Shooters’ “Gotchas!”

Here’s the second half of last month’s pre-shoot “Gotcha” prevention checklist of tiny faults and small defects that can sabotage a shoot.

Camera-mounted lights have the potential to be major “Gotchas” if you wait until you're ready to roll tape before hitting the “ON” switch. They might be inoperative due to something as simple as defective or missing bulbs. Failure to illuminate can also be the fault of a broken power cord or pitted contacts in the lamp base. Once you’ve established that the lamp actually does light, check to make sure that it doesn’t flop from side to side as you walk, that the dichroic filter isn't broken, and the bulb is the proper wattage. A 100-watt lamp might be useful at an overnight spot news scene but it's serious overkill when shooting talking heads indoors. And it will kill your battery a lot faster than you'd like.

Preflight checks should always include the viewfinder. Adjust the eyepiece diopter to ensure that you're seeing the sharpest image possible. The superimposed characters of the camera status data display provide a quick and easy way to set viewfinder focus. Removing that ever-present coating of grease and grime by giving the diopter a quick wipe with a soft cloth is another excellent way to clarify the view in the finder. While you're still in cleaning mode, take another 30 seconds to pull off the lens cap, unscrew the UV filter, and make sure that all of the front surfaces of the shooting optics are free from fingerprints, rain spots, and dog hair.

An often overlooked “Gotcha” can come from your recording media, especially since tapes, disks, and memory cards are often used repeatedly. Are all tapes fully rewound? Write protection tabs set to allow recording? Have memory cards or disks been fully erased or reformatted? If not, is there enough room on the media to continue shooting? The impact on your shoot is likely to be negative if you're unable to answer all of these questions in the affirmative.

Our final “Gotchas” are generated by the light kit. Are there bulbs in each lamp? Spares? Check each stand for bent legs and lock knobs that don’t turn or can't tighten. Stands that can't stand straight or keep light aimed where you want it aren’t easy to work with. Gaffers tape is an important complement to any lighting kit but when you find it atop a stand section or covering a locking collar, it’s also a good clue that something is amiss. When stuck to an AC cord, gaffers tape is either an indication that the last person who used the kit was in a rush to break down (what a shock!) or that there's a nick or slice in the insulation waiting to deliver a real shock.