What Is Your Photography Horror Story?

What Is Your Photography Horror Story?

Spend enough time as a photographer, and you are likely to encounter situations that range from strange, to cringeworthy, to downright scary. In this article, Fstoppers writers share their personal horror stories. Be sure to tell us yours as well!

David Fulde

We were shooting a short film, and I had to change the white balance. My finger slipped, and the menu ended up on "FORMAT." I double-clicked, which formatted the card. We had to re-shoot four hours of content in one hour before we lost the location.

Jordana Wright

Early in my career, I did a beach family photoshoot, and the whole family (five adults, one toddler) wore all white. The toddler was theoretically potty trained, but as soon as she got ankle deep in the water, she squatted and started peeing. She peed all over her white dress. All of the adults thought it was cute and hilarious. Then, the grandma scooped her up and held her on her hip, which promptly stained her white skirt yellow. They kept passing her around, adult to adult, pee-staining themselves. 

Nils Heininger 

When I did some TFP a few years back, I was naively using different websites to find models. There was once an older guy whom I shot outdoors and who really wanted to change his clothes several times in front of me (despite the cold, he spent a while standing only in his underwear), but his interest in pictures was quite small. I guess these stories are quite familiar in the industry. I've avoided the platform ever since.

Robert Baggs

https://fstoppers.com/photo/220159

First wedding I ever shot (for a family friend), I lucked out: weather was perfect, bride and groom were perfect, location perfect, guests perfect, and so on. Even on the back of the camera, I knew I was nailing some great shots, above my skill level at that time, if I'm honest. Got home at 2 am and started loading them into Lightroom, which told me every single photo was unreadable and potentially corrupted. Good thing there wasn't a toilet paper shortage that night. (Managed to recover them all without issue, and I'm still not sure what caused it.)

JT Blenker

I was shooting a wedding a few years ago and had just set everyone up for a bridal party image outside. I turned around on a brick sidewalk to get some more distance and stepped where a brick was missing. Fell and broke my ankle and fell on top of my camera and lens and snapped my 70-200mm in half. Ankle blew up to the size of an orange over the top of my shoe. The mother of the bride gave me Advil, and I made sure my shoe was on tightly so I could hobble around and finish the reception using an 85mm as my long lens.

Mike O'Leary

I narrowly avoided getting attacked by a leopard. I was spending a few weeks at a reserve, documenting their conservation efforts. They were trying to feed a semi-tame leopard in an enclosure (too dangerous to release and has a large enclosure to herself). Long story short, she escaped and ran at me and my friend while we were on the back of a pickup truck. I dived/was pushed off, onto the ground. The leopard grabbed my buddy and was on top of him, looking at me as I laid on the ground (she was "playing," but they can turn in an instant). The leopard got distracted, and we were able to run to safety (about a 500 m sprint). I have photos of us up a water tower, avoiding her, before she pounced. There's a short video on my Instagram with highlights of her on the hood of the truck as we were running away (shot from inside the cab by the owner's son), as she's wondering how to get off the reversing vehicle. I found out later she did indeed jump off and ran after us, but lost our scent. I also have photos of the ground as I'm running. Scariest thing that ever happened to me.

Me

When I first decided to really get serious about my photography, I took my savings about bought a Canon 7D and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens. I was an arrogant early 20-something, and I thought that I was the hottest thing on two feet with that big camera and lens hanging off my neck. The reality was I did not even know the difference between sensor sizes yet, as evidenced by the fact that I thought anyone who bought a more expensive full frame 6D over the APS-C 7D was an idiot, because the 7D had such better specs at a lower price! 

Oh, and I shot everything in continuous autofocus and high-speed drive, because I did not have a single lick of technique or any idea how to actually compose and execute an image. Better to just take 2,000 shots and hope there was something worthwhile in the pile. 

Anyway, I set up eight (free) headshot sessions over two days to play with my new toy and get my name out there. The night before the first session, I went out with some friends, and of course, I brought along my camera. Because it was nighttime, I bumped the ISO up to 3,200 and left it there. If you have ever shot with the original 7D, you know that ISO 3,200 is very muddy and devoid of detail.

And of course, the next day, I did not check my settings before starting the headshots. I remember aperture priority mode making my shutter speeds super fast due to the high ISO, often maxing out at 1/8,000 s, but I did not listen to that little voice in my head telling me something was up, and I kept shooting. Needless to say, all of the images looked awful with no detail in the face. None of the headshots were worth using. I had wasted two days of shooting, and I had to have a very awkward conversation with eight separate people. But, I also knocked my ego back to where it belonged, and my newly humbled self started earnestly learning how to be a photographer after that, so some good came from it.

Oh, and there was also the time my family and I took a dream vacation to Hawaii after saving up for years. The highlight of the trip was a day-long excursion to a volcano with the most stunning views I had ever seen. We saw lava up close, and my mom took a picture of 10-year-old me holding a pumice stone the size of my body over my head. It was by far the neatest experience of my life up until that point. After about 10 hours, we got back to the car, only to hear my mom gasp as she realized there was no film in the camera. 

You

What is your photography horror story? Share in the comments! 

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24 Comments

John MacLean's picture

“Spend enough time as a photography”

Jerome Brill's picture

I did a wedding once.

Chris Feldman's picture

Once shot an entire wedding with a defective Canon A-1, where the images were in focus in the viewfinder but every single one was oof on the negatives.

Blake Aghili's picture

Lost SD card of a wedding .. .and its backup SD card too !
Got lucky they were ok with just going back to the venue and taking some photos of the two.
AFTER that, I ordered a GNAR BOX :D

Alan Bailward's picture

Family session, big family. About halfway through I was told quietly that one of the guys (a stocky teenager who seemed completely uninterested in the whole thing, but I was doing my best to include him) had just sort of tagged along, and they didn’t actually want him in any of the photos. Learned a _lot_ about content aware move and fill while trying to remove him from the large family groups :(

chris schmauch's picture

Had this amazing career and then a global pandemic came along and screwed everything to hell. The end.

Sigh.

Jan Holler's picture

Back in the eighties, I gathered the job to photograph all the buildings my father designed as an architect. I loaded my Nikon FA with Kodachrome slides, took my dad's car and spent two days travelling to the different locations. I had done several weddings before and was very familiar with the FA and a big Metz flash (45m/147ft at ISO 100).
The weather was perfect, it was autumn, the sky was blue. I shot about 4 rolls. I felt very proud and happy to do this job and enjoyed it very much. Four days later I went to the camera store, opened the envelopes with shaky fingers and turned pale, my knees got weak: all the slides were simply dark, they were not exposed, not a single one. The camera had not shown any error and the handling felt as usual. - Man, I still know exactly how it felt when I went to tell my dad, I was so embarrassed. He was cool though, shrugged his shoulders and only asked if the expensive camera was still under warranty. It was. I bought it in San Diego in 1986. Nikon Switzerland fixed the camera for free in spite of the difficulties with international warranties back then. About 3 weeks later I repeated the job. Not for the bad. Some of the large prints were hanging more than 20 years in my dad's office. My father even had copies made for his clients.

Dave McDermott's picture

A few years ago I was doing a shoot with a model in an abandoned building. She was changing outfits in the corner of the room when she got attacked by a swarm of bees. She ran out of the building half naked and screaming. I ran out after her so to the people outside it looked like I had assaulted her. To make matters worse, an old man came over to us and asked if we were making a porno. :)

Graham Taylor's picture

I was on the Combat Camera Team for 5 years, I dont think we had a week go by that you would call safe!

zave smith's picture

Back when I was an assistant, we were shooting a hair ad. The model with amazing hair also had a huge rock on her finger, recent engagement. We asked her to take it off since this ring would be in the shot.

She was sitting on a small blanket. It was almost sunset on a beach along Lake Michigan. We told her to give us the ring for safekeeping but she insisted on placing it next to her on a blanket.

2 hours later, as the sun was setting we wrapped. She got up. One of us grabbed that blanket. As we were putting the last things into the grip truck the model screamed. Where is my ring?!!!

It took us another hour sifting the sand until we found it but found it we did. I often wondered whose insurance would have paid for that?

www.zavesmith.com

zave smith's picture

Large set, an ad for Saks Fifth Avenue, back in the 1980s. White leather sofa, Chinese room dividers behind. White carpet, lots of expensive nik-naks. Stunning model with two white Pekingese dogs, one on either side of her flowing white dress.

Suddenly, the model shrinks. One of the dogs had her period and bled on both the dress and the leather sofa causing a huge stain in the era before Photoshop.

I was still an assistant back then and the photographer and I had been up the whole night building this set so I don’t remember how this played out. I think we just continued and had the transparency retouched afterward.

www.zavesmith.com

zave smith's picture

Shooting an ad for Capital One near the Federal Building in Manhattan. At this point we were just shooting B-roll, just interesting textures to use as backgrounds later on. Suddenly we were surrounded by Federal Police asking what we were doing. Even after explaining the insisted that we delete those shots from my camera. No problem, I said, knowing that they did not realize I had a dual slot camera and even though it looked like the shots were gone, they were not.

www.zavesmith.com

zave smith's picture

Rural Texas, Shooting an ad for BASF. The Creative Director and I had spent several days before the shoot scouting and interviewing farmers for these ads and we even did a dry run the day before the shoot making sure we knew how to get to the farm we were going to use. This was in the days before GPS.

Of course the day of the shoot, leading a caravan of 5 vehicles with stylists, and clients and various agency folk. The Creative Director who was navigating while I was driving made a wrong turn and there we were at the end of a dirt dead end road.

It only took us a little while to backtrack and figure it out but our embarrassment was quite apparent.

www.zavesmith.com

zave smith's picture

Often when traveling for shoots with younger art directors I warn them about partying and drinking during the shoot. It is not during the actual shoot but in the evening back at the hotel, they tend to lay it on. As we say, there is no eating like expense account eating. The same holds for drinking.

Many times, on the first day I have an engaged art director, a true creative partner but on day two, I have a person who can barely stand up and who is pounding Advil like there is no tomorrow. I have even had to pull our trucks over when traveling from location to location to allow a poor soul to empty their stomachs on the side of the road.

No matter how many times I share these stories before a shoot……

www.zavesmith.com

ANDREW WILDER's picture

We had a big all-night video shoot and were using some unfamiliar canon video cameras to use with nightvision scopes. We were not familiar with the cameras and somehow failed to record a single frame. Felt gutted when we popped tapes in the edit suite and there was NOTHING there.

ANDREW WILDER's picture

We also had a "director" who had no experience or formal training as such. He would ask cameramen to do stupid things, he'd mess with equipment when people werent watching (like mess with white balance and audio levels), and on top of that he was trying to bang every female on set. He acted like a total diva and even brought his own little "directors" chair that had Director printed on it. He was one of the worst people i ever encountered outside of wedding photography

zave smith's picture

In South Carolina photographing tree plantations for BASF. On this particular day, I was going to be shooting from a small bell helicopter.

The helicopter was driving to our site on the back of a flatbed truck that was actually this copter's launching and refueling pad. Cool set up. The driver/pilot had gotten a speeding ticket on the way to the shoot and the product manager from BASF and he got into a spat just before I was supposed to go up.

The helicopter doors were removed per request but the full-body harness was really just a seatbelt that came off when I tried to put it on. A bolt was added and up we went.

This pilot was pissed. He earns his living as a crop duster and loves those fast hard turns. Real fast hard turns and me, one belt barely holding together and a camera bag flying around in the seat next to me.

I thought he knew the way to the farm we wanted to photograph. He did not. Somehow I was able to follow the roads back to that farm and we circled around a few times while I shot, hoping that I was actually shooting the right farm.

“Need help heading back”, I yelled”

“Noop”, he said.

Heading back several times he would stop, hover mid-air, do a 360, hesitate and then start flying again. He was lost and by now, so was I.

Off to the South, a great storm was starting to brew. I could see thunderheads, I could see lighting, I could sense the wind starting to pick up. I started to think, just put me down in the cornfield and I will find my way back.

Alas, we landed and the farm, it was the right one.

www.zavesmith.com

zave smith's picture

During my second year of business I had a client who manufactured cookies and other gift items that were put into a catalog that kids took door to door as a fundraiser. We shot the images for this catalog. It was a fun and profitable account even if the cookies tasted like sawdust.

This account represented about 50% of my billings at the time. One fine day, while going through the mail instead of an expected check I found a letter from a bankruptcy judge informing me that this company had filed chapter 7, it was kaput.

There was a phone number I could call so I did. I asked the judge, “judge, what can an unsecured creditor like me expect in a situation like this”? He answered, “sit down, close your eyes, what do you see”?

www.zavesmith.com

jim hughes's picture

Never shot a wedding but many years ago, worked them as a musician, and saw the photographers at work.

One day I arrived for a big reception in an exclusive country club. Really big - professional wedding planner, thick printed script spelling out every move, caterers running around, 2 refrigerated vans unloading flowers, hundreds of guests.

As I come in the door I'm stopped by the Mother Of The Bride who is radiating hostility - the fangs are showing and the claws are out. She wants to be d@mn sure the musicians are coming, we have the planner's script and know exactly what we're doing, and she's ready to disembowel me on the spot if I don't answer correctly.

Because, as I find out, the PHOTOGRAPHER DIDN"T SHOW. He's already missed the ceremony and is apparently not answering the phone. Which was a land line back then - meaning he's somewhere else...

A long and somewhat tense evening followed.

mark wilkins's picture

I had half a dozen models lined up for a catalogue shoot in the mountains. Im ready for the first shot. My camera with an 80-200 2.8 is on a tripod. The tripod leg fails and it all goes over like a tree falling. When the tip of the lens hood hit the ground....it torqued the entire guts of the camera...out of the body. And flew about 6-8 feet away. So...My 80-200 2.8 is laying there...with the entire camera shutter and everything connected to that, still attached to the lens. And my camera is still connected to the tripod, and empty shell...hollow. Six models, 2 makeup artists, an assistant, a stylist, and the client are all just standing there with their mouths open. I was 23 years old. It was my only camera. No backup.
Oh, and what did I do? I drove to the nearest town...went into a drugstore (no camera store this was up in the mountains)...bought the only point and shoot they had. Sped back...and shot the job. But You Better Believe I BOTH never shot again without a backup...and spent the next decade double checking leg locks on tripods like a paranoid obsessive.

James Korn's picture

The first wedding I ever shot was on film, and my camera had a feature that allowed you to rewind the roll of film with the leader out. Well, I started shooting the ceremony with a pocket full of film rolls in one pocket. As I finished each roll, I would put it in my other pocket. At some point, I mindlessly started pulling film from the wrong pocket. I had no idea I had double exposed the entire wedding until I picked up the film from the lab a few days later.

jim hughes's picture

Good Lord man. This story is going to give me bad dreams. And I don't even shoot weddings. Or film.