A Very Expensive Paperweight / by Zack Wussow

A few days ago, I had a major equipment drop, the first of my career.

It wasn't a great day.

I was photographing machines for a client (the same folks from All Hail Our Machine Overlords), with my camera on a tripod and lots of lighting gear and backdrops set up. It is, in theory, an exceptionally safe working environment. No moving people, the machines are infinitely patient, the camera is on a tripod. Despite all of that, while I was moving my tripod and adjusting the camera, the camera fell, tumbling forward off the tripod, falling about five feet, and smashed on the floor.

All told, my camera rig is worth about $4,000.

My initial assessment was really bad. The battery grip was in pieces. The body wouldn't turn on. The lens focus and telephoto were stuck. Worst of all (from a certain perspective), I hadn't brought a backup body or lens, so I had to tell my customer, "Sorry, but that's it for the day." (Disclaimer: I only left the backups at home because I thought, surely, nothing can go wrong at such a straightforward shoot. I always have backups for one-shot-only events like weddings.)

When I got home, I was able to revive my camera body. Whew. The lens and battery grip are dead, though, one an expensive paperweight and the other a pile of parts.

Some advice, for anyone who's prone to finding themselves in a similar situation, starting with the most general:

Have a backup plan. 

Thankfully, past me did a good job preparing for exactly such a situation. I have insurance on my equipment, and savings set aside for exactly this kind of emergency. If all of that fails, I have credit and family to fall back on. If I needed to replace the equipment immediately, I have a list of local places at which I could buy, rent, or borrow equipment.

So, business wise, I'm okay. Knowing that was a huge comfort while literally picking up pieces of my camera.

Even if you don't own a business, it's a good idea to take some time and think about where you are most vulnerable to an accident, and figure out how you can mitigate that risk. 

Don't ignore that bad feeling in your gut.

My tripod hadn't felt right all morning. I don't use my tripod often, though, and it seemed to be working, so I carried on. I've since worked out that a key spring in the tripod head had come lose. It's an easy fix, but a critical failure.

First of all, if your tripod feels weird, you should have a hand on your camera constantly until you figure out the problem, and should not use the tripod until it is working correctly.

But more broadly, when something feels wrong, you should always stop and try to assess that feeling. 

The image we did get.

The image we did get.

Going forward, I'm in good shape. I was able to return and finish the photos a few days later, and I have a new lens on the way. I've been looking to add an additional backup body and lens to the ones I already have for a while - and while the cost of replacing this equipment makes that a little more challenging, I still think I may speed up that process. I'm going to see, as well, if Canon can fix my broken lens or not.

In short: It was bad, but it could've been worse.