I want to start this off with making it clear that this shoot wasn't bad in any part due to the model. It was actually her patience, skill, and enthusiasm that made coming anyway with anything from this shoot possible. The sole originator or source of any and all issues was myself. With that clear, let's begin with the story of my worst shoot ever. The idea for this shoot was simple, use Christmas lights to create an interesting background and foreground to put a model in. Cool bokeh + pretty model = Success! That's about as complex as my thinking was for the shoot and, as far as ideas go, that's really as difficult as I thought it needed to be. Execution on the other hand apparently needed an entire dissertation in order to work.
Christmas lights. If you're used to dealing with these every year than you know where this is headed. There was the usual issue of tangling, strands not fully lite, and just general lack of cooperation on their part. I detangled the strands and ensured they all were working correctly before the shoot which means they still managed to tangle themselves and some of the strands now mysteriously had portions out when I began setting them up. What I didn't count on was not having enough lights as I had well over 100ft of lights which seemed plenty until I began trying to create a background and foreground. After the first couple of attempts I realized I had greatly underestimated the amount of lights I would need. I abandoned having any in the foreground and still felt the lights were too sparse in the background to give me the visual interest I wanted.
There's two routes I could have gone in correcting the lights issue. First, was just bringing more lights. I should have brought double or even quadruple the amount of lights I did but this would also double or quadruple the time spent hanging/fighting these lights (more on that later). Second and the solution I went with, layering multiple shots together in post. This is the approach I should have taken from the very beginning. Sure it requires a bit more time in post but reduces the time and hassle in hanging and dealing with Christmas lights on set.
Christmas lights. Seriously, @*$! these lights. Hanging the lights and structuring them in a way to get an interesting foreground and background is part of the planning I thought I had down. My initial thought was using three light stands in a triangle formation with the model in the middle of the triangle. With the light stand behind the model lower than the front two to fill the entirety of my frame with lights. My folly was thinking the lights would in any way agree to this plan. With light stands in place, sand bagged for support, and spring clamps for days I began stringing the lights along the stands and then restrung the lights along the stands and then again restrung the lights along the stands. Spring clamps be damned the lights would fall, sag indiscriminately, make remarks about my mother, and any tightening or straightening of the lights threatened to topple the sandbagged light stands. It was at this point I moved the lights and stands aside and shot a few portraits of the model to stop from losing my shit.
Don't work with Christmas lights? Honestly, I'm not sure what a solution would be without using 3 massive C Stands and a whole roll of gaffers tape to ensure everything was near permanent in placement. Actually, I suppose that is the solution. C Stands and rolls of gaffers tape.
These two problems, although important, really stem from a lack of proper planning on my part. Yes the Christmas lights were aggravating and weren't cooperating but ultimately I should have tested the setup first and found solutions to these issues long before the shoot. It was unprofessional and, honestly, rude for me to have the model wait while I fought with these lights and there's no excuse for that. Before this I had multiple shots that went spectacularly so hubris got in the way of me considering the plan I had in my head wouldn't hit any hiccups. Finding solutions to problems on set is a great skill to have and one I think I do well with but this should work in conjunction with, and not in place of, proper planning and testing.