For as long as I can remember it held a place of honor in the van. It overflowed with tools, gadgets and a lot of zip ties. That sucker easily weighed a ton. However, we gave much honor and respect to the monstrous, gigantic, blue E-Kit.
My Dad’s emergency kit often saved the day when photographic disasters reared their ugly heads. The calamities ranged from an unruly tree branch encroaching on a photo to an urgent need for a homemade flag.
On our photo shoot at Madera Canyon in Arizona the sun shifted dramatically throughout the day. We combated the pesky rays of light hitting our hummingbird set by placing multiple flags on light stands to block the light. Eventually we ran out of flags.
The E-Kit rode to the rescue. Within a few minutes I’d whipped up a solution to the problem by duct taping a cereal box to a light stand’s arm. Dad got some great photos thanks to that little flag.
Dad’s photo shoots often took place in remote locations like ranches in the Rocky Mountains or the deserts of Arizona. Stores and help were far, far away. So Dad took everything he could imagine needing in the E-Kit.
“Sometimes a ‘fix’ from the E-Kit didn’t play a major part in a photo but we couldn’t have found the stuff on location,” Dad said.
The kit saved “Cherry Cobbler”. Dad created this mouthwatering picture for his book “Legends of a Range Cook”. To get an authentic feel to the photo he went on location and set up the campfire with the Dutch ovens and tools. However, the wind kept blowing the tools around so Dad dug into the E-Kit and used some wire to lash them in place.
When Dad and his brother Gordon ran their commercial advertising studio, they had to deliver fantastic photos no matter what went wrong. Both their reputation with art directors and their income rode on delivering despite what obstacles lurked around the corner. After a short time in the business they became highly motivated to anticipate problems. It required, however, becoming a jack-of-all-trades with a working knowledge of all sorts of tools.
Dad said, “You don’t know what’s going to go wrong and what you’ll need to fix it. Basically you’re trying to make something be what it’s not to get the photo. But if you’ve done it right no one will be able to tell what you did either to fix the problem or put it back like you found it once you’ve got the photo.”
Stealing a Great Idea
My Uncle Gordon got the idea for the E-Kit at his first post-college job working for another professional photographer. He observed this photographer not only used an E-Kit, he also bought bags for light stands, arms and other things in the commercial photo studio. This made going on location a breeze because gear didn’t get tangled up in transport.
Uncle Gordon talked to Dad and they decided to swipe both of these ideas. As former Boy Scouts both guys loved the motto “Always Be Prepared”.
Their first E-Kit was significantly smaller than the monstrosity I grew up knowing (and secretly hating when I had to try to pick it up). It proved to be inadequate for the amount of stuff they routinely needed on location shoots.
Meanwhile Dad observed one of the worker bees at another studio creating bags of all sorts using an industrial sewing machine and heavy-duty tarpaulin. The material came in several thicknesses, all with bonded coating to make them waterproof. Even better, the material wouldn’t rip. You literally had to cut it to create a break in the fabric.
So Dad purchased an industrial sewing machine, tracked down the fabric and got started on a long career of bag making. He designed the E-Kit bag with inner and outer pockets to make finding smaller items easier. He left a large center well open well for items like staple guns and saber saws. He also added heavy-duty straps for carrying the whole shebang.
Heavy Duty Rottweiler
Problem solved. Well, mostly. As I mentioned the bag weighed about as much as a hearty, full grown Rottweiler. Perhaps I exaggerated a bit. Nope. Now that I think of it, I’m certain it was in Rottweiler range.
Back in the day it took two people to pick up the thing. Dad, however, could heft it around by himself. Now Dad’s paired down the bag a bit since his commercial photography days are over, but it still weighs in at a chunky 40 pounds.
Because the bag weighed so much, it mostly stayed in the van on location shoots. If he needed something, Dad would send an assistant back to the vehicle to rummage through the E-Kit.
When he was shooting “Evening Stage” he did send an assistant back to the van to get wire. Dad needed to fasten flour sacks filled with Fuller’s earth to the backside of the stagecoach. Each time a wheel made a rotation, it hit the bags releasing some of the stuffing and creating dust that made the sun’s rays really stand out.
Dad came up with this special effect on the fly. Thanks to the E-Kit and a friend who had the flour sacks, everything came together to make one very believable piece of Old West art.
In making Western pictures like the stagecoach, Dad often sketched out his ideas before heading out to shoot. One time he envisioned a winter photo in the corral at his friends’ ranch, but he knew he’d need extra lighting. While still at the studio, he built a light with a strobe head inside to illuminate the model. Then he headed to Colorado for the frigid photo session.
Once on site, Dad secured the light to the fence with a drill. Since this was a regular item in the E-Kit, Dad didn’t give the drill a second thought. The photo turned out great and the ranch returned to normal by the end of the day. Everyone was happy.
So a well-designed E-Kit can make or break a photo shoot. It even helped Dad be a more creative artist as well as a problem solver. He crafted “Buckboard Cowboy” by combining multiple photographs to make one Old West photo. After shooting the cowboy driving the buckboard, Dad realized he’d need to add more dust coming up from the horses’ hooves to make it believable.
While on location, Dad took a 2×4 from the E-Kit, wrapped it in blue screen fabric and stapled the fabric to the wood. Then my mother hit the sand repeatedly while he shot the resulting “dust”. The blue screen fabric allowed him to seamlessly cut out the dust in Photoshop and add it to the big picture composite. It may have been a small part of the overall photo but that attention to detail combined with the other elements made a realistic photo for the viewers.
Blue Bag O’ Tricks
So you might be wondering what Dad keeps in that magic blue bag of tricks. We’re going to tell you. In fact, we’ve provided a complete list for you. Just enter your email address and then download the list.
But first, one additional note. Each time Dad goes on a shoot, he evaluates what he thinks he might need. Anything not on the original list gets added to the bag. For example, he’ll throw in a few garbage bags if the forecast looks especially wet. He’ll add a shovel for super snowy locations. You get the idea. This is a list of basic supplies. Tweak it to fit your individual situation.