Murphy’s Laws of Photography

Jul 8, 2014

Jeff Guyer

Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class three years ago, where rumor has it he learns more from the kids than they learn from him. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter, or check out his work at Guyer Photography.

Murphy’s Laws of Photography

Jul 8, 2014

Jeff Guyer

Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class three years ago, where rumor has it he learns more from the kids than they learn from him. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter, or check out his work at Guyer Photography.

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Murphy’s Law: The inexplicable phenomenon of a fickle, spiteful universe which ensures that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Let’s also not forget its well-known corollary: The higher the stakes, the greater the fall. Nobody seems to have a truly definitive handle on the history of the term, although its sentiment was expressed in print long before Murphy’s name was attached to it some time around 1952. What I think we can all agree on, though, is that when Murphy comes for you you’re screwed. Plain and simple.

Yeah…I’m in that kind of mood.

The universe seems to be taking more than its fair share of bites out of my backside these days, to the extent that I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Murphy is giving the rest of the world a short break for the summer. Either way, you’ll often find him lurking around the outer fringe of your photo shoots, quietly laying the groundwork for his mayhem. You can’t stop him from showing up, but knowing he’s there may be enough to help make sure you’re prepared for when he decides it’s time to firmly plant himself right smack in the middle of your best laid plans.

Murphy’s Laws of Photography– My Non-Exhaustive List.

1. If the test shots go perfectly, the real shoot will be a disaster.

2. The greater your excitement about a shoot, the greater the chance that something will go exceptionally wrong.

3. Success happens quietly when nobody is looking. Failure blasts the door off its hinges when the client is watching.

4. You really only need a tripod when you don’t have one with you.

5. The smoother the shoot goes, the greater likelihood that the card will be lost, corrupted, or stolen by werewolves.

6. The best photo ops of animals and children only happen when two very specific cosmic conditions are met– they’re ready and you’re not.

7. Perfect weather lasts only as long as it takes for you to set up the shot.

8. Perfect weather will return as soon as you finish packing up your gear and drive away.

9. The one thing you absolutely, positively MUST have on your shoot will be the one thing you either forgot to bring or is in short supply (e.g., batteries, memory cards, the aforementioned tripod, etc.).

10. The lens you drop will always be the one you could only afford because you stopped eating for six or eight months.

11. You will never drop this lens on a soft, pillowy surface.

12. Long-life batteries actually laugh at you when they run out. Seriously.

13. The one time you leave the camera at home will definitely be the time you miss the shot of a lifetime. Bringing the camera with you will ensure that nothing happens.

14. The lens currently attached to your camera will never be the lens you need for the first shot.

15. If you are the passenger in a plane, train, bus, truck, automobile, or any other mode of transport, the most stunning scene you’ve ever witnessed in your life will be on the other side.

16. You spent weeks, months, years– maybe even decades– searching the world and your soul for the perfect expression of your photographic vision. You practiced. You studied. You tried, failed, and tried again. You found a mentor. You honed your craft. You allowed your camera to become a true extension of both your body and your mind. The guy who just beat you in a photo contest did it in three seconds with his iPhone.

Am I exaggerating? Perhaps, but just a little. Regardless of whether it’s just you and your camera exploring the great outdoors, or a massive commercial shoot with a huge crew, Mr. Murphy is out there somewhere, biding his time, waiting for just the right moment to throw his gasoline on your open flame. Knowing he’s stalking you is more than half the battle. When he sees you’re ready for him he might just do you a favor and swing by my house instead. Again.

Got anything to add to our list? Leave it in the comments and share your experiences.

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Jeff Guyer

Jeff Guyer

Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class three years ago, where rumor has it he learns more from the kids than they learn from him. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter, or check out his work at Guyer Photography.

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40 responses to “Murphy’s Laws of Photography”

  1. Jim Campbell Avatar
    Jim Campbell

    . 14a The correct filter will always be on the wrong lens.

    1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      Jeffrey Guyer

      You are so right, Jim.

    2. ChshreCat Avatar

      Or the lens you want to use and the filter you want to use will be different sizes… and you don’t have a step up ring.

  2. Matthijs Molenaar Avatar
    Matthijs Molenaar

    What a sour write-up.

    1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      Jeffrey Guyer

      Life as a photographer isn’t always rainbows and ice cream. Sometimes it’s sour. Just calling it like I see it.

    2. Jim Johnson Avatar
      Jim Johnson

      Really? I see it more as gallows humor— coping with the inevitable trials of everyday life by laughing at them. There is nothing sour in that.

      Try reading it as if the author is laughing the whole time.

      1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
        Jeffrey Guyer

        If interrogated by professionals, I MIGHT confess to a 90/10 split between sarcasm/sour when I wrote it.

        Laughing almost the whole time. :)

  3. Nga Avatar

    I can see 16 memes here :)

    1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      Jeffrey Guyer

      I was thinking more along the lines of a t-shirt, but whatever works. :)

      1. darylcheshire Avatar

        Maybe a black t-shirt with small white lettering saying “I forgot the flash”

        1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
          Jeffrey Guyer


  4. Martin Walker Avatar
    Martin Walker

    love it. That’s why I don’t weddings. #Bridezilla But love events, property shots & doing #photography for me. #LessStress

  5. Phil Taylor Avatar
    Phil Taylor

    Gavan Mitchell Uni..

  6. Gavan Mitchell Avatar
    Gavan Mitchell

    Haha! #4.

    This guy seems especially unlucky though.

  7. Just Me Avatar
    Just Me

    Sounds like a glass half empty list to me… :)

    1. docholliday666 Avatar

      Nah, the glass was just twice as big as it needed to be…damn pessimists.

      1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
        Jeffrey Guyer

        Nice. :)

  8. Tom Stock Avatar
    Tom Stock

    Nice humorous view of the reality of photography! In the film days I would have added that the perfect shot occurs while loading the next roll of film.

    1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      Jeffrey Guyer

      Every time!

    2. BLSS Avatar

      Now-a-days its the replacement of the SD card….Grrrrrr. :-)

    3. darylcheshire Avatar

      On two occasions I didn’t thread the film onto the spool on the other side. You have a suspicion when the counter goes to 38 and there is no resistance when you rewind the film.
      Also do you rethread it and risk double exposing twice as many frames or do you send off an unexposed roll for development?
      I told someone at the time that if you suspect it was not threaded into the winder spool then it’s probably true.

      1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
        Jeffrey Guyer

        That happened to me the first time I shot with this. The film load differently than in a typical 35mm camera. Thankfully, it wasn’t anything too important.

      2. Avril Avatar

        Don’t remind me! I hadn’t used my Pentax ME Super for a while as it needed a service. Then I took it to Goodwood Festival of Speed, a major petrol head event on the UK calendar. I clicked to capture Jenson Button with his arm around my daughter. After a couple of dozen more shots around the event I realised I must have gone way past 36 – but the indicator was still around 12. Sure enough, I’d failed to push the tab far enough into the grippy ‘spokes’ and the film was not loaded. Have I been forgiven? 13 years on, maybe? Have I hell! Not by daughter or myself. Jenson is a very nice guy, by the way.

  9. Gary Weightman Avatar
    Gary Weightman

    The one shot any Client asks for is the one that you aren’t completely happy with

    1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      Jeffrey Guyer

      That one is definitely a common occurrence.

    2. Jim Johnson Avatar
      Jim Johnson

      Oh, dear God. That is so true. How many times have I included the shot they asked for knowing that it is a terrible photo, only to have the client choose that one as the “Hero” shot of the whole event.

      1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
        Jeffrey Guyer

        Just remember– regardless of what the client says, friends do not let friends do selective color. :)

        1. Jim Johnson Avatar
          Jim Johnson

          I think that’s a basic human right… you shouldn’t inflict that even on your worst enemy.

    3. ricardipus Avatar

      Corollary – your pick as the killer shot of the event is guaranteed to be the one the client says “meh” to.

      Not saying how I know this.

      1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
        Jeffrey Guyer

        I once used what I thought was the most amazing shot of the entire wedding as a custom canvas cover to the album, thinking the client would be blown away by the major upgrade. She HATED it.

    4. darylcheshire Avatar

      I’m not a professional but I’ve had people appreciate poorly exposed or blurry photos because of the people element. The technical expertise takes a back seat.

  10. Andy Avatar

    Forget your memory card. Make a point to remember your memory cards next shoot. Instead leave battery in charger :'(

    1. Shifty303 Avatar

      haha! I’ve done this and it’s horrible. You can easily buy another memory card these days but batteries are hard to come by.

    2. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      Jeffrey Guyer

      A few years ago, after upgrading all of my memory cards, I put 2 or 3 of the older cards in my glove compartment as a “just in case” precaution.

  11. ricardipus Avatar

    Let’s add tripod quick release plates to that list of memory cards, batteries, etc. Frequently found attached to the camera you left at home… in my experience anyway.

    Whoops, said too much.

  12. darylcheshire Avatar

    I remember an ad on TV where this lady has a hovering flying saucer in a viewfinder and she says (plaintively) “I’m out of film!”

  13. RabtheCab Avatar

    ricardipus I definitely know that feeling! :)

    Ol’ Murphy seems to be in cahoots with Mother Nature – for 3 weeks when I went out shooting I took a jacket, and every day the sun blazed down. Sunday I think “Might as well leave the coat at home, it looks lovely out there.” Naturally the rain came down in buckets.

    Cut to Monday, left the coat at home again; I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks :)

    1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      Jeffrey Guyer

      I believe scientists refer to that as The Umbrella Principle.

  14. Amaryllis Avatar

    Totally agree with all of these, and 4, 13, 15 and 16 actually always happen to me >.< I always being my camera with me; nothing ever happens. Oh, but I forgot it once! And a once-in-a-lifetime event happened. I bring my tripod with me? I don't need it. But the other day I went for a few shots near a river; of course, I forgot to bring the tripod that would've let me do long exposures.

    I definitely want a tee-shirt with those laws.

  15. Spamspam Gringo Avatar
    Spamspam Gringo

    Number 16 resonated with me very well. Although I was 17 and by no means an Ansel Adams, I generally believed that and my peers would agree that I was the best photographer or among the best in my high school photo class. Towards the end of the semester, our school had an art expo in which judges ranked the art work and ribbons were awarded.

    After the judging was done, I found my work had gotten second place. I was mildly disappointed, but thought that maybe the award winner was some amazing prodigy in a different class that I could learn from. When I found the first place image, it turned out to be a borderline plagiaristic picture by a person who didn’t know much about photography and skipped class a lot. The picture was a quick black and white conversion of a public art installation with a dull camera angle and ho hum urban background.