Whether traveling or near home, some of our best photo opportunities occur spontaneously. Serendipity is part of the fun of photography, but another big part of the photographer’s craft is to carefully plan and professionally execute a photo shoot. Using a recent shoot in which I collaborated with professional dancer Molly as a case study, in this post I’ll cover the essential elements of planning and conducting a shoot.
Good planning is key to ensuring a fun, safe, and efficient shoot as well as obtaining the desired artistic outcome. Buy this photo
Elements to Consider When Planning a Shoot:
- What is the theme or mood? The artistic concept will inform all the other elements of the shoot. For the shoot with Molly, we decided on an edgy, urban theme. Based on that choice, the decisions about location, timing, gear, technique, and post-processing all flowed consistently.
We chose a gritty, urban theme for this shoot, and all other decisions flowed from that choice. Buy this photo
- Where is the location? Often one of the most challenging aspects of planning a shoot is scouting for a suitable location. The location, of course, should support the theme of the shoot. It also needs to be accessible, safe (for this shoot, we rejected shooting on or near railroad tracks for safety reasons), and suitable for making the type of images desired. There are also legal considerations, as in most cases permission is required to shoot on private property and even some public spaces require permission for commercial uses. Molly and I eventually decided on using the old barracks at the decommissioned Presidio of San Francisco and the adjacent Crissy Field recreation area. This space was accessible, relatively safe, provided a gritty and urban mood, and afforded sufficient working room for both dancer and photographer.
- When should the shoot be scheduled? Obviously, the date and time scheduled need to work for all parties involved. These parties include not only the model(s) and photographer, but also other client(s) and often an assistant. Equally important is ensuring the timing supports your artistic choices. The season of the year and the time of day should offer the best chances of obtaining the lighting you desire. The scheduled time should also work as well as possible with respect to other considerations such as opening hours of the chosen space, traffic and volume of other people in the location, and even tides, snowfall amounts, or other environmental factors. Molly and I chose to shoot in the “golden hour” just before sunset on a Sunday to ensure good lighting and access to the location.
- What gear and techniques should be used? After choosing the theme and the supporting logistical elements, it’s time to select the techniques desired to capture the images and the gear required to execute. Elements to consider include lighting (I prefer to work with available light and reflectors/diffusers whenever possible, but sometimes speedlights or portable studio lights are required), lenses (it’s often best to bring a range of lenses for different perspectives), props, and accessories (will you need to stabilize with a tripod, or perhaps you’ll require neutral density filters to obtain the shutter speed and/or aperture you want?). In the shoot with Molly, I used the camera handheld at mostly fast shutter speeds and low camera angles with fast prime lenses to get that edgy look.
To capture the fast motion of the dancing and to support the urban theme, I worked handheld with fast prime lenses and low camera angles. Buy this photo
- How should the images be post-processed? Again, the overall artistic concept should inform decisions about post-processing. For this shoot, I aimed for a high-contrast, slightly grainy look and also converted several of the images to black-and-white.
- How will the images be distributed and used? All parties should agree before the shoot on how the images will be shared and/or sold. To protect both model and photographer, it’s a good idea to sign a model release. For more information on model releases, see this post: Post on Model Releases.
With attention to planning and execution, a photo shoot will be more enjoyable and productive and the artistic results will be better. Buy this photo
Do you have tips and tricks you use when preparing for your shoots? Please share your thoughts here.
Want to read more posts about planning your photography? Find them all here: Posts on Planning.