When a photoshoot goes wrong

Sun setting ov cracked and dry salt encrusted lake bed. Photo By Excitations Photo Adventures workshops and training in regional Australia.
Salt crust and setting sun near Merbein West, Victoria, Australia.

If a photoshoot goes wrong

Right from my very first photography assignment, there was this overwhelming fear of the shoot going pair-shaped. Over 40 years have passed since that first job. A commission to create a portrait of an attractive young lady. For a young lad, this would seem to be a dream job. However, the pressure of getting it right was immense. Not from the client but from within. That little voice telling me “Don’t stuff this up”. All these years later that little voice keeps reminding me of those same words. What happens if a photoshoot goes wrong? More to the point how do you avoid it from going wrong?

On my very first shoot, I was all over the technical stuff. Well, as all over it as a brash young male photographer can ever be. You see, it wasn’t the technical stuff that caught me out. I hadn’t yet learnt the technique of photographer subject banter. Communication between the photographer and subject is as important, if not more important than the camera settings or any of the other technical stuff. Talking allows the photographer to build a relationship. Often only fleeting, but a relationship none the less. Learning to communicate and engage your human subject while separating at least half of your brains capacity into another role is one of the most important tricks any people photographer can have. You need time to think when photographing people. Talking to your subject allows you time to formulate tactics and implement ideas.

On this occasion, I manage to come away with pictures that the client was happy with. However, I felt there was something amiss. I just couldn’t see what. That was until my dad saw the contact sheet. “Bloody hell you’ve made her look like she has a horses head”, was his only comment. In reality, it was all that he needed to say.

It was true, a beautiful young woman and I’d given her a face as long as the neighbour’s horse. A combination of errors had occurred. Number one, she was the first young woman I’d photographed who had a long angular face. I shot her from slightly below with a shortish standard lens. Making her face look longer. Secondly, I’d lit her with a harsh light giving a strong nose shadow, making her face appear even longer. Thirdly, my subject chose to wear a suit style top with a deep V neckline which of course made her face look even longer and dopey me didn’t even notice this. Great lesson for me though. I’m pretty sure no other woman I have photographed in the proceeding 40 years has been afflicted with “horses head”.

By now you may be wondering why I have a photo of the sun setting over a dry salt lake at the top of this story. Well, this is another example of what happens when a photoshoot goes wrong. This image was taken last night. I’d seen the potential in this location recently when I visited it with a group of photographers on one of our workshops. Since the visit, I had spent some time planing a shot. Last night was perfect for photography. Very typical of our Autumn weather here in Sunraysia. I arrived early to the location, commenced setting up my camera, checked everything thing twice. As you do when you have time on your side! Then I waited for the moment I had planned for.

I was using a camera with a leaf shutter lens, which some of you will not be familiar with but I will explain at a later time. The planned photo involved a number of exposures all to be combined at a later date into one image in photoshop. I fired off the first frame and just happened to look at the preview on the camera back. It was overexposed by at least 5 f -stops. WHAT?  The next frame even worse, a quick check of the manual settings all looks fine. Fire off another frame and it is underexposed. Oh no, this can’t be happening. Oh yes, it can be, right at the critical moment the camera and lens decide not to talk to each other.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Since day one of commencing taking photographs for money, I concluded that to avoid the embarrassment of coming away without a shot. I needed to carry backup equipment. During my career, I have always packed a kit with a plan B and sometimes a plan C in mind. Last night was no exception. I purposely decided to carry a backup camera. So glad I did. Even though the original shot wasn’t possible with any of my normal DSLR’s, I still came away with a couple of images that will go into our stock library so all was not lost.

This set plus a couple of other salty stock images HERE