Don’t skimp on the electrics

Fireworks. Picture by Ivor Rackham.
Fireworks. Picture by Ivor Rackham.

Did you get out to photograph a firework display?

There will, no doubt, be a few more this weekend, as well as at New Year. I’ve organised displays and set off fireworks in the past. It’s much more fun being in the crowd taking photos than having a rocket explode prematurely at my feet, which once happened. Luckily, I was in full protective gear.

To capture fireworks, I stand well back as the silhouettes of people add meaning to the shot. I calculate the depth of field I need, where I should focus, and what aperture and ISO I should choose. Because it is dark, long exposures are easy to achieve.

I did have one minor disaster at a bonfire last year. I cleaned a professional grade lens with a cloth that had a tiny bit of grit in it. Replacing the scratched front element cost £150. Lesson learnt. For day-to-day shooting, despite disliking the extra piece of glass on my lens, I now keep a sacrificial UV filter attached, removing it only for professional engagements.

There is one risk many photographers take that could be much costlier than a scratched lens. Photography is an expensive business and we often try to make savings where we can. I do think we should be careful about the batteries and chargers we buy.

House fires caused by electrical faults in 2016 increased by 35 per cent and electrical fires account for over a quarter of all home fires. Some 1.8 million chargers of all types are bought online in the UK each year and many are poor quality and account for some of this increase.

If you buy a new camera charger or battery, can you be sure it is not fake? All major manufacturers are targeted by forgers, even top-end Nikon DSLRs have been counterfeited and sold online. They use low-quality components and take hazardous short-cuts. If you are buying a charger or battery, do get one from a trustworthy source.

I don’t risk unbranded batteries as they have been known to catch fire inside cameras. However, I don’t always buy manufacturers’ originals, which can be expensive. EX-Pro and Duracell are alternative brands I use. Fakes exist of these too so I always source them from a reputable retailer or the manufacturer.

There is also a danger of buying second-hand electrical equipment; you don’t know its history. Has it been damaged in some way that could be dangerous? I once knocked a glass of water over a camera charger. I could have sold it on eBay and the buyer would have been none the wiser. I didn’t; it went for recycling.

If you have a new camera still under warranty, weigh up whether it’s worth spending extra buying an original manufacturer’s battery. Even good-quality batteries, including the manufacturers’ own, can go wrong, damaging the circuits in the camera. The camera’s warranty will only be valid if that battery was a manufacturer’s original.

It may also be worth checking home or business insurance to see if a battery fire covers the cost of replacing your expensive kit.

As the fireworks burn away, please do unplug everything you can at night and don’t leave plugged-in chargers unattended. Even good quality electronics can fail. Fires outside look great, house fires are disastrous.

Our challenge words this week are ‘airy’ and ‘past’.