Camera Bag Essentials: Gaffer’s Tape
The most essential item in any photographer’s bag is a relatively inexpensive item, often overlooked — the humble roll of tape. The best tape for making temporary repairs, securing cables, or fastening a wireless trigger to a light stand is not electrician’s tape, nor is it duct tape — it’s gaffer’s tape. In this post, I’ll discuss a hack to make it easier for you to always have this miracle tape handy.
Gaffer’s tape is a heavy, cloth-backed, pressure sensitive tape commonly used in the motion picture, television, and theatrical industries. It is strong and reusable, resists heat, and doesn’t ordinarily leave behind adhesive residue when removed (unlike electrician’s and duct tapes). It’s made in various colors, for either high- or low-visibility applications, and is manufactured in many widths and lengths.
I recently started shooting with a Fujifilm X-T1, and on its 1st major outing — a 3-day music festival — I snagged the SD card slot’s weather seal on something and tore it clean off. I couldn’t shoot the rest of the festival with the slot door hanging open, which would have put me at risk of losing it, too, but I’d left my roll of 2″ wide tape at home, as it was too big to carry in my bag. So I tracked down a friendly, but parsimonious, soundman, who literally unlocked a box containing his roll* and gave me a 1″ square of his tape. I still keep a piece of gaffer’s tape over the seal even after having it replaced by Fujifilm service, to avoid a repeat (it turns out the seal is not user-replaceable, necessitating a trip to the New Jersey repair facility at great cost and inconvenience).
The Problem with Most Gaffer’s Tape
Unfortunately, gaffer’s tape is sold on very large rolls — typically 55 yards, but I’ve seen it in 30 yard rolls as well. The core (the cardboard ring around which the tape is wound) is usually large enough to put a man’s arm through, further adding to the tape’s bulk. Having just acquired a 30 yard roll of 1″ wide tape, I would need to reduce its size and weight.
Looking around my garage, I saw a length of PVC pipe, saved from a previous home-improvement project. I clamped it to a sawhorse, then, using a scribe, marked it to the width of the tape and cut off a piece with a hacksaw. The cut wasn’t quite straight, so I smoothed it down on a sheet of coarse sandpaper, then removed the burrs with a reamer.
After that, it was a simple matter of winding some tape onto the new core, and et voilà, I had the perfect roll for my bag.
*Although it is relatively cheap, gaffer’s tape costs much more than other kinds of tape. This soundman’s assistants were, he told me, entirely too profligate with the stuff.