Blowing It On My First Gig

I get asked a lot if I can remember what my first big gig was as a fashion photographer. And yes, I remember it very well. I was in my last trimester at Art Center in 1986. I was 23 years old with an ego the size of Texas. You know how it goes, you’re in your final year of college and all your classmates are starting to throw that confidence around so you join in and throw it bigger cuz you know you’re gonna’ be a star.

One of my best friends from High School was working as an assistant to the head of advertising for the LA Weekly, which had just started a monthly fashion magazine called LA Style. They had a jeans company that wanted to advertise but didn’t have any images to advertise with. So my friend referred them to me and I booked the job. It was super easy and the ease of it boosted my ego even further. But wait….there’s more!

The jeans line was called Paris Blues. They wanted me to shoot a brunette model sitting on a moped. Easy! I had a pretty large studio in the Brewery in Downtown LA at that time so we could bring in the moped and the backdrop and we could execute that kind of shot without much headache. I booked the girl, I’m sorry, I don’t remember her name or what agency she was with but she was really pretty and easy-going. I booked hair and make up and we set the date to shoot the job.

The shoot went really smoothly. This was back in the film era (whoa, I know, crazy right?) and I remember I shot it with my Nikon F3 because I remember buying the F4 in 1990, so yeah, it had to have been an F3. God I loved that camera! Big heavy motor drive attached to the bottom, the thing was like handling a 357 Magnum! I was using a lot of strobes back then, as I was already three years into learning advanced studio and location lighting with it! I had these really heavy Speedotrons, I remember. Huge heavy 2401 Packs. So I used those to light this particular job. I had a polaroid back so once we got our lighting all set up and the client approved my polaroids, we shot the job.

Everything was great, everyone was happy and I thought I killed it! I got paid a nice enough fee ($1,500 for the day, without an agent helping me with estimates or creative fees, it wasn’t too bad for my first gig), we had fun on the shoot and everything looked amazing while I was shooting.

I had this buzzing feeling all the way until I went to pick up the 20 rolls at the lab.

I pulled out the proof sheets and the first two were great! The last 18 of them however had a black line over every image and her head was missing.

For some odd reason, some inexplicable ridiculously dumb reason, after the second roll of film I changed my shutter speed from 1/60th to 1/125th. Why?? To this day I can’t tell you whether I accidentally hit it with my index finger because the shutter speed dial was on the top of the camera near the release button or if I did it on purpose because I wasn’t thinking clearly. Maybe I was so nervous because it was my first gig and the client was on set and I wanted to make a good impression, like I knew everything and had everything in control. I seriously cannot tell you what was going on in my head to make me do such a dumb thing. But I did it! And on a job!! On my FIRST job!!!

I called my friend and told her what happened. I told her I’d reshoot all of it for free. I got the model, hair and make up back to the studio and we re-shot the whole thing -moped included. I watched my shutter speed dial on the top of camera the entire time, like a hawk perched on a tree looking for prey. I was obsessed to not make that same mistake again.

Long story short, the second shoot came back looking fab and the client was unaware of any of this mishap. I learned a really valuable lesson that day. I check my f-stops and shutter speeds consistently now, even after 27 years! Hahaha! Even shooting digital, which is so EASY to see your mistakes as you’re going, I STILL check my f-stops and shutter speed! And my ego was reduced just a smidge from the size of Texas to maybe the size of Oregon.

Lesson learned!!

Melissa Rodwelltodo