Things will go wrong. How you respond is what makes the difference.
From tripping on-stage in front of hundreds to noticing a print error too late, here’s what I did next. Two thoughts passed through my mind as I sailed towards the stage floor at the Royal Institution’s Christmas Lectures. Firstly, there were three steps, not two, in the set I’d just scampered down in a rush to capture the next shot. And secondly, I must protect my camera at all costs.
I twisted my body to spare the camera from impact. The audience – after a second’s shock had passed – laughed. At this point, there was only one left thing to do… I stood up, dusted myself down, walked to the centre of the stage and took a bow, before limping off-stage to check my camera was okay. Embarrassed? Yup. Damaged? Only slightly, nothing that a painkiller and a little dusting down couldn’t fix. But in the end, I owned it!
I hope the disasters you face aren’t as dramatic as my adventure. However, if you’re a pro photographer, you will encounter disasters. Not hurricane-level, but disasters that can damage, derail or even sink an unprepared business. These are five of the main ones to prepare for:
Accident and illness
I was booked to shoot a wedding in November when I was knocked down by a dreadful cold. Man-flu, obviously: I was shaking and sweating with a headache and streaming nose and could barely face rolling out of bed. My wife Sarah hunted for a photographer with a similar style to mine who could cover, but the only people available at such short notice were not very experienced. We decided that it was better I did the job incapacitated, rather than giving it to someone less qualified. I dosed up on painkillers and somehow made it through, being careful not to expose anyone to my germs. To my eye, the shots lack energy compared to my best, but nobody else noticed.
We have an insurance policy to cover us for damages if I can’t fulfil my promise – or find an alternative – to shoot a key event like a wedding. This forms part of our contract with clients. While I will always do everything I can to avoid letting anyone down, a contract outlines the backup process and liability limitations if something does stop me.
Hardware and software issues
I had a brand new iMac, less than a week old, that suddenly failed to switch on one morning. Of course, Apple replaced it within a few days, but I had already transferred all the software licences to the new machine, and couldn’t install them on another. Luckily, we have a MacBook that we use when I’m abroad, so I was able to use that to keep on top of client work while I sorted the issues. Now, I don’t update until I am forced to – until a majority of bugs are patched out.
Camera kit failure
In just the past few months I’ve had three lenses fail in various and random ways. If what you are photographing is reschedulable, then lens and camera failure isn’t that disastrous. But weddings, events and international commissions? There aren’t any second chances there.
We have two complete sets of cameras and lenses, and I keep the backup with me in a second bag. If the first camera lets me down, I will have the backup out and running within minutes.
Weather and traffic
I was lying hidden in the grass, waiting to capture a surprise proposal. The rain was coming down horizontally, but this day was a long time in the planning and couldn’t be rearranged. I kept the barrel of the lens pointed to the ground so that the water wouldn’t pool across the glass until I was ready to get the shot.
I knew that my Nikon D5 could handle the weather, but if you’re not sure, use a rain cover. I find that cold temperatures have more of a negative effect than rain, with diminished battery life requiring me to bring an arsenal of spares.
Traffic is just as outside of your control. If I’m booked to shoot an event that’s more than an hour away, I’ll travel the night before, or go very early. We build time for travel accidents and delays, and use a satnav system to avoid congestion. I have lost count of how many MacDonalds breakfasts I’ve eaten having arrived in a location 2 hours early!
A client asked for a fast turnaround on a five-foot montage featuring 100 different images. When finishing the layout, I dropped my signature into a three-inch box at the bottom right-side of the piece. Nothing happened, so I did it again and this time it appeared. I exported the file and sent it to print. A few weeks later, the client emailed to say it was perfect… apart from my signature, which appeared right in the middle of the piece as well as in the bottom right.
When I added the signature the first time, I hadn’t seen it because it had dropped into the centre, and not into the small box. We apologized and arranged for the mistake to be fixed, at a cost to us. We took responsibility and made it right. Whatever you do, you must always own the problem and fix it. I have recorded a podcast on this!
There are disasters that you can plan for, so plan! Imagine your computer or HD or camera doesn’t switch on. What are your next steps? Do you have a plan? If not, make one. You will make mistakes – fix them and if you can’t, own them
This article is adapted from my article in issue 106 of N-Photo Magazine,
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