As a photographer, I receive the usual amount of questions related to the types of equipment I use and the fees I charge for my services. But, the other half of questions I receive are about how I plan for a photoshoot.
It’s About Storytelling
While the evolving technology available to photographers is of interest to me and budgets are always part of the equation; master level photographers focus on telling a particular story–one we’ve planned for in advance.
In my case, it takes 6 weeks to plan a photoshoot from the start of the concept to taking the actual photographs.
Here’s the schedule that our team uses:
Week 1 and 2 | Concept development
Depending on the complexity of the concept we usually go through at least 3 revisions of our Look Book and sometimes more than 10 before we have it right.
Our Look Book starts with a single phrase of inspiration. Example for a photoshoot we did for Steampunk Art Magazine: “H.R. Giger’s Steampunk.” H.R. Giger was an amazing artist, particularly in the field of sculptures. He’s best known for his work on the original Alien movie.
From there, we focus on sketches and inspirational photographs to develop the overall look for the shoot. This includes location scouting, scenic design, props, costume design, and hair and makeup design.
- Tip | By the end of Week 1, you should have your firm proposal and budget approved by your client in writing through the use of a contract.
- Tip | You should also have your detailed day-of-the-photoshoot schedule completed and distributed to your team for their feedback. Examples: How much time will load-in, setup, hair, makeup, costume, wardrobe, your time taking photographs, cleaning up, and load-out take?
Week 2 | Actor/model Selection
Another critical step is selecting the talent that will bring to life the story that you’re telling. This takes time and includes a combination of a particular look, experience, and the talent’s availability.
Week 3 | Venue Selection
Now that you have a good idea of the concept, it’s time to finalize the venue selection since this can be a long-lead item on our timeline. In many cases, the venue can be a photo studio or other indoor location. If we’re shooting outside, we’ll likely need to obtain permits and arrange for an enclosed area for costume, hair and makeup to setup and work (an adjacent enclosed facility or mobile studio).
- Tip | If you’re shooting outdoors, make sure you have a plan in place for inclement weather, including a rain-out day schedule.
- Tip | It’s also important to have or rent a power source to run all of the lights and other equipment you plan to use. Don’t assume that power will be available. Similarly, hair and makeup will need power for lights and hair styling equipment. Hair dryers and curling irons take a lot of power (1500 watts or greater at 120 volts for each item). Having more power available than needed is a good strategy. Also, you can never have enough extension cords and power strips with you.
- Tip | Now is the time to finalize the purchase of insurance for the shoot. Ensure that your insurance is completed correctly to the venue’s specifications.
Week 4 | Finalizing Scenic, Props, Costume, Hair, and Makeup Design
With the talent selected earlier in the process, it’s time to finalize the design and begin the process of manufacturing and purchasing everything needed.
- Tip | In all likelihood, this process started during Week 2.
Week 5 | Shot List
I storyboard all the photographs I have to take during the shoot to tell our story. This includes notes on coaching the talent, lighting, and any special equipment usage (stands, booms, ladders, drones. foggers, hazers, extra lighting).
Week 6 | Changes
Be prepared for your initial strategy to change somewhat during the final week. Glitches can come up and this usually happens close to a shoot.
- Tip | Have a Plan B ready for talent and outdoor venues.
- Tip | If the shoot is going to be catered, arrange for catering. If it’s not, advise everyone that they’re on their own for meal breaks.
You’ve spent the first half of your photoshoot capturing your storyboard shots. Now it’s time to spend the other half of your photoshoot devoted to those special photographs that really capture your actor/model’s ability to bring their viewpoint of your concept to life. Having spent the first half of the shoot working with your actor/model, both of you should have a good feel for what they’re capable of achieving with facial expressions, movement, and their physicality. It’s time to let them do what they do best.
- Tip | Ask your actor/model to step through a series of 10 movements/expressions with a 3 second pause between each discrete movement. You could capture a truly remarkable photograph during this process!
- Tip | Always ask for the feedback from your entire on-site team. Whether seasoned professionals or new, they’ll be looking at the shoot from a different vantage point than yours. Listen, understand, and use their feedback wisely.
- Tip | Even if the talent doesn’t ask for a break, ask them if they need one. It’s tiring for anyone to pose for long periods of time.
- Tip | Bring enough water with you for everyone.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes video example of model Shelbie Kramer running through movements while we did a photoshoot for Cool Religious Jewelry. At the beginning of the video are the end result photos and starting at time mark 0:44 is how we got to those photos through her smooth movements with just enough pause between movements.
Those are the Basics
The key things to remember: Masters level photography is all about telling a story with the active help of your entire team.
I’ll be announcing during April a Masters Level Retreat for photographers, models, costume designers, wardrobe, and hair and makeup artists. By the end of the retreat you’ll have classroom and hands-on experience about how to plan and be a part of a successful editorial photoshoot. Including:
- Concept development
- Timeline development
- Talent selection
- Participation in an editorial photoshoot
Space will be limited so everyone who is interested, you’re invited to join my E-mail list today so you’ll be the first to know and to book your space.
Jill Billingsley is an amazing actor/model from California. Here’s one of her “How To” videos. It’s worth taking the time to watch and understand what she’s showing you and your entire team.