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The Main Event: Losing It
Posted Oct 1, 2007 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Over the last ten years, like many of us, I’ve accumulated an imposing array of equipment—cameras, tripods, lights, microphones, audio recorders, stands, bags, and assorted accessories. My studio has become almost a museum of the development of the event video industry. After my experience with surround sound, in which I managed to do away with about five pieces of audio gear and a rat’s nest of cabling (see my August column, I'm Surrounded), I was inspired to widen my scope and institute an across-the-board austerity program.

Rather than reading off the laundry list of stuff I got rid of, instead I’d like to discuss the more general topic of why you should simplify your kit, and some principles to keep in mind while going about it. Those of you who are new to this field and have yet to accumulate so much detritus should pay close attention, too. These principles can guide you in deciding what things to add to your kit, and save you time, money, and frustration.

Running Light. One of the biggest advantages of having the minimum possible equipment setup is obvious: less stuff to pack up and take to a shoot, and less to drag home. With a little planning, you should be able to assemble a complete two- or three-camera kit that can be handled by one person in one trip from the car to the church.

Money in the Bank. Less stuff means (usually) less money tied up in equipment. That translates into more profit for you from each job. Remember: Any money "invested" in equipment is gradually wasting away, while money invested in the bank can be earning interest.

Reduced Task Load. With fewer items that have to be hooked together, it’s not only easier to set up for a shoot, but it means that there are fewer chances to hook something up incorrectly. There are also fewer things to keep track of, like dedicated rechargeable batteries for specific gadgets, adapter cables, mounting brackets (and the set of screws that go with it that are always getting lost). Having fewer things to keep track of during a shoot means a reduced stress level and the freedom to concentrate on getting great shots.

Avoid the Rube Goldberg Look. Recently, while using an unfamiliar rig, I wound up attaching a wireless mic receiver and an on-camera light to a relatively small handheld camera. I used a V-shaped dual-shoe adapter, since the camera only had a single accessory shoe. The result was an ungainly kludge of equipment, to say the least. It was so remarkably geekish that the photographer ran over and grabbed a shot of me—probably so he could tell all his friends what a nutcase the videographer at his last wedding had been. To avoid this scenario, use only accessories that mount quickly and firmly to the camera platform and do not stick up or out excessively. Connecting cables and wires should be minimized and cleanly routed. Accessories should not adversely affect the camera’s balance, or get in the way of operating the controls. This is one area where a shoulder-mounted camera can look much more professional than a handheld, since you can attach most accessories to a shoulder-mount without making it look like some kind of electronic spider.

So, how do you get all those advantages? By paying close attention to things like these: Advance Planning. Don’t just drool over that new piece of equipment and whip out the checkbook; think about how it will interface with the rest of your stuff first. If you’re starting from a clean slate, think long and hard about how each item will work with all the others.

Organizing. Don’t just throw all your stuff into a bag. Hard cases with dividers are a great way to give everything its own place in your kit. (I especially like the large rolling cases made by Pelican.) This makes it much easier to keep track of everything, both when you are getting ready and when you are repacking to change locations or to come home. Extend this to your studio, too; have storage places for each piece of equipment, for your software, your media, your backup files, your literature, your supplies—everything related to your business. Make a modest investment in file cabinets, drawers, and dividers. There are tons of books on this subject to give you ideas that will work for your own studio and kit.

One Item, Two Uses. Some gadgets can do double duty. For example, my equipment case is sturdy enough that I can stand on it, instead of carrying a separate footstool. My monopod doubles as a handheld stabilizer for moving shots. But be careful. Multipurpose tools may do several tasks, but many of them don’t do those tasks as well as a tool built especially for the job. Make sure that multipurpose items can, in fact, do all the jobs you want them to do, and do them well.

Weed it Out! If you haven’t used something in the past year, chances are you don’t really need it. At least once a year, go through your equipment and ruthlessly eliminate stuff that you’re not using. Don’t wait for it to depreciate further; sell it on eBay or Craigslist.

Of course, there are some specialty items you’ll want to keep. For example, I have a telecine that I keep around for the rare occasions when a client wants a film transfer. But think carefully about these things, too. If I did the math, I’d probably find that I would be making more profit by outsourcing film transfers. Hmmm . . . anyone want to buy a telecine? Low hours, good condition!

Doug Graham is a wedding videographer based in Northern Virginia.

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