Embarrassing story about overlooking a small but critical piece of gear.

New Rule. When packing gear it's not enough to look at a device, I need to touch it.

In a way, I'm betting this story is really about karma. My son and I love coffee and we have a special coffee scoop that we use to measure out our exacting quantity of ground, Italian coffee for that critical morning cup. Yesterday afternoon I was in the studio working on some post production and I started feeling a bit fatigued so I went into the house to make a cup of coffee. But I could not find the scoop. I made a  cursory look everywhere I thought it should be and then I grabbed a measuring spoon and used it instead of the (precise) dedicated scoop. As soon as I had the coffee brewing in the filter I sent a group text to son and spouse asking if either knew where the scoop might be....

The coveted scoop was in the dishwasher. I had overlooked it in my abbreviated survey of kitchen repositories. Just for grins I grabbed one of the tags I use for labeling memory sticks and made a label for the scoop:

I thought I was being clever and humorous, and my patient family took it in stride. Little did I know that my petulant tagging had angered the gods of domesticity who almost immediately sought to punish my hubris....in kind. A missing tool...

The assignment today was to make portraits in the offices of a national accounting firm, at their location here in Austin. Yesterday afternoon I'd loaded up all the lighting gear in a Manfrotto rolling case, mostly to see how it might fare as my primary travel case for lighting stuff on my multi-stop journey next week. Then I decided to move everything to the slightly bigger Tamrac case to see how it might work. I also loaded up the cameras and lenses into a smaller case, dragged out a roll of seamless paper to match the same sort of seamless we used at the shoot we'd done for the same company earlier this year, and I loaded up the car. 

The sun wasn't up yet this morning as I finished with breakfast and headed out to my job site, just south of the river from downtown, about 10 minutes from my house. I brought all my gear up the building's freight elevator on my cart and started to set up, happy that I would have a full hour in which to set up and fine tune my working environment so I could leisurely shoot the ten or twelve scheduled portrait sessions before lunch. I might even have time to grab a coffee before people started rolling in...

I set up the three monolights last. Then I looked into the bag for the flash triggers. No dice. I looked harder. I looked in the camera bag. I double checked my pockets. No triggers. I tried using a shoe mount flash to trigger the optical slaves and that worked for the bigger light I was using but not the smaller, Neewer Vision 4 lights. They have a complicated system that lets one set up the optical slave to deal with pre-flashes from a master flash but I had never set that up that function on the lights and realized that the setting is just a number in a menu, and it was a number of which I had no memory. 

Then it dawned on me that I must have gotten sidetracked as I was moving the gear from one case to the next the day before and that the triggers were probably still resting in the warm comfort of the previous case's built in pocket. Back on the floor of the studio.  I can't recall the last time I forgot to bring the right triggers, or at least a physical cable, to a photoshoot but I can tell you it's been....decades. 

I explained the situation to my client who calmly rearranged the first person on my list of appointments. I hopped in the car and sped through rush hour to get home. The triggers were right where I suspected. I grabbed all three of them and headed back over to the client's building. We started with our first session about twenty minutes behind schedule but quickly made up any lost time. The client took it in stride but I was pretty disappointed in myself. It's rare I go off on a project without checking my gear list and confirming I've packed what I need. 

I have a new rule: it's not enough to have a list and think about the list, I need to touch the piece of gear and then mark it off the list from now on. I don't always have the opportunity to rush back and grab stuff quickly. Over looking mission critical utensils could have ruined a full morning, if I'd been somewhere farther from home base. 

I'm convinced the kitchen gods were punishing my obvious hubris of putting the snarky tag onto the scoop. It was a lesson well delivered and one I won't forget (soon). 

Just wanted to share. You might be packing for something important and this could be a good reminder...


Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk,
I can sympathise. Went on a family camping trip a few weeks back for a public holiday long weekend. We drew up a list and started getting organised 2 nights before, packed some stuff into a trailer the night before, and on the morning relocated all remaining items to living room as it’s easiest to load the car from there. Got an hour down the highway and realised we’d left sleeping bags on the lounge...
Luckily my wife’s sister & family were coming too, and they have a spare key to our place. Phew.
Got to camping spot and realised we’d left the milk behind...
Blaming sleep deprivation on our toddler. He had a ball going on little adventures with cousins on his second camping trip.
Not THAT Ross Cameron

PacNW said...

"Making use of a scale is one of the best ways to brew a consistent cup of coffee. As we explain in our measuring cup guide, volume measurements are not to be trusted for accuracy. And when it comes to making great coffee, even a gram or two of extra coffee can make the difference between too strong and just right.

"In our stand-alone kitchen scale guide, we recommend the American Weigh Scales SC-2KG pocket scale for precise measurements. It’s cheap, and it does the job perfectly. It’s also quite portable, which is good if you want to bring a coffee maker on the road, and it has a backlit screen for easy reading. You could use something like our kitchen scale pick for baking if you already have one, but that kind of scale is accurate only to the half gram, which isn’t ideal if you’re trying to brew a precise cup of coffee."


Gato said...

I am rather proud that in all my years using film I only shot one job with no film in the camera. Luckily that was back before zooms and I was using two cameras. It was a simple newspaper thing and I got enough to squeak by.

Nigel Hodges said...

I'm a list maker, whether it's work or something like a holiday and then it's ticked off or crossed out. But it has to make it to the list in the first place!!!!
My list making seriously started years ago after I went away for a long weekend to stay with a friend....with no spare shirts!
Thanks for sharing - & thos is why I and I'm sure others enjoy your blog: certainly it's about photography but there's the human side to it as well.

David said...

I think you got it backwards. I think the scoop missing was a warning sign that you missed. That in the future you will have misplaced something you need. Watch out for that in the future.
All the best,