No career path is plain sailing. In anything we do, we will always make mistakes. That’s part of becoming competent in your field. A photography career isn’t an exception to the rule, and any photographer who has been around long enough will have some embarrassing or challenging stories to share. And that’s what we’re going to cover in this article. As I turn to two pro photographers and ask them to open up about a moment in photography they’d rather forget, while also sharing my own cringe-worthy story.
My Embarrassing Photography Story
Many years ago, before finding my photography niche, I would take any opportunity that came my way. One day I received an email from a man telling me he was the manager of a model and would like me to make some photos for her portfolio. The location was in Pimlico, a very affluent part of London, so I accepted the offer. “Just some standard shots is all we need,” the manager told me over a phone call. We agreed on a fee and finalized the date.
Upon my arrival at the location–a one-bed apartment– I quickly realized although in an affluent area, this wasn’t an affluent home. That’s fine, and I’m not one to judge. Right away, they took me to the bedroom. During our conversations, there had been no previous mention of this being a boudoir shoot. The bedroom had tired wallpaper and a very clinical smell to it. On the bed were bedsheets that had faded in color over time. And then I saw the bedside table, “oh no,” I thought. There, on the side, was a big bottle of lubricant and some condoms. It became clear that the “manager” was a pimp and the “model” was an escort. Those “standard shots” quickly became soft-core adult material, images filled with nudity and adult toys. In hindsight, I should have left right away, but I was naive and, honestly, needed the money. Sex work, for all that it is, is legal in London.
We got through the shoot, and although everything felt uncomfortable, both of them were very friendly, made me a cup of tea, and gave me a box of chocolates. I left that shoot embarrassed, in a state of cringe, and needing a shower to wash away the shame. You live and learn.
Dixie Dixon’s Challenging Photography Story
I reached out to Dixie Dixon to share some of her photography tails. Dixon is a Nikon Ambassador and has a client list that includes Disney, Marriott Bonvoy, and Kodak, to name a few.
She prefaced her stories by telling me, “I freaking love my job,” adding, “It’s been the adventure of a lifetime and one I’m so grateful for!”
However, every love story has its rocky moments, something Dixon recognizes. Admitting, “I’ve had too many cringe-worthy moments to mention in my career,” she selected two of the more memorable moments, but two she’d much rather forget.
Sickness on a Plane!
“I was traveling to Europe to give workshops at the London, Berlin, and Amsterdam Apple Stores about photography and storage for G-Technology (now Sandisk Professional.) I got on the plane, ready to rock, and as more time went by on the long flight, the sicker I started getting- my sinuses closed up, my head throbbed, and I could barely get off of the plane because I felt so weak. In a panic, I remember calling a mobile doctor who came to my room at 10 pm so I could get some meds. But he didn’t have the kind of steroid meds I would normally get in the US to knock it out quickly, and [what he gave me] didn’t even work.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever had to give workshops with a blazing sinus infection and head cold, but it was brutal. I couldn’t breathe and felt so weak, but somehow I powered through traveling and giving workshops to three different countries in a week! It was an amazing experience and yet at the same time, crazy tough. On another occasion, I got food poisoning the night I got to Vegas and had to give an all-day lecture while trying not to hurl! It was awful, and I have no idea what I said. Just thankful to get through it.”
Brett Stanley’s Photography Story Makes Him Wince
Another photographer I spoke to was Brett Stanley, the photographer behind one of the most popular stories on The Phoblographer. He admitted his story might not be the most cringeworthy, but it certainly makes him wince whenever it comes to mind.
“I was shooting in the Bahamas years ago, with a couple of models on a shipwreck at around 20ft deep. We’d been shooting for a while when I started to notice a beeping noise, but I ignored it because I assumed it was a dive alert from one of the other scuba divers nearby. It kept going off and seemed to follow us as we moved around the wreck, which was strange but again, I assumed it was one of our dive computers – so we kept shooting.
“As time went on, I started to think it was coming from me, and it was then I noticed a little red light blinking on my camera housing in time with the beeps – it was the moisture alarm! My housing had leaked and I’d ignored it because I’d never heard that noise before. Needless to say, I hoofed it back to the boat and luckily saved my camera. It was just a hair in the o-ring and the leak was very slow – luckily!”
Several on-the-job moments will challenge a photographer. While we always wish for the perfect gig, free of drama and stress, that’s not always going to happen. In any challenging scenario, the best thing to do is to keep calm and focus on the fundamentals. The more experience you have, the better positioned you will be to handle the tricky times throughout your career.
Big thanks to Dixon and Stanley for sharing their stories. If you have a cringe-worthy story or a story where you faced adversity while making photographs, let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.