Spring fashion – day 5

As a photographer, I try to anticipate anything that can go wrong. Experience has taught me about the many ways one can screw up a photo. I’ve done most of those things at one time or the other and I am always checking and double checking to avoid the gremlins.

Yesterday I shot ten rolls of beautiful pictures – and three rolls of badly over-exposed pictures. And the very, very weird thing was that all three rolls were shot on one particular dress. And the only film shot of that dress were those three badly exposed rolls. End result – no usable pictures of this particular slinky purple dress.

As soon as I saw that film, my chest felt hollow. I still can’t figure out exactly where I went wrong. The Polaroid proofs were properly exposed. All of the film shot before and after those pictures were fine, ruling out camera failure. And the ruined film was shot with two different lenses meaning that with the Hasselblad – which has its exposure controls on the lenses – the exposure had to be set wrong twice.

Maybe I was distracted by something else and misread the exposure meter. There was a partial solar eclipse about that time so maybe we were under a cosmic hex. Maybe things were going TOO well and the photo spirits decided to play tricks with us. Or maybe I was subconsciously needing something dramatic for these journals.

Whatever caused the mistake (and it is unquestionably my mistake), we had a quick crisis. The slinky purple dress was the fashion editor’s favorite outfit. Jean said it was the most stylish piece we had and it looked like New York fashion – high style that only the most amazing bodies can wear. She said she had told her husband last night that if we didn’t get any other dress done – she’d be happy with just the slinky purple dress.

The art director was less frantic. Debra feels she has plenty of good photos to work with and if she lost just one, she could still survive. And the magazine editor wasn’t keen about spending more money on a reshoot. But Jean started making some calls to see if we could work out something. The dress has already been shipped back to New York where we had borrowed it from the designers. They said that they had received the dress today and that they would turn around and send it back. We will have the dress by Monday morning.

Then Jean called the model and the stylist. Both can make it during their lunch breaks on Monday and it won’t cost us an arm and a leg. The bad news is that high noon is the worst time to make pictures outside. I’ll have to work the lighting carefully so that it doesn’t appear too harsh.

So Monday morning I will work with Deb to edit the film we have in hand and then zip over to the location for the reshoot. A rush job at the lab will get us the film in time to get it to the technicians for scanning.

It is important as a professional photographer to make a reputation as someone who can deliver. When you make mistakes, you have to work quickly to fix them.

Tom Burton

originally published on February 27, 1998 on digitalstoryteller.com

Return to Blog 1998