“Even with 2+ years experience, prior to shooting weddings, I still lack confidence. I constantly worry,“what if something goes terribly wrong with my gear?” How can I overcome this fear?" ~Ryan, Boston
Of all the photographer phobias we’ve encountered, the fear of equipment failure is one of the most common. If you have never experienced this fear, you are either fibbing, or need to be locked inside a plastic bubble for further examination. We all have this fear, and unfortunately, some of us have actually had this fear materialize. However, as you gain more experience and shoot more weddings, we promise this fear will subside, at least somewhat. In the meantime, here are our best tips:
1. Remember that the only thing you can do to calm yourself and do your job is to simply be prepared. Our best advice is to do everything in your power to prevent a disaster in the first place. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (but you knew that already). The single most important thing you can do to prevent equipment malfunction is to always handle your equipment gently and make sure that you avoid public enemies #1 and #2: dust and moisture. Also, be sure to avoid banging your camera or other gear while on a shoot. Before each wedding or shoot, take every piece of equipment out of your camera bag and clean it with canned air, checking it thoroughly for dust, cracks, and performance while you go. Put a flash card in each of your camera bodies and fire off a few quick shots. Make sure the settings are where you want them. After checking your cameras and cleaning your lenses, test each of your lights/slaves/light meters just to make sure they are happy. When everything is good, carefully place the gear in its usual place and call it a day. This step will take some time, but is so incredibly worth it. But even the best laid plans can go awry (but you knew that too). So ease your fears, envision the worse case scenario:
2. Imagine every single piece of equipment breaking--lights not firing, cameras dying, lenses shattering, and memory cards corrupting. Then, go through the steps you would take to fix each problem. Unless a car runs over your gear bags (heaven forbid!), these malfunctions will NEVER occur all at once. They will happen (rarely, if ever) one at a time. And you’ll be prepared, because you’ve envisioned--and planned for--all these contingencies. Practice quickly tearing down the problem gear and setting up your backups. Keep all your backups handy in a separate case, easily accessible at every single job. You don’t have to unpack your backups at every shoot, but just keep them handy. There is one exception to this, however, and that’s when you are dealing with “irreplaceable” moments. These are points in a wedding day such as the ceremony and toasts/first dance at the reception. For times like this, keep your backup camera and strobe out, accessible, and loaded. That way, if something fails on you, you are able to quickly grab the backup gear and continue on without missing a step. Backup gear is absolutely mandatory for any professional charging money for their work, which brings us to:
3. No matter what, you absolutely, positively must have a backup of every piece of equipment you bring to a wedding. Expensive? Yes. But your backup does not have to be as top-of-the-line as your regular gear. If you shoot with the newest camera body regularly, your backup can be a less pricey, slightly older model. Your lights don’t have to be the most expensive model either. You can easily fashion a backup strobe from a regular on-camera flash simply by getting a light-stand mount and slave. Before you balk at spending the extra dough on a backup of everything, ask yourself this: can you put a price on the pain of not delivering your clients their contracted for images? Is there a dollar amount you can pay to avoid having a sobbing bride in your studio when she finds out she won’t have images of her ceremony? Can you handle a lawsuit? What about the cost of having your reputation ruined from this day forward? If you are just starting out, you must consider purchasing backup equipment as an essential part of your business start up costs, just like your main equipment. Rent the equipment until you are able to save up for it, but don’t leave home without it.
If you do everything in your power to protect and inspect your gear and you still experience a malfunction, especially during wedding formals, the absolute worst thing you can do is stop and try to fix your equipment on the spot. The second worst thing you can do is let anyone know that your gear broke (other than your assistant, of course). It will only cause the bride to panic and make you appear unprofessional. Always keep your cool. Excuse yourself by saying something like, “Excuse me for a brief moment while I grab a different lens.” If you have properly prepared and run through the drill, you should be back up and running in minutes without even the slightest hint of sweat.