Safety Nets

One of the big advantages to my workshops is that you get to try a lot of neat gear.  If you shoot Canon I probably have all the lenses you're interested in.  You can try them out and see if they fit your style and expectations before shelling out $5000 for that 300mm F2.8 IS.

During one workshop I made my camera case available with about ten lenses inside.  The camera case is in the rear of my SUV at approximately hip level.  The case itself is a hard plastic case and I always leave one extra lens 'hole' open.  This way when switching lenses I can remove the lens on the camera and put it directly in the hole.  If you set it on top of the other bags in the back, or somewhere where it can fall, it will fall.  If you drop a lens you will break it.  How badly you break it will depend on what part of the lens it falls on, from how high, and on what type of surface.  The extra 'hole' in my camera case is my "safety net" for my lenses.

On this day we were going to be walking around a temple so my client selected two rather pricey lenses, and put one on this camera and the other in his knapsack.  As we walked around the temple he decided to change lenses and he walked over to a wall and removed the lens from the knapsack and started to put it on the wall.  He forgot his safety net.

He was going to put the lens he wanted to use on the wall, take off the lens on the camera and put it on the wall, and then switch them.  Many do this.  There would only be a problem if one or both of the lenses fell off the wall somehow.  There are more than a few ways this could happen.

Instead, I showed him how I do it.  I carry a small towel in my knapsack or camera bags and kneeling down I put it on the ground, and then put the lens on the towel.  The point of this is, if it's already on the ground it can't fall any further.  It's your safety net.

Cameras are expensive and we often save or budget for quite a while to buy our gear.  As a professional you can't afford to break your gear during a shoot or at anytime you can't replace it before a shoot.  Missing a shoot could well cost you 5-100x what the broken item would cost to replace.  So we devise safety nets.

One such safety net for professionals is to always carry redundant gear.  Two bodies, and two lenses of each focal length you think you'll need.  Two flashes, two light meters, two of anything which can easily break.  This is an expensive safety net, but a very important one.  Several times I've had gear fail and once even get stolen while shooting a wedding.  Redundant gear allowed me to keep working and complete the assignment.

How about the guys who take expensive photography safaris to Africa or some other exotic location?  They save all year and carefully plan this trip of a lifetime.  They're going there to take pictures and have a great time doing it.  It would really hurt to get to your destination and have a broken or missing camera.  Even as a hobbyist you need to carefully plan around every contingency to ensure your equipment arrives on time and in working order.

This might mean that your safety net is a high end military grade case with dense foam inserts, or theft proof locks to ensure a baggage handler doesn't help her/himself.  It might mean not checking certain pieces of your gear and carrying them on instead.  You need to think it through, every possible way things could go wrong, and then plan to make sure they can't go wrong.

With the problems with airline security these days, and many airlines requiring you to either not lock your luggage or to use a "TSA" approved lock that ever baggage handler has a key to.. there have been times I've shipped my gear ahead via Fedex and placed it on will call instead of risking it on the plane.  I have special very tough Milspec cases just for this purpose and Fedex will keep your equipment at the local office until you go pick it up, or call for it to be delivered.  Yes it's expensive, but it's the most reliable safety net I've been able to come up with for really important jobs.

Where do you store your images?  When you download the images from your flash memory card what do you do with them?  Do you take into account your laptop might get stolen, or it's hard drive fail?  I use Lightroom to download my images and it allows you to save your images to two locations at one.  Safety net one.

I download to my laptops hard drive and to an external USB powered drive at the same time.  And I keep the images on the CF cards as well.  The images are now in three locations.  The laptop goes with my carry on bag, but if that gets snatched from my hands at the airport then I still have my memory cards in my camera case.  Safety net two.

I've had assignments where the images are worth more than my equipment, which is why the USB powered hard drive is always on my person and if I get robbed or have to let go of something.. the USB drive will still be in my pocket.  Safety net three.

And if by some fluke I lose my laptop bag, my camera cases, and the USB hard drive bumps something during the robbery and fails then what?  Hopefully I paid a bit extra for a hotel room with a high speed connection and before going to bed the night before I uploaded the images to my personal FTP and they're already safe and sound at home.  Safety net four.

The long and laborious point I'm trying to make is that it's prudent to try and anticipate everything which can fail, get stolen, get lost, or just go wrong.  It will save you expensive equipment, priceless images, or perhaps even your reputation.

There's a properly sized appropriately priced safety net for everyone.

Until next time..