The maid of honor was under the bride's dress trying to figure out a way to relieve her pain when I suggested some gaffer's tape. Off I ran to my production bag to retrieve some tape that she used to prevent the boning from digging into her skin. It worked; my bride was smiling once again. I assured her that not only would it help, but she needn't worry about it leaving adhesive on her designer gown. Of course, at that moment, she couldn't have cared less about sticky residue; she was desperate for pain relief.
Gaffer's tape is a heavy adhesive material made of thick matte fabric and used to secure cable lines without leaving a sticky residue. It can be torn by hand easily and its uses are endless.
Gaffer's tape is sold at most video, photography, and lighting supply stores and comes in a variety of colors, widths, and quality levels. In our industry, black and white are the most popular, and I prefer the 2" width. Higher-quality tape pulls off the roll more easily and is generally more durable. Prices vary from $15 to $30 per roll.
Whether you are working on a feature film or a wedding production, gaffer's tape is a must-have in every videographer's production bag. Here are some ways I have used gaffer's tape:
• Fixing Clothing. Gaffer's tape is a great sewing alternative. I have used it to hem dresses and pants, adhere yarmulkes to heads, hold creeping undergarments in place, and smooth unwanted bumps from showing through the bridal gown. It also works great on the bottom of new shoes so there's no slipping on marble or wet floors. You can also use it to remove lint from your all-black wedding attire and fix rips in your camera bag.
• Microphones. Gaffer's tape secures wireless microphones to podiums, music stands, pews, and flower arrangements. I use a small piece of tape inside the groom's jacket to secure the lavaliere wire so it does not fall out or rub under his jacket, causing noise. When packing up my bag, I use the same tape to wrap the microphone around the body back.
• Cables and wires. Use gaffer's tape to secure cables to floors and walls and extension cords to wall outlets to avoid accidents. It can be used in place of Velcro when you're taping up rolls of cables. I use white gaffer's tape to secure and hide microphones and hidden cameras and to camouflage them around white wedding decor.
• Labels. White gaffer's tape can be used for making quick and easy labels to place on media and other miscellaneous items, because you can write on it and it pulls off easily and leaves no sticky residue. I identify my charged batteries by placing a piece of tape over the metal ends. I save a lot of time by knowing which batteries have been used and need recharging.
• Tripods and light stands. To keep them from getting bumped or moved, unattended tripods should be taped to the floor. To prevent an exuberant guest from knocking over my 13-foot light stands onto a full dance floor, I always use gaffer's tape to secure them to the floor. You can also use it to attach diffusion material to your lights.
• Fixing broken equipment. Unfortunately, our equipment takes a certain level of abuse and is not impervious to damage. Gaffer's tape has saved me numerous times. I have also used it to secure a camera light to the top of my camera after the attachment broke during a shoot, and again to tape a camera to a tripod after discovering the quick-release plate was broken. You can wrap it around a shotgun mic to secure it to camera or stand. In addition, I've used gaffer's tape to splice broken wires, keep loose screws together, and fix torn notes.
• Adjusting props. An entire roll of gaffer's tape can be used to prop a camera on the floor for a particular angle; mark the floor where the bride, groom, and attendants should be positioned; tape down items at outdoor weddings so the wind doesn't sweep them away; and use it to hold curtains together to avoid annoying light leaks that cause backlighting.
• Rescue fellow vendors. My gaffer's tape has aided many photographers, bands, DJs, and florists in their time of need. A little piece of gaffer's tape can save a fellow vendor from disaster and ultimately get you many referrals in the future.
*"Gaffer" is British slang for "grandfather," and is meant as a term of respect. In the early days of movie-making, the lighting equipment was large and heavy and only the most experienced staffer—venerated as a "gaffer"—would be in charge of it. Now also known as the lighting director or chief lighting technician, the gaffer is the head of the lighting or electrical department, and works directly with the director of photography.