Power Troubleshooter

+

Human error

The biggest cause of problems on-set is human error. Ideally you'll be completely familiar with all the kit you're using. But when you're a beginner and you're still learning, it's not always possible. Also firmware updates can make unexpected changes to your equipment.

Solutions

Have the latest manuals for all your equipment on your phone. If there’s something you’re not sure about, you can use them for reference.

If there’s firmware updates for your equipment, first check on forums to make sure there’s no issues with the update. If it looks good, update the firmware. Always read the release notes to see what’s been added and what’s changed.

Ultimately nothing beats knowing your equipment inside out and back to front. But this is something that happens with time and practice. While you’re still learning make a list of all the kit and accessories you need for your project. The day before production starts, make a check list of all the important settings on your devices and go through it.

Learn from your mistakes!

Faulty equipment

The second most common problem is faulty cables. You can also encounter duff media cards, dead batteries, blown fuses and loose screws.

Solutions

Always being prepared solves a lot of problems. I suggest you always carry spares of the following:

  • Cables: video, audio, power and data
  • Headphones
  • Media cards, fresh from being formatted on your computer
  • Batteries for your camera, external monitor, radio mics, LED lights and indeed anything else that uses battery power
  • Carry battery chargers. Ones that connect to the mains output and to the cigarette lighter in a car are especially useful. *
  • Lamps for hot lights, tubes for fluorescent lights. With LED lights, you usually can’t replace the lighting element.
  • Fuses for plugs and lights

It’s a good idea to always have a selection of cable adaptors in case you need them. BNC barrels are handy for extending SDI cables. XLR sex-changers can be useful, not all audio mixers use the same connectors for their inputs.

Always carry a selection of tools for dealing with loose screws on tripods and other camera supports. A screwdriver with interchangeable heads, including hex (Allen) drivers, is essential. Other useful tools are pliers, a strap wrench and a soldering iron.

Gaffer tape is the international cure-all for a range of on-set ailments. Always carry a roll… dammit, carry two.

* Don’t charge drone batteries in a car. There’s a risk of fire with LiPo batteries and care should always be taken with charging and storage.

Unexpected equipment settings

You might find your camera or sound recorder has been setup strangely and you're not sure how to solve the issue. If you rent your camera or borrow it from a college media centre, it's something you could encounter.

Solutions

One solution is to know where the reset option is in the menu. This will set your device back to its factory default.

If you use the same model of camera or recorder regularly, you might be able to create your own preset. Some devices enable you to store your customised settings on a media card. You can load these up every time you use it.

Location issues

Shooting in a location without permission or without notifying the relevant authorities can cause problems.

Solutions

If you’re shooting in a public area, you might need to inform the police. It’s especially important if the scene involves fighting, guns or other activity that could alarm the public.

If you’re shooting in a privately owned location, contact the relevant organisation for permission to film there. Make sure it’s in the form of an official letter. And take the letter with you on the shoot.

It’s surprising how many areas that appear public are actually privately owned. You might only find out when security guards arrive to stop you filming. Don’t assume, always check.

Potential risks

There are a variety of dangers you can encounter when shooting on location.

Solutions

Always have the phone number and address for the nearest hospital and drop-in centre on the call sheet. Store them in your phone contacts as well.

Always do a risk assessment for the location and make it available to all cast and crew. If there’s an incident, it’s your proof that you considered potential problems and took steps to mitigate them.

Specialist equipment such as drones and large cranes are in a safety category all of their own. Always work with a qualified and experience operator. They will be responsible for their own risk assessment and they should give the cast and crew a safety briefing.

If someone expresses concern about a certain situation, always take them seriously and do what you can to reduce the potential danger.

Don’t take unnecessary risks! There’s no point getting an amazing shot if someone’s hurt in the process.

No battery power

You switch on a device, but there's no power from the battery.

Solutions

  1. Make sure you’re definitely pressing the correct button to switch on the device!
  2. Try reseating the battery. Remove it completely from the device and reconnect it. If the battery isn’t seating correctly, you might need to use gaffer tape as a temporary solution.
  3. Try a different battery. If that works, put a piece of tape on the faulty battery and check it again later.
  4. Some devices such as cameras, LED lights and on-camera monitors have swappable battery plates. If this is the case, unscrew the battery plate and check the wires are properly connected.
  5. On-battery indicators are not always reliable. They can say a battery is charged when it isn’t. Check the power level on the camera or sound recorder screen. You might need to delay the shoot while you charge a battery.
  6. If you’re powering a device from the camera’s battery plate, try reseating the cable. If that doesn’t work, try a different cable.

No mains power

Your equipment isn't receiving power from the mains supply or a generator.

Solutions

If you need to connect to an electrical supply using lugs or clips instead of an insulated plug, this is a job for a qualified electrician. Under no circumstance should you attempt this yourself.

  1. Make sure the wall switch is definitely on.
  2. The wall socket could be faulty, try a different one.
  3. Waggle all your cables and check for loose connections, but take care not to touch bare wires or plug pins.
  4. Replace a suspect cables with a spare. If this solves the problem, put a piece of tape on the faulty cable and check it again later.
  5. If you’re using a plug-in circuit breaker, try resetting it. Some power reels also have circuit breakers with a reset button.
  6. If a power reel has stopped working, it might have overheated. Make sure it’s completely unreeled then try it again.
  7. Change the fuse in the plug. If that works, dispose of the faulty fuse.
  8. If several wall sockets seem to be dead, one of the building’s circuit breakers might have tripped. If it’s a large commercial building, contact the person who has access.

Light receiving power, but not working

You're sure power is getting to the light, but it's not coming on.

Solutions

  1. There might be another power switch on the light cable or on the power unit for the light.
  2. Check if there’s a dimmer control on the power unit or the head unit. It could be on its lowest setting.
  3. If the light has a fuse in the back of the head unit, try changing it.
  4. If the light has a removable lamp or tube, try reseating it. If that doesn’t work, replace it. You know a lamp has blown if there are soot marks on the glass, or the filament is visibly broken or melted. A fluorescent tube has blown if it rattles when you shake it.
  5. If the light’s connected to a DMX desk, check the settings on the desk. Also check the data cables haven’t worked loose.

Specifically for HMI lights:

Take care with the HMI ballast, it retains a charge even when the power is disconnected.

  • An HMI light might have a switch on the ballast for different voltages, check it’s set correctly.
  • If you switch off an HMI light, you might need to wait a few minutes before it will power on again.
  • The lamp might not work without the UV protector in place. This should not be removed as it provides extra protection for your eyes.

Camera is in wrong language

You've hired or borrowed a camera and discovered it's been set to a foreign language.

Solutions

This is where the camera manual comes in handy. The different menus and settings usually have an icon associated with them. Use the manual to identify the icons for the menu and the setting.

Look for a menu called System or Setup. It might have a wrench as its icon:  

Look for the Language setting, it might have a speech bubble as its icon:  

Camera settings unavailable

There are settings you want to use on the camera, but they are greyed out or locked.

Solutions

Certain camera modes make other settings unavailable. For example, different shooting modes might affect ISO and colour space settings. All cameras have their individual quirks, so you will need to check the user manual.

When choosing format settings, it can be a juggling act. For example, if you choose the highest resolution and highest quality, your frame rate choices will be limited. So if you want to shoot at a higher frame rate, you’ll need to make compromises with resolution or quality.

+

Human error

The biggest cause of problems on-set is human error. Ideally you'll be completely familiar with all the kit you're using. But when you're a beginner and you're still learning, it's not always possible. Also firmware updates can make unexpected changes to your equipment.

Solutions

Have the latest manuals for all your equipment on your phone. If there’s something you’re not sure about, you can use them for reference.

If there’s firmware updates for your equipment, first check on forums to make sure there’s no issues with the update. If it looks good, update the firmware. Always read the release notes to see what’s been added and what’s changed.

Ultimately nothing beats knowing your equipment inside out and back to front. But this is something that happens with time and practice. While you’re still learning make a list of all the kit and accessories you need for your project. The day before production starts, make a check list of all the important settings on your devices and go through it.

Learn from your mistakes!

Faulty equipment

The second most common problem is faulty cables. You can also encounter duff media cards, dead batteries, blown fuses and loose screws.

Solutions

Always being prepared solves a lot of problems. I suggest you always carry spares of the following:

  • Cables: video, audio, power and data
  • Headphones
  • Media cards, fresh from being formatted on your computer
  • Batteries for your camera, external monitor, radio mics, LED lights and indeed anything else that uses battery power
  • Carry battery chargers. Ones that connect to the mains output and to the cigarette lighter in a car are especially useful. *
  • Lamps for hot lights, tubes for fluorescent lights. With LED lights, you usually can’t replace the lighting element.
  • Fuses for plugs and lights

It’s a good idea to always have a selection of cable adaptors in case you need them. BNC barrels are handy for extending SDI cables. XLR sex-changers can be useful, not all audio mixers use the same connectors for their inputs.

Always carry a selection of tools for dealing with loose screws on tripods and other camera supports. A screwdriver with interchangeable heads, including hex (Allen) drivers, is essential. Other useful tools are pliers, a strap wrench and a soldering iron.

Gaffer tape is the international cure-all for a range of on-set ailments. Always carry a roll… dammit, carry two.

* Don’t charge drone batteries in a car. There’s a risk of fire with LiPo batteries and care should always be taken with charging and storage.

Unexpected equipment settings

You might find your camera or sound recorder has been setup strangely and you're not sure how to solve the issue. If you rent your camera or borrow it from a college media centre, it's something you could encounter.

Solutions

One solution is to know where the reset option is in the menu. This will set your device back to its factory default.

If you use the same model of camera or recorder regularly, you might be able to create your own preset. Some devices enable you to store your customised settings on a media card. You can load these up every time you use it.

Location issues

Shooting in a location without permission or without notifying the relevant authorities can cause problems.

Solutions

If you’re shooting in a public area, you might need to inform the police. It’s especially important if the scene involves fighting, guns or other activity that could alarm the public.

If you’re shooting in a privately owned location, contact the relevant organisation for permission to film there. Make sure it’s in the form of an official letter. And take the letter with you on the shoot.

It’s surprising how many areas that appear public are actually privately owned. You might only find out when security guards arrive to stop you filming. Don’t assume, always check.

Potential risks

There are a variety of dangers you can encounter when shooting on location.

Solutions

Always have the phone number and address for the nearest hospital and drop-in centre on the call sheet. Store them in your phone contacts as well.

Always do a risk assessment for the location and make it available to all cast and crew. If there’s an incident, it’s your proof that you considered potential problems and took steps to mitigate them.

Specialist equipment such as drones and large cranes are in a safety category all of their own. Always work with a qualified and experience operator. They will be responsible for their own risk assessment and they should give the cast and crew a safety briefing.

If someone expresses concern about a certain situation, always take them seriously and do what you can to reduce the potential danger.

Don’t take unnecessary risks! There’s no point getting an amazing shot if someone’s hurt in the process.

No battery power

You switch on a device, but there's no power from the battery.

Solutions

  1. Make sure you’re definitely pressing the correct button to switch on the device!
  2. Try reseating the battery. Remove it completely from the device and reconnect it. If the battery isn’t seating correctly, you might need to use gaffer tape as a temporary solution.
  3. Try a different battery. If that works, put a piece of tape on the faulty battery and check it again later.
  4. Some devices such as cameras, LED lights and on-camera monitors have swappable battery plates. If this is the case, unscrew the battery plate and check the wires are properly connected.
  5. On-battery indicators are not always reliable. They can say a battery is charged when it isn’t. Check the power level on the camera or sound recorder screen. You might need to delay the shoot while you charge a battery.
  6. If you’re powering a device from the camera’s battery plate, try reseating the cable. If that doesn’t work, try a different cable.

No mains power

Your equipment isn't receiving power from the mains supply or a generator.

Solutions

If you need to connect to an electrical supply using lugs or clips instead of an insulated plug, this is a job for a qualified electrician. Under no circumstance should you attempt this yourself.

  1. Make sure the wall switch is definitely on.
  2. The wall socket could be faulty, try a different one.
  3. Waggle all your cables and check for loose connections, but take care not to touch bare wires or plug pins.
  4. Replace a suspect cables with a spare. If this solves the problem, put a piece of tape on the faulty cable and check it again later.
  5. If you’re using a plug-in circuit breaker, try resetting it. Some power reels also have circuit breakers with a reset button.
  6. If a power reel has stopped working, it might have overheated. Make sure it’s completely unreeled then try it again.
  7. Change the fuse in the plug. If that works, dispose of the faulty fuse.
  8. If several wall sockets seem to be dead, one of the building’s circuit breakers might have tripped. If it’s a large commercial building, contact the person who has access.

Light receiving power, but not working

You're sure power is getting to the light, but it's not coming on.

Solutions

  1. There might be another power switch on the light cable or on the power unit for the light.
  2. Check if there’s a dimmer control on the power unit or the head unit. It could be on its lowest setting.
  3. If the light has a fuse in the back of the head unit, try changing it.
  4. If the light has a removable lamp or tube, try reseating it. If that doesn’t work, replace it. You know a lamp has blown if there are soot marks on the glass, or the filament is visibly broken or melted. A fluorescent tube has blown if it rattles when you shake it.
  5. If the light’s connected to a DMX desk, check the settings on the desk. Also check the data cables haven’t worked loose.

Specifically for HMI lights:

Take care with the HMI ballast, it retains a charge even when the power is disconnected.

  • An HMI light might have a switch on the ballast for different voltages, check it’s set correctly.
  • If you switch off an HMI light, you might need to wait a few minutes before it will power on again.
  • The lamp might not work without the UV protector in place. This should not be removed as it provides extra protection for your eyes.

Camera is in wrong language

You've hired or borrowed a camera and discovered it's been set to a foreign language.

Solutions

This is where the camera manual comes in handy. The different menus and settings usually have an icon associated with them. Use the manual to identify the icons for the menu and the setting.

Look for a menu called System or Setup. It might have a wrench as its icon:  

Look for the Language setting, it might have a speech bubble as its icon:  

Camera settings unavailable

There are settings you want to use on the camera, but they are greyed out or locked.

Solutions

Certain camera modes make other settings unavailable. For example, different shooting modes might affect ISO and colour space settings. All cameras have their individual quirks, so you will need to check the user manual.

When choosing format settings, it can be a juggling act. For example, if you choose the highest resolution and highest quality, your frame rate choices will be limited. So if you want to shoot at a higher frame rate, you’ll need to make compromises with resolution or quality.



If you enjoyed this article, please share