Usually, when you hear the magic words, “That’s a wrap,” the assistant is eager to strike the set and get all the gear packed up. It’s probably been a long day and everyone is tired. Maybe there is an after party or a flight to catch. But, if you get any result after a strike, like the photo here, you are in too much of a hurry and not using your head. If you are a brand new assistant and it’s your first time on set, there are a few mulligans available for you. But if you’ve been around for a spell, stuff like this is kind of embarrassing… for you. The bottom line is to use some common sense. Safety and planning doesn’t end just because the shoot is over. In fact, the assistant is probably going to be one of the hardest working people on set after the strobes get powered down. Keep your cool and work smart and efficiently.
I usually start striking the set by powering down all the lighting. I will usually leave the camera and computer stuff for the photographer or digital tech, unless the photographer instructs me otherwise. They will probably be doing preliminary edits with the client anyway, so just stay out of their way. Just make sure the camera is attended to and safe from hitting the floor.
After powering down the strobes, I will pull as many power cords as possible. Just get them out of the way so you, or anyone else, can’t trip over them. Coil them properly, and stage them for packing. Coil up the head extensions and hang them on the stand. Remove any flags, V-flats, nets, and other grip that is taking up space. Just get all the cumbersome stuff off the set. Then, lower the light-stand stanchions and move all the light heads, on their stands, off to the side and out of the way. Leave the dirt on the stands, in case they get bumped. Remove power-packs, pocket-wizards, and other items and pack them away if you can.
I leave the lights off to the side while I assist everyone else–clients, photographer, props, wardrobe, set-builders, kraft. This gives the flash tubes and modeling lamps a chance to cool. If I’m not needed elsewhere, I start packing everything away, except for the lights. I will remove softboxes, umbrellas, and reflectors from the light heads, but only to pack these items away.
Once everything is ship-shape and I can do no more, then I will cap the flash tubes and pack the heads away. By this time, 20-30 minutes should have passed and the chance of melting a plastic head cap on a Profoto head should be nil. If there is any doubt, check that the modeling lamp, or base of the head itself, is cool. If not, I suggest you wait. Otherwise, just give the photographer or rental shop $20 for each cap you plan on melting, and pray that no other damage happens to the flash tube, globe, or head itself. I won’t bother to tell you the prices of Profoto flash tubes and globes… you get the point.
I know all this sounds a bit, “Well, duh!” But, obviously, shit still happens. Every situation is a bit different. Just stop a moment before the mad rush to get packed up and loaded out to make sure you are working smart. Packing your light heads last, so they have a chance to cool, is a good practice even if you are shooting lights that don’t use plastic caps or exposed hot elements. Sudden changes in temperature can cause wear and damage, just like warm air to extreme cold in winter can fog your lenses and cause condensation on electronics. Of course, this may not be an issue if you are working at the photographers studio. But if you are renting, on location, or just working with a fast production schedule, striking your sets in an efficient, practical manner will allow breathing room for you, and your gear.