When Photo Shoots Fail

We arrived early and staked out our spot on the beach.  We waited patiently with other photographers for sunset at the magical Keyhole Arch at Pfeiffer Beach in California. 

Then we heard it.  A distinct hum filled the air and the heads of 12 photographers swiveled to and fro searching for the source.  It was… it was a drone, the bane of still photographers.  Most of us assumed the drone operator would be polite enough not to fly through our shot.  Flying above us was fine, but not through our scene.  We were wrong.

By now the sun had begun its slow descent into the ocean, so our gaggle of photographers, including Dad and I, quit looking at the drone and focused on capturing the moment.

Not two seconds later, that hateful little drone sped in front of the arch and zipped down the beach.  I heard a few muttered curses as our fellow photographers realized what was happening to their beautiful sunset shot.

I, meanwhile, focused on a rock formation far down the beach.  I thought I was in the clear.  I, too, was wrong.  The drone raced toward my rock.  Sure enough, it flew right through my photograph.

For anyone that possesses Photoshop skills, removing the drone from the image isn’t a big deal. I readily admit drones have produced some amazing footage never seen before.  But they’ve also annoyed a lot of people.  In this case 12 angry photographers kept shooting while plotting the drones’ demise.

So what happens when photo shoots go awry?  Do you give up and go home?  Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons photo shoots fail.  Next week we’ll show you how to turn lemons into lemonade. 


Mother Nature’s Grumpy Side

Everyone talks about the creative and nurturing Mother Nature.  Photographers give her credit for stunning sunsets, beautiful rainbows and amazing fall colors.  But this venerable lady has a petulant side.  It’s not pretty.   Mother Nature can ruin the best-laid photography plans.

Dad needed a spectacular backdrop for an elk-hunting photograph. A blizzard in California nearly spelled defeat.  Semis slid off icy roads, wet snow fell and one team member lost his wallet full of money as they scouted locations.  Things just kept getting worse.  Route 5 near the border of California and Oregon shut down one hour after Dad’s crew found a good spot for the photo.  Mother Nature forced the team to hole up at a hotel and wait for the calm after the storm.

Mother Nature’s bag of tricks includes other elements like fog.  When I planned a sunset shot at Garrapata Beach in Big Sur things looked great.  A few puffy clouds floated above the ocean, suggesting a spectacular sunset with the colors of the sinking sun brushing the sky in rich hues.  I could see a fog bank way out in the Pacific, but it seemed so far away that I didn’t think it would be a factor.  Wrong.   That fog bank hopped the express train to the shore and completely blacked out the sunset.  I took a few shots anyway, but they were duds.

Coastal California’s winter storms pack an even more debilitating punch than fog.  High wind gusts knock down trees and giant waves wash away parts of the coastline.  After these storms Point Lobos State Park often shuts down until the staff gets things cleaned up.  I frequently found myself patiently waiting for the gates to open.

Closed Point Lobos Beach | Beebower Productions, Inc.Even after getting in the park, one beach remained closed every single time I tried to visit.  A storm washed out the staircase down to the beach and then harbor seals used the beach for pupping part of the year. Over the entire two years I visited the park, it never opened.

Photographers have a love/hate relationship with Mother Nature.  But she’s not the only force that can sabotage your photos.


People Creating Problems

If there’s a rule, people love to break it.  I, along with about 20 other photographers, waited on the cliff high above McWay Falls in California for the sunset.  My mouth hit the dirt when I saw a group of people scrambling down the cliff toward the waterfall. 

Every two feet there’s a sign stating the beach was closed for safety reasons.  Not only that, the giant gaggle of photographers stretched from one end of the overlook to the other.   Obviously they were trying to shoot the waterfall.

McWay Falls with People | Beebower Productions, Inc.This group of people walked right up to the waterfall and began a private photo shoot on the beach. I know they are hard to see this small version of photo but if I blew it up for a large print they are definitely visible.  Like the drone shot, the people could be removed in Photoshop.   But it was rude.

Sometimes the problem isn’t respect rather a lot of people crammed into a single small space.  One summer Dad found himself squished into the mass of humanity touring Antelope Canyon in Arizona.  The elder Navajos consider the canyon a cathedral where one should stop and prepare to be in touch spiritually.  While Dad was in awe of the slot canyon’s grandeur, it was hard to be in sync spiritually or photographically due to the sheer number of tourists running back and forth. 

The enormous traffic jam stretched through the entire narrow, winding quarter mile canyon.  Dad realized it was going to be mighty tricky to capture a decent photo without folks stepping into his picture.  He also battled sand that blew down from the rim on to his camera gear and mixed lighting that made him wish for a tripod.  But the rules said no tripods.  He would have to work very hard to capture even one image.

Whether they’re photo bombing pictures or squeezing photographers out of a prime shooting spot, people often force photographers to be more creative and work harder to get the shot.


Animals on the Run

Like people wild animals can be downright uncooperative.  Recently our whole family embarked on an adventure to photograph elk in Pennsylvania.  After a lot of research we developed a very solid plan.  We’d stay in a cabin near a known elk hang out.  The cabin came with a built-in photography blind plus we’d be able to use the van as a rolling blind.  We tallied the odds heavily in our favor.

Unfortunately we got stuck in traffic and then took a meandering detour, so we were running late for our check in time.  We blew past a herd of elk on the way up the mountain.  Turns out those would be the only elk we would see on this trip.  Yep.  Not a single elk for two days.

On another adventure I took Dad on a whale-watching cruise in Monterey Bay, California.  I planned it during peak whale season, so a photo should have been pretty easy to come by.

Hugh on Monterey Bay | Beebower Productions, Inc.I’d sailed with the Sanctuary crew before and always returned home with some treasure: photographs of a whale, a dolphin, sea lions, harbor seals, something.  Dad wasn’t so lucky.  We stayed on the water two and half hours.  Zilch.  Zero.  Nada.  Dad’s never looked at whales the same since that ill-fated trip.

Wild animals often disappoint photographers.  They are, after all, wild.  Capturing images of them requires persistence and patience.  But it really hurts when your gear fails you.


Gear, Gadgets and Disasters

Beautiful light hit the flowers perfectly.  The butterflies flocked to my garden with the warm summer air.  I was getting great stuff.

The tinkling, clinking noise totally caught me off guard.  It sounded as if it came from inside my camera.  With dread I removed the lens and realized 

Variegated Fritillary Butterfly | Beebower Productions, Inc.

the mirror had completely detached and fallen out.  Thankfully it wasn’t broken but it did need a trip to Canon’s repair center for some TLC.

A couple years after the dreaded mirror incident my rechargeable camera batteries began playing mind games with me.  Unfortunately I first noticed the problem while bobbing on a boat in Pacific Ocean.

I’d diligently recharged my batteries the night before my big boat trip.  In fact, I had five batteries charged and ready.  So you can imagine my surprise when I noticed the low battery icon flashing on my camera display.  I’d only taken five photos.  It was strange, but I swapped out the old batteries for new and focused on shooting.

A few minutes later, the low battery icon flashed again.  What in the heck?!  Every battery did the exact same thing.

I was forced to shoot a frame and turn off the camera. Then I’d turn it on briefly with a fully charged battery to shoot another frame before the display began blinking again.  Not ideal.  I missed shots.  I got angry.  Then I drove home and bought five new batteries.  Rechargeable batteries do have a shelf life.


The Bottom Line

Nobody likes to discuss it, but there are plenty of reasons photo shoots fail—even for professional photographers.  But you don’t have to give up in defeat.  Next week we’ll take those lemons and tell you how to turn them into lemonade.