Panic on Set: Does It Help Your Photography and How to Deal With It

Panic on Set: Does It Help Your Photography and How to Deal With It

Photography is one complex profession which requires many skills, from the technical to the psychological. We have all been faced with unpredictable scenarios which have put us or our clients/models in an awkward position ,or a state or panic. It can be anything: an insecure model, no time to set up your planned light, an equipment which breaks or malfunctions, a sudden rainfall, an unhappy bride, etc. Being well-equipped won’t always save the day. And if we lack self-control, good communication skills, and if we lose creative approach in stressful situations, we could just pack our gear and go home with an unhappy client glaring at our back. Being able to deal with these different scenarios might be surprisingly beneficial both for your photography and business.

Self-Control and Communication Skills

Being nice to the people you work with is important, and being trusted by them is crucial if you aim to create something remarkable. Let me share a little story with you. The picture you see above was set and shot in 10 minutes. But it could never have happened if I allowed panic onto our set when the unexpected happened. Prior to shooting, I had to be very tenacious with the owner to get a permission to shoot in this beautiful location. I had sketched the initial scenes and just when we were about to shoot the last but very important scene, we were told to leave the place immediately. I knew there was still time left on the clock according to the deal I made with the owner but I also knew arguing was not the solution. Instead, I chose self-control and while communicating kindly, I asked for extra time for us to collect all our things on set. Being nice and respectful to the personnel from the start played a vital role. So we were left on our own and I seized this opportunity. I decided to shoot the scene and we quickly packed everything and left. It turned out to be a calculated risk that paid off.

Portrait of a girl modeling for the first time. It is the outcome of good communication and guidance.


Dealing with Inexperienced Models:

We all want to get the best pictures. One important factor on a set is your model. It is an undeniable fact that you have to make your models trust you and make them believe they look amazing, even if you do not think they do. These little things can do wonders. However, what do you do if you have an inexperienced model on set? It takes patience, but you have to earn the model’s trust by taking control and by providing guidance. Win their hearts by complimenting their efforts to raise their confidence. Then, they will give you the perfect picture that you are looking for. But if you are working with an experienced and confident supermodel, then you do not need to worry since she will do all this with little effort.

However, if you constantly keep showing your dissatisfaction with the outcome and therefore, the model’s job, your model is most likely not going to give you a better material to work with. One of the keys to a good photo is to keep everyone happy on set and plan all your technicalities in advance, so you don’t end up adjusting lights for hours. Talking with your team and model while doing a setup/light adjustment is also a good way to keep the connection going between everyone. If for any reason you lose technical control, don’t bring the people on set into detailed explanation, just inform them that you are making an adjustment to get an even better outcome, and keep the good vibes on. Not doing so might make them lose trust in you and your professionalism. Kill the panic. Nip it in the bud.


Dealing with HMUA / stylists

It is not always the case that we have the luxury to work with the ideal hairstylists and makeup artists, but even the professionals need some guidance. When you have something specific in mind, it doesn’t mean everyone will guess what you have imagined and do it for you. In order to escape from common misunderstandings and to keep smooth relationships with your team, it is essential to share your vision through imagery with the people you plan to work with. Do a sketch or create a mood board. This will allow everyone to have a feel of what you want to achieve and what you will all be creating together. There will then be little to no room for stylistic digressions. If there was no time to make a mood board to share prior to the photoshoot, put or find several inspiring images on your mobile device. That way, if something goes wrong, you can easily change the flow of the process and connect everyone around a common concept. And again, don’t forget to be nice and respectful when others make suggestions and you do not agree.

In this picture, we had not anticipated strong winds on the shooting day but I used it to my advantage with the help of one assistant. It was crucial to have the wig stay on the model's head and to make the dress flow perfectly with the wind while my model maintained a composed facial expression


Creative Approach – Know Your Strengths

The best way to kill panic on a set is to know your strengths. When faced with an unpredictable situation, rely on your intuition and never be afraid to do something different. For example:

  • If you face sudden rain, don’t run for cover: use the rain to make it part of your composition; use a reflector to cover yourself and your gear if it is not waterproof
  • If you are faced with an not so great model, don’t quit, don’t show your disdain but take it as a challenge to create outstanding pictures
  • If you are faced with a technical issue – look for alternative solutions, no one is going to solve it for you. Use what you have at hand

This is an editorial for an online magazine. The autofocus on my camera was not functioning. Switching to manual focusing on a moving subject was thus necessary.


Once, I was shooting an editorial on location. Everything had been fine with the equipment the day before, but all went wrong on the day of the shoot. The model arrived almost an hour late, and there was not much daylight left. And when it rains, it pours. My camera malfunctioned on set, and my lens would not autofocus at all. Having a concept in mind, I had to manage with manual focus on a tripod for a walking subject. After that, I had to deal with sync issues with light, as the light was gone. Instead of quitting (I could have shot it on another day), I chose to make it more interesting by going for mixed lighting on location, using a phone light for the late shots, and also using it to help me focus and somehow trigger random flashes on my malfunctioning camera. As it turned out, my firmware was outdated and a simple firmware update fixed all the issues. But I ended up getting two of my all-time favorite pictures on that shoot.

This is an editorial for an online magazine. Used mixed light to achieve interesting mood as the sync won't function properly as well.


The Comfort Zone

It is no secret that magic happens very often outside of our comfort zone. Knowing this is another reason to embrace unpredicted situations, to take them as a challenge to become a better artist both technically and artistically. There is no substitute to such an experience on your journey to becoming a better photographer. Appreciate challenges; that is the one true way to grow. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced recently and how did you dealt with it? 
Did this experience change anything in your workflow ?

Log in or register to post comments
Kellan McCall's picture

Awesome article. I'm definitely a worrier when it comes to my work. I like to leave a little wiggle room in my creativity for variables such as wind and the such, but sometimes they get overwhelmingly out of control. Definitely going to start viewing them more as challenges rather than hindrances.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

thank you, hope this will really push you forward to adventures - those scenarios also make good stories :)

Khatleen Minerve's picture

Totally right about challenges. Getting out of our own comfort zone will only help us grow!

Emma Grigoryan's picture

you have also nailed it

Emma Grigoryan's picture

thank you