Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Soldering for fun and profit

I don't consider myself a big photo gearhead, but I do maintain, occasionally fix, and sometimes build my own equipment. It goes without saying that everything you own is much less prone to failure than rental equipment.

I usually rent a suite of Profoto gear for shoots, but I own two Dynalite packs that have served me quite well over the past few years. Manny Millan, for whom I assisted in New York, practically gave them to me for free when I began shooting on my own in 2005. I also assisted another photographer, massive gearhead Heinz Kluetmeier, which is where I learned to solder, among many other things. We once handmade 500 Pocket Wizard cords in one afternoon. Those things are about $25/ea. new. The total cost to make 500 was about $40. I smelled like burnt metal for days though.

Recently, one of the adapters I use to fire newer heads off an older Dynalite pack failed on a shoot. These things are about $75 bucks new, which is not that expensive I guess. I simply took it apart and compared it to the one that still works. I used my trusty 40 watt iron to fix it in about 20 minutes. I've also used it on packs, heads, radios and other electrical devices that might otherwise cost hundreds of dollars to repair. It's not that I know anything about complex circuitry, but I can certainly recognize a severed wire or two.

The point isn't that you should invest a very small amount of money in order to save a marginally larger amount. It's that it forces you to use the left side of your brain in a way many creatives detest, thinking critically about problem solving and being resourceful. Having an intimate working knowledge of all your gear will make you a more efficient photographer, but forcing yourself to work through situations by thinking outside the box will come in handy when those situations present themselves unexpectedly, like many of the things that can and will go wrong and/or unplanned on a photo shoot.

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