Ready? Get set? Oh, now what?

Preparing for a successful photo shoot, page 1 of 3
By T Martin

“Why don’t you just use rechargeable batteries?” This is what an amateur model asked me at one of my last model shoots in 2003 as I loaded batteries into my camera. The fact is I do, but her question posed an interesting point about being prepared at photo shoots.

There are a number of things to do before a model shoot if you want to be fully prepared. This involves pre-session conversations with the model (because you also want her to be prepared for you), some things you have to do to have your camera equipment in top condition for the shoot, and a number of mental preparations that will keep you and the model moving throughout the session.

Prepare the model
I have communicated entire pre-shoot instructions to models over the Internet, either by e-mail or by Instant Messenger, but I prefer to speak to the model by phone or even in person when possible. Raising an eyebrow from some critics, I often prefer not to meet some models until the day of the photo shoot. I communicate, naturally, and I view photographs by e-mail or messenger, but I find that the physical realization of the model is a challenge I would like to tackle when we’re ready to shoot.

Before agreeing to shoot, make sure you and the model know why you are shooting and what will be done with the pictures. The models have little control or say over what you do with the photos, but as a courtesy, I like to be specific about projects I do that might require use of their photos.

During pre-shoot conversations, I like the model to know how I like to photograph the hair, my feelings about makeup, types of outfits they have available vs. what I’m looking to shoot, jewelry and other accessories, available “shootable” areas in and around their home, etc. I thoroughly research the ins and outs of photographing each model at the suggested or agreed location so that we both know what is expected of the model.

Then I ask her if she has any questions for me. Most models that come to me for photos come with the understanding that I work on a prints-for-time basis; recently, though, I’ve resorted to photo CD’s, which are more welcome anyway. The model, then, has an equal opportunity to “interrogate” me and do any homework they need to do before deciding that they would like to shoot for me.

They generally ask me questions about how many pictures I plan to take (I throw that back at them: “Depends. How many do you want to take?”) or how long we’re going to be (I chuck that back at them, too: “How long can you last, and how long before somebody kicks me out?”). When they do ask questions other than the ones they can answer for themselves, I make sure I’m clear, not vague, about answering them because their understanding of my work is what helps prepare them for my shooting style.

Preparing for a successful photo shoot, page 2 of 3

Prepare your gear
I do a lot of on-location work, which means I travel to the location of the model or we find a mutually convenient outdoor location, so I have to pack everything I think I’ll need for the duration of the shoot. Because I do not have a studio and cannot shoot in my home, I must carry enough equipment to overcome any hurdles on the path to a successful photo shoot.

I have a choice of three digital cameras, though I definitely favor one over the others. However, for model shoots, I like to keep a backup camera around in the event one camera fails me in a particular situation or I find that I’d prefer the second camera for the duration of the shoot altogether. Few novice or aspiring photographers can afford multiple cameras, and certainly not several digital cameras, but camera prices are low enough that you can use an SLR (recommended) as your main camera with a compact camera to back you up.

So what do you have to do to make sure you’re ready for this big shoot? First, make sure you cameras are working. Turn them on, and proceed to check the settings and dials. One malfunction could cause you a great deal of heartache on the set of a photo shoot. This step requires you to be more than just comfortable with your camera. You must be familiar with its every detail and setting.

Next, write a checklist that you can use for this and future photo shoots. You should include your camera(s), batteries, accessories like a flash unit or remote trigger, favorite lenses for the type of work you’re doing, lens hoods, filters, tripod, lots of film (if you’re not shooting digitally), battery chargers (for those rechargeable batteries) and spare batteries…

This is where my response to the model’s question comes in. I told her that I do use rechargeable batteries, and to answer her question as to why I was changing batteries during the shoot (she thought I was discarding one set and using the new set), I explained to her that I used one set until they were depleted, then I used the backup set which were already fully charged before the shoot.

The explanation took all of 30 seconds, and everybody came away with something. She had a better understanding about how I prepare for shoots, and I had a topic for this month’s publication of my article.

Preparing for a successful photo shoot, page 3 of 3

Prepare yourself
Of course, had I responded to her sarcastically or arrogantly, I would have started to lose good photos to a diminished attitude from the model, so part of being prepared is being mentally and emotionally focused. Because I answered her respectfully and took a moment WHILE changing batteries to explain how well I had prepared for the shoot, the model respected what I was saying. The fact that I took time to explain this to her showed her that I spend a great deal of time getting ready so that she would have great photos.

To keep your mind alert and your senses tingling for every photo, make sure you’ve had something to eat before the shoot. Be well nourished and well rested for every shoot; it could be hours before you can break momentum for a meal or a rest. On Saturdays I like to arrange morning sessions because it really gives me more room to play around with my schedule. I prepare the camera and accessories the night before, and then I eat breakfast early the next morning. If I’m planning on shoots lasting more than four hours, I arrange for a lunch break during the shoot.

Some models might not want to eat while they’re working, and that’s fine too. However, an overworked model will defeat the purpose of your preparations because s/he is less likely to perform at peak level if malnourished. Encourage the model to eat something and to take occasional breaks during long shoots.

This may or may not work for your particular situation, but I used to provide magazines for the model to browse after an outfit change. She could change clothes, view some photos of professional models’ work to stimulate her creativity, and then I’d show her a photo or two that I really liked from our work to that point in the session. The results have been incredible. I no longer bring the magazines, but I now lug a few small albums of model photos from my previous sessions. They work much the way the magazines did, and do an even better job because the models can relate to other people that have worked with me.

“Get your rear in gear” is only the start for a successful shoot. Make sure your subject is ready for your style and technique by communicating with her as much as possible prior to the shoot. Make sure your equipment is in top working order; that one malfunction could be detrimental during the shoot. Finally, make sure your mind can stay awake and working at its highest capacity… even if it means using all 10% of the brain humans already use!