My awesome Travel Studio-in-a-Tote!

I do not own a studio, nor can I fit one in my home. So, I do all of my shooting “on location.” For a while, I used to just keep everything in my trunk and bring in whatever I needed in a tote bag that I carried, along with my stands, camera and lenses. It was a back-breaking mess, let me tell you. Worse, what if I needed something from my car in the middle of a shoot?

Often times, I would be doing a portrait on the 43rd floor of an office building, so going back wasn’t an option. In the end, my pictures suffered because I didn’t have what I needed, where I needed it. That’s why I put together my Travel Studio-in-a-Tote! It does everything I need, plus a couple things I didn’t anticipate.

It’s pretty simple, and I’m going to show you how I made it, and what it’s good for:

Start with a big tub like this one, which is a 22 Gallon Sterilite. I got mine at Wal-Mart. It has a locking lid, which is pretty important. That way, if you ever have to pick it up, and the tub bends a little, the lid won’t pop off. That could be bad.

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Next, I drilled holes for some casters, two that swivel and two that don’t (just like a car). Just a note: I recommend using locking nuts for all your ‘permanent’ equipment fixtures. My casters are already missing a few nuts. I need to make that replacement, too. Locking nuts never loosen (which is why they only belong on permanent fixtures). It works now, and you can load it up and wheel it around to your heart’s content!

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I added a couple more things to mine, just to make it that much nicer, though. Home Depot will cut custom lengths of rope for cheap. You only need 4 feet for your handle (mine was too short at 3 feet, I extend it with a ball bungee), so you don’t have to bend over to tug it around. I keep my lightstands nice and secure by bundling them up with a couple ball bungees, and strapping them down to the top of the tub with a ratcheting strap. You can see my stands, monopod, tripod, and my softlighter are all snug and secure on top of the tote. My dog, Annie, stands guard in the background.

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I’ve also added some velcro stripes to the underside of the lid, so I can attach small, light modifiers and keep them from getting lost in all the other equipment. Shown above are some gobos made of black coroplast and velcro, snoots made out of drink coozies (camo!), diffusers made from those fruit protector thingies, and some extra bristle velcro. You can also see how I secured my handstrap: I tied the ends into knots, and wrapped the knots in electrical tape. The straps I’m using to secure the snoots are velcro cable ties from Office Depot (probably).

When I arrive at my shoot, I just take off the stands, set them aside, break out the equipment that I need, close it back up, and the tub doubles as a work-surface! This is so handy. I can keep my laptop there and use it as a reference when I am shooting tethered. I can keep batteries, spare lenses, a mirror for models all at easy reach.

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When I’m all done, everything packs up nice and tidy and the whole thing with the lightstands attached and everything, fits in the trunk of my Civic.

My Travel Studio in a tote has dramatically reduced my load in/load out times. I no longer have to kill my back carrying stuff, either. My life is a lot easier with it. Why don’t you build one for yourself and modify it to your heart’s content? The whole project costs less than $15, so it’s not like you can’t afford it. Your spine will thank you.

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  1. Alan B.

    Great idea. I’ve thought about using a tub, but had not thought of the casters and other mods. I’ll have to give this a try soon.

    Thanks for sharing this and other info here.

    Alan

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