The Insurance Shot

It is long past due I get back to writing here more frequently. I have a list of photo tips that should serve to keep me writing at regularly scheduled intervals. Let’s start with the insurance shot.

In my job there have been plenty of situations where something has gone wrong.
• I arrived to an event expecting lighting enough to use one lens, but the lights are far dimmer.
• I excitedly have been shooting some spur of the moment occasion and haven’t taken time to check that the photos have been turning out.
• In the middle of an event I put my camera back into the bag, only to take it out again and I didn’t realize the settings got switched in the case.
• Someone is photobombing in all my photos with inappropriate hand gestures.
• You decided to allow your subject to send you a photo to print, but they never did.
• Your equipment fails after the first few seconds of shooting.
• There is simply nothing going on where the event is or your subject is just not photogenic.

Honestly, the possibilities are endless. Even if we plan carefully, anything could happen that makes it so our photos don’t turn out picture perfect like we had hoped. Often it is the fault of us overreaching with the subject, or our equipment. We expected to be able to do something creative but it was too ambitious and the photo doesn’t work out after all.

The great thing is that these events leave us more experienced. It is due to these experiences that we become better photographers, but for this week’s paper, what do we do if we need that shot that didn’t turn out?

I’ve taken to always getting an insurance shot. What is an insurance shot?

Well, an insurance shot is a fairly basic shot you take that guarantees even if the shots you are most excited about don’t turn out, you still have something to use. Insurance shots should:

  1. Be taken as early as possible during the event. If your battery or other equipment fails partway through the event, you will know that the photo you took early on is on your card. You are not empty handed.
  2. Be simple enough to guarantee. Complex shots have backlash, especially if you have never done them before. Taking an insurance shot using a tried-and-true method guarantees that everything should turn out.
  3. Be creative enough to not be totally boring. Sure, insurance shots are rarely award winners, but they don’t have to be boring. Use your past experience to make these photos at least worth your time. Do you know how to use flash outdoors in full sun to make your subject pop? Do you know how to flatter your subject in even a posed portrait shot? Can you use your angle and location to emphasize the reason you are photographing who/what you are photographing? Think of the times where you weren’t rushed and managed to get a photo because you were able to work with your situation. If you have been doing photos more than half a year at the newspaper, you know a few tricks to make a photo pop, even just a little. Use those.
  4. Not be too rushed. Insurance photos are usually most important in situations where you are about to be rushed and don’t have the convenience of making sure everything is perfect for every subsequent shot. Say you are at a homecoming coronation. If you know it might be hard to get a good shot during the coronation due to low light or some other difficulty, show up early and get a photo of the court before the coronation even starts, or even organize a photo a day or more in advance. Planning is as important for an insurance shot as it is for any other situation. Don’t procrastinate.
  5. Fudge the rules a bit. It’s true that in many situations a photographer would prefer a candid shot over a posed one, but sometimes that isn’t realistic. Be willing in most tricky cases to do at least one generic posed shot, then try to do better after that. If you get phenomenal candid shots, nobody will blame you for having one posed shot on your camera that never gets used. However, if you are on assignment and the assignment is “get photo of….” then you better have something, even if it is posed.
  6. Use flash if needed. In many events, flash is frowned upon. Sometimes you will get no forgiveness for explaining that their lighting made good photos impossible. A posed photo outside of the main event allows you the latitude to use flash if necessary. You aren’t interfering with anyone else’s enjoyment.
  7. Set a goal. All subsequent shots after the insurance shots are aiming to be better than the insurance shot. Your posed shot should not be the best photo of the day unless you run into one of the problems listed earlier on. If your insurance shot runs in the paper, either one of those disasters is to blame, or you didn’t beat the insurance shot. Try to challenge yourself to get something better at every event.


Am I missing anything? I feel like I am. Feel free to add to this in the comment section and tune in for the next installment in photo advice on getting high (not like that!).

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