Photography 101: Test Your Equipment

Today is the start of my second full week in Saint Louis. I had this little app on my iPhone that I was using to countdown the days until the move when I was still in New York and I realized that after it hit zero, it changed over from “days until” to “days since”. I was going to trash the app, but then I decided to just let it keep ticking away. The movers delivered all of our stuff, including the bulk of my photography gear on July first, and I’ve spent a lot of time packing and organizing, and not a lot of time shooting. It is now Day 13 in St. Louis today, and I felt it was high time to make sure that all of my photography gear is functional after the move. I also wanted to make sure that everything was in the correct place, nothing was missing, and that I would be able to do what I need to do on a shoot. There is nothing worse than getting to a shoot and realizing that a piece of equipment is either broken or missing.

In my experience, the best way to truly make sure that you have all of your photography gear in your bag and that everything is working is to stage an actual photo shoot, from start to finish. It is one thing to look at your bag and go through the inventory. It is another thing to take everything out, build a set and make some pictures. This is especially important when working with kits you haven’t used as much as others, or maybe kits you thought you knew but haven’t used in a while.

Case in point: last week Dr. Fiance asked me to make a quick headshot for her lab website. When I pulled out my speedlight kit and built the set, I realized I was missing a few crucial items. If this had been a client situation, I would have been in trouble. I went online and ordered what I needed – and when everything gets here I’ll run through another test shoot, just to be sure.

For today’s test shoot, I unpacked and tested my middle level light kit, which includes a couple of Alienbees. In the past I’ve used the Alienbee radio system to trigger my Alien Bee Strobes, but at some point the battery died and I never replaced it since I always use PocketWizards these days anyhow. After I’d set up the AB800 with a softbox and had it in place, I realized that the Alienbees take the small PC cords, while my other monolights take the large connector. Turns out I don’t have the correct cord to use with my PWs. Not a big deal, I have a standard sync cord and made it work, although working tethered with a sync cord is really annoying.

This test illustrates the importance of real world testing versus just checking things off an equipment list (which is important too). As a side note: you should always have a couple of sync cords handy when you go on location. You never know when you’re going to get interference from some outside source messin’ with your Pocket Wizards. Nothing beats a direct cable in a pinch.

So I unloaded all of my equipment out into my fantastic new studio space and got to work. If you’ve never worked in your own studio, there is nothing better than having room to move around when building a set without bumping into walls and ceilings. The fact that my studio is also my apartment makes it even better. I turned on some tunes, and spent the morning and afternoon testing equipment and playing with various lighting setups. Unfortunately I only had one really funny lookin’ model to work with today, but you work with what you have, right? You know what I love about photography? You can even make a big tub of goo like me look like he’s got muscles just by using light (and conveniently hide his belly in shadow while you’re doing it). Lemme tell you something, photos can, and do, lie.

Nothing like spending the day taking pictures of yourself to make you feel like a narcissist…

Gear Envy

Lets face it, no matter what you say about how a good camera doesn’t make a good photographer, and how a real artist doesn’t need fancy gadgets to get the shot, photography is a technology driven field. And lets face it, if you want a large scale photo shoot to go smoothly, the easiest way to deal with the the unforeseen is to come prepared. The ever present Chase Jarvis is one of those photographers who has the status and client-base (yeah yeah, talent as well) to afford all kinds of amazing gear which would make any photographer drool. He has put together a short video showing how he packs his gear for travel, and in the process makes my gear set-up look down right pathetic.

For even more abuse, check out his podcast in the iTunes store for the 30 extended video where he shows off his full gear collection which makes my set of Hensels look pretty sad.

From a marketing standpoint, Chase is a genius with all these videos. What better way to show your clients that you are technically savy, prepared for anything, not to mention that you have the travel experience to travel with all your gear to exotic lands for a shoot.