Tips on Planning Your Next Photo Shoot

Many of those in our profession are attracted by the instant gratification of shooting something cool, the (seemingly) flexible schedules and the ability to (I hate this phrase) "be your own boss." The common thread here is the sense of independence that photography offers. You're a lone wolf. Have camera, will travel. Sometimes. I'm here to tell you that, more often than not, that's not the case - especially if you're making a living with your camera. You can’t half-ass this stuff. This is important. This means something. So, when you’re putting together a shoot, you’d better have a plan. Here are a few tips on how to plan your next shoot.

YOU MUST PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS I don't care if you shoot weddings, events, commercial photography, apparel or even porn - in this business you're going to be working with other people and often. With that in mind, it's important that you start thinking about your reputation. To help you, here's a nice little formula that you should always keep in mind: REPUTATION = (your creativity & skill) + (efforts and talents of others) x (the number of people you work with.) In short, photography is a collaborative effort and thus the quality of the people you collaborate with matters. The better your reputation, the better the people will be who are attracted to working with you. Since you're going to be part of a group you need to remember a few things.

1.) You're in charge - act like it. This means knowing what you're trying to accomplish and making sure you're not asking people to wait around on you while you come up with a plan on the spot.

2.) Be clear. When you ask someone to do something, do it politely but with authority.

3.) Don't have an ego. You're collaborating with a group of creatives. You'll produce better work if you can lead them. Leading is different than telling people what to do.

BEGIN WITH A SOLID FOUNDATION When I'm putting together a shoot, I prefer to begin with a well-defined concept. This can be something that just popped into my head one day or something I've been noodling with for weeks. Either way, what's important to me is that it's clear and achievable. I recently shot an apparel line for a client that I really enjoyed working with. They design and print apparel based on the work of up and coming artists. Pretty cool, right? My concept was simple: "Shirts so cool you don't need pants." I decided that the best approach was to have a series of sexy models showing off the T-shirt designs (you guessed it) sans pants. There - that's a concept.

GATHERING YOUR TEAM The next thing I'll do is make a realistic assessment of what it will take to pull off the shoot. This shoot required a group of attractive girls, a hair and makeup artist, an assistant and a location. The location was easy - we used the client's showroom. I already had an assistant. All the assistant is there to do is make sure I can focus on what I'm doing. That means everything from moving things out of frame to rustling up models when they're needed. Good assistants are hard to find. Any photography student should jump at the chance to assist on a quality shoot. Try to find someone who really wants to gain experience and stick with that person.

Hair and makeup is a little more specific. Many models will offer to do their own but I usually try to steer away from that. The downside here is that they will often do it a certain WAY and they have a hard time working outside of their comfort zone. My philosophy is that models are there to look good. That's ALL I want them to do. I don't want them distracted by the hassle of having to doll themselves up for the sake of my vision, so I called up my friend Joannie. Joannie is a total profesional with years of experience doing makeup and hair for television and film. We met years ago on another shoot and have continued to work together ever since. I knew what she was capable of and that she'd be able to deliver the 'look' that I wanted (remember that CONCEPT we talked about?) If you don't know any hair and makeup people, check around. Ask other photographers. Word of mouth will lead you to the good ones.

Next stop was modelville. I needed a group of attractive girls who wanted to be on camera. Sounds easy enough, right?. It's not. This is the part where most people run into problems. I've used sites like Model Mayhem in the past but nowadays I only go that route as a last resort. I've found that working from personal references has yielded the best results. If you have established a decent reputation already, you should be able to find willing and talented models via Facebook, Google +, or through word of mouth. Find the best models you can and then make their phone ring. When contacting new models, I typically like to do it by phone rather than email. A phone call is a refreshing, personal way to stand out and look professional. I called a model that I'd worked with previously and explained my concept. I told her I was looking for a group of 4-6 models and asked if she could throw the idea out to some friends. I wrote a proposal and emailed it to her detailing the day, time and duration of the shoot along with the concept so that everyone could clearly see what I was trying to accomplish. Within 48 hours she had 12 models ready to go. The concept worked for their portfolios and my friend was able to vouch for me personally as I'd maintained a solid reputation from our past collaborations. I made sure to get everyone's contact info for future reference, then I picked the ones with the look most appropriate for my client's target audience.

How you find your models will depend on your network, comfort level and style. However you find them, you'll need to convince them that it's worth their time so give that part some thought in advance. This becomes easier if you've got a really great concept (there's that C word again) and you're willing to help them grow their portfolio by giving them use of the photos.

A WORD ON COMPENSATION: It doesn't matter if you're working with professionals who have years of experience or amateurs who are just starting out, offer them whatever you can in return for their services and ALWAYS deliver. If you can only afford to feed your models and crew pizza, tell them. If you are trading photos for time, that works too. Whatever you can do, explain EXACTLY how you intend to compensate your team for their time and skill and then FOLLOW THROUGH. They will respect you for it and you will enhance your reputation.

I LOVE IT WHEN A PLAN COMES TOGETHER Shoot day is where the rubber meets the road so I ALWAYS make sure I'm the first one on set and I'm always the last to leave. This sets the tone for my crew and talent. I'm letting them know that I'm a professional and that I value everyone's time. I also am letting them know that I expect everyone else to deliver as well. I typically take this opportunity to walk the space, identify areas that I want to shoot in and try to spot backgrounds or textures that might work for my concept. Once everyone else is on deck, I'll have a brief chat with them to lay out the plan for the day so everyone knows what to expect. Then I assign my assistant the task of getting everyone to sign a release form detailing the terms of our working agreement. I will do another post on release forms later as they merit a little more explanation. Once releases are signed and filed away, I get hair and makeup working with the model(s) I want to shoot first while I set up my first lighting scenario. From there I just work the plan. Sometimes things don't fall into place and in those instances I do my best to roll with the situation. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Just don't allow yourself to get frustrated and you'll be fine. Remember, you're making pictures - not mining coal in the Appalachian mountains. Have fun with it. Work your concept and stay open to opportunities as the present themselves. Just don't get too far off track.

THAT'S A WRAP! There's a reason the phrase "That's a wrap!" is used on every film set in the world. It's the way that the person in charge lets everyone know it's ok to relax and that they are now "off the clock." NEVER wrap the shoot until you're absolutely SURE you're done for the day - nothing sucks more than looking befuddled and unsure of yourself while people stick around waiting for you to unf*ck your sh*t. Check through your shots one last time and, once you’re confident, say "That's a wrap!" Everyone will know what you mean. Make sure you have everyone's contact information and cut them loose. It's time to clean up your gear and split. I always make sure I leave the space cleaner than I found it and I thank the client for the opportunity to work with them. That's it! Now go edit your work!

As always, if there's something I've left out, feel free to ask me about it in the comments and don't forget to follow me on Twitter (@Clintweldon).

Shoot first, -C