Most TV news photographers, like me, will tell you that they love this job because it doesn't involve going to an office. There are no cubicles or desks to sit behind. Instead, you take your “office” with you in your crew vehicle. Along with your standard-issue camera, tripod, lights and microphone, you need to carry tools to help you be prepared for any situation.
Your crew car becomes your home away from home, so bring some of those creature comforts with you.
Every day in TV news is a road trip, so prepare your truck as if you're going to be driving for miles. Flash back to your youth, when four wheels, a full tank of gas and some friends meant endless possibilities. The only difference is the friend is your reporter for the day.
Every road trip needs a soundtrack, so bring some good music. Remote assignments can take you out of range of your favorite radio station, so reconnect with your favorite rock and roll (or country, gospel, hip-hop or soul) tunes with your own CDs or MP3 player. The unspoken rules of the road dictate that the driver picks the music, but since most photogs won't give away control of the steering wheel, at least let the reporter pick a few tracks.
A decent supply of non-perishable food and snacks will keep you recharged when the story takes you far away from fast food. A good candy bar might be the only thing that tames that grumpy reporter in the seat next to you, so bring some to share. Some bottled water and a small cooler should find a spot in the back seat as well. After the fine dining experience of a steering wheel cheeseburger, make sure you can clean up nicely with baby wipes or a roll of paper towels. Fast-food napkins only go so far.
Just as quickly as spot news can change your day, the weather can change on a moment's notice. Sunscreen helps on a sunny day. Bug repellent is a must-have in the woods. Stashing rain gear and umbrellas in your truck is a no-brainer. Just don't forget to have a spare extra-wide golf umbrella for your reporter. That might just save your live shot.
When it comes to weather tools, don't forget a simple hair dryer. Your reporter may try to borrow it after the rain storm, but its main purpose is to help dry out your camera and lens elements.
Ensuring your safety — and that of your colleagues — is the most important part of your job. No story is worth a major injury or death.
Back in 2008, the Federal Highway Administration began requiring all news crews to wear reflective safety vests when near federal highways. Having a few vests, along with safety hard hats, prepares you for highway live shots and may even help you gain access to the neighborhood construction project.
After some time in a market, a photog gets to know streets like the back of his or her hand. That being said, when the assignment desk sends you running out the door with just a street address, the assistance of a GPS might be just the thing to get you to that spot news before the competition.
And, in case modern technology fails you, consider a set of “old fashioned” paper maps to guide you.
In the end, think of it as a camping trip, and bring all of the the comfort and safety items like flashlights, head lamps and matches to light your way.
In the end, our job is all about visually telling a good story. We document the news and help explain it to the audience. Keeping your truck stocked with some basic technology will help you produce better stories on ever-shrinking deadlines.
Camera technology quality is improving by leaps and bounds while size and price are decreasing rapidly. Even though I don't like to lose the functionality of my full-size camera, little baby cameras make for the perfect companion. The new breed of inexpensive, practically disposable POV cameras, complete with waterproof housings and unique mounts, are just asking to be thrown in a pool or underwater in a rain storm. These unique perspectives can accentuate your stories, allowing your audience to see the topic from a totally new angle.
The laptop is becoming the center of your mobile broadcasting kit. You don't need a live truck anymore, as long as you have a camera, laptop with editing software and a high-speed wireless card. The next step in this evolution is the backpack unit, which allows you to connect your camera and push your video live over wireless connections. Combining the bandwidth of eight or 10 wireless cards allows you to feed back amazing quality HD footage from almost anywhere.
Technology is great, as long as you have batteries — and batteries never last long enough. If your story takes you out on the road all day, you need a way to recharge your “juice” while driving. The cigarette lighter port in most cars offers you 12V of DC power, which works perfectly on low-voltage technology like cell phones, GPS units, satellite radio receivers and laptops.
Also, be sure to have a good stash of power cords for all your devices. Here in Washington, D.C., the recent earthquake kicked us out of the building for the day. The entirety of our coverage was powered by a cigarette lighter. Don't forget a power splitter, so you can connect even more gizmos to your truck's power.
The best use of that cigarette lighter may be a DC to AC power inverter. This magic box plugs into the car's power and gives you standard AC outlets for battery chargers, lights and laptops. Be careful not to overload the inverter by keeping the wattage demand below its capacity. Your average 400w inverter will let you run a small light for a quick standup in the field.
Your crew car is the biggest piece of gear in your arsenal. It's your protection, your transportation and your office. Stock it well, and you'll be equipped for any story that comes your way. Plus, any and all adventures you'll see and experience through the windshield will always be much better than any ordinary corner office you can find.
Kevin Johnson is the founder of b-roll.net, an online industry resource for television photographers. He has been in the video field for 19 years and currently shoots for Cox Television News Bureau in Washington, D.C.