My 7 Most Embarrassing Moments In Photography

Or, Uh Oh Say It Ain’t So!

I know I’ve said this a few thousand times, but it really IS true I’ve had a camera in my hand since I was nine years old.  I celebrated my 50th birthday last May (yeah I know, hard to believe huh?) So, I’ve had a few years to rack up some doozies.

Here are some of my favorites.


My very first moment of embarrassment came right along with my first camera, which was a gift from my parents on my 9th birthday. It was a Brownie box camera, which you had to open up completely to load with roll film. We’re talking way old school here. In my excitement, I ran next door to share with our neighbors, a married couple with no children of their own at the moment. The husband, who had befriended me, marveled over it, ooh’ing and aah’ing. With a wicked gleam in his eye, he said, “betcha there’s no film in that camera.”  And I’m all “uh huh, there is too film in my camera” and he’s all “nah, couldn’t be” and I’m all “well just look then!”   Quick as a wink, before you could say ‘bad idea’, I ripped open the camera, exposing the film. Of course, I didn’t understand that at the time. I just knew he GASPED, looked SHOCKED, then burst out laughing. I did what any reasonable 9 year old would do and ran home crying. I was mortally embarrassed and vowed to never leave the house again. I still see him almost every time I go home for a visit, and he has NEVER let me live that one down.


Early on in my photography career, I had a brand new portrait customer in with her two children for a shoot. So, I’m all wedged between my tripod and the back wall (where I was ALWAYS wishing I could back up 3 giant steps), just shooting away. Oh yeah. It was good. It was happening. Great stuff going on and I’m getting it all down on film. I was just shooting away. Shooting……and shooting……..and still shooting…..and gosh this is a really long roll of film and ….WHY AM I STILL SHOOTING?????? Why haven’t I had to change the roll of film????? WHY? BECAUSE THERE WAS NO FILM IN THE CAMERA!!! Oh yes. I had been shooting for almost 20 minutes with absolutely no film in the camera. When I realized this, I audibly gasped. Mom looked up.

Her: “What’s wrong?”
Me: “I don’t want to tell you.”

My mind was racing. Here she was, thinking we were winding down and the session was almost finished. Good thing too, as her son was nearing his personal meltdown point. Yet, not one single picture had been taken. I had no idea how she would react. I took a deep breath.

Me: “I know I’m supposed to be the professional here, but there’s no film in the camera. We have to keep shooting.”

She looked at me for a nanosecond…..then threw her head back and GUFFAWED. Literally laughed until tears were streaming down her face.

Conclusion? I loaded the camera, we kept shooting and I actually got even BETTER images, because her children had relaxed by that point and it got REAL. She became a repeat customer for many years after that, adding baby number 3 and occasionally hubby into the mix.


And then there was the time I fogged an entire box of unexposed photographic paper. Yep, all 100 sheets. How, and why was it embarrassing? Because it was at my local rental darkroom in the middle of the mad dash to the Christmas deadline aka The Christmas Crazies, when I, like many of my fellow photographers, was chained to my enlarger. I had some sort of brain fart either coming or going to the feeding room with a light tight paper safe.

The facility manager was trying to figure out when everyone would be finished feeding prints, so he would know when he could start shutting equipment down for the night. I had already been there for 8 hours and was exhausted. Without thinking, I said  “well let me see how many prints I have left to feed.” And I opened my paper safe. In the light. The manager, a personal friend btw, merely cocked at eyebrow at me, while I stood there twitching like Daffy Duck in a bad cartoon skit. Trust me, he had seen it ALL. I, however, was mortified. So were my darkroom buddies. No one said a word. Not one.


My ‘dream’ studio was housed on the ground floor of my home. I went to the gym every morning and usually scheduled my first shoot of the day at 10:00 am. This gave me time to rush home, shower, dress and head downstairs. The studio itself was always in a state of readiness for the day’s shoots.

Piece of cake if everything went according to plan. Until the morning a family of five showed up 20 minutes early and I was still in the shower. I kid you not. The doorbell actually had the audacity to ring and I had a decision to make. What to do???

Well, I greeted them at the door, in my robe with a towel wrapped around my head. Dad looked a bit uncomfortable. I invited them in, tried to act far more glib about it than I felt, gave them some reading material and went back upstairs. I returned 15 minutes later, slightly more presentable. They did not become repeat customers. Was it something I said?

5.  ANATOMY 101

One of my favorite ‘poses’ for infants who can sit alone, but not yet crawl, is the ‘Shoot the Moon’ pose. Basically, you place a naked baby on your backdrop, facing away from the camera. Then you have mom call their name and they usually look back over their shoulders at her, often with a little index finger raised. It’s so cute. You get gorgeous eyes, curious looks and sweet little baby ‘cheeks’.

Worked like a charm, until I had a customer with a little boy who had clearly never sat around much naked. He ‘discovered’ his, um ‘little friend’. Oh my goodness. He tugged on it, pulled on it, bent double staring at it and would not leave it alone. Would not. He was EARNEST. And mom was sooooooo embarrassed. We kept trying to distract him with other props and toys, but nothing was nearly so interesting as stubby. Mom was crimson. She kept saying “Oh my goodness. Oh my. Oh dear. Oh he’s just never done that before.”  And I kept trying to reassure her it was ‘normal’ and nothing to be embarrassed by, while secretly feeling like an inappropriate voyeur. But the little guy just wouldn’t let up and ultimately, even I had to concede defeat. We dressed him. He was not happy. They didn’t become repeat customers either.


When you work with families as much as I have, you begin to develop a sixth sense about a lot of things. You can feel when something interesting is about to happen and you develop your instincts and hone your reflexes on the shutter.

You also learn to read family dynamics and anticipate trouble. Usually.

I was photographing a set of three siblings, two boys (ages 3 and 4) and a girl, aged 6. The boys were wild. Screaming, jumping and creating utter chaos. The girl was a bit rough and tumble, but basically a good kid, sitting on her mark waiting for her two young brothers to be wrestled into submission by Dad. We were twenty minutes into an unbelievably difficult shoot and Dad was starting to lose it. His patience was frayed like an old rope.

I can usually tell when things are about to ‘pop’ in a family and will do or say something to distract and diffuse. Not this time. The little girl starting trying to ‘help’ Dad, who blew a gasket so fast it was unbelieveable. He whipped his head around, yelled “YOU’RE OLD ENOUGH TO KNOW BETTER!!!!!” And started spanking her on the legs.

I was embarrassed for EVERYONE. First of all, it was o.v.e.r.  I sat there with all these emotions rolling around inside me, wanting to say  “Hey Dad, do you really think I’m gonna get good pics of your kids now????” His daughter was crying and so very embarrassed to be spanked in front of me. Her little face was red and swollen and snot was flying. For good measure, the boys started wailing because…well, just because. Mom looked like she wanted to melt into the floor. Dad had that ‘deer caught in the headlights of a car’ look in his eyes. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

I just sat down and sighed audibly. I said I thought it might be best if we concluded the session. I didn’t charge them a sitting fee and I never saw them again. I still cringe every time I think of them.


After several successful years in business, I was finally able to afford to step up to a medium format camera. I purchased two Bronica bodies, and all the accessories and gear to complete them.

I had several NFL players and their families on my list of customers. I was in the middle of a session with one such family, with the action moving fast and furious. I was photographing mom, dad and their two very young, active children. My studio was completely set up to deal with this type of situation, with the lights suspended on an overhead track system, I used a radio release so I wasn’t tethered to sync cords and my tripod was mounted on a dolly with wheels, so I could zoom up and down. I went to flip my camera from horizontal to vertical as fast as possible so as not to miss any of the action. I must have forgotten to lock my camera to the tripod head. My beautiful Bronica went crashing to the CONCRETE floor, where it broke into all its separate pieces-parts. I was looking at a couple thousand dollars worth of equipment scattered all over the floor. Defensive lineman Dad’s eyes bugged out and his mouth dropped open. My heart sank, right before it stopped completely. But of course, I couldn’t let this show, because uncomfortable customers don’t make good photographs. So I came back to life and simply said “Don’t worry, I have another one,” and my assistant grabbed the extra body from the workroom and we continued shooting, like nothing had happened.

After they left, I cried. I took it to a camera repair shop to see what the extent of the damage was. Surprisingly, other than a few dings, the camera was still functional. I used it without incident for several more years. The lens survived too. Without a scratch. The film back, on the other hand, never did close right again and would sometimes fly off the camera unexpectedly.

If you would like to read more, check out these articles:

High Key Studio Lighting – Tutorial

Photographing Young Children With Low Key Lighting – Tutorial

Studio Lighting for Headshots – Tutorial

How to Set Up a Photo Booth in Your Home

How to Photograph Large Groups in the Studio

Photographing Babies, Birth to One Year – Tips and Techniques

Using Bold Color in Portraiture – Tips and Techniques

Review: Totally Rad's RadLab software makes photo editing simple and easy.

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  1. These stories are too great! I’ve been sitting here on the couch, pouring over all of them (reading the super hilarious ones out loud to my boyfriend) and relishing in the fact that, well, it happens to the best of us. Not to say that I’m “the best” in any way, shape, or form. I just feel a great sense of relief that these instances are not limited to a newbie photographer such as myself. Thank you Deborah. You made my night.

  2. jeannine says

    oh my gosh… i haven’t been in the business long, and this freaks me out completely!!

  3. I really enjoyed your list of embarrassing moments. I know everyone has them, and it made me feel better to read yours, as misery so loves company. I recently was shooting photos at a wedding where my daughter was a bridesmaid. I was not, thankfully, the hired photographer, but only there as a friend. During the reception, I was holding my purse, my daughter’s purse, and my Canon 50D, complete with my L Series 17-40mm lens. Somehow, I fumbled the camera, and suddenly I was watching two thousand dollars worth of equipment fall to a concrete floor. I screamed. Out loud! Every head in the place turned toward me, and the place went entirely silent for a moment. Then I heard someone say, “Did she drop her baby?” And a lady answered her, “No, it was her camera.” My daughter was mortified, but I was horrified that I had just watched my livelihood end.

    Unbelievably, the camera landed on the lens hood, which absorbed the shock, apparently. Both my camera and lens have functioned perfectly since, and I’m sure I gave that bride a reception she’ll never forget.

    Incidentally, the family friend who had been “hired” to take the wedding photos bungled the job and the only shots the couple got were the ones I took.

  4. deborahwolfe says

    Wow Karen! I totally understand that sick, sick feeling as we watch our beautiful equipment headed toward what appears to be sure oblivion. Sounds like you had the same freakishly positive results as I did. And how wonderful that you did show up with your camera and talent and ‘saved’ the day! Thanks for reading, sharing and showing up.