Perhaps nightmares is a tad dramatic, but it can absolutely feel like a nightmare when you spend hours, perhaps even days preparing for something to happen a certain way only to have it erupt up in your face, all of your dreams scattering like volcanic ash on a tide of hot sulfuric air! Ok, that was a bit much, but for many of us, situations in which the unexpected occurs can be nightmarish, especially if you work in an industry where timing is everything. TRG Reality has certainly experienced its share of unique and unpredictable moments as photographer Tim Smith recounts a few of his memorable shoots when he had to think quickly and creatively in order to get the job done.

“One of my favorite stories to tell is about the first out-of-state shoot I did in Dallas, Texas,” Smith laughs to himself. “I made sure I packed everything and shipped it out, but when I got there we realized I had sent the wrong power cables.” He was forced to make some, ahem, adjustments on the fly and create a new type of power source. “We had to chop off the end of an extension cord and hard wire it. It probably wasn’t safe, but it worked.” Luckily the rest of the shoot went off without a hitch, but as a reminder to always check (and re-check) what he’s packed, Smith keeps a picture of the strobe pack on his phone [see below].

Sometimes, however, it’s the subject of the shoot that can be the unpredictable element, especially when working with animals. “Yeah, I have a good one for that. It’s a tiger,” Smith replied with a sheepish grin. I may have gulped. A couple of years ago, the TRG team were filming a commercial where they needed a composite of a tiger inside of a kitchen. Smith and the crew traveled to an Ohio farm where a tiger just so happened to reside. They had to place a green screen inside the cage with the cat, and in order to distract it they threw frozen chickens into the enclosure. Yes, frozen chickens. Needless to say, after several attempts, Smith finally got his shot. Sadly, the green screen didn’t make it. Once the tiger lost his interest in the flying treats, “he noticed the new item in his cage” Smith recalled, “and tore it to pieces.” 

Much like animals, Mother Nature can also be uncooperative. Last summer, TRG was doing a shoot for a gutter company that entailed photographing the exterior of a house. “We needed to shoot all four seasons on a sunny 80 degree day,” Smith remembered, so they had to adapt on set. “We planned as much as we could, but we also had to be creative.” They used hoses and water to generate the appearance of rainy, stormy weather, but “you can never tell how water is going to react or how it will look on the cameras” he explained. Nevertheless they got their shot. After all, it’s their job. “You have to make it work,” Smith said, “or you will lose the client.” I of course had to ask if he could recall a time when they didn’t get the shot. Smith pondered for a moment: “I actually can’t come up with a time where we didn’t get what we wanted. Sure, there have been lots of times when it was stressful on set and we were trying to accomplish things that seemed unrealistic, but we did it.”

It seems that no matter how much planning you do, in photography, there is often that element of the unforeseen that requires spur of the moment decisions. You have to be able to problem solve on the spot, sometimes coming up with improvised solutions while on set, and this savvy nature is of course achieved through experience. They key is to keep an open mind. Smith’s advice to the clients is “to be flexible and trust your photographer. Their expertise goes a long way,” and for the photographers, “always try to pull as much information out of your clients that can help solve problems before they arise.” And of course, don’t forget to pack the correct cables and the frozen chickens.