Bumbles, Blunders and Bad Luck!
Don’t do this!
Over the years I have had my share of near disasters, mistakes and lessons learned (or not). I guess it all started back in the early seventies when the train hit my camera. I was just starting out at the time and wanted to shoot a dramatic shot of a speeding train for my portfolio. I went to the local camera store and talked them into loaning me a 20mm Nikkor wide-angle lens. I set my camera up on a tripod near the tracks, real near the tracks.
As the train approached I began firing and as soon as the engine passed I had to step back. The noise and fury of a train just a few feet away hurtling by at more than fifty miles an hour was more than I could handle. I backed away about a dozen feet and watched in horror as the train sucked my camera and tripod right into it. When the train finally passed I recovered the pieces, glass, pieces of circuit boad etc. Never did find the third leg of my tripod. You should have seen the salesman at the camera store when I poured his lens back onto the counter!
A blown power pack and a glass of Coke
In another example of “don’t do this”, also involving a train, I was hired to photograph the interior of one of the huge diesel locomotive engines. The cylinders are literally large enough to climb down into. Anyway, I set the lighting up with a balcar studio power pack and three heads. I was shooting with a Hasselblad. Once I got a Polaroid looking pretty good I switched to film.
After three or four exposures somehow a piece of metal dislodged from somewhere, I no longer remember how it happened, but the metal fell across my power cable, shorted it out and blew up my power pack circuit boards and all. End of shoot! Having only three or four exposures for a large photo shoot is a little unnerving! When I got home I found my wife laying in a lounge chair and reading a book.
I leaned over to kiss her hello and that one roll of film fell out of my pocket and into her glass of Coke! Yikes! I snatched the roll out and spent a sleepless night in worry until I could get the film into the lab the next day. As it turned out, the roll was wound tightly enough that, amazingly, there was no damage. The shoot turned out fine!
In a more recent episode, for a stock shoot, I decided to shoot a businessman using a fire extinguisher on a computer. I set up a cubicle in my studio. On a count of three I had my model take aim and let loose with the extinguisher. By the third frame (and I was shooting as rapidly as the camera would fire) I could no longer see the model! The studio was filled with a thick cloud of yellow dust (monoammonium phosphate). We couldn’t see, we couldn’t shoot, we had to cancel the rest of the day. When I moved out of that studio two years later we were still finding small piles of yellow dust.
In another brilliant move I embarked on a three-day stock shoot in a remote part of Mexico. I took with me a Profoto B power pack (Battery pack rated at 1200 watt seconds) and two heads. Somehow, I forgot to bring the charger! Of course, I didn’t realize it until the first day of shooting. Luckily the pack was fully charged before I left and I managed to get a whole day of photography accomplished. Days two and three though were a real struggle. The shoot was primarily indoors. I shot with my Canon 1Ds MKII rating the speed at 800 and imploring my models to look natural and hold still! I had a lot of shots that just didn’t work, but in the end it turned out OK. Phew!
Earthquakes, empty film holders and bad synch speeds
Not everything has always been my fault though. I once had to re-shoot when my film was caught in the processor during an earthquake, had an entire batch of 40 rolls of film mistakenly (this really was the lab’s mistake) pushed 2 stops, film shot from a helicopter no less.
Other mistakes I have made over the years: Forgot the camera on an annual report shoot; Photographed the board of directors of a major corporation with empty 4x5 holders; had the wrong synch speed set when shooting a portrait of the CEO of Chevron, and showed up for a 4x5 shoot with no tripod (darned assistants!).
It’s been a long and exciting journey and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But it isn’t over yet; it is actually getting more exciting all the time! I truly believe that this is the greatest time ever to be a photographer. I wake up excited and eager to get to work almost every morning. Who could ask for anything more than that!