Keeping cables tangle-free can be a nightmare. As photographers we may have quite an array of cables. Long trigger release cables, flash head cables, USB extensions for shooting tethered, for example. If you shoot video as well, you might have to deal with XLR and other cables, too. And when it comes to cables, there’s nothing worse than turning up to shoot with a tangled mess.
Kinked and tangled cords don’t just make life difficult for you, though. They can also lead to reduced life of the cable, which means more cost as you replace them. This video from Oscar nominated director of photography, Mark Vargo, shows us how they do it in Hollywood. It makes production go more smoothly, and helps to make your cables last as long as possible.
Mark’s worked on movies such as The Green Mile, White House Down, and Ted, so he’s probably been around more than a few badly coiled cables. While we might not have to deal with as many cables as they do, it’s a valuable skill to learn.
The technique shown in the video is the “over and under” technique. In the movies, there’s three departments that have to deal with electrical cables using the “over and under” method. The sound, video and electrical departments. It’s a simple technique to learn, but one that can ultimately save you hours of time over the course of several shoots or productions.
Essentially, the first loop wraps around as normal, then the second loop twists underneath. The third goes under, fourth under, rinse, and repeat. It’ll take a few watches of the video and a bit of practise to get it down. But it’s definitely worth figuring out.
Once wound, the cable is simply held together with a short velcro strap. If you keep the velcro strap permanently attached to the cable, you’ll want to put it at the male end of the cable, at least in the case of XLR cables. This way, it doesn’t dangle by the microphone. For electrical cables, you’ll want to put it at the end that plugs into the wall.
Sometimes, with cables that might have been improperly stored for a long time, you might need to “retrain” them. Mark suggests leaving them out in the sun for an hour or two. This lets the rubber warm up and become easier to work with as it forgets its kinks.
It took me quite a few goes to remember how to do it without having to go back and watch the video again. But I’m glad I did. I’ve been tangle-free ever since.