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Photo Contest Insider Blog

How to recover from common photoshoot disasters

March 2, 2017

There are times when things don’t go to plan. When, with the best will in the world, we struggle to make it work. Photoshoots are no exception to this, and no matter how much time you spend planning, you might end up with a disaster on your hands. But being a professional isn’t just about taking good pictures. It’s about knowing how to recover when things go wrong. Follow these tips and you can recover from any disaster that a photoshoot throws at you!

Forgotten equipment

So, you’ve packed everything up and headed out to your location. You get there and start to set everything up, only to discover that you’ve forgotten something. It might be your favourite lens, or a tripod, or a reflector. Whatever it is, you need to use it right now, and it’s not there.

The first thing to do is to figure out whether you can go and get your own. If it is too far away this might not be an option, as it would delay the shoot too much. You might be able to get started and ask someone else to retrieve the item for you. If you have an assistant, this is when they prove their worth!

If getting your own item back isn’t an option, then think about where you can temporarily get a replacement. Camera hire shops are available in most towns and cities, and while they may not carry the exact item you wanted, they should be able to substitute. You can also try to find a suitable alternative for items like reflectors –  a white reflective surface is all you need, so it doesn’t matter what it’s made from.

Finally, if there is no way of replacing it, just do your best to shoot without it. For the future, set up a photoshoot checklist so that you can be sure that you have everything. Visualise yourself setting up the shoot for a quick and easy way to list what you need.

Out of battery

When the camera battery warning starts flashing up, you know you are in trouble. You probably forgot to charge the battery after the last time that you used the camera, or underestimated how much battery power you were going to be using.

To make your battery last longer, there are a few tips and tricks to try. Go into your settings and fiddle about. You can stop the image from flashing up on your screen after you press the trigger, which will definitely save a lot of battery. Be sure to avoid live view modes as these are a big battery drain. You may also be able to adjust your screen brightness, and stop using the in-camera flash if you are doing so.

Once the battery is gone, you’re out of luck. If you have a charger with you then your best option is to duck into a café nearby. You can buy your team a coffee while you plug in and charge for 20 minutes or so. If you don’t have a charger with you, use the same ideas as you would for any forgotten equipment to try to find a solution.

If all else fails, consider using your phone camera as a last resort. It’s unorthodox, and won’t pass muster if you have a paying client expecting the files. But you might at least be able to call it a successful experiment in comparing phone with camera capabilities.

Memory card full

You should always have spare memory cards with you, but if you run out of space, there’s not much to be done. Or is there?

The first option is to call a break in the photoshoot while you review what you have already taken. Go through all of the shots on the back of your camera and delete anything that appears out of focus or awkward, such as the model blinking. If you know you won’t be taking something through to the final edit stage, you can get rid of it right away. This should free up some space.

If you are in an area with lots of shops nearby, look for a camera shop or a stationer’s, or even a corner shop. You might be surprised to find out how many places stock memory cards! They might not be the full spec that you normally go for, and might not offer much more space, but it’s better than nothing. This is one of the big advantages of using a camera that takes SD cards instead of other formats, because they are ubiquitous.

Bad weather on location

You spent hours planning out a beautiful beach shoot where the model would stroll along in the sunshine. You arrive on the day to find grey skies that are pelting down rain. Do you cancel and try again another day? Well, you don’t necessarily have to.

The first thing to do is look for shelter. So long as you have an umbrella to protect the camera, you can stand out in the rain – but you need that model to be nice and dry. Structures such as bus stops, tunnels, and even the overhang in front of shops can help provide that shelter. You could even end up going inside a coffee shop or other building which has big enough windows to provide natural light.

Alternatively, try embracing the weather. Have your model strolling along in the rain! It can make a powerful statement about enjoying yourself no matter what happens, which is a great message for most brands. Imagine a swimming costume so great that you don’t mind sitting on the beach in the rain so long as you get to wear it! You will have to shoot quickly in this case and be able to retreat quickly too, so that you can get your model warmed up and dried off without risk of getting them ill.

To avoid this problem in future, always have a back-up plan for a sheltered place nearby that you have scouted ahead of time.

Lost photographs

Sometimes, the disaster can happen after the shoot has happened. You go to edit the photographs, only to discover that they aren’t where you thought they were. In fact, you can’t seem to find them at all. They aren’t on the memory card anymore, and they aren’t on your computer either… what do you do?

The first step is to search for the images through your whole hard drive just in case you’ve only misplaced them. Then you can check your recycle bin, and finally use recovery software to try and get the deleted files back. It might be possible to recover your deleted photographs, but if you really have lost them, you are going to have to confess and perhaps consider reshooting if it was for a client.

Camera error messages

When you try to press the trigger but nothing happens, you might notice a red or black text flashing up in your screen. This error code normally means that something isn’t right, and you might not know how to fix it.

The solution to preventing this in the future is to read your camera manual. All of the error codes will be explained fully in there, with examples of how to fix them. It might be something simple like your lens not being aligned properly, as can commonly happen with older lenses being attached to newer cameras. It might be a problem with the memory card, or with something somewhere not being plugged in fully.

Knowing your error codes ahead of time is the best plan, but if you don’t know them yet, you need to find a quick fix there and then. The best plan is to type the error code, along with your camera model, into Google on your phone. You will get an explanation of what the code means as well as how to solve it.

The important thing here is not to panic. Something like this can happen to any of us. Don’t allow this to affect your professional demeanour. You can simply explain to your team that there are hundreds of error codes that could possibly come up, and you just want to refresh your memory rather than changing the wrong settings to try and fix it. Be calm and stay confident, in your behaviour even if you are feeling nervous about not being able to continue.

Almost all error codes can be fixed there and then. If you can’t, try turning the camera off and giving it a rest before trying again. In the very worst case scenario, you might have to call off the shoot and find a repair shop – but it will only very rarely come to this.

No-show models

One of the worst failures you can have on a photoshoot is to not have a model turn up. Sometimes they will be polite enough to let you know that they aren’t coming, and sometimes they just won’t say a thing. When this happens, it can be hideously awkward, especially if you have a full team with you.

Having a back-up model booked just in case is a big help in most situations. If you haven’t had the forethought to book ahead, then you do have a few other options. Your first is to start calling up your contacts at modelling agencies, if you have any. It could be that they have a new face or a girl whose photographer has cancelled who is ready and available to shoot, or at least will be able to get to you in an hour or so. That stops the shoot from being a total bust even if it does upset your schedule.

The next option is to try casting on the street. This doesn’t work for everyone. After all, most people that pass you by won’t be model material, and of those who are, most will be on their way to do something already. But you might get lucky and find a girl in a coffee shop or waiting for a friend who is willing to step in front of the camera. If you do, be sure to get the appropriate model releases filled in and get all of their contact details for future reference.

If all else fails, you will have to reschedule the shoot. All you can do is apologise to your team and to any clients who were waiting for the results, and blacklist that model from future work. Get another date booked in as soon as possible, and book a few models so that you have your choice of those who actually turn up.

Bear in mind that models are much more likely to show on the day if you are offering fair compensation for their time – it’s at TFP-based shoots where models are most likely to leave you high and dry.


Keep a positive frame of mind and you should be able to overcome most photoshoot disasters. Rather than dwelling on the problem, start to immediately think of a solution. Even if the end results aren’t what you first imagined, you can use your creativity to do something new. These ad-libbed shoots can often turn out to be the best kind!


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