Mistakes and Protocols

In the days of film photography, one fairly common rookie mistake looked like this. We prevented this by making sure the film wound all the way around the takeup spool at least one full rotation before closing the back of the camera.
In the days of film photography, one fairly common rookie mistake looked like this. We prevented this by making sure the film wound all the way around the takeup spool at least one full rotation before closing the back of the camera.

Someone asked me the other day if I ever seriously screwed up at my job, and what did I do about it. By “serious” I assumed they meant something worse than spelling Marcy “Marcie.” I told them, in hushed tones, that yes, once, I did very seriously screw up. The hushed tones are no long necessary, obviously, since I am coming clean here in my public forum.

I knew at least one photographer who left the rewind crank extended so he could see it in his peripheral vision as it spun counterclockwise when the film fed out of the cassette onto the film plane.
I knew at least one photographer who left the rewind crank extended so he could see it in his peripheral vision as it spun counterclockwise when the film fed out of the cassette onto the film plane.

I once photographed someone with an unloaded camera. I know. Richard? A recruit trick like that? But yes, sure, anyone can make a fundamental mistake. When I discovered my mistake, I slunk back over to the woman I’d photographed and told her a half-lie: the image didn’t work out the way I wanted and could I shoot a few more.

I never made that mistake again, for two reasons: first, my reputation was on the line, and I might not be able to quietly fix it next time, and second, I started religiously using a protocol, which I use to this day. Simply put, I never ever ever closed a camera back (in the film era) or close a camera card door (in the digital realm) without new media installed. The same goes for batteries. Never close a battery door without a charged battery inside.

These protocols are fairly universal. Never start an airplane without removing the “Remove Before Flight” flags. Never holster an unloaded pistol. Never close a circuit breaker someone has opened.

It’s been years since I screwed up big enough to have to reshoot something, but life is full of potential mistakes, and if I do drop the ball, my hope and intention is that I will do whatever it takes to make it right.

It's obvious from their design that these card doors in our Nikon D300S cameras are meant to remind you not to rock and roll without locking and loading.
It’s obvious from their design that these card doors in our Nikon D300S cameras are meant to remind you not to rock and roll without locking and loading.
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