Booked your first shoot? Pat yourself on the back; the hardest part is done.
Truly, there’s a reason why most successful photogs will tell you professional photography is 95% business and 5% photography. Getting clients in the door is the great challenge of any new business, artistic and service-based or otherwise.
So congratulations – with your first shoot on the books, it’s time to go down your pre-shoot checklist and make sure you’ve got all your waterfowl properly aligned. Nothing will make your first and forthcoming shoots go more smoothly and comfortably than a healthy dose of preparedness.
Step 1 – Confirm the shoot
Leading up to the date of your photo shoot, contact your client a few days before to thank them for their booking and confirm the date, time, location and meeting place for your shoot.
Answer any last-minute questions they may have about wardrobe or anything else.
Give them a weather update. Visit weatherunderground.com or a similar site to see what the forecast is for the day of your shoot. Have a bad weather back-up or rescheduling plan. Set the expectation that you want your client to have. For example, I tell my clients that if the weather gets iffy the day of the shoot, I’ll call them to confirm or reschedule the shoot that morning. Then I follow-through – not knowing what should happen or is happening is a big source of stress in any situation. Always work to dissipate the chance for such stress.
As I’ve said many times, your art takes time to grow, but you can provide attentive, fantastic customer service like this starting with your very first shoot.
Step 2 – Your “Plenty of Time” Checklist
Right after you confirm the shoot is on with your client, go through your first round of preparations:
- If you haven’t picked up your camera lately, do a dry run through all the gear you’ll be using. Pop in the battery, pop in the memory card, walk around and snap some photos. Plan on using an external flash? Load the batteries and snap some test shots. This is just to make sure all the gear you intend to use is in full working condition and working the way you want it to. If you’re going to have a problem, now’s the time to have it.
- Is anything not working? Do you have backups for crucial items like batteries and memory cards? Grab a third-party backup camera battery and a cheap 1GB memory card if that’s all you can afford, but try to always have a backup. Try to have a backup camera body if you can, even if it’s just a decent point and shoot or – if necessary – a decent camera phone.
- Day by day, stay abreast of the weather situation and forecast. Assuming at this point you are shooting outdoors with no off-camera flash or strobes, you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature. Respect her.
- If time permits, do a walk through of the location you’ll be shooting at during the time of day you’ve booked to shoot. Look for cool nooks and crannies to get fun photos in. Look for attractive and evenly-lit backgrounds and foregrounds. What exactly you’re looking for will change depending on whether you’re shooting a high school senior or a newborn or a family of four. But familiarity with your location before you’re there with clients will make the experience more fluid for them and you will be more confident throughout.
- If this is truly your first time with this kind of client or location (senior in a park, 50th wedding anniversary at a church, etc.), hit your favorite photography forum and post a request for some pointers and ideas. Fellow photographers are always a deep well of great experience and fresh perspectives. Ignore any discouraging bullbutter any grognards may heap your way, and take the good stuff to heart as you plan your shoot.
- Raid the ark of inspiration that is Flickr’s talented artists. Do a search for photography in the type of location you’ll be shooting at and with the kind of people you’re shooting, such as family portraits in the park, or high school senior photos at a junk yard. Take note of anything that inspires you – analyze what you like about your favorite images and solve the puzzle of figuring out how you can make those types of images happen on your shoot. Perfection is not required, just an idea of what you’re aiming for. Start building your shot list.
- Your shot list? Ahh, here’s one that some cocky starving artists don’t care for. That’s why the poor anemic things look like they’ve been living off two Starbucks lattes a day since they hit puberty. The shot list is good stuff, and unless you’re someone who can draw upon The Muse at will and MacGyver your way through a photo shoot with just a pinhole camera and your own force of will, said shot list will give you a big boost in confidence, flow, and most importantly, salable results.
In fact, let’s give The Shot List it’s own subhead:
Step 2.5 – The Shot List
Your shot list is a collection of images, ideas, and setups you want to work your way through on your forthcoming photo shoot.
In the beginning, your shot list may take the form of a scrapbook or folder with photos, notes, printed web pages, setup diagrams, and roughly illustrated concepts. As you grow as an artist, you’ll transition from a physical shot list to a purely mental one. With enough time and experience shooting all kinds of people, styles, locations and lighting, you’ll have enough swagger to let The Muse guide you through most shoots.
But for now, let’s assume that the second you shake your client’s hand, all your intensive research and creative inspiration will transmute to grass growing in bullet time. Honestly, that’s probably what will happen. Again, good preparation can diffuse this stressful problem before it starts.
Check out my article on the top 10 money-making outdoor photos of people for a strong jumpstart to your shot list.
What you want on your shot list are enough go-to resources to keep you flowing through your photo shoot when your brain quits on you. And you want enough variety to show your client a wide range of imagery during your sales session.
It’s easier to sell a client one image each of 20 different setups than to sell three images each of only six or seven setups.
Start with some easy setups; some simple, specific poses and places that let you get into your groove and to make your subject comfortable in front of the camera. If you’re shooting a senior near a swimming pool, don’t start with the cannonball drop into the drink. Give yourself and your client some easy stuff to start with so you can both get warmed up.
Add as much fun and artistic stuff to your shot list as you like. This is where you’ll begin to develop your personal artistic style, and experiment with new looks and feelings in your images. Have a solid set of salable images you know you can pull off – then, as time permits during your shoot, try out as much fun and experimental work as strikes your fancy.
You don’t have to go through your entire shot list on every shoot. But starting with a core set of images that let you make salable art with any client, then introducing some fun and artsy stuff with flavor and impact, you’ll be able to put together a robust set of proofs to show and sell.
Your client will very rarely buy every image you shoot. But you better your odds for a happy client and a bigger sale if you give them a smooth experience and lots of variety to choose from, both of which are a direct result of having a good shot list.
Preparation = confidence.
Step 3 – Your “Day Before The Shoot” Checklist
Now that you’ve got a good sense of who, what, and where you’re shooting, let’s get into the technical stuff you’ll want to check off your to-do list the day before your shoot.
- The obvious stuff: charge your batteries (both camera and flash if you use one); dump and clear memory cards; make sure your camera settings are about right for your shoot (TV mode is prepped at a fast enough shutter speed in case you start getting motion blur / camera shake, AV mode is prepped at a wide f-stop in case of low light, Manual mode is about where you think you’ll need to shoot, and your bloody ISO isn’t set to the noisiest-possible 1600 or H setting).
- Gather and pack your gear, including bodies, lenses, batteries, cards, flashes, tripod, backups, and anything else you need for your shoot. Try to get everything you need into one camera bag so that if you remember to bring anything, you’ll have everything.
- If you’re not too familiar with where you’ll be shooting, have directions in hand from someone who knows or, preferably, Google Maps. Plug the address into your GPS. Know how long it should take you to get there – then allot an extra 15-30 minutes. If there’s any chance of traffic issues, allow even more extra time.
- Go back over your notes or e-mails from talking with your client and take heed of any specific requests or information they provide. If they “have to” get a family photo in their Texas Tech Red Raiders jerseys, by all means, write this down. Be sure to proactively remind your clients of this when you meet up – they will immediately appreciate that you remembered and that you’re excited about making “their” photo.
- Check the weather yet again. If you may have to deal with light drizzle, intermittent cloud cover, overcast skies, or bold cloudless sunlight, you want to at least be solving those problems in your head the night before rather than the moment of your shoot.
- Watch what you eat. A worthy mantra for anyone trying to maintain their girlish figure, this advice will also keep your intestinal issues at bay the day of your shoot. Overeating or eating abrasive food is only going to exacerbate problems the next day when your nerves go straight to your stomach as you’re driving to your shoot. Eat light, drink lots of water, stick to fruits and veggies and salads that you know are easy on your system, and by all means, have a bottle of Pepto at the ready if you need it. (This is one of those “been there, done that” real world tips you just won’t find elsewhere – there’s no BS or pretense here, this site is about really helping you do your best as a part time photographer).
- Clean your gear. Whip out those microfiber cloths that come Free With Everything and give your lenses a good wipe down. Make sure your glass is clean and your camera body looks nice.
- Set your alarm. If you’re shooting early, set your bedside alarm. If later in the day, set an alarm on your phone with time to get your gear together and get on the road. Much as you have prepared for your shoot, the moment you sit down for a second in front of Call of Duty on the Xbox or David Hasselhoff on YouTube, you will lose track of time and only realize you’re late when the phone rings, it’s your client wondering where you are, and your heart drops out of your chest.
- Plan your wardrobe. Having checked out the weather for the next day, pick out what kind of professional-but-comfortably-artistic wardrobe you want to work your shoot in. Your wardrobe style should reflect your personal style and your artistic style. Some photographers belong in turtlenecks and scarves, others in jeans and T-shirts, still others in graphic T’s and khaki shorts. But guaranteed: if you don’t plan your shooting wardrobe, you’ll awaken to realize all your good clothes are in the hamper and either show up wearing a wool sweater and gym shorts or smelling like cheese.
Preparation = confidence!
Step 4 – F8 and Be There
If you’ve done your prep work – which despite the length of this article, should only take a couple of hours total – you can arrive at your shoot with time to spare and confidence oozing from every pore.
Or at least you won’t be hyperventilating and fighting to keep your breakfast down.
Your first time, as with a few other select experiences in life, won’t be your best. But there’s no reason you have to go into your shoot blind, deaf, and dumb. Take the small amount of time needed to give yourself the best odds at having a great shoot.
If you can show up with those ducks in a row, you’re honestly doing better than many paid professional photographers. What they lack in attention to detail, complacency brought on by arrogance and boredom, you can make up for in preparation and honest caring.
Art takes time, but providing the best experience you can for your clients starts right now, this very day.
The next articles in this series will walk you through a typical location portraiture shoot, your first sales session (in person or via online album), and how to follow through with a client to guarantee referrals and a customer for life.
- Now that you’ve read through this article, make your own personal pre-shoot checklist that touches on the above advice in brief. Single-sentence To-Do’s should keep you on track to make the most of your shoot.
- Make an inventory of all your shooting gear, piece by piece. Are you missing anything, specifically backups for crucial pieces of kit like batteries or memory cards? A spare of either costs about a tenth of what you’ll lose if you blow a shoot for lack of backup, and a hundredth of what you’ll lose long-term from looking like an unprepared amateur. If you have the coin, hit up Amazon.com or bhphotovideo.com and get a good faith set of backups for your primary gear, even if it’s the cheapest thing you can buy. I’d rather fall back on a children’s $50 Disney Digital Camera than nothing at all.
- Brainstorm session: What’s a quirk unique to you that could affect your ability to perform at your shoot? Irritable stomach? Profuse perspiration when nervous? Need Starbucks? Affirmations? Yoga? A jog? What should you add to your pre-shoot checklist that gives you, you personally, you specifically, the best chance at having an awesome photo shoot? File this in your Brainstorms folder (and add to your checklist!).
- PartTimePhoto.com exists to provide sound, real-world advice from one photographer to another, me to you. If you like what you read here, please don’t hesitate to click the free “Subscribe” link at the top of any page of this site.
- What’s one thing that you do to prepare for a shoot that’s unique to you? Did I miss anything in the above list? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.
- Your first photo shoot: expectations and results – Your First Customer Series, Part 7
- Culling and post-processing your first photo shoot – Your First Customer Series, Part 8
- Sharp photos – how to get them, in camera and in post
- Top 10 money-making outdoor photos of people – Your First Customer Series, Part 2
- Open your eyes and make beautiful photos where you are now