Consistent, quality photography is generally not an accident or product of happenstance. Its a product of management and preparation. I now spend less than 1% of my time on any shoot actually pushing that silly little shutter button.
I recently had a teaching client in my studio working on a shoot. I had worked with this client previously, watched his behavior and listened to his words. His behavior was anxious, nervous, uncertain, lacking confidence. His words were, “I don’t like pre-visualization, I just like to go with the flow.” I’m not judging this behavior as poor; its a natural part of the learning process, but can regularly lead to less than optimal outcomes. So this time around I forced him into the studio the day before his shoot for several hours of preparation. Check lighting with props, nail down some camera settings, anticipate HOW you want to shoot, work with computers and software so your process is clear. The outcome of the shoot was amazing, some of the best work he has done yet, in which he was able to focus on the model and shoot and eliminate dealing with pre-shoot issues. He has become a fan of what this really means and a blog post started brewing in my head. Then good friend and outstanding photographer, Matt Gibson, stated recently in his blog post, “My job as a photographer is to continually revisit subjects… refining my composition and learning my environment. When conditions arrive, I’ll be best able to ‘react’ and head right to the spot to capture the masterpiece.” Matt is actually saying the exact same thing only relating it to a different subject matter and environment.
I hated learning this lesson. I learned it while assisting another amazing photographer, Bryan Allen, on some wedding shoots. The man will drive any reasonable person bat-shit insane with his preparation for a shoot (or a workshop or a trip to the store). Scout the location 76 times, go through lighting possibilities for hours, walk the property again in the blazing heat and humidity, go over equipment, count batteries, make sure everything is packed just so, have his system down for backing up files (I still owe you for that hiccup Bryan:)), consider all possibilities for how and what he might want to shoot or “pre-visualize,” and have the gear and assistants to accomplish those ideas. Oh, but he produces great photography all the time and I finally found the cure for that nervous, uncomfortable, itchy, burning, anxious feeling I had going into shoots: PREPARATION H(elps). Using a little will allow you to more consistently produce better work.
Here are three broad and related categories of PREPARATION H for you to consider in your workflow:
1) The Scout – Do you need to scout in your studio? To some degree, YES. Location portrait and Landscape, absolutely. Its all about getting familiar with your surroundings, shooting angles, opportunities and threats to the shoot; test shoot to anticipate problems and opportunities that the casual walk through may not reveal.
2) The Timing – If I’m working with a model, how much time do I have? When does the shoot begin and when should the model arrive so hair, makeup, wardrobe, etc is managed to fit in the time frame allowed? If I’m on location I want to anticipate light conditions, weather conditions, driving time, time to haul gear and get set up. Is any of this happening in the dark? Do I have flashlights? Have I walked it in daylight to anticipate any dangerous areas of travel? Is there parking for everyone involved? The Scout is a very helpful in this process; If its a wedding, have I gone over with the bride exactly what the schedule is and when/where formal portraits will be shot? What’s the light in that spot at that time and what do I need to control it?
3) The Needs – What gear do I need, photography and otherwise, right down to bottles of water and power bars, to keep me in the best creative place? Does my client have the gear he or she needs to be successful for the shoot? Does someone have a physical limitation that will impact the shoot. Can your assistant handle the weight and awkwardness of studio gear? Is there a need for an assistant who has GREAT people skills with a particular client/shoot?
Consistently shooting better work is not about pressing the shutter button. Its about management and preparation for the shoot.
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