Producing a Photoshoot!  Part I

If you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, everything just falls into place.  Models, gear, location, Hair Stylist and Makeup Artist…  You pretty much know what you need.  At least in terms of gear.  But how do you get there?

Photographer, that's me, at the photoshoot.  With model playing with her phone!

Photographer, that’s me, at the photoshoot. With the model playing with her phone!

Now, I don’t have everything planned out to the smallest possible detail on an artistic level.  I really go after the best people I can find for a project.  Whether I am paying everyone or it’s a trade project.  Collaboration is key to getting the best work done.  The buck stops with me.  But I want all the key-people to give me input.  Then I make the decision.  Models may have some poses that could really work.  Hair Stylist may have a take on a hairstyle that completely rocks.  No one person has all the best answers.  No one.

So, I have the people all on-board, location and gear.  So what else do I need?  Paperwork!  Mood Boards, Releases and Agreements, Production Sheet! Honestly, I use my Production Schedule as my Mood Board.  I’m not big on Mood Boards.  At least the ones where you get someone else’s images and put them on the board.  I think that can really screw-up your OWN creative process.  If you sketch out ideas, I think that’s totally fine.  But in my Production Sheet, I will only put one or two images of a look I’m going for and that’s it.  It gives the rest of the team a baseline and then to expand on it the idea.  A creative who is getting paid STILL wants to have some creative input on a project.  But the director, me, has the final say.  One of my favorite Philosopher-Photographers Gregory Heisler has similar thoughts about Mood Boards.  If it works for you:  Great.  Not for me.

I’m quite religious about getting Releases and Agreements done at least two weeks in advance of the photoshoot.  I’ve only had a handful of people who haven’t gotten this information back to me during this timeframe.  I’ve made it really easy by using electronic agreements and a typed signature being sufficient.  Really, it takes 5 – 10 minutes for the whole process and it’s done.  I’ll have it in my eMail as soon as they are done signing it.  I’ll know instantly when they are done.  And if I need to call them!  I used to use for electronic documents.  But the interface was so clunky and when they ‘upgraded’ it, it became a bear to work with.  Now, I use  It is a purely electronic-documents web service and you can even access documents through your smartphone or tablet.  Very cool.

The Holy Bible of documentation is my Production Sheet.  The only thing I don’t have inside the actual document is the Releases and Agreements.  Everything else is in there, which includes:

  • Title or Theme of Project
  • Date, Time, Schedule for the Project.
  • People involved and their contact information and their roles.
  • Parking and Public Transportation available.
  • Baseline images of Makeup, Hair Styling, Wardrobe.
  • Photography gear needed and inventoried.

I highly recommend looking around and developing your own styled Production Sheet.  Mine is constantly evolving but it’s pretty much set.  I currently use Microsoft Word for the Mac template and then input all the information into it.  Pages for Mac works well for simpler documents because formatting is very limited.  The nice thing about it is that it’s easy to lessen images file sizes when you resize them.  Possibly, greatly reducing the size of your document.  Microsoft Word, not so easy.  But it’s a small price to pay for the formatting options. Easy to lose documents?  Not if you have a tablet to store them on!  Since everything is electronic, I convert it all to PDF and keep it on my iPad.  Once in a while someone will have forgotten their copy and I’ll just hand them my iPad.  And if I, God forbid, forgot something…  It’s all in a cloud storage solution.  Unless I’m somewhere with no cellular connection, I can simply download it.

A big thing I like about the Production Sheet is to inventory my camera, wardrobe and prop gear.  Go down the list and think about what you need to bring, rent or buy.  And since I try to have my Production Sheet done a week before the photoshoot, this gives me time to get rentals, wardrobe, etc. Seriously, it takes HOURS to create a Production Sheet.  And mine is usually 4 – 5 pages long.  At least.  But detail is good.  Less chance to forget something the day of the photoshoot.  I’ve heard it all to often…  50% of a successful project involves the planning portion.

Don’t go cheap on pre-production. Early the day before, I like to send all team a reminder and if there is anything I can do for them.  This may involve a ride to the location or coffee!  Seriously.  But really, people like feeling as they are being taken cared of and you’ll get better work.  You know, it’s just being nice… Finally, the night before the photoshoot, I have everything organized and ready to go in the corner of a room.  So all I do is wakeup and go to that corner for everything I need to take to the car.  No thinking!

So that’s it’s for Pre-Production.  Stick around for Production Day part of this blog series!

About the author

Ricardo Gomez is a Fashion Photographer based in New York City.

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