This is it. By now, You will have been inspired, honed your ideas, found the perfect location and booked your talent. You will have taken that little bit of inspiration and nurtured it into a full fledged shoot. If you are anything like me, you will have tossed out far more ideas than you kept and you will have spent hours upon hours solidifying the few that stuck with you. It is safe to say that the hard part is over. You are no longer a writer staring at a blank page or a painter leering at a white canvas. The vision is in your head and tomorrow it will be in front of you on set. Tonight is the last step in the process before you capture the images that you worked so hard to bring to life. If you invested your time and effort into each of the previous steps of planning your shoot, tonight should be easy, exciting, and stress free. I always spend my last night before shoot day doing two things. First, I make a checklist of everything I need to bring with me to the shoot and make sure it is ready to go. After that, I spend the night relaxing to get my mind and body ready for what lies ahead.
For those who fly by the seat of your pants, this may be unfamiliar territory. You may read this section and think it doesn’t apply to how you like to do things and you may be right. It might not fit with how you like to do things but it does fit with how you should be doing things. In some aspects of my life, I absolutely love to act on a whim. That craving for spontaneity is something that has been deeply engrained in my soul since I was young. If you share that longing, I applaud you but this is not the time for it. Tonight is the time for being prepared. The night before every shoot, you should make sure that you have everything you need packed up and ready to go. Save this task until the morning and you may end up rushing out the door while leaving something crucial behind. To save your self the hassle, get out your trusty journal and make yourself a checklist. This checklist should include absolutely everything you need to bring. Once you have it all written down, pack it up (checking it off as you go) and make sure it is all ready to be carried out the door in the morning. It is work that needs to be done anyways, why not do it a night early and save yourself from leaving something behind?
Take it Easy
Here is the final piece of the planning puzzle. This is absolutely the easiest step in the process. If it isn’t easy, you are doing it wrong. Planning shoots can be strenuous. Your images are something you believe in, something you love, and something you should hold to your highest standards. This means that before those images are made you have spent time making difficult decisions and have likely gone through the ups and downs of what you may have thought was going to be an easy process. Regardless of the difficulties you may have run into, now is the time to clear your mind and relax. Relaxing means different things to different people. For some, it may mean going out for dinner and a movie, for others, a good book may fit into the picture. For me it means putting on my loose pants and sitting through half of a season of Friends with my wife and our cats, but of course I would never admit that. Whatever your method may be, tonight is the night for it. Tomorrow you will wake up, pack your gear and spend the day shooting, organizing, and most importantly, thinking. Spend tonight clearing your head, putting a healthy meal in your belly and getting a full night’s sleep. I promise that you won’t regret it.
Last year, while I was in Atlanta for a test shoot, I was sitting on the bed in my hotel room on the night before the shoot listening to a weatherman tell me that I should expect nothing but rain the following day. The shoot I had planned was high energy, bright, and sunny. If it was going to rain, I may have made this trip to Atlanta for a shoot that fell flat on it’s face. It would have been a waste of time and money. I sat in my room for about 5 minutes, annoyed at my bad luck before deciding to take some time to relax so I could figure out a plan B. After a brief trip down to the pool I came back to my room and cracked open my journal. I flipped right past the pages where I had planned my bright and sunny shoot and I started planning a much softer, editorial shoot that I would aim for if the weatherman was right. At this point, it was out of my hands. I had spent my 5 minutes huffing and puffing and came up with a plan B. After that, I put my journal back into my bag where it belonged. If I wanted to, I could have spent more of the night with my nose buried in it’s pages but the time for that had passed. Now was the time to leave it to fate and unwind. I ordered a dinner up to my room and spent the next few hours before bed watching one of my favorite things, the Olympics.
It turns out that the weather man was spot on. On my way to our shoot location along the Chattahoochee River I was driving in some of the worst rains I have ever seen. Being raised in Florida, I was used to rain, I was even used to hurricanes but I sat in bumper to bumper traffic on a highway watching rain that I thought was going to break my windshield. I thought about calling off the shoot but after an hour of sitting still on the highway the rain started to pass. When I arrived to the shoot location the river was covered in fog so I went with plan B. We shot for about an hour (mostly on my Contax 645) and I ended up with some of my favorite and most popular images of the year. Long story short, relax. If I hadn’t made the decision to clear my mind from the stress I was feeling about the rain, there is a good chance I would have left Atlanta empty handed. Figure out what it is that puts you at ease and set aside time before every shoot to mentally and physically prepare yourself for a successful shoot.
Contax 645 + 80mm 2 on Kodak Portra 400 / Thanks to the fog that came after the rain had passed, I was left with a scene that had beautiful soft light and a background with the colors and contrast faded enough to make Shaina (my model) pop out of the frame.
If you think that taking a night off before a shoot won’t leave you feeling a bit more relaxed and ready, chances are that you haven’t taken a proper night off. After all of the planning and packing is finished, take a night to rest your mind and body so you wake up on shoot day feeling refreshed and ready to create.
Well, it has happened again! Two more of my best friends are engaged! Owen and Sarah are two of the most life-loving people I know and am beyond excited to see what marriage brings them. After going on multiple summer adventures with each other, Owen finally proposed to Sarah in Yosemite National Park during one of their climbing/camping trips. They are both adventurers at heart and I am sure that the next chapter in their life will be nothing less.
Owen and Sarah, I am so glad that you two have been part of my life. You are both such amazing people and somehow that gets kicked up a notch when you two are together. I can’t wait to see you make that permanent and to break it down on the dance floor at your wedding! Congratulations!
After a few solid weeks of working on this, I am SO excited to announce that my new Education site is live! It has been a blast and an honor to work with so many talented photographers through my mentor sessions and now that this sucker is live, I can’t wait to meet more. If you want to know what these sessions are all about, what they cover, how much they cost, or how to book one, head on over to the new site by clicking the “Education” tab in my menu or clicking on the image below. See you there!
As most of you already know, I recently became a guest writer for FStoppers and I am thrilled about it! In addition to writing for FStoppers, I will be introducing a new series of posts to my own blog called Shoot Tips. If you have a heart for learning, stick around. Education is awesome and free education is even better. Below is my first post in the series. Enjoy!
When I first started shooting, I would spend absolutely no time planning my shots. I would focus tons of time and energy into every other aspect (location, wardrobe, mood, etc) but in some weird turn of events, it must have slipped my mind that the end goal is “The Shot.” How that slipped my mind still baffles me. Instead of putting in the effort to plan what my actual finished images would look like, I found a model, found a location and showed up on shoot day with a plan to wing it. I would put together shots on the spot and when I was ready to move on to the next one, I would. To be honest, I am glad I started off this way because I believe it gave me a strong ability to think on the spot while on set which is something I often put into practice but as I started to find more value in preparation I began to plan every aspect of my shoots in order to have the most control of my final images. Now, instead planning to wing it, I create with a complete shot list and I already know what my finished shoot will look like before I even step foot on set. This switch was a huge change in the way I do things but it puts me in a better frame of mind on shoot day and keeps me more organized and effective than I ever was.
This is what my a page of my pre-shoot planning looks like. Yes, I know that your 5 year old sister can probably sketch better than I am. That’s why I am a photographer. Even though they don’t belong in a museum, these sketches help me keep me organized on set and often times, sketching out a shot will spark an idea for something else that I may not have had otherwise. You may have noticed that in the top left corner, I have a little check box to mark after I get the shot and in the top right corner I have written down the lens on plan on using depending on what mood I want to draw out. Organization keeps me sane.
Shot lists are just about the last thing I work on before shoot day. At this point, I already have almost all of the visual details worked out (wardrobe, location, mood, hair, make up, etc.) and just need to plan what my finished images should look like. This is where my trusty journal comes in (these journals are my personal favorite). My shot lists started as a few scribbles and notes of things I wanted to remember to shoot and now include a full rundown of shots (some are even sketched out) that I want to bring to life. These are all shots that I had visualized, and loved. I had already seen the outcome in my mind and all I have to do is create them. Making these shot lists left me with a shoot that was practically already finished and ensured that I didn’t have an image in my head that I might forget to create. Even though this means you have a complete shoot built out, don’t feel restricted. It is absolutely okay to go off script. I always bring a shot list to my sets but I spend about 50% of my time completing the list and 50% going off book. This means that even if 100% of my unplanned shots are complete failures, I still have a complete shoot because of the images I had visualized before hand and brought to life.
Shot lists come in all shapes and sizes. If you are shooting a test or personal work, you have the freedom to include anything you want and leave out what you don’t. The joy in test shooting is that it is absolutely free of pressure and restraint. On the other hand, if you are working for a client, they may have a shot list already made up for you that includes a list of images that work for the advertising or editorial campaign that you are shooting for. If that is the case, easy peasy. You have the list and you are set to go! If not, you have a bit more work to do. When I am working on a shot list I typically spend about 5-10 minutes freely writing every possible shot that comes to my head. The good, the bad and the ugly (and sometimes the hideous). I get everything out and then begin to narrow it down into a list that I feel fits exactly what I am aiming for. Typically, I break my lists down into three sections; Must Haves, Details, and Extras. The Must Have list includes the images that I would be absolutely heart broken if I forgot. These will be the shots that drive the shoot in the direction it needs to go. For example, in my recent Mountain Fitness shoot these would include the shots of my model running, stretching, posing, etc. Next up is the Details list. These are the shots of things that draw more attention to the smaller aspects and can help solidify the shoot as a whole. In that same shoot, these would be the shots of the model tying up her shoes, putting up her hair, her shoes on the ground or even one of her foot prints on the trail. Last up is the Extras list. These would include all of the other shots that I would want if time permits. When on set, I am under the schedule of the sun. Since I shoot in almost all natural light, I need to budget my time so I don’t run out of light with items still on my list. This is why I have an Extras list. If I have a shot in my head that I want but isn’t crucial to the shoot, it goes here. If there is still light left after completing the Must Haves and the Details list, I move on to the Extras. Having this well organized shot list keeps me sane, organized and effective on set.
It is pretty much a given that most photographers are visual people. That means that when a spark of inspiration hits, we already know what we want our finished images to look like. This is why shot lists are just about the easiest part of our planning process. This is also why we don’t have any excuses for not building them out. Consider yourself encouraged to spend a little bit of extra time to plan your shots and I promise you that not only will your shoots seem less chaotic and stressful, but you will come out on the other end with images that make you proud.