Could This Disaster At My Very Important Photo Shoot Have Been Avoided?

If you have read and watched my Go Pro: Studio Beauty vide course you already know that my approach is to prepare for my shoots to the fullest. It’s obvious that the more you’re prepared the better your chances at keeping everything under control on the day. But can all disasters be avoided?

I have just photographed my biggest to date skincare campaign this past weekend and what happened to us in the middle of this intense project could have ruined it. Fortunately, everything turned out better than I could have imagined, but that was pure luck. I want to share this with you, so that you remember my nearly-fatal-failure and never underestimate the importance of a backup plan.

We were preparing for this shoot for weeks.

The client – a Sephora skincare brand – provided us with a very detailed shot-list and made their final model selection through one of my favorite Los Angeles-based agencies Osbrink Models. However, among the 6 models that we needed for the campaign there were two that I have previously worked with directly (not through an agency), and one of them was specifically selected by the client because we had shot with her for them before and they loved those images and wanted to make her their new face.

The week leading to the shoot was all about providing the models and team members with the call sheets, shot-lists, moodboards with reference imagery and requirements that I had been putting together during the previous weeks along with the client.

I made sure the agency passed all of that to each model. I also added my notes and highlighted them in the call sheets:Master_Beauty_notes

I also texted each model including the non-agency models myself to confirm they had everything two days before the shoot. I literally confirmed every single detail with every single person involved in this project multiple times – you can never be too prepared for an important shoot.

The President and CEO along with the Content Director of the company flew in from Miami for our 2-day intense photo shoot and they were very much looking forward to meeting and discussing this great opportunity with the model who they chose to make the new face of the brand. Her slot was in the morning of the second day of the shoot.

Day 1 went great and while it was very intense, we got everything done in the best possible way. Every one left the studio exhausted but inspired by our success and we were all looking forward to Day 2 as it was supposed to be even more challenging according to our plans.

We started the morning of Day 2 with a recap and introduction to the updated final shot-list for the day and while I was discussing the details with the client, my team members politely interrupted us suggesting that our first model – the model who was supposed to become the new face of the brand – is running late. I glanced at the time on my phone and she was already 40 minutes late. My heart sank.

From that moment on, I felt as if I was sleeping and it was a nightmare from which I couldn’t wake up.

I frantically dialed her number and got a voice mail message. I dialed her again and again – no luck. I knew I had exchanged text messages with her 20 times during the upcoming week, so there’s no chance that she could have forgotten about our shoot or her call time.

I texted her – no response. I called her again and again.

And again.


The President of the company had cancelled a business meeting and skipped breakfast that morning to make sure he was at the studio to meet this model and discuss the potential future partnership with her, and now he was getting a little irritated with her being an hour late.

What happened next had put me into a complete shock and despair.

While I continued dialing her number, leaving voice mail messages and texting, hoping that nothing terrible had happened to her on the way. Maybe she just overslept a little and was rushing to the studio now and her phone was in her purse; or maybe she was just driving so she wouldn’t answer her phone, but she might if I she saw 10 missed phone calls from me.

My Makeup artist and her assistant came back to us and suggested we should not expect her to show up today at all. And then they showed me the model’s Snapchat posts.

It felt as if I was watching a video recording of a crime being committed: 8pm – she’s out for dinner (it’s Ok, totally normal), 9pm – there are some drinks involved (not ideal, considering we’re shooting skincare today, but moderation is key), 10pm – some night club and dancing (ok, there’s still hope), midnight – she is still out and it looks like it’s getting wild (oh no….), 12:30am – she is still out and obviously not sober (oh no no no…), 1am – a slightly indecent bathroom selfie (…), 2am – she is still posting and the captions are straight up dirty…. No hope.

I am getting nervous as I am writing this, even though I know that everything worked out fine in the end. But this kind of utterly unprofessional, careless, unreliable, irresponsible act absolutely blows my mind.

Once we saw that we quickly realized that even if she did wake up now and showed up later for the shoot, she would be too hungover to do her job well, and we would have to deal with her dehydrated skin and puffy eyes.

The client was very disappointed and I sadly almost accepted the fact that they would never want to deal with me and my team again. I felt this huge failure was on me. Not only we needed this model for specific shots for specific product lines, we also needed a 3-model shot later that day and that very shot had determined the schedule of the entire project. That was not happening without the third model.

Luckily, I have been testing a lot in Los Angeles throughout the past year and we quickly went through my Instagram and picked a couple of models who would be an appropriate replacement. I texted and called them and we had an even more beautiful model in our studio 15 minutes later. Yes it was very lucky for us and it could have ended up much worse.

Happy team after the shoot

Happy team after the shoot

Now that this disaster is behind us, I am trying to break it down and see how I can prevent such things in the future. I don’t care that she blew her chances at becoming the face of a Sephora brand and everything that would come out of that in the future – it was her own choice. But she also willingly jeopardized our relationships with the company that entrusted this project to us – me and my team. Things could have turned out so much worse.

So, could have this been avoided? I don’t think so:

  • I did do everything in my power to keep all models updated with all of the details they needed to know about the upcoming shoot
  • Ideally, I wouldn’t book a non-agency model for an important shoot, but this model was specifically requested by the client based on our previous images
  • Even if she was booked through an agency, I don’t think it would stop her from doing what she did, so that doesn’t really make much difference in this case

But what I didn’t do and that could be crucial if we didn’t get so lucky with the replacement model that fit the project so well and was only 15 minutes away from the studio in a huge city like Los Angeles – I did not have a backup plan.

I relied too much on my team, and while I was sure nobody from my creative team or the tested agency models would have done anything like this, there’s always a possibility of a car breaking down, a sudden sickness or something else that may leave you with a missing team member or a model on the day of an important shoot.

Expect the best, but prepare for the worst“.

It makes total sense to have a backup for everyone on your team for the day of an important shoot. Connect with potential replacement talent and make sure they are in a standby mode for the morning of the shoot. Release them as you confirm that everyone showed up.

I know I will now. I have learned it the hard way, and wanted to share it with you, so you can learn from my mistake.


P.S. Once we got the replacement model in, I texted the unreliable model and told her not to worry about it, we saw her Snapchat. When she woke up later that day, she had the nerve to text me and lie that her alarm didn’t go off that morning, that she went to bed at midnight and had plenty of time to sleep. Then she deleted her Snapchat account. I’m guessing, she had not remembered that she kept posting her adventures all night while intoxicated and we actually got to see all of that. The moral of the story, don’t leave your creative career destiny in the hands of flaky liars who don’t care of their future as much as you care about yours – have a backup plan!

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Showing 13 comments
  • Lorenzo

    I deal with this all the time when it comes to models. They have this feeling irreplacability in their mentalities & they’re so nonchalant about how what they do can effect other people. I’ve probably seen more cancellations from models than anything else. Nothing you could’ve done. Great professionalism on your part. She’ll realize the opportunity she passed up due to her abrasiveness.

    • Julia Kuzmenko McKim

      I am happy to say that I have met very very few of those here in Los Angeles, because most of the models are making a living through their modeling, so they take it very seriously. It’s probably just a bad apple, but she definitely made me appreciate all my good girls so much more. We all ended up having an amazing time, the client are real good people and now one of my favorite models has got a chance to be the face of the brand 🙂

      • Lorenzo

        Everything happens for a reason. The original girl squandered her opportunity that was planned for her & the right person came at a moments notice & seized it. Definitely happy for her. & yeah there are more bad apples here in Miami. I had better experiences in LA so I know you’d lose your mind in South Florida. Lol congrats on the successful shoot though. Looked like a lot of great energy! & also thanks for your amazing tutorials.

        • Julia Kuzmenko McKim

          Thank you so much Lorenzo, and yes, flaky talent is the worst nightmare for a photographer!

          Interesting almost unrelated fact: as the new girl was getting prepped, she told us she saw me in her dream that night and we had not communicated in any way since January this year. So the Universe started rolling out its new plan right about then 😉

  • Dawid Imach

    Wow you were so lucky that your friend model was so close to the studio. It could turn out really bad.

    Anyway congrats on the happy ending:)

    • Julia Kuzmenko McKim

      Thank you Dawid, and yes, it was meant to be – I was preparing model releases last night and realized this new girl actually lives on the same street. That and the fact that she fit our concept and was at home with no plans for Sunday afternoon makes me believe this is how it was supposed to be anyway 🙂

  • Rajesh Taylor

    I’m glad you found a solution quickly on the day. I was thinking through other options that could be applied to give more robustness while planning your shoots.

    1: Not use unrepresented models unless the Client agrees to handle them with their own agreement (if they want the model).

    2: If the shoot is not in a major city like LA only go with agency represented models. Its great you have built up a real life (physical) network of people in your industry. Most togs just seem to use forums these days. Even bring up the cost for an extra model for just in case purposes with the client during prep too.

    3: De-brief models/team after Day 1. This may not have got the Snapchat Princess to make it on Day 2 but you have then made crystal clear (and in front of the client) the objectives for the next day.

    I love these kind of articles. Every time a plane crashes, the lessons learned makes the next one less likely.

    And lol at “I texted …an even more beautiful model in our studio 15 minutes later.”

    • Julia Kuzmenko McKim

      Thanks so much for adding these Rajesh! I totally agree with you. In our case we had different girls both days, and, seriously, I couldn’t be more clear and hands-on with all of the models, both represented and not, she in fact was the one who was in contact with me via text messages more than any other girls from this project. I understand that she didn’t plot to set me up like this, but she also didn’t care that she screwed all of us over like this either. I mean, I was young and careless once too, and I know how one drink can turn into one too many, but I wouldn’t start drinking at all if I knew I can’t stop before it’s too late. This makes me believe that the fact that I didn’t book her through an agency didn’t have any affect on her – she would have done the same thing if she was booked through her agent. Thus, a backup plan for situations when things are completely out of our hands must be present at all times when stakes are so high.

  • ken

    Sounds like fate led you to the girl down the street and she got her big chance.
    It’s too bad you couldn’t just shoot an extra model just in case, but I guess that’d be disappointing for the model if the client decided not to use her?

  • ken

    Sounds like fate led you to the girl down the street and she got her big chance.
    It’s too bad you couldn’t just shoot an extra model just in case, but I guess that’d be disappointing for the model if the client decided not to use her?

    p.s., hope the party girl sees this blog entry 😉

  • Daniel Ferenczi

    Oh, it happened so many times with me… I thought it can only happen with me but now I see stupid liar models can also show up in the professional area.

  • Wadha

    Oh my god, this is a total disaster!
    I did face that issue once, but the problem was that there wasn’t a replacement model. In a country like Kuwait, when there are no model agencies, we get to book them from agencies in Dubai. There isn’t much of a chance to have a backup model. If the shoot is screwed, then it is totally screwed. You guys were so lucky on that day.

  • Bill Bert

    Thanks for sharing your story and I am happy it worked out for you.

    I find it important not to read only articles that are about when things work out and the photoshoot was great. But read about when things go wrong and how the photographer adjusted/resolve the problem to save photo shoot. I shared your article with a few photographers so they can learn to have a backup plan.

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