Avoid Potential Disasters with a Back-Up Kit

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When diving into the world of Wedding Photography, you must have a plan and be prepared for anything. Like the very wedding you’re going to shoot, you need to know what is going to happen, when and where it is going to happen and how it is expected to happen. But just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, you drop one of your lenses, or you’ve forgotten to charge your camera battery, or you left an entire bag of gear back at the studio, and you don’t have a back-up plan! What are you going to do?

You have the gear, you memorized your list of must-have shots, but you didn’t plan on that freak thunderstorm or the toddler who knocked over your light stand—sending glass flying across the dance floor. Well, here we’re going to specify what it takes to prepare a wedding back-up kit that will help you avoid the kinds of situations that end in disappointment and heartache—like seeing your precious camera body crash to the ground, or a glass of wine spill across your notebook computer during a slideshow.

First, we’ll start with the capturer of the cake-smash, the master of memories—your camera. The best way to protect it from damage or malfunctioning is to simply carry a spare! Of course, this is not always possible, so in the event that you cannot afford to buy or even rent a second copy of your main camera body, you should aim to acquire one that is the most similar to what you do have.

Remember, when you are hired to shoot a couple’s wedding day, you are being selected based on your skill and style, the proof of which is in your portfolio. So if your main camera or any piece of your arsenal goes down for some reason, your backup needs to plug in seamlessly and perform. You wouldn’t hire Picasso to write a symphony, so make sure your backup can produce the kind of work your clients are expecting. You have to produce and capture those images—any dip in your usual quality could prove to be catastrophic. If you have a DSLR that utilizes a full-frame sensor and detachable lenses, don’t expect a point-and-shoot to produce the same results. The two cameras are simply made to do different things, and you need consistent reliability when shooting a wedding.

Most professional wedding photographers would suggest the use of the latest full-frame Canon or Nikon digital SLRs, such as the third-generation Canon EOS-1DX or Nikon’s D4—this is because these bodies offer the best wide-angle capabilities with current lenses and the best image quality in low light. Does this mean that weddings can’t be photographed with an inexpensive camera? Of course not; there are many excellent camera models that work, sporting a smaller sensor size, such as the Canon EOS 60D and the Nikon D3200.

If you want to stray from those manufacturers, then Olympus, Pentax and Sony have comparable models to choose from—as well as several other manufacturers you can check out. These cameras have excellent imaging and AF systems and, due to their smaller-cropped sensor, provide a welcome boost in magnification for telephoto work. The main drawback to these is the lack of “fast” (wide maximum aperture) wide-angle lenses. As with all elements in a back-up kit, you should strive for two of everything—if not more—because redundancy will save you more than you will care to remember. It is the name of the game for back-up kits, and is no exception when it comes to your lenses.

When looking for backup lenses, you’ll find they vary almost as widely as the bodies to which they attach. However, there are some rules of thumb that can guide you to the best lenses for wedding photography when you’re putting together your back-up kits. Lenses with larger maximum apertures, from f/2.8 to f/1.2 are very valuable for wedding photography because of their ability to capture natural light in exceedingly dim conditions. As a wedding photographer, you’ll find that lighting conditions are constantly less than ideal, so “fast” lenses such as these can be strong tools for making—not breaking—a photograph.

Some locations and venues have restrictions on flash photography, and may force you to go without an on-camera flash or speedlight—whether you like it or not. The extra few stops of shutter speed gained by having an f/2.8 or faster lens can make an enormous difference in your results. You will want to have at least one backup wide-angle lens, from 10 to 35mm, and one telephoto zoom lens, from 70 to 200mm, to make sure you can cover most situations with relative ease.

Another option is to have a mixture of telephoto lenses and a set of sharp, fast prime lenses to disperse between your main and backup kits. This will provide you with a wide variety of lenses to choose from, rather than just having identical twins of everything—possibly providing new and creative ways for you to shoot whether you have to use them for an emergency, or for a little diversity.

You should always have a sturdy tripod when photographing a wedding because you may not know how the lighting situation will play out during the ceremony or reception. Oben offers a line of tripods that run the gamut from supporting as little as 6lb to ultra-solid carbon fiber models that support loads up to 26lb.It will do wonders for situations in low light, or when you have to compose formal group shots. If you place a remote-triggered camera in the chapel balcony, you’ll need to mount it on a tripod, or perhaps on a Super Clamp with a 1/4"-20 or 3/8-inch camera thread. Having a bushing that accommodates both sizes ensures you’re covered, should you end up with the wrong kind of tripod mount and no way to attach your camera, or back-up camera, to the plate. It’s a great idea to have a small tabletop tripod with you as well, which can help you steady a shot atop a table or other horizontal surface, or when you just need to brace the camera vertically against a wall to help obtain sharper images.

Now that you’re ready to take high quality, sharp photos, you’re going to need fast and reliable memory cards to save them. While any CompactFlash or SDHC memory card may do, Lexar and SanDisk Extreme Compact Flash memory cards come highly recommended, and the Extreme Pro models boast both high storage capacities and transfer rates—ideal for shooting RAW images and HD video.

If your camera uses smaller SDHC cards, you can use Eye-Fi memory cards that make your camera wireless—turning it into an instant-uploading, automatically backed-up wireless storage device. These cards, which look and function like regular SD memory cards, can send images to your phone, tablet or computer, whether it is in the immediate area, or as soon as you walk through the door of your home or studio. The 4GB Eye-Fi memory card is an excellent choice for this application.

Should your DSLR require CompactFlash, you can still get the benefits of quick card backup Sanho’s Multimedia Storage Devices as well as other brands of portable data storage. These work to back up media anywhere you happen to be, without a PC, and double as a slideshow player. If you have a computer with you, then you can easily go with any number of card readers that feature one or two types of compatible cards, or some that read a large variety of cards. Either way, you can then quickly transfer your hundreds and thousands of photos into the device and then show your clients a quick slideshow when the day is done.

Now, everybody knows you should carry spare memory cards, but how many is enough? Well, it is safe to say you can never have too many, though it is recommended that you have several that you back up constantly throughout a wedding. This saves you from getting an entire wedding ceremony and reception’s worth of photos caught in a single card, only to plug it into the card reader and realize there’s a fatal error and you don’t have a single one. When you get into the habit of emptying your cards more often, or at least dividing up how many images are on each card, you’ll have a much narrower margin for error—should one of them suddenly quit on you. But never fear; there are also programs that you can buy in an attempt to recover damaged or malfunctioning memory cards—they can really save the day!

Not many things are more traumatizing to a wedding photographer than lost data and missing wedding photos. There are, however, a few options to choose from should this terrible situation arise. One of these options is Prosoft Data Rescue 3 that can help you in recovering not just corrupted memory cards, but failed computer hard drives as well. The moment all of your once long-lost photos reappear via this software, you’re sure to feel a wave of relief that more than pays for itself in one or two uses.

While a bad memory card can really hinder your wedding photography, a dead battery may be even worse. The longer your batteries hold out, the more shooting you can complete without breaking the mood or missing a moment. Buy quality batteries that are specifically rated for your cameras and gear. Don’t forget about rechargeable batteries—they can pay for themselves in just their first day on the job—especially if your camera will accept a few “AA” batteries, which is unfortunately not the case as you go up in camera quality. But if they do, you could even run to the nearest gas station or corner store to bring your camera back to life, should you run into an unexpected lack of charge. Grabbing an AC/DC (we’re talking batteries, not bands, here) Car Adapter Kit could help you reap the same rewards, allowing you to recharge via your car’s DC outlet when necessary. Additionally, a dual battery charger, such as those from Pearstone, allow you to charge two batteries at once and even mix the type or model battery if desired—this can prove especially helpful if your backup camera requires a different type of battery than your main camera.

Mixing an incompatible battery and device could lead to explosions of corrosive battery acid inside your camera or other equipment—not to mention its potential for injuries. Be smart here and buy quality over quantity when it comes to batteries, and always use caution when buying third-party brands, ensuring they work for your specific device. Also, avoid shooting with a very low battery charge and nearly full memory card, because you’re just asking for trouble!

As we have seen, a back-up kit is only as good as the number of spares and extras you can fit into it. So let’s get into the things you may not think belong in a back-up kit, but can prove embarrassingly essential when you happen to find yourself in the right place at the wrong time.

When you don’t have the time or energy to drag around an entire tool set, a handheld multi-tool from Leatherman is ready to make light work of any last-minute repair. Lightweight, tough and designed to be useful in as many ways as is physically possible, multi-tools can help you tighten a loose tripod leg, remove dirty sections of backdrop paper, and will easily fit in your pocket or on a belt loop. Some are even advertised as TSA compliant, so you won’t have to take the long way through airport security if you have a vacation wedding to shoot.

If you think a multi-tool can do it all, you have yet to meet a photographer’s best friend—gaffer tape! You can get it in half-inch to four-inch widths and in every color from the classic matte black or gray, to bright green or black-and-yellow caution tape. A few spare rolls of this can repair backdrops, manage and secure extension cords, and has even been known to attach a camera to a broken quick-release plate when it wouldn’t stay on a tripod head. It is more forgiving than duct tape, and comes off easily without any damage or residue. But if you need something stuck, patched, held or otherwise secured, a few rolls of this can handle almost anything. Although it may not always look the best, it is definitely handy.

Extension cords cannot be overlooked, as you never know where a venue’s “nearest” outlet may be—and it is so often just out of reach. Having at least one each of 25-foot, 50-foot and 100-foot extension cords (and ideally one for each AC-powered device you'll be bringing along) will allow you to easily tackle nearly any size room, whether a grand dance hall or a long hallway. Grab a few to keep in your back-up kit at all times so you’re always prepared for whatever lighting or electrical situation you encounter.

While some photographers may enjoy the quiet of shooting solo, the importance of a helping hand cannot be stressed enough. You only have two of them yourself, and try as you might, they cannot always get everything done. A second camera person or helpful assistant can streamline your workflow, and ensure that you get everything accomplished that you had planned. If they’re serious about helping out, they may even come with a back-up kit of their own that can save you at times if something comes up missing from yours. Just make sure you consider having them sign an agreement detailing exactly what is expected of them, and their work, such as a non-compete agreement to protect your brand and business.

Now, what if you are starting from scratch, and cannot run to your favorite camera store to purchase all of this gear tomorrow? Well, you may be thinking you need a dozen different types of lenses, four cameras at the ready, and every accessory under the sun in order to make this thing happen, but that isn’t necessarily true. Yes, eventually you should have extra batteries, cards, camera bodies, lenses, accessories and supplies—because wedding photography is an unpredictable beast. But you still want to be able to move around quickly, while keeping a close eye on what’s going on and where to be for that next great shot.

So, what you really need to do is prioritize your list of back-up items based on what will help you the most, and the most often. For example, a back-up camera will do wonders for your sanity and sense of security, but may keep you from purchasing several other items on your list instead. Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of each purchase as you make it, and feel free to come on in for expert advice whenever you are unsure which way to go.

Bringing the right attitude is important no matter where you are, but is imperative when dealing with stressed couples and protective parents. Remember, you’re a professional—you are there to perform and deliver to your clients. Being a professional means having the right equipment for the right job, and being utterly reliable every time. Creating a detailed and thorough back-up kit allows you to be ready for every eventuality, so you never miss a moment.

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Absolutely excellent. I hope every aspiring wedding photographer takes the time to absorb of of this great information.