The Photographer’s Toolbox: Gaffer Tape

I have decided to begin a new series of blogs called The Photographer’s ToolBox to discuss handy dandy items that I have picked up over the years that can make a world of difference in how successful (and hence, enjoyable) a photography session can be.  Trust me when I say that these handy little items are not usually high cost items, but they are extremely valuable, none the less.

Gaffer Tape

Gaffer tape is the photographer’s answer to duct tape.  Far be it for me to attempt to become the Red Green of the photography set!  That is the farthest thing from my mind.

I had not really heard about gaffer tape until I had seriously become involved in photography.  One of the first mentions of note advocating the stuff was from Joe McNally in his book The Hot Shoe Diaries .  (It is even referenced in the index of his book, that is how important it is!)  So it was with great curiosity that I intentionally went about trying to find some of the stuff, just to have a look at it and see how much it was.

I went skulking around my favourite camera shop in Calgary (The Camera Store) and, lo and behold, they had some, which was my first surprise.  I don’t know why, but I fully expected this stuff to be hard to come by.  But it is not.  It exists in abundance.  They had two entire boxes of the stuff just waiting for somebody to purchase at $39.95 a roll.

A roll of 2 inch wide Gaffer Tape.

What do you use it for?

Now that I had this mythical item in my toolkit, I was curious as to what to use it with and how?  The first thing you need to know about gaffer tape is that, while similar in concept to Duct Tape , gaffer tape is a cloth backed tape designed to be removed cleanly.  Herein lies its superiority to Duct Tape for photography.  You can stick it to stuff and it will come off easily.

  • Use it to tape down cables so that nobody trips over them during a shoot
  • tape together a makeshift snoot out of cardboard
  • tape a fabric over half of a shoot through umbrella  to make a makeshift gobo
  • tape a speedlight to a stair rail
  • tape a part of a model’s wardrobe into position

This stuff tears easily off of the roll and can be made into strips of varying width (this is why I prefer the 2 inch tape as I can make it into 1 inch tape if I need to).  For the fashionistas out there, it comes in black or white.

If I am travelling I do not take the entire roll with me.  Instead I get a small pencil (like the kind they give you at a golf course to mark your score) and wrap a bunch of gaffer tape around it and throw it in my bag.  You never know when it will come in handy.

It is probably the most useful and versatile item I have in my photo bag.  You should pick some up.

If you have gaffer tape, what unusual ways have you used it in your photography?  Let us know in the comments section below.

4 Comments

  1. Brian November 15, 2011

    I’m sorry, but you just got played. Gaff is used heavily in the theatre and entertainment business and should cost you no more than about $13 a roll, and even that can be a bit steep. Id go back and return your roll, right after you deck the guy who sold it to you. $40 holy crap.

    • Doug November 15, 2011

      You are absolutely correct Brian. The 1 inch wide tape did sell for around $18.00 Canadian, so with the exchange that is about the same price. I was referring to the two inch wide tape. Besides, one buys it where one can find it. Not much call for theatrical supplies in a centre like Calgary. Now, maybe if I were in New York…..

  2. Brian November 15, 2011

    I didn’t take into account the exchange rate, but still im finding even the good stuff (and 2″) for about $20US on amazon. From an online theatrical supplier I’d expect you could find it cheaper. 2″ is the standard size and something equivalent to bottled water – sold everywhere. I wish you the best of luck, and it’s a GREAT tool, but I hope you can find yourself a cheaper vendor in the future. I also suggest fluorescent spike tape for marking those hard to find items.

    • Doug November 15, 2011

      Well, I guess I have learned something about the price of the stuff. Who knew? I never go to Amazon for anything but books :-) If I ever use up the roll that I bought I will be sure to look around for a better price. Thanks, Brian.

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