A Photographer’s Worst Nightmare


Shawna Rodgers, Staff Writer

Earlier this week, I experienced one of every photographer’s worst nightmares – I had no empty memory cards, and the ceremony was in 20 minutes.
The wedding day started smoothly enough, as I began photographing the bride’s details in her hotel room at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. We had plenty of time, and were keeping things light and easy. The groom was to meet us at the hotel at 7:30 a.m. for photos before we would all head over to the architecturally breathtaking San Francisco City Hall. It was all set to be a simple, intimate ceremony, with the couple getting married promptly at 9 a.m.
7:45 a.m. came and went, and the groom was running late to the hotel. When he finally arrived, we rushed to make the most of our time, taking first look photos, and photos around the hotel. We had to ultimately scrap two of our intended locations, to ensure we had ample time for pre-ceremony pictures before the crowds filled City Hall.
Arriving at City Hall, we began taking photos at the base of the remarkable ornate Grand Staircase, making the most of the location by trying different angles and perspectives. I decided to get an overhead shot of the couple descending the staircase and ran up the steps to find my angle from a balcony above. I framed my shot and directed the couple to walk slowly and pause at the end of the stairs.
I looked through the viewfinder, adjusted my focus, and pressed the shutter button, but to my confusion, my press wasn’t met with the usual satisfying click. Confused, I instinctively tried again without even registering the error message that flashed on my electronic viewfinder screen. “No space on the memory card.”
“No worries,” I thought, as I put down my camera backpack, and told the couple below to hold on for just a moment while I put a new card in. Squatting down next to my backpack, I searched each pocket, every zipper, every compartment, looking and feeling for my memory card case.
I felt sick to my stomach, my pulse quickened.
“Oh my god. I forgot the cards….”
Dread overcame me. In the morning rush, I had left my memory card case back at the hotel.
I very rarely, if ever, forget anything on wedding days — especially not things this important.
Rapid-fire, my brain went through all possible solutions.
“Can I delete some photos from this card? Maybe, but likely not enough, and sifting through them would take too long anyhow.”
It was 8:30 a.m.
“Could I run back to the hotel? No way, I would never return in time for the ceremony.”
Usually, when I photograph weddings, I have an assistant, who would typically be the person I would send to get my memory cards or go buy new ones, but this wedding was a small family ceremony for a friend of mine, and I had flown out alone. I took a deep breath, and waved over the balcony to signal to the couple below that I would be coming down. I hurried down the Grand Staircase feeling the stress swell with each step.
Yes, the bride was my friend, but it was still her wedding day, and the ceremony was happening in 30 minutes. This was City Hall, and they needed to be on time for their appointment, with or without a photographer.
As calmly as possible, I quickly explained the situation and apologized profusely. They reassured me and helped me find somewhere nearby to buy memory cards that would be open before 9 a.m.
Four blocks down and six minutes away, I found my savior – the Walgreens on Market Street.
It was the only open option.
With my 20+ pound camera bag on my back, I ran from corner to corner, checking my watch at each pause. Finally arriving at Walgreens, I did a lap of the store before realizing the cards were kept behind the counter. With the security guard eyeing my frantic movements, I rushed to ask the clerk for two of the largest, fastest memory cards possible. The delightfully sweet and unhurried woman proceeded to take her time telling me their options.
“128GB, 100mb/s works just fine, please, thank you. I’ll take two,” I stated, trying my hardest not to rush her rudely.
Politely she informed me that I could save $30 if I signed up or entered my Walgreens card. I swallowed the “I don’t care, I’m in a rush!” that so badly wanted to come out and offered a firm but kind “No, thank you, I’m in a hurry, so no bag is fine as well.”
Feeling finally free to move at the pace my body and brain were pressuring me to, I booked my way back to City Hall, out of breath and almost out of time, ripping the memory cards out of their packaging along the way.
I looked at my watch incredulously: 8:50 a.m.
I did it. We made it. I took a deep breath, loaded my beautiful brand-new memory cards into my camera, and proceeded to meet the couple and their families down near the county clerk’s office. They greeted me happily, thankful that I was okay, and that everything would work out. And work out it did. We were able to get some of the most incredible photos of the ceremony, and the family and couple throughout City Hall, with its stunning features. We were even able to get the shot of the couple descending the Grand Staircase.
The day was saved, and I will never ever again forget to double-check if I have my memory cards on hand. If the first card had gotten full later in the morning, leaving me no time to run to find another, or if there had been no open stores nearby, I genuinely don’t know what I would have been able to do. I am thankful to have learned my lesson this way, this time around.
I am also so thankful that the bride was a kind, understanding friend, as this situation with a more challenging, unfamiliar client could have disastrous.
The moral of the story – make sure to triple check that you have your memory cards, or at the very least know of every possible Walgreens in a 10-minute radius…