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