The scariest thing to happen to me during a shoot wasn’t my knee dislocating. It was my camera breaking, right as my couple was about to go frolicking in the ocean in their wedding clothes. Instantly I felt sick to my stomach, my heart lept into my chest, and the sweat rolling down my face had nothing to do with the hot Mexican sun.
But instead of calling a halt to the session, I walked over to the camera bag, pulled out my backup camera, and kept shooting, without them ever noticing.
(Ok, to be totally honest I think I went and took Rob’s camera and made him walk over to camera bag, because I’m kind of a diva like that sometimes. But if I was by myself that’s how things would have gone!)
However things went down, the lesson is simple: if you’re doing a professional shoot (and I count shoots that aren’t for money per se, but for portfolio building or trade of service in there too), you need backup.
Here are the three things you need before ever doing a pro shoot:
1. Backup Gear
Imagine you’re shooting, and your camera breaks. It happens. All. The. Time. If you don’t have any backup gear, you’ll have to tell your clients that the shoot is over. Now imagine that scenario from your clients’ perspective. They put a ton of time and energy into getting ready for that session. They’re nervous and hoping the images turn out well. They’ve invested hard earned money in this. And then the photographer’s camera breaks and they have to do it all over again? Definitely not a confidence booster.
Backup gear is a must. Here’s what you need:
Backup Camera Body:
This is critical. For every pro shoot you need a backup camera body. If you have two shooters, you’ll want a backup body for each one (especially at a wedding where two shooters are pretty essential). For a portrait session, you could probably get away with just one backup.
The backup body doesn’t have to be the same as your main camera. With weddings we shot with full frame cameras and our backups were our older, crop sensor cameras. They would work, and give us good quality images, and that was what was important.
Now, when you’re just starting out it’s hard to afford one pro camera, let alone two. So for your first few shoots, you could borrow a camera body from a friend, or rent one as your backup. Either way, make super sure you have that camera, just in case. We only ever had to use our backup camera that one time that we can recall, but you can be sure we were glad we had lugged those things to every single shoot for that one moment.
One last tip about this: if you’re shooting a wedding, that backup camera can’t be hanging out in your car. You definitely won’t have time in the middle of the ceremony to go grab it if your main body breaks. It has to be within your grasp so you can make the switch and still catch the first kiss.
Backup Cards and Batteries:
Your camera breaking would be bad, but probably not your fault. Not having enough memory cards or your battery dying during a shoot? That’s going to make you look pretty silly, don’t you think? (I’m putting that very, very mildly). Have more memory cards than you could possibly fill, and extra, fully charged batteries for every camera, and your flashes if you’re using them. This is not a place to skimp. Batteries can easily lose charge right when you need them, and memory cards can fill up fast.
For our backup batteries we buy Watson brand batteries from B&H. They don’t hold a charge quite as long as Canon brand, but they are way cheaper and over time I think it works out to a better deal.
With lenses the situation is a bit different. You won’t be carrying around duplicates of every lens, but you’ll want to be sure you have more than one lens with you that you could do a session with. So don’t show up with just a 50mm and a fisheye. Keep a midrange zoom in the car, in case someone drops your beloved 50mm onto the pavement (I’m looking at you, Rob…).
2. Backup Plan
One of the most stressful parts of a wedding day isn’t catching the first kiss, trying to be stealthy during that hour long ceremony, or dodging Uncle Bobs all day. It’s whether the weather is going to cooperate with you. Rain on your wedding day isn’t just ironic – it’s a pain in the butt for the photographer.
So for every single wedding we had a backup plan in case of rain. I think we only used those plans maybe two or three times. And it sure was a lot of work to figure it out for every wedding. But you definitely don’t want to be winging it on someone’s big day.
For weddings, the backup plan needs to be pretty solid. You need a place to do the portraits if it’s pouring rain outside. Umbrella’s don’t count as a backup plan. For more tips on shooting in the rain, you can check out this full article.
For portraits, commercial jobs, and the like, you have a bit more flexibility. If it rains you can usually reschedule. But you’ll want backup locations during your shoot, and backup ideas, in case some of them don’t pan out the way you intended. While doing your planning and location scouting, make sure you have more spots and ideas than you’ll actually use! (And grab our free Logbooks to help you plan this out!)
3. Backup System
And the most important backup, and often most overlooked: when you get those photos home, make sure you have a backup system in place to immediately keep them safe. You need three copies of the files, on three different drives, with one of those drives going offsite as soon as possible.
Yes, this is going to cost money in terms of buying more hard drives than you ever thought you’d own. And then replacing those every few years. But if you’re going to be a pro photographer, you can’t skimp here. You can’t take shortcuts. Your clients are trusting you to do this, so you gotta do it, and do it right.
As you can see, being a responsible pro means having backup: gear, plans and systems. That’s because a pro is someone who plans for every outcome to ensure the shoot goes as smoothly as possible. In a perfect world you’ll never have to use your backup gear, your plans will go smoothly and the weather will be perfect, and your hard drives will never fail.
But that’s not the world we live in: pros know that, and plan for it. Then when things go sideways, they can handle it with a smile on their face, and still get the job done.