Preparing for a photo shoot is a critical part of the photo-taking process. Once there’s a situation that presents itself to catching exciting photos that can be won or lost based on the depth of preparation, you know you’re playing with exciting stuff!
“Luck favors the bold” says the expression, but it also favors (and even adores) the prepared. The further along I get with my photography of any kind, the more I find these following steps to be universal principles and practices beforehand that help me along to afford focus once in the moment.
Before the Day
This opening stage is when you’ve booked the holiday or shooting time and are just gearing up towards the magic. You’ve figured out where you’re going and what’s on offer to your camera, but beyond that nothing else is in motion.
Clean camera lens & sensor
It’s likely that your gear has been in storage for the winter before the season, or perhaps you’re just getting ready for another day of shooting. Regardless, get the lenses cleaned as needed, same for the sensor if it’s due (I recommend at least once a year). If you clean your own sensor (like here), make sure to use appropriate liquids, cloths or otherwise, and remember that it’s easy but still at your own risk.
Consider what gear you have, consider what you might “need”.
I put the word “need” in quotes because with camera gear it’s not THE most critical aspect, it just happens to help towards more power and/or options. If you want close ups during that African Safari, that compact camera might not cope with the bouncing jeep ride compared to a stronger Dslr with a more resilient (and shake-correcting) zoom lens.
Invest to your level of requirement and commitment, as long as you remember that “it’s not the car, it’s the driver” and accept (even embrace) whatever limits present themselves you should be fine.
Pack wisely young Jedi…
With that said about gear, you’ll want to think wisely about how you pack your camera gear for the big day o’ photo fun. That means get a bag or backpack that best suits your tastes and physical comfort (not to mention fits/lays out the gear nicely), and keep in mind that it’s something you’ll have to actually carry and deal with as you go.
Don’t ignore that other bag
Your camera bag is a holy vessel, but be sure to pack your other (no camera) items for the journey ahead with care. Nothing worse than trying to charm someone for a street portrait when your breath stinks (forgot to pack mints), and if you forgot extra underwear then be at peace with losing time to shopping or extra laundry visits. Listen to mom: Pack enough socks!
Check yo’ (photo) head
All the right photo gear (clean or otherwise) is not being used justly if you don’t have your head together on the gear and what makes a good photograph. By this, I mean you simply need to refresh your brain on some photo-basics. Could be your technical skill or equipment familiarity, could be simply setting some goals for the shooting time or reminding yourself what worked (or didn’t) in similar past situations.
Prepare for ANY Possibility
Extra batteries, spare memory cards, sensor swabs and other things you should pack in case of need… It pays to prepare, and beyond those basics make sure to include a waterproof camera cover… “You never know” is not paranoid, it’s cautious.
Research, research, research
Whether it’s the map of the area, reading up on the best locations and when to shoot them (because the light can make a critical difference, figure out where the sun will be as possible), or even just looking up some images of the place to get some ideas or sense of what to expect… Do your research.
Oh, and consider a photo tour to help you with all that from an informed local point of view. Maybe one like my Photo Tour Brugge offerings. #blatentselfpromotion 😉
On the Day
Ok, so all that planning and preparation at home is done, now you’re actually out there and ready to shoot!
Even though I find the most critical preparation is in that first stage of pre-shooting time, there’s still plenty that makes the difference once you’re out and about. While the following are listed with travel photography especially in mind, most (if not all) of it still comes in handy once any photo-magic is about to happen.
Respect the body
Be sure that you take a minute before strapping 5-10 kilos of camera to your good self, that you stretch out and prepare your body for what you’re about to put it through over the photo-fun ahead. That also includes a good feed to the belly for fuel, plenty of liquids is also something to keep firmly in mind.
It is also worth considering getting the body ready even before the holiday, a few sessions at the gym and healthy eats will make that bag much lighter to haul around.
Save time later: Watch your capture count
It’s fantastic that digital photography allows us the means to explore and assure our chances at a winning photo, that is truth. However, if you go crazy on the shutter button and end up with 10 times the photos you need… Well, that’s going to catch up with you when you go over them on the big screen. Have fun but don’t go take the same photo over and over, and if possible do some basic clean/delete after your session before you upload.
Survey your surroundings
Although you’ve exhaustively studied your map and plotted out the times to your locations and such, be sure to invest on simply checking all that out once actually there in person. All sorts of factors can affect what you planned, don’t let extra road works/traffic or scaffolding on that church ruin your 5am start for the breaking sunlight! Equally, whatever you read or studied about something will have an unexpected dimension or consideration once you’re actually “in there”, so check out what might change up with a quick pre-shoot visit if at all possible.
Ask a Local/Expert
Nobody knows everything, sometimes by fate and sometimes by choice. That means that you might be best served to check what someone who’s experienced with the location/situation for guidance or help. Of course since I’m Photo Tour Brugge I highly endorse photo guide options, but next to a specialty service like that there’s options and advice aplenty: Your hotel staff, the guide on that history tour you took, that photographer you chatted to when working a landscape who happens to live in the area.
Relax, maybe have a drink…
This tip is to be used responsibly, if only because if things get too mellow there may not be as many winning photos: Relax. Seriously, take some time to feed your Happy and be sure to enjoy the moment by not just chasing photos, but making moments worth remembering.
In a photo-tip way, maybe also try this: Have a little drink or whatever before you go out, certainly not so much as to get messy but just enough to unwind the brain a bit. A glass of wine in Paris, a coffee in a Dutch cafe, maybe just even a good run might relax your brain to open up the possibilities.
Go forward with flexibility
It’s important in anything to have flexibility, and in anything creative it’s doubly so. Don’t panic if the building is in scaffolding, the model has vicious acne, or the light isn’t what you expected from planning. It’s all part of the fun, and if anything is the perfect chance to flex the perceptions towards creative growth.
After The Day
OK, you did all that work from preparation to execution, there and back again safe!
Now, since we’re focusing on preparation it’s a short list once “back at base”, since the the majority of our mission is hopefully accomplished. We got ready before, we stayed prepared once in action, and now it’s just a matter of preparing for that last stage of the process: After the shoot.
Prepare for landing
It sounds stupidly obvious, but double-check your hard drives and/or online storage setup effort before dumping those 4000 photos of the wedding or holiday in the digital drawer. Nothing worse that running out of space or suddenly rearranging the budget for more cloud storage space.
Import with Logic
Lightroom, Capture Pro, Darktable, and Picassa are but a few options for not just editing your photos, but also organizing them to whatever degree your OCD demands. While I can only really speak as a Lightroom user, trust me that putting things directly in groupscollections and with tags (perhaps even with a preset edit) is time spent early towards effort saved later.
Pick out the winners
As I mentioned, software gives you the chance to organize your photos into a manageable start towards finding those eventual winning shots, so mark them out as you review. Simply go through your photos for the best of the lot and add rating stars or such. Not only does it give you a chance to enjoy what you got, but also then have your favorites that much easier to find moving forward.
Get Ready to Edit
I consider the edit a critical part of the photo in many cases, if nothing else to refine or remix the story I saw and hopefully got a photo of. If you agree, then don’t be afraid to do the work getting to know your editing software and options, trust me when I say it’s not about fixing mistakes (most of the time). 😉
Share With Care
Think about where the photos are going, at least if you care about people seeing them. Doing a Flickr dump of all the photos from that party you shot all your friends enjoying might get seen best on Facebook or Instagram (especially with tagging). If you’re working on technical/creative photography then 500px or Flickr (or Instagram again) could work out best.
That’s what I got for photo preparedness, if I missed something feel free to let me know in the comments!
The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.” – Elbert Hubbard
Articles by Others: Preparing for a Photo Shoot
Preparing for a Client Photoshoot via Digital Photography School