Some of my Biggest Gaffs
Do I really want to do this?
Do I really want to bare all… and tell the whole world about those embarrassing moments that should be kept brushed under the carpet?
And if I do… …how far back in time do I want to go?
Well, of course, the further I go back, the greater the number of mistakes I would have made (while I was learning). To be honest, I can’t remember a great deal from those early years. I have an awareness of mistakes being made, but not much in the way of detail.
I think there were lots of mistakes made in the darkroom (lots), but the more I studied and the more I practised, the more reliable I became.
Mistakes in General
The thing is about mistakes is that
- They are inevitable
- They are necessary
As you learn, you make mistakes. It’s going to happen. That’s why you have to learn. You practice and practice and eventually, you make fewer mistakes. Finally, you reach that stage where mistakes are rare.
Think about a guitarist in a rock band (something I always wanted to be). When he first starts learning to play he is dreadful. After time he starts to find a fluidity in his fingers and is able to move around the fretboard with a degree of confidence. Finally, he reaches that stage where there is enough knowledge, skill and muscle memory that he can perform in front of other people… and he joins a band. But it’s a journey that can take several years.
Photographers, on the other hand, want to be taking amazing photos after only a few weeks of buying their expensive camera. And then get frustrated when the shots don’t work out right.
Mistakes are necessary. They are ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. C’mon, we all know this, right? You can’t learn without making mistakes. You can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg, etc, etc.
Honestly, I have made some seriously embarrassing mistakes in the past and the lessons they taught me remain deeply embedded in my psyche.
The disaster of the missing lens
For much of my life, I lived on the London-Surrey border in a town called Sutton. I moved to Hampshire in 2015 after meeting my wife online, getting married shortly after.
I still had some clients in the old town and remember one particular occasion when I had to go back to Sutton to photograph a wedding.
For a couple of years by this point, I had moved away from shooting weddings with Canon DSLRs in favour of the newly emerging Fuji mirrorless cameras. Fuji was creating a real name for itself (and still is) and I was using a Fuji X100 plus an X-T1.
The X100 is a fabulous little camera, quite distinctive in its retro design, covered in mechanical dials. It looks like something I would have used back in the days of film. The lens was fixed, it couldn’t be removed and came with a fixed focal length of 23mm (equivalent to 35mm on a full frame camera). That’s right, I couldn’t change the lens and it didn’t even zoom!
I must confess, I rarely use zooms, preferring primes… so I was perfectly happy using a camera like this.
My other camera (the X-T1) was Fuji’s latest camera at the time and top of its range. It had a DSLR in appearance but was in fact mirrorless technology internally. It was truly a fabulous camera and I had already by then amassed a wide range of lenses to use on it.
The night before the wedding I got everything ready. I charged all my batteries, formatted all my memory cards and loaded my camera bag with a range of primes from super-wide through to medium telephoto.
As usual, left the cameras out of the bag. I like to have them with me when I first arrive at weddings. The bag usually stays in the boot of my car until I need it.
The following morning I was feeling pretty relaxed as I breakfasted, showered, dressed. I picked up my gear, jumped into the car and drove the 50-ish miles back to the town I had lived in for the last 35 years.
It was going to be a good day. I was feeling relaxed and I arrived in plenty of time ahead of the wedding party. It was a mature couple getting married (second marriage for both of them) and as is often the case in situations like this, I wasn’t needed for the bridal prep.
The first shock…
Pulling up outside the register office in Sutton, I did the usual thing of going through the wedding in my mind, checking things over, making sure I was fully prepared. I got out of the car and went to the boot to get out the cameras. As I picked them up I was suddenly filled with absolute terror.
Holy crap… where was my camera bag with all my lenses in?
My heart sank. I had left it at home.
Somehow I had managed to leave the house that morning without picking the bag up off the floor. The cameras – yes, but the bag with all my goodies in… no!
Could it have got any worse?
To make matters worse, the lens I last used on the Fuji X-T1 was a 23mm… and it was still on it. That meant that I had two cameras with me, and both had the same lenses fitted!
My beloved 56mm f/1.2 was back home in Hampshire. I may have uttered a few choice words under my breath at this point.
However, 23mm is a good focal length and one of the most useful for capturing images candidly. So at least I had lenses I could work with. See a few photos from the day below.
It could have been a lot worse if neither of the lenses had been wide angle, but in the end, it wasn’t the end of the world and I got plenty of shots I was happy with.
The Golf Match Disaster
Back in the early ’90s, I was lucky enough to get booked to photograph a prestigious golf tournament run by a BMW dealer in Surrey.
The dealer had invited a number of their most important customers to take part in a day’s golf at a very posh club… and my job was to photograph everyone as they came off the final green inside the clubhouse.
By the time the teams started coming in it was getting quite dark and I found an excellent location inside the main entrance, shooting everything by flash. With a large number of teams playing it took some time.
The owner of the dealership was keen to be there, to personally supervise and socialise with each and every customer. Building strong relationships with customers is important for businesses like this and nothing was left to chance.
After nearly two hours, everyone had completed their game, they had posed for their photos and then went into the banqueting hall for the main evening meal. I was left outside to pack my gear away.
These were the days of film. I was shooting with Olympus cameras. On this occasion, I was using the powerful Olympus bounce grip flash bolted on the Olympus OM4, a stellar camera and an excellent TTL flash.
As I began dismantling the camera and flash, packing them away, I started winding the film back into the 35mm film canister. If you’ve never done this before, you simply pop-up the winding handle (top right of camera) and turn it clockwise to return the film back to whence it came – into the light-tight canister. Only then can you take the film (now contained inside the canister) out of the camera.
You know when the film has been fully wound because their’s a sudden loss of tension during the wind-back.
I started winding.
And as soon as I started winding, I immediately knew something was wrong. In fact, I knew EXACTLY what was wrong and my heart stopped beating.
Noooooooooo! I couldn’t believe it! I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me.
This was awful!
As I wound I felt no tension at all. The winding handle rotated freely and it did so because the film was not being wound into the canister. In fact, the film was already inside the canister because I had incorrectly loaded it in the first place.
In effect, the film had not been taking photos all night. Every time I pressed the camera’s shutter button and wound the film, I was simply winding nothing, because the film wasn’t connected inside.
This was the worst-case scenario for film photographers back in the day. Nearly two hours wasted, shooting with an empty camera.
How do you go to the client and tell them that they have no pictures? They were planning to present framed copies of the photos to everyone who took part. I had ruined the evening. Nothing I could say could compensate for the huge disaster. The client would be embarrassed in front of all of his customers… what could I do?
There’s was nothing I could do. So with my tail between my legs, I went into the banqueting hall and started explaining what had happened.
The details of his reaction are best not dwelt upon… in fact, I can only remember one specific element relating to his fury. It involved him shouting at me, at the top of his voice, in front of the entire gathering.
And then there was the ‘C’ word.
I never made that mistake ever again
Over the years there has been a good selection of mistakes. If I’m honest, none as bad as the Golf Club saga, certainly none as embarrassing.
- Typically it will be things like forgetting to shoot in raw and not having the latitude in the surviving jpgs to sufficiently edit the images the way I like.
- Then there’s that old chestnut of forgetting the camera is set to continuous focus from the previous time I used it. This usually results in the focus not locking onto the part of the image I want. The result… blurred, out of focus photos.
- Similar, but not the same… there has been the odd occasion where I had forgotten the focus button on the lens was set to manual (rather than the normal AUTO position). A number of images would have been rendered completely out of focus and of no use at all.
- Even as recently as in the last few years, I’ve accidentally erased the contents of the memory card before I had a chance to load it on the computer. This is a nightmare, although software exists these days to help you recover data lost this way.
What have I learned from all of this?
I have learned not to be complacent. Nothing will ever prepare you for the completely unexpected though. Mistakes will happen, they always will. They are stressful at the time, but in the end, you always look back afterwards and laugh about it.
When I go out on a job these days I take precautions to cover as many eventualities as I can. This list is typical of the most basic precautions…
- Spare camera bodies
- Spare camera batteries
- Spare memory cards (only using cameras with twin card slots)
- Spare flashguns
- Spare flash batteries
- Chargers for everything
- Oh yes, and I’m fully insured
As always, if you have any questions or comments please post them below and I will do my best to answer them.
If you’re looking for photography workshops, photography courses or photography lessons, check out our website at Hampshire School of Photography or call Tuesday – Friday 01252 643143