How to Tackle 99 Problems on Set

How to Tackle 99 Problems on Set

More often than not, things aren’t going to go the way that you want them to on set. Things are going to break. Things aren’t going to work. Models aren’t going to show up. That’s life. Deal with it.

Now, for those of you who are either underprepared or overwhelmed, don’t give up. There is always a way to resolve a situation that you didn’t foresee. Here’re the three steps I take to handle any situation on or off set.

What You Can Do to Conquer Every Situation

We all need to fail. I'm a firm believer that failure leads to growth. Once you've gone through a failure, you'll either need to learn to adapt, or you'll continue failing. I cannot tell you how many situations that I've been in where I found myself questioning my validity and my experience as a photographer.

But, I think that it's human nature to question yourself. Inevitably, we all question ourselves. I think that the trick to get through any situation is as follows:

  1. Breathe
  2. Assess
  3. Conquer

Stress is often unnecessary. The only time you should ever feel stressed is when you're absolutely unprepared, and even then, if you step back and think, you'll almost always find a solution.


The way I tackle unforeseen situations is simple. I know that somehow and some way, I'll need to get the job done. That's evident. I'm not going to allow myself to fail. I trust in my ability to conquer said situation.


What variables in your situation are in your control? What variables can you change? Don't focus on whatever you cannot change — for example, if your client requests a last-minute location change and you already have all of your gear set up for a specific shot. Ask them politely to take a quick shot before you move, "just in case." Don't relocate until you nab that shot. You already have your gear set up, and it doesn't cost them anything more than a second.


Once you've analyzed the situation and figured out what variables you can change, use them to your advantage. For example, in the video below, I was informed by the client that most of my gear was already on location and accounted for. Unfortunately, that wasn't the reality of the situation. Luckily I was prepared and brought a light stand as backup and found a way to set up a backdrop for that editorial. If I hadn't found a way to mount the backdrop, I could have just as easily used gaffer's tape to mount a backdrop to a wall or better yet, shoot on-location.

Finding practical variables that you can change makes you an extremely versatile photographer. Learning to adapt to any situation makes you a Swiss Army knife of solutions, or maybe I've been watching too many MacGyver reruns.

On a brighter note, here are some god-awful situations that I've found myself in. Enjoy my pain!

Jeff Rojas's picture

Jeff Rojas is an American photographer, author and educator based in New York City. His primary body of work includes portrait and fashion photography that has been published in both Elle and Esquire. Jeff also frequents as a photography instructor. His teaching experience includes platforms like CreativeLive, WPPI, the Photo Plus Expo, and APA.

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HAHA, passing out in slow motion on set, ah man! As an amateur, I'm sure my worst experiences aren't that bad relatively speaking, but...

1. 45 minute drive to location, model is 15 minutes late, call her and find out she's not going to make it... The reason was because her boyfriend turned off the alarm. I have a 45 minute drive back home, no bueno... :(

2. After shooting one day, a model asked for a ride back to a spot where she was going to meet her boyfriend. I agree to give her a ride. It's dark, my phone lights up and I notice some sort of liquid drops on it... Confused, I grab phone and wipe it off on my jeans, and notice more liquid pooled up a little when I go to put the phone down. I turn on the dome light and VOILA, it's a purple drink! I'm thinking, "WTH...?" Then I notice she's got a beverage open, so she probably just spilled it, not a big deal. It turns out, there was a hole in the bottom of the can. Her sense of urgency wasn't on the same level as mine, and purple drink was going in many places it didn't belong in my car, not good... Then purple drink turns out to be an alcoholic beverage, which is an open container violation, even worse. By now I'm pulled over to clean up the mess and explain why we can't have open containers while driving. A cop pulls up behind me, so I stand up (I'm on her side, passenger side, cleaning the mess with a t-shirt I found under the seat, probably looks strange to the cop, so he asks me to walk to the rear of my car and proceeds to ask me a series of questions. Then he leaves, whew....

That story gave me anxiety. lol Fun times! :P

I had an assistant once pull a similar stunt as the model you mentioned...

Needed a female assistant for a body painting shoot a couple of years ago and the assistant called me early the morning of the shoot to say she had a health issue and wasn't going to make it. OK. Cool. Made a few quick calls and got my backup assistant to fill in. Cool, right?

Well after the backup assistant helped with all the setup and the model spent 3 hours in makeup, the original assistant strolled into the studio, said she was bored being sick at home and wanted to hang out and watch...


Anyway, sent her packing and have never called her again. Don't need the drama...

Love hearing stories from other photographers. :)

Amen! I could see why you wanted to avoid that situation again!

Maybe it's not so spectacular but once I had a photoshot with a model holding construction gear. Pictures had to be done asap (next day). We chose a strange girl by profile pictures posted on her FB and that was a huge mistake (heavily retouch pics, face covered with wardrobe elements). She turned out to be different type of woman (face, emotions etc). Creative director was broken. It was a big failure and it was simply impossible to save the day.

That's terribly! I'm sorry that you had to go through that. :(

"Two photographers "bitch about models."

There isn't anything especially nice watching two established professional photographers moaning about models on a video that was intended to be humorous.

I'm pretty sure if you tried hard enough you could find some real "worst experiences" on set. But a model fainting on set because she hadn't had anything to eat really isn't funny.

Models are treated like crap enough as it is. Watching your video made me cringe.

Maybe this got lost in translation, but... she was faking it. lol I figured that was relatively evident.

It was a six minute video where all you did was complain about models. That might be appropriate and par for the course on a forum like Model Mayhem. But it isn't constructive, it isn't entertaining, it isn't educational, and I'm pretty sure these weren't actually your "worst" experiences on set. Models are easy targets for photographers. You don't need to sink that low.

While I understand your position, I respectfully disagree with it. Sorry to have hurt your feelings. Trust me... That's not my intent.