Updated: May 15, 2019
There are a lot of misconceptions about how much work photographers do. Some even think of them as nothing more than a glorified button (shutter?) pushers. In reality, 90% of the work is behind the scenes and happens before and after the shoot.
I was recently asked to do an outdoor portrait shoot at a local horse ranch and even though it’s a relatively simple gig, I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about what I do as a photographer to prepare these things. There are a lot of variables to outdoor shoots - weather, geography, and the direction of the sun just to name a few.
What it all boils down to though is planning. And lists. I love lists. I write everything down and consider all kinds of variables.
Here are the things that I do and take the time to plan for every time I do a shoot. It doesn’t matter if it’s a destination wedding or a 5-year-olds birthday party.
Travel. How long will it take to get to the site of the shoot? Will the time of day or day of the week make a difference? If I’m not at least 10 minutes early, I might as well be late.
Reconnoiter - This is huge for me. I almost always do a recon of the site prior to the shoot day if at all possible; especially if I’m unfamiliar with the location. If I can’t get there for whatever reason, I’ll scope it out on Google Earth and even use tools like SunCalc to find out from which direction the sun will be coming from. This is helpful even when doing an indoor shoot because then I’ll know what side of the building will have better natural light coming into the windows.
Sometimes, I even print maps and bring them with me to take notes on.
If the plan is to shoot outdoors, are there alternate places on location to shoot from in case of bad weather? Under a large tree or awning? An indoor location? I’ll take note and prepare for that as well.
If this is a public location like a park, is it busy? Will it be more or less on the day of the event?
Power source. If I plan or I think I might use strobes or lighting that requires a power source, I’ll take note of where power outlets may or may not be.
Parking. Are you going to have a carry a bunch of a gear a long distance? These are all things to need to be considered and figured out beforehand. You may need extra time before the shoot to find parking, move gear, set up, or adjust the location.
Client Wishes/Expectations. Is the client wanting to get a photo in front of a certain piece of landscaping? Maybe they want an animal like a horse involved? Other pets? People? Risque clothing? There are a lot of variables.
Venue/Location Rules and Other Events. Does the location of the shoot have any photography restrictions? Prohibit the use of flashes? Do I need a permit or permission to access certain areas? Some places like museums do not allow flashes and some are places do not allow cameras with removable lenses. Also, I check and see if there are any special events going on around the time of the photoshoot that may affect that amount of people in the area, traffic, etc.
Special Equipment. Considering the location, time, and weather variables, I then build an equipment list and get as specific as possible. I usually start this list during my recon and use it when I prepare and pack my equipment. There’s nothing worse than getting to a photoshoot and realizing your SD card is still in your computer at home.
Rent or Buy. During this portion of the planning I also consider if I need to rent anything I don't already own. While renting cameras is a great way to try new equipment, I never do this during a wedding or other events. I don't want to be shooting with an unfamiliar camera when there are so many changing variables to contend with.
Human Resources. Many gigs are easily one-person shows, but depending on the client (or any of the variables I’ve previously covered), there’s a chance an assistant or second shooter may be needed or helpful. Sometimes having a second (or third person) makes things easier so I can concentrate more on getting the right shot. It may be just something as simple as having someone to hold a reflector or a Speedlight, carry equipment, or having someone grab me a drink of water during those long gigs like weddings.
Prepare Equipment. After knowing the variable of the gig, I take out, inventory, clean and prep all of the gear that I’m going to need. I clean my lenses, my camera, and put fresh batteries in all my accessories. I also charge all of my camera batteries. SD cards get their memories cleared and are loaded in my camera or get put in my camera bag. When everything is clean, I inventory it and pack it all up in my camera bag. This is for two reasons - one, I don’t forget anything and two, if something is lost or stolen, I’ll figure it out quicker. On a side note, I do this pretty much in reverse after the photo shoot is done.
After spending the better part of two decades in the Army, planning detailed operations is second nature to me, if you couldn't tell. Is there something I’m missing or did you find something in this list particularly helpful? Let me know!