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A photographer’s toolbox

A photographer’s toolbox

I am a worrier. One of my biggest worries is about camera equipment breaking while I am on the job.

Over the last 35-plus years as a photographer I have built a small toolbox of gadgets and odd little items that have delivered me from the worry zone and have saved my life on a few occasions. My method is simple: I think like MacGyver.

All MacGyver needed was a roll of duct tape and a Swiss Army knife and he was able to blast, defend and survive all the evil-doers he encountered. I am not MacGyver, but I have adapted and survived over the years with a roll of duct tape, a Swiss Army knife, a Leatherman tool, a flashlight, a headlamp, cotton swabs, a pencil eraser and a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers.

All of the components in my toolbox are obtainable from drug stores, home improvement stores and camera shops.

I use the small jeweler’s screwdrivers to tighten the tiny screws on the lenses and lens mounts that always seem to wriggle loose when you least expect. The pencil eraser is great for cleaning the dirty contacts on your camera’s hot shoe and lens mounts.

The Swiss Army knife has helped me through many “little” emergencies through the years. The tweezers on the knife have removed splinters from my fingers and helped with minor camera repairs. The large blades have trimmed shoelaces, cut duct tape and aided in repairing tripods.

The Leatherman tool is a Swiss Army knife on steroids, with saw blades, razor-sharp knife blades, screwdrivers and just about any tool you will need to survive in the wild. During some recent brush fires, I have spent several long days and a few nights in my car transmitting photos and sleeping overnight. The Leatherman tool didn’t make me a better photographer, but I was able to cut some apples and feel a little safer.

Cotton swabs are great camera and lens cleaners. They are designed to clean the folds and nooks of your ears, but they work great for cleaning the dust and grime from your gear.

Flashlights are great for evening and night work. There is nothing more frustrating for a photographer than not being able to see the camera and lens controls at night. Those long-exposure night shots are made simpler when you can see what you are doing. I also carry a headlamp with me for night hiking, and spare batteries for both sets of lights.

All of the above are great, but hands-down the photographer’s favorite tool is duct tape. The guy who invented duct tape never thought in a million years that photographers would be using the product to lash their broken tripods together, mend cracked lens hoods or fix a zipper.

By the way, I keep all of the above “toolbox” items in a big freezer-sized zip- lock bag in my trunk. I think MacGyver would be proud of me.

PHOTOS: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times


  1. August 16, 2010, 10:28 am

    Excellent tips! I just went on a long mountain hike and had a loose ballhead plate that for some reason I only had a small Allen wrench for and not a larger one. I’m going to update my kit with one plus the stuff I don’t have listed in your kit. Thanks!

    By: Claudia
  2. January 10, 2013, 11:18 pm

    Excellent tips! I just went on a long mountain hike and had a loose ballhead plate that for some reason

    By: tap bolts

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