Five Tips for Surviving a Bad Day as a Photographer

Five Tips for Surviving a Bad Day as a Photographer

Yes, photographers can and do have bad days. Following your favorite photographers on Instagram, it might seem that all the photographers in the world are cruising along while you alone battle horrible days. And guess what, bad days are more common than you might think. So, it is important that we as a community learn and help each other survive bad days. I’ve created an action plan for myself that has helped me overcome difficult days and I hope this will help you as well.

Recognize That Things Can Go Wrong

I created this image a day after my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer.

Bad days come in all shapes and sizes: I’ve had a bride break her arm during the couple shoot, my grandmother being diagnosed with last-stage cancer a day before a high-profile wedding, a client’s car scraping the side of a goods train on her way to a foreign shoot location, and I’ve even been lucky enough to have read some unhappy client emails just before starting another shoot.

Life has an uncanny knack for throwing you off-track once in a while or every third week if you happen to be a professional photographer. Thus, the first part of the solution lies in recognizing and accepting that things can and will go wrong. This acceptance can help you focus on resolving your state of mind and the task on hand rather than dwelling on “why is this happening to me?"

Partner Up

It can feel natural and intuitive to go into your shell and not wanting to share your feelings with anyone else in times of distress. But there are certain situations where doing the absolute opposite can go a long way in helping you pull through. When a shoot can’t be postponed or canceled and you know that telling the client may not help the situation, if possible, confide in your second shooter or your lighting assistant. Explain your situation to them as soon as you can and ask them to “hold the fort” for you if they feel you’re not being your funny/talkative/witty self.

In fact, if you don’t have a partner slated for the shoot, I suggest that you take a friend along and introduce them as your assistant. Sharing your situation with someone you trust will not only help you release some of your emotions but also provide you with a support buddy who will look after you in times of distress. Repeat after me: having support is good, getting help is good.


Tap Into the Photography Community

There are situations where it is impossible for you to physically be at the shoot yourself. For example, some years ago, a photographer friend's husband was told by the doctor that depending on the result of his medical tests, he might have to go into surgery the very next day. And she was supposed to be shooting some portraits the next day that she couldn’t cancel. What did she do? But, that’s life for you: brutal and sudden. For such situations, a backup network of photographer buddies can go a long way in covering you in times of dire need.

Get in touch with five photographers from your network who you can trust to be as reliable and professional as yourself. Ideally, they’d have a style similar to yours. Make a pact with them: if a situation arises where you absolutely can’t shoot and if they are available, they’ll cover for you and vice versa. Luckily, my photographer friend had a similar arrangement and the client completely understood her predicament. So, she survived that scary day and her husband didn’t have to go to surgery either. A happy ending overall!

Create Routines and Systems

Often, the biggest casualties of having a bad day are that your normal memory and focus go for a toss. To counter this, it’s important that you have routines and systems in place that you can fall back on. Simply put, have good photography habits. If you often shoot on location, create an equipment checklist to ensure that you don’t forget to pack something that you may need during the shoot. If you shoot fellow humans for a living or your passion, you can create your own formula for poses as well as lighting. This can help maintain consistency of your work and help you produce a good set of images even with slightly lowered focus.

One of the systems many professional photographers have used to great effect is planning their shots beforehand: before your shoot, scout your location, click photos of exact compositions and frames with your phone, track the weather and the sun (if applicable), create a mental or physical order of shots, and use any other such planning ideas that might help you function at less than optimal capacity.

Allow Yourself Some Slack

Sometimes, you can do all the planning and networking and yet, it can be difficult to manage a truly bad day. You might even end up canceling your shoot! Whatever you do, remember to not beat yourself up about something you can’t completely control and as much as possible, proactively communicate with all the affected parties explaining clearly the reasons behind your absence, behavior, and words.

What do you do to battle bad days as a photographer? The things mentioned above are what I do and I hope these will help you mitigate some of the issues you might face as a photographer having a bad day. Stay tuned for stories about some of my bad days and nightmares that came true as a professional photographer.

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12 Comments

William Howell's picture

My secret to handling a bad day; is massive amounts of hard liquor and drugs. This little trick works every time I try it!

Nesh Soni's picture

That’s a great trick William Howell ! I can see that working 😉 as well...

In boot camp, I learned it as "The 7 P's". Twenty+ years later, still holds true. Not saying it prevents bad days, just helps really minimize the ones within my control.

Proper, Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

I'm very fortunate in that I generally don't have bad days with the kinds of photography I do. When they do happen it's almost always because of the client not appreciating what I was doing. But I'm happy that those are one-offs.

lee arthur's picture

In the end remember: It's Only Business.

Dana Goldstein's picture

I’m very lucky in that once I get into the zone when I’m working, I’m able to block out whatever stress is going on in my life. It’s similar to the way some people describe running or yoga.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Great series of tips. Getting away from it and still having other hobbies works for me as well!

amanda daniels's picture

my bad days are all because of myself. I put way to much pressure on myself and expect perfection which is never going to happen. I have been super lucky so far that nothing bad has actually happened during a shoot and I have had great clients, I know that will probably change lol. But more so it is me and I get in my own head to much and compare, compare, compare.

Nesh Soni's picture

I think that is also something a lot of photographers go through. Especially in this hyper-social environment, it is but natural for us to compare to others with different locations, better sunsets, better models and so on....

The day before my son got married, the caterer's husband took off with all the money in their joint bank account. I really don't know how she did it, but she managed to cater a very large wedding very nicely. Yes, the rice was a tad dry, and I didn't care for the sauces. I'm not complaining, she pulled through in spite of a huge emotional and financial blow. So I recommend her right and left, and hope she is doing well. We are humans, we have obstacles. I wish clients were a tad more accommodating at times, especially with really minor issues.