When you are shooting in a controlled environment it’s relatively easy to keep people clear of your gear, but when it comes to shooting weddings and event videos your set will be packed with hundreds of people who might bump into, trip over or otherwise interfere with your valuable equipment. Having people crowded around your gear can lead to a number of problems from obstructed shots, to unplugged power supplies, broken cameras, unhappy clients, or worse yet, an injured guest and a potential lawsuit. While you are fully aware of the positions of all of your cameras, the guests attending the event are likely not aware that they are there. To avoid a bunch of broken gear, you need to take proactive precautions to ensure that you will get the shots you need without putting your tools, or your client’s guests, in harm’s way. The biggest, and most costly equipment disasters typically come in the camera/tripod combination. We’ll identify 10 potential problems of condition and position that you can keep your eye on, and we will identify some simple solutions to help you keep your equipment safe and sound.
Problems of Condition
Problems of condition are related to the defects, shortcomings or improper use of your equipment. While you don’t have to own the latest and greatest equipment to produce professional event video, the tools that you use can have a direct impact on the safety and security of your cameras.
1) Solid Foundation [Narrow Base]: In order to provide the most stability, you need to shoot from a solid base. By design, your tripod’s legs spread out wider as you extend them higher.
However, in an effort to take up less landscape or to reach higher heights you may consider setting up your tripod with the feet closer together than they should be. As you bring the feet together and raise the head higher, the setup becomes increasingly unstable. Instead, select a space that lets you set your legs wide enough to support your camera properly. Another option is to hang a sandbag to a crossbar or extension pole below your camera. This weight may lower your center of gravity enough to compensate for a narrow leg spread.
2) Strong Sticks [Loose Legs]: A tripod’s leg extensions are secured by one of a variety of latch types, including screw knobs, twist locks and snap levers. None of them are exempt from failure, particularly as your equipment ages. If the latches are broken or not properly secured it is possible for one or more legs to slowly slip under the weight of the camera, changing the framing of an unmanned camera’s shot, or causing the tripod to topple. Make sure your leg latches are fully engaged, and are strong enough to hold the weight of your camera. If you discover a faulty fastener you can improvise a fast fix by wrapping gaffer’s tape around the leg so it cannot slide up inside the upper section. This method also works for light stands, which seem to often have latch-related issues.
The tools that you use can have a direct impact on safety and security.
3) Dependable Tripod Parts [Tripod Flex & Strain]: While you may be tempted to purchase a low-cost tripod at your neighborhood mart to hold an unmanned camera that you intend to lock down, doing so is inviting trouble. The tripods sold in department stores may work fine for palm-sized consumer camcorders, but they are not strong enough to adequately support a serious camera. Their plastic legs, latches, and camera mounts are notoriously flimsy. If the weight of the camera alone doesn’t cause it to fail, the slightest kick of a party goer’s clumsy foot will. Avoid these cheap consumer tripods altogether. If you have one, don’t use it at a professional shoot. Order a quality tripod from a specialty seller that is rated for and worthy of the camera you shoot with.
4) Camera Plate Connection [Poor Camera Contact]: The mounting plate that screws to your camera and then clips into the tripod head is a key component in the stability of your setup. If either connection point is damaged or unsecure, your camera may wiggle, teeter or slide loosely, causing it to fall.
The most common culprit in insecure camera attachment is in the plate that screws into the camera. The screw may be too short to grab the threads, or be so long that there’s a gap. This often happens when the original mounting screw has been lost and replaced, or inadvertently swapped with one from another plate. Loose mounts can also come from finger-tightening a screw that should be snugged with a tool. Avoid surprises by mounting your cameras securely to their tripods once your cameras leave their cases.
5) Tilt Lock [Droopy Drags ]: Probably the most common cause of tripod related disasters is getting distracted and stepping away from your tripod-mounted camera without securely tightening your tilt. As a result, your lens-heavy camera falls forcefully forward. Adding any amount of accessories can also aid droopy drags. If you have experienced this fearful phenomenon, you are not alone. Anyone who has made video for any period of time has had this happen at one time or another. If you set your tripod with a wide base and attached your camera securely to the mounting plate the only penalty to pay is the embarrassment you feel as people watch you awkwardly dive towards your tripod. If you set a narrow base, used a flimsy tripod or failed to attach your camera correctly, you might find yourself picking up pieces of your precious camera.
Problems of Position
Problems of position are related to the placement of your equipment within the venue. Even if your equipment is in solid working order, it can be at risk of damage if it is in the wrong place at the right time.
6) Reserved Seating [In the Way]: Positioning your cameras to get good shots at weddings and events without getting in the way can be a challenge. Even if you try to tuck your tripod into the end of a seating row, one or more legs may jut out into the aisle creating a tripping hazard. People may attempt to climb over or around your tripod to get to their seats, and knock it over in the process. When you need to set up in traffic areas, consider positioning your sticks, but keeping your camera off the tripod and putting it on after the audience is settled. If you must set up inside the seating section, use a small bit of gaffers tape to “rope off” the row, encouraging people to go around, rather than squeeze through. Although it is effective, most brides will not appreciate your use of yellow and black striped caution tape. It may be worth making friends with the wedding coordinator for various production reasons, but he or she may also have a solution for reserving a spot for your camera.
7) Avoid Rush Hour [Trapped in Traffic]: When you select your camera positions, be careful to account for traffic flow. If you are not fully aware of when, where and in which direction people will be moving, you can find yourself trapped in a stampede of people rushing from one place to another. This may not only impede you from getting to your new shooting position before the next portion of the event, it leaves your camera exposed to jostling, bumping and even outright manhandling by people trying to make their way past you. Before you commit to a position, consult with the event coordinator so you know that your gear is in a safe place, and make sure you time your moves ahead of the crowd.
8) Coil and Tape Cables [Clunky Cable Clumps]: You dedicate a camera for recording cabled audio feeds from a house soundboard and signals from multiple wireless mics. This can create a clunky clump of cables, connections, receivers and adapters that are extremely vulnerable to damage, especially if someone trips over your cables and yanks your camera down. The strain and impact can cause your connectors to bend and damage ports.
Reduce the amount of strain caused by weighty audio and power cables by taping them to your tripod, and always tape down any cables that lie on the floor. A little bit of money invested in a roll of gaffer’s tape can save your gear and your neck.
9) Find More Space [Not Enough Space]: Sometimes you need a smaller footprint than a tripod can offer. For instance, you may want to position a covert camera on an existing platform behind the bride and groom without drawing too much attention. There are a variety of mounts on the market that allow you to attach your camera to things other than tripods. The Manfrotto Magic Arm Kit with the Super Clamp attachment ($176) is a fantastic example. You can use it to mount your camera firmly to a railing, flag pole or microphone stand. For some shoots, a mic stand can be a great tripod substitute. They typically have a weighted base, stand at five feet and are readily available at many event venues. There are several adapters available to attach cameras securely to microphone stands. For lightweight cameras, check out the the mic-pod ($13) or an On-Stage CM01 Camera and Microphone Stand Adapter ($18).
10) Protect Your Production Value [Too Much Attention]: Advanced camera supports like jibs, sliders, dollies, and floating camera stabilizers add production value, but they also draw attention to themselves, which could cause curious passersby to come closer, linger longer and try to touch more than they otherwise might. The best way to protect gear mounted to specialized supports like these is to dedicate an operator to each rig. Have someone focus exclusively on that piece of equipment, and not walk away unless someone else can stand guard. Sometimes the best way to keep your gear safe is to stay close.
As you prepare for your next big wedding or event video shoot, make sure you are well aware of these common problems that can threaten the safety and security of your equipment, and make note of these simple solutions. One of them might just save the day.
Heavy-Duty Tripods Worth Buying
When it comes to keeping your camera safe from accidental breakage, a rock-solid tripod is worth its weight in gold. Here are some high-end examples from top manufacturers for you to consider if you need more confidence in your sticks.
- Sachtler FSB 8 T Tripod System with DA 75 L, $2,360
- Miller DS20 Solo DV Carbon Fibre System, $2,150
- Acebil P-70MX Tripod System – $2,060
- Libec RS-450RM Tripod System – $1,500
- Vinten VB250-AP2M Vision Blue System – $10,500
- Manfrotto 504HD Video Fluid Head 75 and 546GB Pro Video Tripod – $1,180
- VariZoom VZ-TK100AM Tripod/Head – $990
Chuck Peters is a 3-time Emmy Award winning writer and producer. He is an independent producer and media consultant in Nashville, TN.