Ep 195: Common photo shoot failures and how to recover from them

Don’t get caught with your pants down! Sometimes, despite our best intentions, stuff fails, sh*t happens and you feel like all is lost. But it doesn’t have to be! In this episode, Gina and Valerie discuss how to overcome common photo failures including technical errors, client dissatisfaction, dumb stuff and much more!

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Show notes

There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons. – Denis Waitley 

Even the most experienced photographers occasionally drop the ball and botch a shoot. The good news is there is no such thing as failure only lessons. But when you’ve botched a job is there anything you can do to save it?

  • Do the work
  • Be prepared
  • Take your time
  • Know your tools
  • Don’t rely on fixing in post

What are some of the most common ways to make a mistake on a shoot?

  1. You botch the job technically
  2. Stupidity
  3. Mechanical error (2% of errors)
  4. Outside forces

1. You botch the job technically

You can focus – literally!

  • photoshop sharpening
  • head swaps
  • increase contrast
  • reduce the sharpness overall


  • The biggest issue is over lighting
  • Under lighting
  • Hard lighting
  • Position of light

Composition – face swaps


2. Overcoming stupidity

Like when you:

  • Accidently delete a memory card or hard drive
  • Focus on the back wall instead of your models face
  • Don’t pay attention
  • Miss small details

User Error

  • Do the work
  • Build your photography muscle
  • Shoot, shoot, shoot
  • Daily projects

3. Mechanical error ( 2% of errors)

  • Flash tube breaks
  • Shutter stops working
  • Corrupt memory card
  • Camera error
  • Lens error
  • Lighting failure

Regular maintenance and care of gear will help ensure you are not one of the unlucky ones but it’s best to be prepared and have back up “just in case” particularly on important “never happen again” shoots

Gear failure
Technical Gear failure accounts for 2% of errors in photoshoots
It’s a low number but having experienced the heartache from mechanical failure it’s worth taking the time to check gear and prevent failure

Memory Card Safety

  • Buy Brand name avoid no name brand ( sandisk Lexar)
  • No name brand are shite like no name Nutella NQR
  • Don’t touch the contacts
  • Always turn camera off before inserting card
  • Spread the shoot over several memory cards
  • Format card in camera
  • Throw them out every 2-3 years
  • Label your memory cards with name phone number and email
  • In fact label everything you own with name, email and mobile
  • Back up twice before you erase your memory cards

Eject card safely

Removing external drives such as hard drives and memory cards without safely ejecting them won’t damage them the first, second or third time but like smoking the damage is cumulative and doing this continuously will eventually corrupt the card and you will lose date.

To safely eject a card from Windows:

  • Double click on Computer or (my computer)
  • Find the card or device icon
  • Right click and select eject

To safely eject a memory card from a Mac

  • Right click on external device icon (memory card or external hardrive)
  • Select eject

Hard Drives

Back up 3 times https://ginamilicia.com/2015/02/ep-11-50-shades-of-archiving-workflow-just-got-sexy/

4. Outside forces

  • Weather
  • Strangers
  • Client hates the work

What are the best ways to avoid photography disasters?

Client hates their shots

  • Always make sure the client has seen your work before booking you and is familiar with your style
  • As the photographer you are the expert so always make sure you advise your client that;
  • Hot pink leopard skin with orange lipstick may clash.
  • Tandoori coloured spray tan is generally not flattering on anyone
  • Getting a full body wax, haircut or facial on the day of the shoot may not be the best idea.
  • No, Jan in accounts should not do hair and make up or style the shoot
  • Listening to the make up artist, uncle Dave or the boyfriend about lighting the shot is also not a great idea.

Pre interview clients to vet out potential problems
There are some people you just can’t please.
Look for clues in the initial conversations that may indicate they are difficult

  • Indecisiveness
  • Victim mentality ( all the other photographers botched their photos)
  • Overly self-conscious
  • Generally NQR
  • Just not a right fit for your style.

Be up front about the cost of the shoot and all extra charges so there are no surprises.

  • Keep a paper trail of the shoot requirements to make sure you are on the same page
  • Include everything in writing
  • Have a contract in place

You Botch the Job

  • Be honest and admit to your mistake
  • Offer a reshoot
  • Offer a refund
  • Take 100% responsibility. Don’t blame gear, assistants the weather. You made a mistake. Own it

Get the shot

  • Test and retest your lighting before your client steps onto the set
  • Test and retest your gear
  • Take your time
  • Have a shot list in mind and continually refer to it. Tick shots off as you go
  • Refer to my ultimate shot list. Keep this on your phone or print it out

Step by step strategies to survive a photography epic fail to save your precious files, and keep your clients happy.

Hard drives and Memory cards – Data recovery

I hope none of you ever need to use this advice, but just in case…

  1. Don’t Panic
  2. Stop Crying… ok cry a little bit because it’s really good to be in touch with your feelings. Feel better now?
  3. Don’t use computer/card/hard drive. Do not save or delete anything. This will increase your chances of recovering all your data because when a card/file/folder is deleted all that has happened is the computer has been given permission to write on top of the existing file.
  4. Download data recovery software. I use Data Rescue, but there are plenty available. There are some free ones around but be careful because they are often free to search for lost files and then charge you to retrieve them.

Software will do a search of harddrive or memory card and find the files.

Be warned that when you retrieve files from the trash they actually come out unnamed and need to be sorted. Its kind of like you were digging around in the trash. You will need to be patient and set aside some time to reorganize yourself but if it means getting your precious files back it’s worth it right?

Once the software locates your files it will begin the task of retrieving them. This can take anywhere between 30 mins for a memory card to 8 hours for a 1TB external hard drive.

Send your card or drive to a recovery company.

Coping with failure

  • Give yourself a full day to feel your feelings. Cry, yell, and mope. Do what you need to do.
  • Talk about it
  • Don’t dwell on it. Failure is part of life. Embrace it.
  • Whenever you step outside the comfort zone and whenever you try something new, failure becomes inevitable.
  • Each failure brings you one step closer to reaching your goals.
  • Failure is a great teacher and it allows you to learn some of the most valuable life lessons.
  • Each failure makes you stronger, bigger and better.
  • Making mistakes is not a big deal as long as you learn from them and avoid repeating them.
  • Successful people will never laugh at you or judge you when you fail, because they have already been there and they know about the valuable lessons you can learn from failure.
  • No matter how often you fail, you are not a failure as long as you don’t give up.
  • Each time you fail, your fear of failure becomes smaller, which allows you to take on even bigger challenges.

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About Gina

About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

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