By Gary Gray
Are you serious about your photography?
I ask the question to myself from time-to-time, as I watch someone’s photography come to a screeching halt because of a single point of failure. Experience has taught me to take a close look at my equipment and plans and try to identify and remove single points of failure before I’m in the field.
There are two types of photographer in this world. Those who can take photographs and those who can’t.
A single point of failure is anything you have or do that if it were to break or cease being available, would prevent you from continuing. One little thing can cause catastrophic failure in any plan or shoot.
We often hear talk of the infamous “second body” or “backup body”. Every working pro knows or should know you can’t take pictures without a camera, so the smart boys and girls keep a second camera with them. Like having a spare tire in the car’s trunk. The concept shouldn’t stop at the camera though. As a matter of fact, the second body adds a whole new list of things to consider as single points of failure.
I suppose that an identical second camera is optimal from an operational standpoint. No fumbling with the memory shift when you pick up the other camera. Just stick a different lens on the other body and shoot with it too. I’ve done that many times at weddings and large events. Two bodies, two lenses, that’s a good backup. A body or lens failure won’t sink the boat.
Where are the other single points of failure?
Lets start with the basic stuff.
Batteries. A digital camera won’t work without electricity. Batteries are a major single point of failure. For each body I have with me, I keep one fully charged battery and at the very least a second fully charged battery as a spare. If both bodies use the same battery, I’ll bring at least two fully charged spares. If I feel I need to bring the battery charger, I bring two as well. Can’t charge a battery with a broke charger. If you know you’re going to want to recharge your batteries, your charger is a single point of failure.
Memory chips. I like the new bodies that will hold two chips, preferably chips that have the same format, but I’ll take what I can get. I normally set my camera to record the image to both chips. That’s an instant image backup on the spot. To me, memory chips are like ammo. Keep plenty of ammo. You can’t take photos if you don’t have the memory to hold the images.
Tripod boot plate. I recommend standardizing your tripod mounts and keeping spare mounts in your kit at all times.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stumbled around looking for a quick release plate. I finally bought enough to go on every camera and have a couple of spares in the bag. You won’t regret having extras.
Since we are on tripods, keep a spare tripod in your kit too. Yeah, I know, they don’t normally break, but I’d have a spare in the trunk of the car or back at the house. If I travel by vehicle to any overnight location or job, I always have a second tripod with me. Not so much with air travel, unless it’s an absolute necessity, but you get the idea. If you need a tripod and don’t have one, you fail.
Flash. Most amateur photographers I run into don’t think much about their flash. Most consumer grade camera bodies have a pop-up flash which will work well for the very limited things they will encounter.
If you plan to use a hot-shoe external flash in your kit, you should place a second one in there too if your camera doesn’t have an internal pop-up flash. Reasoning; If you know you will need flash, don’t let a single point of failure prevent you from doing so.
Lens caps. On average I’ll lose a couple of lens caps a year. It’s an annoying distraction to know your $2000 lens is rolling around in the bag with no lens cap. No, it won’t stop you dead but it’s a lot more comforting to know you’ve put a spare cap in the bag and that you don’t have to worry about the lens getting damaged. If your finances allow, buy spare generic lens caps for all your lenses.
Rain protection. Rain happens a lot when I’m out on wildlife workshops. If you intend to work in the elements at least keep a plastic bag or two in your kit. I’ve seen people just abandon their photography out of fear of getting their camera wet. I just slap a hefty bag over my camera and bag and quit worrying about it. While you’re at it, throw a hand-towel or two in your kit. You’ll feel better knowing you’ve got something to wipe your gear down with. I particularly like the flour sack bulk cotton towels at Target. Auto stores sell good shop rags in bulk.
Lens cloth. Just about every person I’ve asked says “no” about having a lens cloth on or about their person. Not me. I keep lens cleaning equipment with me at all times. A spare battery and lens cloth is always in my pocket when I’m working. Not cleaning a major blob off your lens can ruin a shot or shots. Pay attention. A single point of failure.
User Manual. I’d bet money most of you would have to root around somewhere to find the manual that came with your camera. Most folks don’t bother to carry them in their kit but I’m here to tell you that you need to put the manual in your bag and take it with you every time you go out with your kit. You can’t look something up in your manual if you don’t have the manual. A single point of failure. While you are goofing off waiting for the sun to set, read the manual. For the more tech savvy, maybe even store a digital copy on your mobile phone. Nikon has a user manual application for iPhone and Android. I’ve downloaded all the manuals to my cameras and can call them up anytime.
In conclusion, we all have decisions to make and some times carrying spares aren’t part of the plan, but even if you don’t have them with you every time you leave the house, you should give serious thought to having them there when you get home, one failure on the road can still end up ruining the next shoot if you don’t have a replacement. We have to stick to our budgets too. Not every person is able to afford all this stuff, but if you are going to hold yourself out as a professional and aren’t taking care of doing your clients justice, you’ll probably soon be out of business.
Single points of failure are reality and if you don’t solve them before they happen, you will eventually fail.