Sometimes I pretend to give you guys tough love to make a point and I always want you all to shoot how you prefer, learn the possibilities and develop your own unique abilities and style.
In today’s article, I’m not changing my approach, but I am going to be a bit firm on something. It’s not an ability that I need you to gain or a prescribed approach or style, but it is something that you must do.
One of the most common emails that I receive is “I am going to be shooting event X and I have camera Y and lens Z. Do I have everything that I need?
The answer is no. Wait, SnapChick is always encouraging, has she turned evil?
The problem is a matter of backup equipment. Listen closely to this next sentence. Any equipment can and will break. Is that a guarantee? No. It is an assumption. It is an assumption that you are going to live by and practice as you would a religion.
It was 2006. I was shooting a wedding in a nice outdoor setting on beautiful green grass in front of a lake. Although it was a warm day and it wasn’t quite late enough in the afternoon for the absolute most beautiful doing ceremony photos, nevertheless, it was a wonderful ceremony for a fantastic couple. Somewhere in between ‘We are gathered here today’ and ‘you may now kiss the bride,’ the shutter on my D2x with 17-55 f2.8 DX stopped firing. That would have been fine except I was pressing the shutter button. The camera was on, it was daylight, and achieving focus was not a problem. I coaxed one frame out of it after a couple of seconds of struggling. The frame was completely black. Camera problem? Lens problem?
What did I do?
Virtually nothing. I seamlessly rolled the D2x strap off of my shoulder shoulder. The camera rolled harmlessly aside in the grass. My D50 with 18-70 f3.5 – f4.5, which was my on-person spare with a fresh battery and memory card became my primary body, while my D70 with 70-200 f2.8 continued on as my close-up body/lens for the ceremony. As silly as I felt at prior events carrying 3 bodies anytime I was away from my car trunk, now it all had been worth it.
After the ceremony, the groom joked with me “Umm, why did that one camera roll into the bushes?” I said, “It was acting funny and your ceremony is not the time for me to figure out the problem. I grabbed my backup and kept shooting.” He said with a smile, “I knew from our first talk that you were exactly the right photographer for us. You were extremely well prepared.”
The fact is that I was rattled and felt vulnerable that my Battle Axe had problems, but the groom was right… My contingency planning kept everything rolling. At the first opportunity, I put the D2x and lens in my car trunk and completely ignored it for the rest of the evening.
I was also contracted to provide video at the event and I subcontracted the work to a videographer friend who is also a photographer. He had two DSLRs in his car trunk charged and ready to go. I had two film bodies and plenty of film in my car. Yup, we were covered. I was prepared and he had my back, too.
Any camera, lens, speedlight, tripod, strap, filter, umbrella, car, key, zipper… Anything can fail. When it does fail, it will fail at the worst possible moment.
What is right for you? It depends. Here are rules that I live by.
Arrive early. Personally, I arrive ridiculously early… Church is still locked early. If you get caught behind an accident (or in an accident), you will still have time to get yourself to the event courtesy of a friend, a taxi, or hitchhiking.
I have at least two of everything that is needed to perform well at the event. One camera body is too few. Two is the bare minimum. Two with a film body in the car (and film) is better. Three is getting somewhere.
The same goes for lenses. Is the 18-70 as good as the 17-55? No. Can it get the job done. Yes. Could a 50mm prime be a stand in? Yes. A 35mm? Yes. You don’t need multiple identical items. You need enough items to perform the job well if problems do occur.
“Other people at the event will have cameras. I’m covered if something goes wrong.” No. You are the photographer. You bring the gear.
“I’ve never had anything go wrong with my gear.” You will.
“I can’t afford to have backups.” Rent or borrow. If you are not prepared to exercise either of those two options, you are gambling with the customer and your reputation.
Ability and style are subjective. An average photographer may make a client extremely happy. A great photographer may completely blow it – if his/her gear breaks and they have no ready-to-go backup plan. Many of us strive to be great. A client will happily take ‘adequate’ over a great photographer with broken equipment.
Equipment can and will break. Be prepared.