Handling the Unexpected in Photography

March 14, 2023

No matter our profession, things are destined to go a little sideways at some point simply because we are human. Though some situations may be beyond our control, we can still control how we react to those situations. For us photographers, some of our worst nightmare scenarios include:

  1. Camera failure during a once-in-a-lifetime event
  2. Corrupt SD cards that wipe a whole shoot
  3. Breaking uninsured gear 
  4. An agitated client
  5. Having to work a corporate 9-5 job 😉

With a little foresight and experience, we can prevent most of these bumpy scenarios. However, when our methods of prevention fail and we’re dealt a hand of bad luck, panic comes knocking. Here’s a real story of what happened during a wedding a few years ago, what I learned, and what saved me.

Let’s set the scene:

It’s the end of August, on the east coast about an hour outside of D.C., at the height of COVID when we were all hopeful that summer would cure the pandemic. The wedding that was about to happen had already been pushed twice past its original date. Even though they had an event planner, we were all really just winging it at that point. Since state restrictions were rigid about indoor gatherings, the couple had decided to move their wedding to an outdoor location.

If you’ve read this far, and you’re aware of the summer weather on the east coast, then you probably know that August is in the middle of hurricane season. While the location wasn’t in the direct hurricane zone, it was right in the path of a tropical storm that was headed our way on the wedding day. While I’m always telling couples to wait until the day before (or at the latest, the morning of) to worry about the weather, I was becoming quite concerned at the severity of the storm they were predicting.

Fast forward to the night before the wedding day, I was receiving cold-feet messages from some of the vendors saying they weren’t comfortable working that day and that there were no backup plans for indoors in case a tropical storm did hit our path. Needless to say, on the day of the wedding the weather miraculously held up and we had a typical sunny, sauna-like August day. My fears were starting to subside, I had just finished shooting the getting-ready photos, and a new problem emerged; the shutter on my primary camera, which was relatively new, began to lock up. The rear screen was blacking out and I had about 10 minutes to troubleshoot. I kept calm and went through the basics:

  1. I changed the batteries
  2. Changed out the SD cards
  3. Changed the lenses (sometimes lens firmware and third-party accessories can cause electronic camera issues)
  4. Carefully cleaned the camera sensor
  5. Completely reset the camera settings

None of these options worked, so I let my camera rest, and drove to the ceremony location. Once I got there and unloaded my gear, I tested my camera again. This time it would turn on, but the shutter button wasn’t triggering the mirror, and then it slowly died again. None of the above methods worked to revive it, so I had to rely on my old trusty Canon EOS 7D as my backup camera. There’s nothing wrong with working with a Canon 7D, it’s definitely a workhorse for a mid-line camera, but it didn’t have dual SD card slots, it wasn’t full frame, and it didn’t have the focal accuracy and ISO range of the Canon Mark IV that was my primary. 

My backup camera pulled through and I got the job done without missing a moment. When I went home, I was on Youtube and Reddit for about two hours to see if anyone else had the same issue. I found a small forum where this issue was reported to Canon a year or so before this, but no one had found a solution. I let the camera rest, and the next morning it was back to normal, acting as if it didn’t totally fail the day before. I sent it to Canon’s support team, but since they couldn’t replicate the issue, there was nothing they could do and they sent it back to me

I cautiously started using it again, naively chalking it up to a one-time issue, thinking perhaps it was the humidity when I was changing lenses or something of that nature. However, a few weeks later towards the end of a branding session, the same problem happened. Needless to say, I contacted Canon again. In a nutshell, they told me there was nothing they could do and that they haven’t heard of that issue before (even though there’s a whole forum about it on their community page.)

That’s when I made the decision to completely switch my brand and gear to Fujifilm. I had already been debating whether or not to get a mirrorless camera, and I haven’t been happier with my new setup! From that whole experience, here’s what I learned:

  1. ALWAYS have a backup camera at a wedding, newborn session, or any other once-in-a-lifetime moment event. Even if it’s just an iPhone, something is better than nothing.
  2. When the plans go sideways- which most of the time they do- learn to react to the present moment, don’t fixate on what things could have been. Focus on what you can control. 
  3. Know that you’re probably more capable than you might believe! Keep an honest open line of communication with your client when/if the time is appropriate if the issues did compromise the shoot. Shit happens, they’re human and they’ll understand (most of the time), especially if you offer an olive branch solution.
  4. If you lose files or have other technical errors during a session that isn’t high stakes and can be redone or rescheduled, be honest with your client and offer a re-shoot.  

Despite the fiasco scenario above, Canon does have wonderful products and served me well for many years. It was the isolated incident of my specific camera that helped me take the full jump to switch brands. Wondering how I switched camera brands without breaking the bank? Check out my tips and recommendations here.