Behind the Lens: Carrying a backup a good idea in case camera breaks


I found myself in a situation where my camera and flash were malfunctioning. Without the flash, the available light falling on the Elvis impersonator was not enough for a correct exposure. This frame of Elvis tossing a scarf around a member of the audience, was shot at 1/15th of a second so is blurred and still underexposed. Equipment breakdowns can be disastrous without backup gear.

Camera equipment failure is unavoidable.

Gear wears out, gets dropped and breaks down. Fortunately, I don’t recall an incident where a malfunctioning camera kept me from completing an assignment.

A big reason why is that I carry two camera bodies and lenses. But recently I had a close call.

I was covering an Elvis impersonator performing inside Liberty Hall, and to photograph in there I knew I would need to use a flash.

As Elvis moved among the tables, I took photographs using a camera-mounted flash with a diffuser and a wide-angle lens. I quickly noticed that my flash was malfunctioning. No matter how I adjusted my camera or flash settings, the flash was overpowering the subject. I was in big trouble.

It was too dark to photograph in the available light, I didn’t have a second flash with me and the performance wasn’t going to last long. Then I recalled that my second camera has a built-in flash. I’m not a fan of these flashes because they can’t be diffused or bounced, and the resulting light is harsh. But at this point I was desperate.

I switched to the telephoto lens, to put some distance between the direct flash and the subject, and tightened my framing on Elvis and one crowd member. The technique worked well enough and I managed to capture one nice moment of interaction between a crowd member and Elvis.

Now I need to repair the flash.

At the Journal-World, our gear breaks down from time to time. I’m guessing most of you have also required camera repairs.

Camera repair businesses are not as easy to locate as they were in the days of film.

I did a Google search for camera repair shops in the area and found little information. I called Dereninger Camera Repair in Kansas City and was told they only service film cameras. In fact, an employee told me they didn’t know of any camera repair places in the area that work on digital gear.

I contacted Wolfe’s Camera in Topeka, and while they do not offer in-house repair, they will send your gear to an appropriate repair center. But in that case you might as well go straight to the source yourself.

We’ve had many years of good service with Bernie Barge of Pho-Tech in Hesston. Bernie works on both film and digital cameras and we currently send him all our Canon DSLR digital bodies, lenses and flashes for repairs. It’s nice know your camera is getting shipped only three hours away and into the hands of a fellow Kansan.

Bernie can provide estimates once he surveys a camera or you can email him information about a problem and he will tell you if it’s worth repairing. If it needs major work that he can’t provide, he can forward it to authorized service centers. For more information, check out his website,


Paul Decelles 5 years, 3 months ago

Never have had to get my DSLR repaired but it's good to know about Bernie's. I am astounded that Lawrence doesn't have a good general photography shop.. Must be too much competition with the big box retailers + the shops in KC or Wolfe's.

David Klamet 5 years, 3 months ago

Had the same issues. I will certainly put Bernie's in my address book. Last year I had to have the sensor cleaned and I ended up sending it to United Camera near Chicago. They seemed to do a good job for a reasonable price, but I was without my camera for more than a week.

I'm looking for a second camera now. Since I have a Nikon, getting another is pretty much a requirement so I can use my lenses and have the best integration with my flash. However there are SO MANY choices that is a bit overwhelming.

mom_of_three 5 years, 3 months ago

I took my nikon to topeka to service a few years back. took a while and it still didn't work right. Nice to have a trusted name.

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