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More of my best ever mistakes

Yet more of my best ever mistakes. Warning – some of these are really stupid. Possibly even more than last week’s lot!

Out of date firmware

Modern camera kit is incredibly clever, in fact these days they’re more computers than cameras. To this end, we all know they need the same amount of maintenance and TLC as a computer! This one I can happily say isn’t my own mistake, as I happen to be fabulously anal about keeping things like firmware up to date.  A couple of years ago however, I saw a perfect example of how not being up to date can catch you out.

Nikon firmware update
A fun way to spend a morning…..

On a shoot for the Rat Race, down at London Excel, I was shooting stills, and some good friends of mine were shooting video. They’d got hold of a Ronin (this was summer 2014) and were very excited by the camera moves it would allow them to do. As the client wanted to send some of the images I’d shot out that day, I was asked to return to the press tent by 11am, rather than stay out all day. When I got back, I found the video crew scrambling all over the inert Ronin, trying to make it work.

Ronin
The offending article. A superb camera support and gimbal, until the point it packs up with out of date firmware, at which point it’s an expensive doorstop!

It transpired that there was something wrong with it’s firmware. OK, so the crew try and download the firmware onto an iphone. First, there’s not enough signal. Eventually, having downloaded the software, they then struggle to get hold of a cable with which to transfer the firmware from the phone to the Ronin. I’d headed out again before they finally got it all sorted, but there was a big chunk of time in the middle of the day when they were fiddling with recalcitrant kit, rather than out shooting! As with my experiences when I overlooked something as simple as a tripod bush adapter, it’s always important to check your kit before you start using it, and this includes not only physical things like adapters and cables, but more esoteric stuff like firmware.

Takeaway:

Make sure all your stuff is up to date subscribe to any regular update services and the like. Also, make sure you’re carrying the right bits with you should you need to furtle with things.

Identical kit

OK, this one’s really stupid. I bought a shoulder bag from Calumet several years ago, and with it I created my self-supporting flash kit – see pic above. It was such a great little bag that I bought another one to house my Bowens Travelpak battery, which in those days was how I used by big Bowens lights on location.

Along came a fairly simple Women’s Health shoot. In a clinic in Harley St, very straightforward, just some headshots – no big deal. Being central London, I book a cab, throw the gear in, and my assistant and I head off. Despite being a simple shoot, there was a lot of hanging about for things like hair and make up, so my assistant and I took our time setting up. As I started to assemble the lights, I realise that rather than picking up the flash bag (which contains the radio triggers, besides just the flashguns) I’d picked up the Travelpak bag, which just contains a battery. Since we’re indoors, this is not much use, but the radio triggers ARE useful. The 4 flashguns would also have been quite handy as extra lights!

Quick – send the assistant back home with my keys, and carry on setting up in the meantime. Make like nothing happened, and everything turns out OK…

Best ever mistakes
You will notice how the bag on the right now has gold details. Very bling.

Takeaway:

If you’re dim enough to buy and use identical bags, make sure there’s an easy way to distinguish between them.  You might also want to distribute things like radio triggers and sync cables across your various kit bags, as I do now!

Not setting up backups properly.

This one still hurts to think about, not only because it was so painful, but because it was a lesson I should have learnt before. Hopefully everyone backs their work up – the exact system you use is up to you, but I’m sure you’re all covered. For what it’s worth, so am I – I don’t lose work, since 2004 I’ve been pretty watertight, and since 2011 I’ve added cloud storage to the mix as well.

It was a perfect Wednesday in April 2015. I’d just finished filing my annual accounts, and had wrapped up a big video edit that had dragged on for almost a month. My cousin generously invited me out to lunch in town, which we enjoyed sat in glorious sunshine on the terrace above the Royal Opera House. Full of the joys of spring I returned home to find the computer had crashed – a classic “blue screen of death” in fact. Now, I wasn’t too chuffed, but neither did I think this was the end of the world. I buy custom built computers, this one was 6 months old and I’d been meaning to rebuild it since I’d received it, as I wasn’t 100% happy with the setup. Of course, all my work is fully backed up, so although I knew it would take half a day or so to re-install, then replace everything, I’ve got enough experience with this sort of thing to know that a crash is actually pretty quick to recover from.

As I start the re-install, everything seems fine. When I come to re-installing my accounts software (which I’ve been using since 2001) I discovered that since starting to use the new computer in November, the backup system had been targeting the wrong file. Bugger. That’s 6 months of data I’ve got to re-enter by hand. So, I search for a legacy company file start from. Now things get really nasty – the most recent, non-corrupt one I could find was from November 2012. That’s nearly 2 1/2 years of accounts I’ve now got to rebuild and re-enter by hand. It’s no exaggeration to say I was nearly in tears (pathetic, I know). The thought of re-entering all that info by hand was too terrible to contemplate, but it’s what I had to do, there was really no other option. Farming the job out would cost a lot, and would require me to check and supervise it anyway. I must have the accounts information, and I must have it up to date, because I rely on it to issue invoices, and track who owes me what.

I estimate it cost me 10 working days to correct. They were not fun days.

Takeaway:

Obviously, always back your stuff up, and in more than one place, but also check and verify those backups – make sure you’re backing up what you think you’re backing up.

Don’t break the model

Now, I’m all for not treating the model or subject like a dainty little princess, particularly since I shoot a lot of fitness and sports stuff, but this can be taken too far.

I used to shoot lots of fitness shoots for Men’s Fitness, often in the studio, and since the guys at the mag are very into their fitness, we’d got into the habit of doing some sort of fitness challenge at lunchtime. These have taken various forms, but for a while we did a sprint rowing challenge – essentially 20 seconds at full speed, 10 seconds recovery, and repeat for 4 minutes. It’s pretty brutal, as you can imagine. We all had a go, including the model, who despite the fact he kept nipping out for a fag (he was French, they seem to do that) was fully committed to beating this challenge. As you can see from the pic, it nearly finished him. We’re all very impressed – well done mate – until he stands up, and we realise that he’s been hammering the handle of the rower into his guts, and has massive bruises all down his perfect abs. Being that low in body fat they REALLY showed up, and the make-up artist had to spend about half an hour repainting him. It didn’t derail the shoot completely, but it was half an hour we could have spent actually doing work.

Immediately post-row on the left, and after half an hour of having bruises painted out on the right.

Takeaway:

By all means get the model involved, but remember that their job is to look good on camera, doing whatever they’re supposed to be doing. Don’t let them get too involved in something that may take away from this!

Always leave the car full of Diesel

Being late is never a good idea, and although we can’t predict how bad traffic will be, we can make allowances for this by allowing lots of time, being prepared with alternate routes, and of course, making sure our vehicle is in good working order!

Several years ago I was being greedy, and had 2 shoots scheduled in one day. First in Wimbledon, South West London, then the 2nd in Stoke Newington, North East London. In those days I drove a snazzy Fiesta Turbo Diesel, which essentially ran on vapour and never needed filling up, certainly not for trips around London. I set out with not much in the tank, and the morning shoot went very smoothly. I set off for the second job, and got jammed in gridlock in Wandsworth. Proper gridlock – no movement for a long time, and no side roads accessible to duck down. I start to get a bit nervous, as I’m still in South West London. I called my client for the 2nd job to warn them I might be late. Then noticed the low fuel light had come on. Not good. Eventually got out of that jam, and proceeded to weave across all of central London – without sat nav, and not being as experienced a London driver as I am these days meant I took a very circuitous route, all the while my diesel was getting lower and lower. We all know that being stressed causes us to get blinkered and focus on one thing, and so all I cared about was getting to Stoke Newington ASAP – every petrol station I passed seemed to be on the other side of the road and the traffic was solid, so I pressed on, getting later and later, and more and more stressed.

Best ever mistakes
My approximate, and very stressful route through London

I got there over an hour late, which isn’t good when your subject has come off shift specially, and the car genuinely coughed and died as I turned into the estate where my client lived. After the shoot I had to beg a lift to the petrol station, buy a can of diesel, and traipse back. Needless to say, I’ve never heard from that client again, and I don’t blame them!

Takeaway:

Treat other, mission critical kit, just like your cameras.  You wouldn’t go out on a job with no batteries, memory cards or the like, so always keep the car in working order with everything that entails.

Always have a backup plan, or someone covering your backside.

One of the things I love most about my job is the variety – I can be in the studio one day, and up a mountain the next, and although I don’t do much straight commercial work anymore, I’m quite happy to do it if I’m a) well paid, and b) it will involve a Red Arrows flypast.

I’ve worked with PING the golf lot several times, and 2 years ago they were opening a huge new wing to their factory in Gainsborough up in Lincolnshire. We did all the usual grip and grin shots, and shots of people at work, but they wanted a group shot of everyone in front of the new building – some 200+ employees. To make the shot more impressive, they’d arranged for the Red Arrows to fly over during the group shot. Now, I should point out, that the Red Arrows are based not that far from the factory, and PING have a good relationship with them, so it wasn’t an impossible ask, plus they were only going to fly by once, on their way to display in the South somewhere.

Amazing! Look at that co-ordination!

Come the magic moment, I’m up a ladder, with 200+ people lined up in front of me, bellowing at them like a Sergeant Major, with a PING employee with his own camera buzzing around taking behind the scenes shots at my feet. The marketing manager had arranged very carefully with the Red Arrows where would be best to fly over, and had then co-ordinated this very carefully with me, so that we were all lined up in the right place, at the right time, looking the right way. And then they came over, everyone oohed and aahed, and I swore because they came in about 1/4 mile North of where they were supposed to be!

Best ever mistakes
Note how many people are looking up and left.  It’s just possible that’s where the Red Arrows actually are…..

Thankfully, the PING employee with his own camera had snapped them as they came over with a long lens, and the result was this wonderfully comped shot you see before you. You’d think, with the ability to fly at hundreds of miles an hour within a few feet of each other, they’d be able to follow a compass heading from a road junction across an industrial estate, but NO!

Takeaway:

Have something or someone else planned! I was so confident that my client had organised things with the Red Arrows, that I didn’t have my 2nd body on me, and since it happened so quickly, I wasn’t about to suddenly wrench my camera off the tripod and swing it round. Without that 2nd shooter, the sky above the factory would be empty.

So there you go, lots of mistakes, which we will henceforth refer to as “Lessons”. May they be lessons that only I have to learn, and that you need never experience yourself.

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