Mike Butler – Architectural Photographer

Stories of Shoots Gone Wrong 1

Blog Post:

We all read those glowing stories about amazing shoots where the photographer waxes lyrical about his or her accompaniments.  This is in fact one side of photography, the side we all hope to be on.  Yet there is another side of things when for one reason or another the shoot just doesn’t go as planned.  After nearly 30 years in the business, it occurred to me that I ought to put to paper some of these wild and crazy stories! 

This particular story happened back in 2009, I had been called by a casino in Update NY for a model / architectural shoot in the biggest nightclub they had.  The background was they were hiring an entire gaggle of models at a top rate to fill out the nightclub space, so as to make it look like it was in action.  My job was to position the models within the space and to give that look without being too hetic as would happen if one were to shoot an operating nightclub.  Contemplating the job I was a bit unsure about the scope, yet found the prospect of a job a bit out of my architectural comfort zone refreshing.  The shoot brief had the talent showing up at 8 am with a 1 pm cut-off due to the budget of the models which I gathered being somewhere north of $15,000!!   With a signed contract in hand and a 50% deposit in my bank, I gathered up the crew, one assistant would be traveling with me from Miami to NY and the other would be hired from the local area. 

With our cases packed, weighed, and taped about 10 in all, loaded to the brim with plenty of strobes and grip gear to facilitate what I thought we might need, we headed to MIA for a hopefully uneventful flight.  Our stopover was in Atlanta and we easily made our connection.  I had learned years before to always, always go directly to your gate, visually confirm that in fact that is the gate then stay close.  I’ve had gates change or just been planned wrong on the gate board, leading to panicked sprints across various airports.  Better to be bored than late!  

So my assistant and I held up not 20 feet from the gate and began to chat and discuss whatever seemed relevant at the time.  We arrived at 9:15 am with our flight leaving at 10:00 am plenty of time to stretch out and relax.  I looked down at my phone 9:45 am, and no call on the intercom, looking over at the gate there was no movement, so we went back to general chatter.  Again at 9:55 am still no movement and no announcement.  Finally, at 10:05 I calmly walked up to the gate to get some info as to what was going on, “our flight is scheduled to leave at 10 am when do you expect it to depart”  I asked.  The gate attendant a young man dressed in proper dark blue, airline attire, looked somewhat surprised, “well” he said, “the plane has already left.”  I shook my head “excuse me?”  “Yes the doors have closed and the plane has already taxied”  With blood running out of my head and my stomach turning upside down I said “bring it back, we are supposed to be on that flight and have been sitting right there this whole time!  I have a shoot tomorrow morning so I can not miss the flight.”  “I’m sorry sir there is nothing I can do once the doors are closed we can not reopen them.”  The entire gravity of the situation had not yet sunk in although it was creeping up like cold water filling your stateroom cabin.   Certain trouble was on the horizon!  

“Ok we need another flight,”  I said as matter of factly as I could, I mean there are other flights I thought, this will easily be cleaned up, and we will be on the next flight.  The gate attendant looked down at his screen, typing for what seemed like an eternity.  “No sir, that is the only flight, there are no more available.”  The agent seemed to have some satisfaction in saying this and was unwilling to help any further.  “You can go to a gate phone and call a service agent, maybe they can help you”  Well that was something right? So my assistant and I gathered up our bags and headed over to the phones for a good 10-minute walk.  

It was during that walk, that the true horror of our situation dawned on me.  I was in Atlanta my destination was in upstate NY, the call time was 8 am tomorrow, it was now heading quite quickly to 11 am.  I started going through all the options in case we could not find a flight.  The first and seemingly only was to rent a call and drive, but with no equipment, not even cameras that would be unlikely at best.  It would be an easy 20-hour drive putting us there at around 9 or 10 am assuming we could pick up our equipment, wherever that might have ended up.  Well, I thought we could call the client and have them go pick up the equipment.  I would be late but I would be there.  But really?   That would be a mess of epic proportions.  By this time I was in a total panic with my brain fully offline. My assistant called the airlines, nothing, nada zilch.  Not a single flight to our destination.  Collapsed in a nearby chair, the airport world around me, normally a fantasyland of hectic vibrations, color, and sounds had been shut off, the volume turned to zero and all color subtracted from its vibrancy.  Looking dead ahead I thought ok we drive, what a nightmare.  I mentioned to my assistant in this semi-catatonic state, that maybe we could go to another airport, like halfway and get a flight from there, “call the airlines and find out”, but which one I pondered…there were just so many airports.  It was at that moment my assistant had a brilliant idea.  “Well maybe we don’t need to fly into our original airport”  he knew there are quite a few around that same area, “we could fly to an airport in the same general area and drive over to our original airport to pick up the equipment.”  

Back on the horn and bingo!  We snagged the last two seats on the last flight to another airport about 2 hours from our original destination. This is why I always travel with a good PA, they are there to help get through situations like this, another brain and set of eyes are not only helpful on shoots but in the unexpected troubles which can often creep in.

With a new flight scheduled, tickets in hand, we sat stone-cold staring at the gate, we were not going to miss this one! And so we departed, changed our rental car reservations, and wondered, I wondered about that equipment.  It had gone on without us, would it even be there?  

We landed, grabbed our rental car, and made the 2-hour drive to our original airport.  We parked the car and walked in, because at this point what was the point of running, either the equipment was there or not!  To my horror and surprise, as we entered the baggage terminal, there sitting next to an empty baggage carousel in a seemingly empty airport sat about 30k worth of photography equipment, just waiting for someone to come in to pick it up, then disappear forever into the world with the loot.  I just about fell over with relief, the weight of the afternoon lifted and hope abounded. That would be the end of the story if it were not for one last little tidbit, which I shall expound on.  

You see dear reader, normally on high-end photoshoots the crew is treated with some due respect, nice accommodations, and such, and this shoot was no exception.  This joint was flying me and my crew up from Miami for a 2-day shoot with models to a fancy-ass hotel casino.  When we finally arrived at the hotel, which I had previously photographed for the architect several times, we went to the main lobby, unloaded our bags, valeted our car, and waited to check into our rooms.  I stepped forward, smiled, and handed my ID to the attendant.  They looked down at their screen then said, “no sir you don’t have a reservation here.” “what do you mean I don’t have a reservation, we have a photoshoot here tomorrow of course I have a reservation”  “Uh no sir”  Ok, then it must be at the upscale section of the Casino hotel I thought. You see there are two hotels, the one I was in, grand and wonderful, then another way more boutique and upscale nestled just behind this one. How nice I thought they put us there!  “Maybe you can check there,” I asked.  “No sir you are not booked there either.”  The attendant looked somewhat embarrassed and said something about a third off-property hotel.  What was exactly was said after that has escaped my memory, all I can say is we packed up the car and drove off with a paper in hand containing some directions to another hotel, one I had never heard of.

Arriving at that hotel, nestled down a dark back road my blood began to boil.  This was an epic dump, here was where they put the low rollers I thought.  Here you put those people not worthy of your time, yet there we were.  Is this what my client thought of me I wondered.  A hotel barely worthy of the name hotel, more like a bunch of trailers haphazardly stacked one on the other, a hillbilly version of a modern container home.  The innkeeper, let’s call her that, sat in a dim room under pulsating fluorescent lights chain-smoking, the area around reeked of years old smoke.  With my best smile, cuz everyone deserves a smile, checked our weary bodies in, by this point we just needed a bed no matter where it might be.  There was no internet and a pathetic breakfast and only one room for us both. I don’t remember much more about the place, sometimes it’s better that way! 

The shoot went well, the final shots looked good and the client seemed happy.  The ending is not all that spectacular, as is the case I suppose with any successful shoot.  The client is happy and you never hear a thing.  The story makes the point that there is always a way, it may not be what you wanted or the easiest, but if you keep your mind open and surround yourself with smart people you can get through just about any situation!  

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I have decades of experience in photography and have been hired all over the world for a range of drone, hospitality, architectural and resort photography. If you want to give your marketing a new, fresh and eye-catching look, get in touch with me and let’s start working together!

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