Biggest mistakes in the field

Biggest mistakes in the field

Just for fun.

What are some of dumbest or biggest mistakes you’ve made in the field? Ok, we’ve all forgotten the extra battery or left the big SD/CF card at home… but what about when you’re out shooting? Feel free to leave your confessions here.

This one ticks me off. I’ve done this twice now. Early morning, dawn, pre-sunrise where colors change fast. I wanted to capture a number of frames for a 4-image pano stitch. Dawn over Mono Lake. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why each image was coming out with a different exposure. I was getting frustrated and the entire sunrise was ruined and I needed an attitude adjustment. Oh well, I ended up posting one of the frames on NPN…

Forgetting to reset auto bracketing has burned me twice.

How about you?

Biggest or most recent? :rofl:

Last week we got set up for gray whales coming right up to shoreline rocks to scratch in a bay close to home. They were sometimes less than 20’ away!!! And lots of them!!! So close that my wife did some of her shooting with a 24-120 lens and couldn’t fit the whole whale much past about 30-35mm.

I was trailing a little behind her and plunked down to get started. As is my habit, I checked a few frames on the display before really settling in. Good thing! Cuzz they were pure white. What the…? Turns out that somehow the dial got nudged from my usual A (Aperture) to M (Manual). Sure had me flummoxed for a while, because that was the last thing I checked.

Lon, I’ll no doubt be odd person out here on this one. Or maybe just a boring photog on my part nowadays.
Thankfully, I’m down to harmless mistakes that I catch myself on and can back track. Basically, once in a while forgetting to turn the dark-slide over on a film holder after a shot. But have caught myself and back tracked immediately. So, again, quite harmless…:clown_face:

One May day, while looking for birds, I found a somewhat hidden section of a small stream. I sat down on the bank to rest and had a sudden encounter with a family of moose (Dad, Mom, Jr.), who had walked up the stream and put on the brakes six feet from me. I was sitting cross legged on the ground, they were blocking the sky.
The encounter lasted ten minutes, a lot happened, I was lucky, it became a short story.
Mistake? Only if I let it happen again.

1975: I hiked a short distance down to the ocean and became preoccupied with image making while the tide came in and blocked my exit, and was progressing to block my life. I forged a new path that became a irreversible dead end half way back up. I waved frantically unnoticed at pleasure boaters passing under Golden Gate bridge. Very scary. Saved by unknown intervention.

Altitude Sickness: The mistake being not understanding what it is, and the unnoticeable effect it is having on you (and everyone around you). It can cause dangerous situations and holsters the creative part of me.
Coffee: Waking up to early and drinking to much coffee while waiting for the light. I find projecting hyperactivity in nature unproductive.

Years ago I was photographing sunrise on Hwy 62 near Ridgway, CO. The clouds were thick and it was bitter cold. I set up my tripod and camera and set them next to the car to wait out the cold in my car and be ready if any hint of color started.

Sunrise never happened, the clouds were too thick. I decided it was time to head up the road to make breakfast on public land. As I’m cooking my breakfast the light breaks through the clouds and creates a beautiful scene in front of me. I decide it is photo worthy and go to grab my camera, yet it’s nowhere to be found. My Gitzo tripod with a BH-55, D700, 24-70, and worst of all 2 weeks of images that I had not downloaded were all sitting on the side of a busy highway, at least I hoped they still were.

I quickly threw everything back in the car and proceeded to drive entirely too fast back to my original location, did I mention it was 30 minutes away? As I pull up to the spot I see a group of other photographers, and incredibly enough, my tripod and camera still sitting in the same spot. I never made the mistake of leaving my tripod out or not downloading my images often after that!


I’ll add one more, but headline this one as a catastrophe.

Back in the days before digital, we did all our work on film of course. I had a press assignment to provide photos for an article being written on the fishing industry here in AK. Down at the dock I got permission to go aboard a large trawler delivering close to 200 tons of pollack. They had just popped the giant hatch cover to reveal a dramatic view of their catch. I squatted at the edge of the hold to frame a really tight shot of nothing but silvery fish, eyes and fins.

You need to know a little about how they unload such a mass of fish. The crew strings a 6" hose across the deck to pump vast quantities of seawater into the hold while another pump siphons up fish and water. The big flood of water from the hose added drama, so I edged closer and framed for additional shots including the waterfall.

The crewman standing on the hose to keep it from whipping around with all that water was a friend and we chatted amiably while I shot. That is until the boat rocked and he slipped off the hose. It spun sideways and blasted me backward off my feet, thankfully across the deck rather than into the hold.

I was shooting with one of my beloved Nikon F3’s with a motor drive, another hung around my neck. In addition to the two lenses on the cameras, there were 4 more in my open bag along with a couple of strobes.

Yup. All toasted by the salty blast. Ruining many $K’s of camera gear for a $500 assignment is poor economics. Enter the great insurance we had through PPA. It was all replaced without question and without deductibles!

Good ones so far! @Hank_Pennington, I would say your catastrophe went way beyond mistakes and accidents! Good thing no one got hurt. Very sorry about all the ruined gear.

@Paul_Breitkreuz I hear ya on the 4x5 stuff - I’ve messed up the dark slides plenty of times. Even shot blanks! :roll_eyes:

My biggest mistake and disaster was attempting to photograph a 5hr star trail image on the side of a hill with the 4x5… coming to retrieve and trip the shutter before light… I kicked over the tripod and the wooded field camera came crashing down. Let’s just say they couldn’t put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

@stevenm - Was the mistake not being aware of your surroundings? I hope it all ended well.

@David_Kingham - That’s a great story and happy for you it ended well.

Two other lessons learned for me (among many lessons…)

  1. Never keep glass filters in your back pocket. You will sit on them and break them.
  2. Never leave your camera bag unzipped. Eventually you will grab it by the handle and swing it out of your vehicle dumping all your precious gear - and in my case, on pavement. Very fortunately I got by with only minor scrapes.
  3. Oh let’s see. Never leave your tripod leaning against your vehicle when the legs are not separated… and be sure your camera/lens are not still connected to the tripod. It will slide down the side of your car and crash to the ground. I was able to repair the wooden 4x5, but the 90mm lens could no longer use filters because of the bent filter ring…

Lessons learned, I hope.

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I’ve thankfully never had a dramatic story like some of the great ones here. I make plenty of mistakes, but the most frequent and irritating one for me is non-sharp photos. I always use exposure delay mode and a sturdy tripod, but things like too shallow of a depth of field, leaving VR on on the tripod, wind blowing the tripod or leaves slightly, and other minor things like that. It just really bugs me!

I’m sure this has happened to all of you.

You power up the camera and nothing registers on the live view screen. You open the exposure settings more and more but no matter how wide you open it the histogram stays all the way left. The you start with the shutter speed. You change for longer and longer exposures but the histogram stays all the way left. You check the battery which seems to have good charge. You then flip through the menu settings wondering which one could have caused the problem.

So what was the issue?

All at once now -


You think to yourself - this is beyond dumb. How could I be so stupid.

And then you go on in life.


The biggest mistake I make (and unfortunately I do it more often than I’d like) is arriving on location just a little bit too late. I generally have a problem with this but as we all know, the sun waits for no one.
I’ve never arrived so late that I missed a sunrise entirely, but I’m often very rushed and don’t have time to search for the best composition. Sometimes I miss the clouds lighting up if they light up while the sun is still below the horizon and thus miss the “best” light.

Many, many of the ones already listed. Probably the dumbest was during our last irruption of Snowy Owls in the Northwest. The place to go is called a peninsula on the coast and it’s a couple of miles walk in. One of the times I went, I was trudging along the beach with the camera and my 500 f/4 lens on the tripod over my shoulder. I kept feeling an odd vibration, but didn’t think much of it until the camera and lens went falling to the beach. By sheer luck, it landed in fairly soft sand, lens-hood first and sustained no damage, but it sure gave me a scare. I’ve been extremely conscious of tightening the clamp ever since and went out and ordered a more robust one for that gimbal head immediately thereafter.

I speak as an amateur, but a most memorable mistake was leaving my camera bag behind. For some reason I finished at a great location with my tripod and camera and…no bag. Almost two miles later I realized its absence. I hiked back fully expecting a total loss (over $2500 between a lens and filters and supplies.) The photographic gods smiled upon me, for upon my arrival some fisherman pointed to a blue bag and asked about my ownership. To this day I cannot explain my lack of awareness, but it has never happened again.

Oh welp, I’m too prone to these. Once I was in Reno for work so I decided to drive up to Lake Tahoe for sunset. Got to were I wanted to shot, walk around the shore looking for compositions, find one, take my tripod out and set it, take my camera out and bam, I had left my l-bracket back in Reno and had no way of attaching the camera to the tripod.
Another one, after a trek through the mountains in Ecuador I got to the final town I was suppose to take the bus back to civilization. Get into this small shop to buy some snacks, went to pay and put my camera in the counter to grab my wallet. Pay, get my snacks, sit outside the shop for about half an hour waiting for the bus. Fast forward to two hours into the bus ride went to my back pack to check the photos I have taken so far on my trip and no camera, though it might have fallen and is on the bus’ floor. Look under the sit, look everywhere and nothing. Start thinking and remembered that I never grab my camera again from the shop counter. :weary: At least it was a small mirrorless not expensive but I was a bummer that I had lost all the photos up to that moment in the trip.

I’ve got one that still bothers me even today and it occurred in 1997 whilst I was travelling around the world for 18 months. I was in Zanzibar with a Contax ST a couple of Carl Zeiss lenses and of course Fuji Velvia film photographing these outrigger boats in a turquoise sea and surrounded by palm trees and snow white sand as fine as custard powder. (see below), Idyllic it was and pretty hot in the afternoon sun.

The scene in front of me was crazy gorgeous and film was passing through my camera so fast the frictional forces were probably generating as much heat as that sunshine and it was about to get better still. Out of nowhere one of those instant weather changes turned on a sixpence and black cloud motored in, the wind got up to gale force and a deluge of biblical severity fell. Lightning flashed, everyone ran for cover and we took refuge under some palm trees, to my utter astonishment a funnel cloud dropped and there in front of me was something I have never seen, a waterspout. Needless to say I kept shooting and duly reached the end of the 36 exposure roll.

Then I did something I have never done before, I opened the camera back to take the film out but of course I didn’t wind it back.

For a few seconds I stared in disbelief at my ruined record of epic events before slamming the camera back shut again. More than a few expletives were uttered I can assure you. I wound the film back in the camera, marked the film cannister “epic fail” and loaded a new roll.

That squall passed almost as quickly as it arrived, the regret lingered and by the time I was back in the water with the outriggers the sky was as blue as ever, but the transformation to the sea was surreal, that squall had stirred up the fine sand and turned the formerly turquoise sea into milk upon which the outriggers now floated. Every single outrigger I had thus far seen had a white sail furled or unfurled. I could not believe my luck when I looked up and there in front of me was a small red sailed dhow passing through. I was burning film again and duly reached the end of my 36 exposure roll and you guessed it I did exactly the same damn thing again and was left staring transfixed at yet another ruined film. I slammed the camera back shut, cursed far too loudly then solemnly packed my camera away and walked back to a large palm tree and sat there wordlessly drinking liters of ice cold water and coconut juice which one of the locals climbed up the tree for. I can only assume the heat (sunstroke) had got to me and my mental faculties had become impaired. I certainly felt very rough that evening.

The picture you see below is quite literally the only one not ruined from that day. It was the runner up in the annual Wanderlust competition but was adopted by Wanderlust as their advertising image appearing on bill boards in London and all over the underground system with the title “Wish you were here”, the irony was not lost on me and I probably earned more from that image than the eventual winner received due to its marketability.

Not charging the batteries before a 3 hour drive, forgot the tripod on the beach, leave the scene too early and watch the sunset blow up in the rear view mirror. All painful!

Biggest mistake we made was in Grand Teton NP. We returned to the visitor center after a hike. We opened the car doors and hatch and placed our gear in to then leave to go to the rest rooms. Upon returning we discovered the doors were closed, but the hatch wide open with all our gear exposed. although we were gone about 15 minutes there was nothing disturbed or missing! Shows you most people are honest. However, we will NEVER do that again.