyone has a chance to wash before they reach the studio.
Hair masque: This will soften and moisturize dry and brittle hair.
Hair moisturizer for curls: Keep that curly hair moist if you want to maintain the look.
Scissors: Aim away from the face and groin.
Mason Pearson Hairbrush: A kinder, gentler hairbrush that will leave your model grateful that you didn’t rip all the hair out of her head.
Brushes: Be sure to use a hair detangling solution before brushing or it will quickly turn into every hair-related argument you ever had with your mother when you were a kid.
Combs: I hope you saved all the ones they gave you at school on picture day . . .
Model Maker: Makoto Aoki
Hole saw: A drill bit that will cut neat little holes into thin pieces of wood.
Countersink bit: Drilling holes with this will make the countersunk screws that go into those holes flush with the surface. Just don't ask me what a countersunk screw is.
Router bit: Slap this onto your wood router or laminate trimmer to make patterns in your woodwork so it's all nice and pretty.
Eye protection: Poke an eye out and it'll be much harder to work with tools.
Mitsutoyo digital caliper: Calipers measure the distance between the two sides of an object, like a quarter, or a screw, or your head, if it weren't so damn big.
Gripper gloves: Keep tools from flying out of your cold, clammy hands by sporting a pair of these.
C-clamp: Secures separate pieces of wood together.
Japanese hand saw: Beware! Despite the name, do not actually saw any hands!
#1-#60 drill set: The man who said you can have enough drill bits . . . well, that man was a damned fool.
3M respirator: It may smell good, but spray paint has no business being in your lungs.
Insulated wrench [1000v protect]: This will protect you from charges of up to 1000 volts. 1001 volts though and you're screwed.
Jewelry vice: Keeps precious jewelry steady as you grind it into worthless dust.
Iwata spray gun: Tempting though it may be, do not spray innocent bystanders.
Machine screws: Like other kinds of screws, but capable of one day subjugating the human race.
Set screws: Prevents your finely crafted work from coming loose through movement and vibration.
Graphic tools: You really should draw a line showing where to cut before you turn on that circular saw.
Small airbrush: For when blasting paint with the spray gun isn't appropriate.
Small scissors: These are handy for small jobs like trimming fake leaves. Real leaves just look too fake after all.
Tweezers: For the delicate work your fingers are too thick to perform.
Drill set: Because it doesn't make any sense to have all those drill bits and no drill.
Starrett center finder: Eyeballing the center is just a bad idea.
Small vice: Seizes tiny things you don't want to let get away.
Square: Make sure the edges are a perfect 90 degrees or everything will end up lopsided. Everything.
Rivet gun: Aim away from the eyes and groin.
Wrenches: Useful for securing bolts and nuts, and for gumming up gear works.
Diamond drill bits: These are stronger than the normal drill bits and can make holes in glass.
Laminate router trimmer: A smaller, handier version of the wood router. Slap your router bit on and there you go.
Screw gun: Much less fun than it sounds. It just makes putting screws in easier.
Quick-grip: The more compact, cuter cousin of the c-clamp.
Silver solder set: Heating up solder liquefies it so you can glue pieces of metal together. Except here the glue can burn your fingers together.
Soldering iron torch: Solder metal together or heat up plastic to soften it for molding. Just remember to wear that respirator.
Starrett Combination Square set: Your thumb is not a good tool for measuring angles.
Milling machine bit: Milling machines are used to shape solid materials like metal. They're too big to fit into your kit, but if the studio has one, you can "borrow" it by adding your own bit.
Jewelry saw blades: Used to cut tiny metal pieces.
Scissors, laser blade, etc.: It might sound like an American Gladiator, but a laser blade is actually more of a utility knife.
Wire brush (file cleaner): You're an adult, so remember to clean up after yourself.
Level: You ever wonder what the liquid in a level tastes like? Well, neither did I.
File sets: It's best to have as many different styles of file as possible on hand. You don't want to get caught with a joint round edge file when what you really need is a pippin.
Clay tools: These wooden tools will help you sculpt clay, but they will not fix it after you burn your creation in the kiln.
Dremel bits set: Don't mix these bits up with any of the other 3,487 bits in this kit.
Dremel rotary tool drill: This handheld drill can be used like a pen to grind down metal, plastic, or wood.
Make-Up Artist: Mario Dedivanovic from Illusions at Click Model Management
Tan Airbrush in a Can by ModelCo (pink bottle): For that deep, rich tan that washes off in the shower. Blend with a velour puff.
Model in a Bottle (clear bottle with gold top): Once the makeup is finished, spray this product over the face to preserve the look for several hours.
Giella Matte Extender (round silver cap): Mixing this into cosmetics will mattify colors and reduce the shine on oily skin.
Sephora brow scissors (scissors under the brushes): Banish an unsightly unibrow or cut false lashes into pieces with this handy tool.
Giella grapeseed oil (skinny clear tube to the right of the brushes and scissors): If you're working with, oh, I don't know . . . Clint Eastwood, use this to soften his skin and cuticles. And if you want to give him a dewy look, mix it with liquid foundation or concealer.
L’Oréal Voluminous Mascara in Carbon Black (black tube, gold top): A rich mascara that blows up the lashes . . . with volume, that is.
Alcone Face-Matte Oil-Blotting Blue Sheets (the white rectangle with a woman's face): Use these instead of powder on set to avoid leaving chalk-like dust hanging in the air. Everyone will appreciate it.
Giella Vitamin C + Ginseng Serum (orange-y tube below the sheets): It may smell delicious but do not allow anyone to eat it.
Make Under Transparent Coverage (tube beside the moisturizer): This will create a base on the model's face and mattify the skin. Translated into paint terms: it's a primer.
Telesis Make-Up Remover (the white tube on the other side of the Olay thing): A creamy makeup remover that won't irritate the eyes or skin.
Kevyn Aucoin lip pencil in medium (pencil beside the makeup remover): A universal shade that's a bit darker than natural lip color.
Makeup Forever 12 Flash Color Case (the box that looks like a child's watercolor paint set): Much like the children's paint set they resemble, these colors can be used alone or mixed and matched to create just the right shade. Add in other products as desired.
Make Under Eye Transformer (white round container with the red mark): A primer for eyelids that prevents the eye shadow from absconding. Dust it with a bit of translucent powder.
RCMA foundations (two white round containers above the Makeup Forever case): Apply this foundation with a brush and then blend it in with a sponge; the result is full coverage that can easily be built upon.
Giella b-dazzle (little round white jar above the RCMA foundations): Bedazzle the tear ducts with this loose powder eye shadow. Sounds painful, but it isn't, for you.
Ben Nye Neutral Set (to the left of Makeup Forever): Neutralize the face! But don't shout that as you apply it, because then people will look at you funny.
Kevyn Aucoin The Sensual Skin Enhancer (two round burgundy jars above the pink sponge): Concealer, but don't use it willy-nilly: save it for those spots where things didn't go quite the way you wanted them to.
The Beauty Blender (pink egg-shaped sponge): As there are no sharp edges on this sponge, it won't leave streaks when it's crammed into every crevice of the face. It also washes easily for repeated use.
The Body Shop Lip Scuff exfoliator (silver tube with black bottom to the left of Ben Nye): Eliminates chapped lips and works well as a base for matte lipstick. Kind of like a high-end version of that glitter ChapStick middle school girls use.
Mattese NYC Q-tips: For elite, precision touch ups, the skinnier the better.
Preo individual eyelash curler (the silver thing beside the Q-tips): Gets to those hard to reach eyelashes that average curlers just give up on.
Shu Uemura Eyelash Curler (the other, regular eyelash curler): Outfitted with a rubber cushion, this curler will leave those lashes with a more natural curl.
Benefit Cosmetics HOOLA bronzer (above the curlers): This is one bronzer that will not make models look like they've been dusted with Cheetos.
Set Builder: Michael Bednark
Clockwise from the lower right hand corner.
Drill bit kit: It's always good to carry an assortment of drill bits in every conceivable width, length, and head type. Also, throw in a socket set. You'll need it.
18v cordless circular saw: Excels at cutting large sheet goods, such as plywood, and any hands that get in the way. Be careful.
18v cordless hammer drill: Attach one of those bits to drill holes or distress and age your props so they look like someone's actually used them.
Scraper: Designed to remove paint and varnish. It's another tool that can be used to distress your set and to make it appear lived-in.
Black sash cord: A handy tool for tying things down or back, such as those damnable drapes that just won't stay still.
Sureforms: Dozens of tiny planes clustered on a metal surface, Sureforms are used to shape and carve foam. Sort of like a cheese grater, but not.
Cordless nail gun: If you're James Bond, it can be used to dispatch bad guys in funky sunglasses. But since you're not, you'll mostly just apply molding with it.
Mitre box: Cut wood from angles of 0 to 45 degrees, but not without wearing your safety goggles, mister.
Torch: Use it to remove paint and solder objects together, or have some fun with it and distress furniture, brown a turkey, or char anything that needs charring.
Japanese acrylic saw: It cuts acrylic. And it's Japanese. Kind of explains itself.
T50 staple gun: An adhesive tool, but much, much more fun to use than glue.
Trick line: Invisible wire that can be used to manipulate props on set. Later, you can tell people it was all magic.
Streaks 'N Tips: Technically a hairspray product used to darken hair and cover bald spots, but in this case you can use it to age objects and make them look dusty. Afterwards, it easily wipes off.
Steel wool: If the set is too glossy or too new, buff it down with steel wool.
Pounce bag: A powder-filled bag that distresses sets and wardrobes by emitting dust. Comes in several delightful colors such as black, NYC dust, and sepia.
Hudson sprayer: Fill this up with watered down paint to quickly cover large backgrounds and break up surfaces.
Butyl: A hulked-up version of that poster tacky you used for your dorm room posters. Only this stuff works. Attach objects to the wall or secure ones that won't stay still. It’s easily removed afterwards and leaves nothing behind, quite unlike you.
Wardrobe Stylist: Renate Lindlar
Lint roller, lint brush: To clear away all those tiny pieces of everything that inevitably find their way onto every single inch of fabric.
Safety pins: Buy them by the bushel.
Binder, paper clips: Use them instead of safety pins to tighten a too-large garment if you want to be able to return it.
Tape, tape, and more tape . . . and lots of double stick tape too: Put tape on the bottoms of shoes to prevent them from getting dirty (and thus preventing you from returning them). Use the double stick version to prevent belts from flapping loose, or to keep the ladies from falling out of their dresses.
Fun-Tak: Another use for that stuff you hang posters with: making a model’s finger bigger so a too-large ring won’t fall off and land in the nearest drain.
Jewelry shine cloth: Don’t worry: it also works on cubic zirconia.
Gunk & Goo Remover Towelettes, Shout Wipes, baby wipes . . . : Anything that can possibly stain the model’s clothes will. Keep these on hand and patrol with vigilance.
Antibacterial wipes: Courtesy wipes for the ladies before they plug in a pair of earrings.
Collar extensions: They increase collar size and are easily hidden by a tie knot.
Big and small scissors: Always versatile and handy, but be careful with them around people.
Static Guard: Clingy clothes are about as welcome as clingy people. This will help at least with the clothes.
Pre-threaded sewing kit: You can buy one for about a dollar, instead of having your poor assistant make one from scratch.
Shoehorn, shoe mitten, shoeshine, shoelaces, insoles: Shoeshine boy not included.
Tape measure: For those rare cases when you actually want the clothes to fit the model.
Wire ties (the kind you close garbage bags with): Good for making necklaces shorter.
Cable ties: These will ensure that suitcases and bags stay shut.
Pincushion (with pins), thimble: When shooting just the clothes and no model, pin them ferociously into place.
Clear bra straps: An elegant dress isn’t so elegant when the bra straps are showing.
Bra extender: Give the model more breathing room.
Underwear: They will keep everything covered.
Nipple patches: To preserve modesty and good taste.
Makeup cover hood: Put this over the model’s head between wardrobe changes to prevent makeup from smearing all over the clothes.
Spritz water bottle: To help with ironing.
Rubber bands: Instead of paper clips, use these to make belts tighter in the back.
Mini eyeglass repair kit: This is the one instance when you don’t want to use tape.
Tie button: To hold ties in place.
One big trash bag: Because it’s easier to carry around than a lot of small ones.
Latex gloves: They make cleaning up messes less icky.
Airsickness bags: If anything gets wet, put it in here. Don’t use plastic bags: they always leak.
Ziploc bag: There’s always good catering.
Razor and shaving cream: Technically the hair and makeup crew should have this but they usually don’t.
Brush Ups, toothpicks, dental floss: Especially dental floss. Someone always asks for it.
Tampons, sanitary napkins, and panty liners: For the, uh . . .
Sunscreen, Buzz Away: Outdoor shoots are rough enough already. This will make them slightly less hellish.
Basic first aid kit: It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Single-use eye drops: They’re much more hygienic than having everyone share one huge bottle.
Plug converter: This will fit your three-pronged monstrosities into two-prong holes.
Box knife, pliers, multi screwdriver: MacGyver only used a Swiss Army knife, but let’s face it, you are no MacGyver.
Corkscrew: How else will you open that bottle of wine after a long day’s work?
Birthday candles, matches: It’s always someone’s birthday.
Small Krazy Glue bottle: Does this need an introduction?
WD-40: Handy for props, or if the photographer is having trouble with the tripod.
Handheld electric fan: For the grueling summer heat.
Heat pads: For the grueling winter cold.
Laptop: Use it to send e-mails, find great restaurants, get directions, or look busy. Mostly that last option.
Cell phone: Stay connected to the world around you, then kill time with Bejeweled.
Calculator: Make sure it's a scientific calculator. You know it’s good because "scientific" is right there in the name.
Business cards: These are essential if you ever hope to win a free lunch. Oh, they also help with networking, I guess.
Checkbook: To amuse yourself later, write something crazy in the memo line, like "Clown Murdering" or "Merry Arbor Day!"
Credit cards: Always remember to keep a spare for when the first one gets maxed out...maybe you should carry two spares . . . okay, three.
Money: Because without it, you're not a producer.
Folder: Keeps those contracts nice and crisp.
Paper: It's better to have too much paper than not enough. Isn't that right, tree killer?
Notebook: Free the demons in your skull by filling it with tiny, meticulous scrawls no one else is ever allowed to see.
Watch: Typically used in conjunction with the “speed-it-up” hand wave.
Sunglasses: Never let them see your true emotions.
Bottle of water: Prevents dehydration. That's just smart.
Gum: What better way to show your impatience than constantly snapping a piece of gum?
Lip balm: Schmoozing doesn't go so well when you have chapped lips.
Receipts: For later reimbursement and tax write-offs, fill an envelope with your receipts, including those found on the ground.
Baby Wrangler: Anonymous
Assorted crap: As a baby wrangler, your basic job is to keep the baby calm, cool, and collected. This means entertaining the little tyke and keeping him happy while everyone else carries on with their business. Sounds easy? Then you've clearly never been around a child. Take with you anything and everything that you think might even remotely interest a baby, from rattles and noisemakers to pop-up books and stuffed animals. And please, don't bring anything the baby could swallow or hurt himself with. He might find that shiny aluminum foil intriguing, but it's best to keep it out of his mouth. Back up all that fun by being an energetic firecracker of boundless joy. Never let the facade slip. If you're in a pissed off mood, so is baby. And if baby's pissed off, so is everyone else on the set. And who are they going to blame? You can try to pin it on the rugrat, but it's not going to work.