Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Art of Planning Your Photo Shoots

Recently I had a conversation with a photographer I just started testing with who is in town for the summer. We talked about what it is that sets other well-known artists apart from your "average Joe" trying to make it in the industry. The answer to this was TIME & MONEY! That is what makes all the difference! I thought to myself that a lot of these successful and breathtaking images are a result of planning and putting in the blood, sweat, and tears to get an AWESOME image. I thought this blog may be helpful to a lot of people out there that wonder what is it they can do to make their work more eye-catching and successful. Myself included! The following information was pulled from various sites I retrieved tips and advice from the topic by just by googling and actual advice I got from seasoned pros in the industry. Hope this helps! :)

Have you ever wondered how long it takes for a pro (team) to produce a series of stunning shots (and why)? If not, then I'm sure you've at least wondered why your shots aren't (always?) as good looking as they are in your head. Well I know I have. The key to answering both questions is as simple as the word many artists don't really like (perhaps even hate?): planning. First things first. Why is it important to plan your photo shoot? Mainly because it will save you time. Secondly, it will allow you to think through what you'll be doing in a quiet environment, which will lead to you actually enjoying it much more, rather than (freaking out?) being stressed about "What pose should I shoot next?" Lastly, it will allow you to deliver images with a much better technical execution but moreover - images with a clear and useful concept.  
Sure, this is all good, but how do I do it? Well, for a starter - try to get a clear(er) idea of when and what you want to shoot next. Allow for a buffer of at least a day or two before the shoot (I personally find a week to be best) in which you can dream, plan and organize details for the session. Once you've done this, move on to actually planning the shoot itself. Here things will differ greatly depending on what and where you're shooting, but let me give you a sample scenario - you'll be shooting a session with a couple at their home, kind of a leisure lifestyle theme.

1. Always start with the concept. In other words, what do you want your images to communicate? Love, romance, wasting time, spending quality time together, entertainment, domestic work, cooking, on-line communication... If you force yourself to first list the concepts you want to cover, you'll be able to stay on track and use your potential to the max.

2. Make a script. That's crucial. Write down the pictures you have in your mind in a format similar to this: "Man cutting veggies on kitchen counter with woman giving him a surprise hug. Both smiling. Shallow DOF, focus on man." Writing things down will not only force you to be clearer about your ideas, but will also help you track where and what you may be missing. Make sure your list is as detailed as possible, while also preserving a natural flow of poses. Make it in sections and don't put together the kitchen shots with the ones from the garden... ;)

3. Think of the props. Yes, you do need that, and if you want good looking images, you'll have to go to the grocery store and buy some basic stuff (ie. stuff you'll be chopping in the kitchen; popcorn and drinks for the movies, etc.). If you're using stuff you already have, make sure they're in a nice condition and clean of dust, hairs and other dirt, which will be noticeable at 100% zoom of your final image. Mind the clothing in the context of your concept for the image.

4. Think time. Consider the setup you'll need for each of the shots and how long it will take you to move/change it around for the next. How long will it take for the models to change clothing (and makeup if needed)? Take an approximate higher value in mind as you plan the total time for the session. Allow for short breaks.

5. Be flexible and learn to follow the mood. The list/script is there to keep you within a margin, not limit you in your creativity as it emerges during the session or constrain your models in regard to what ideas they may get during the session. This is why, the better you know your script, the more freedom you'll have to work both with it and the people/environment around you.

If you want to create something you can use then you just won't be able to get far without planning at all. Spend some time reading or watching what the pros have already shared on the Internet about their procedures and you'll soon realize how much of it is playing a part in their creative activity. I've started doing this seriously as of recently and I'm finding it quite liberating. It doesn't just save you time, but also makes you much more efficient. Aside from the experience, I believe that planning is the main reason why for beginning photographers, makeup artists, stylist, you name it an hour of work translates in a mere 5-10 good shots. While an hour of shooting will result in at least three/four times, if not even more quality images, when a so-called "pro" is behind the camera.

Lastly, here's an exercise for you: As you look at images, try to analyze them in detail and think of what it must have taken the creator to achieve this (w/o counting the post-processing work). It is also true that professional artists are not just one person... it's more like a whole team of people. Yet, don't let this discourage you. One person with a plan can achieve far more than one person without a plan. :)

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