5.05.2018

The agony of unpacking. The near opposite of the joy of unboxing.

I see videos everywhere in which the main subject is "unboxing" a new camera, lens, flash or other object of desire. They pull out each piece and remark about how great it will be for their work, which seems a little off since there work seems to consist of.....just unboxing things on YouTube. Sometimes they will also read off the specifications of the new object in an attempt to....flesh out the droll nature of their content.


Today, after two large production shoots in two different countries, and one smaller production shoot piggy-backed on top, I have the displeasure of pulling all the gear out of a collection of black cases (some "rolling", some not) and assessing each piece before putting it back in its rightful spot. Only by putting things back where they go will I be able to figure out where they are next time I need them.

Leaving gear in the travel cases is not a good option for me because I am certain I'll be packing a different selection of equipment the next time I head out the door.

I start with the easy stuff first. Those are the stand bags and tripod bags. Yesterday's shoot called for a total of 9 light stands, 2 flex fill holders, a giant scrim frame and two tripods. All of those things come out of the dark recesses of the bags, are examined for breakage or missing parts and then put into the stand holder or tripod holder near the door of the studio. This makes it easy for me to select just the right stands in the future. If they lived in the bags I'm pretty sure I'd forget about them entirely. Why do I check the condition of this gear? Let me answer that with my own question: Have you ever gotten to a shoot only to discover that you've lost the quick release plate for the head of your tripod?

Next up is the case full of cameras and lenses. I blow off all camera bodies with compressed air to get rid of dust and junk that may have attached to the gear. Best to get rid of it before I take lenses off bodies. I check the fronts and backs of every lens for dust or surface marks. Any lens that needs cleaning gets it right way. The quicker you handle a nasty thumbprint on the glass of your lens the less chance that the acid in the oils from your skin will etch into the coatings of the lens and degrade its performance. A clean lens is a happier lens.  But if the lens doesn't require wet cleaning don't do it reflexively  ---- better to keep your lenses clean than to keep cleaning your lenses.

Once we've separated lenses from bodies I pull the batteries from the cameras and put them on their chargers. Better, in my mind, to have topped up batteries in the equipment drawer because you never know when a good client might call and ask if there's anyway you could come over soon? Or you might have the opportunity to do a fun, spur of the moment project. Why wait for exhausted batteries to recharge as a reactive response to an opportunity?

I also pull the memory cards and download all needed files, backing the content up initially in two new places. In this way I never get to a location, find my only card already loaded with valuable images, rendering me incapable of doing new work. Having a workflow or post shoot process keeps me from making unintended errors.  Better to just get stuff done than to try and remember what you did and did not do. And what you might need to do next.

Next up, cords get wrapped, (or re-wrapped, if a non-cord certified person offered to help by (mis)-wrapping your cables at the last location) so they don't develop unruly kinks and bends. Re-wrapping your extension cables, power cables and microphone cables also lets you know when a cable has gotten dirty or greasy from a less than tidy location and needs to be cleaned. If you take care of your tools they will take care of you.

Portable electronic flash gear and battery powered LED panels get checked to make sure all the parts for each unit are in their cases and that everything is functional. Now is the best time to find out sad news about the operational status of a piece of gear. You may have time to replace or repair it before it is needed again. Mostly, I'm looking to recharge all the batteries and check for breakage.

Finally, all the cases are cleaned out and sometimes vacuumed. You pick up a lot of dust working in busy industrial sites and you might as well keep it away from your equipment if you can. Once the cases are emptied and cleaned they go back onto the shelves they came from. If the cases are empty I can quickly pull down a preferred case and fill it with new gear rather than having to unpack under what might be a future tight schedule.

All of this takes time on the day of unpacking but being organized is much more efficient than "winging" it. If everything goes into cases in a logical order it's so much easier to work on busy location. If you did your packing well you know where every component is at all time. Your unpacking gives you the chance to see just how good your organizational skills were and to make improvements for the next time. Works for me.

At this point I am done stowing the photo gear and ready to reward myself with a nice cup of coffee.