One Step at a Time – The 2nd Step: Let’s Talk About Your Gear

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PictureCopyright Scott Bourne. All rights reserved.

by Skip Cohen

In talking with a number of seasoned professionals, when you start digging into mistakes they made early on, somewhere along the line equipment always comes up. Very few people seem to have done it just right. A lot of the issues center around “gear fever”.

Just like new car fever, once you’re afflicted it’s impossible to cure without making a purchase!

Let’s start with some obvious must haves:

You need back up gear, one of the biggest things new photographers miss. Yeah I know what the manufacturers tell you about their warranties and great replacement policies, but the reality is, they’re not going to be there at midnight at a reception when a camera body bombs out! They’ll also be MIA when you’re about to get that shot of the grizzly pulling salmon out of the stream!

I know I hit on this a little yesterday, but it deserves a little expansion.

So, have a back up body. It doesn’t need to have all the bells and whistles of your primary, just have the features to get you through a crisis, sort of like that mini-spare in your trunk. You also don’t need to buy it new. Look around for photographers who are upgrading equipment. Check out ebay and check with your local camera retailers.

Depending on your shooting style, it’s always good to have back up lights, whether on-camera strobes or studio lights and a power pack, you want to have a little depth, just in case. And give some thoughts to the lenses you need.

Most wedding photographers, if they only could afford one lens, would probably go for a 24-70mm. Two lenses, they’d add in something longer, like a 70-200mm and three would be adding a 50mm.  Pay attention to the quality of the glass and go for fast optics.

Don’t forget about renting equipment you might not have, even for the most routine jobs. Let’s assume you’ve got an opportunity to shoot a fairly big wedding and it’s early in your career. There’s nothing wrong in renting equipment to get you through the job, rather than buying it and tying up your cash flow.

Which brings me to the concept of leasing. You don’t have to own everything outright to grow your business and be able to shoot the way you’d like. You can lease, often with a minimal buy-out at the end of the lease. This also gives you the opportunity to use the leasing company’s assets without depleting yours.

Exotic lenses are a kick, but until your business volume is high enough to justify the cost, renting will still serve you well. Just about every seasoned photographer has a story about something exotic they bought early on and then only used it a couple of times, selling it off later for something they needed more.

Back in your office or studio, NEVER underestimate the ability of your computer to crash just when you need it the most. Back up your files!

I remember Don and Gary Blair telling me stories about when their studio blew up. This was before digital and they literally lost everything. All their negative files were lost in a fire when a woman lost control of her car and drove through their studio’s front window, hitting a gas line. Imagine the position you’d be in today if you literally lost EVERYTHING.

(It’s a completely irrelevant segue, but you really can find everything on line – check out the link. It’s the newspaper story from 1987, thanks to Google)

Okay, so while that vision is fresh – take a look at your system for backing up files, images – anything and everything that’s critical to your business! And what if you’re out of commission for an emergency. Who handles your calls? Your email? Your phone messages? Have a back-up plan for yourself!

Every now and then do a “fire drill” – and just like the drills when we were kids, you need to go through all the what-if scenarios. Sometimes just being prepared will help you think through your entire workflow, including gear and support/backup systems.

Anybody not know Murphy’s Law? It’s simple: If anything can go wrong it will. Now here’s Murphy’s Second Law: Murphy was an optimist!


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