SHOOT PREP — How to Make Your NEXT Shoot Your BEST Shoot

The TOGCHAT Photography Podcast




Lack of preparation is one of the biggest obstacles to improving your photography, regardless of the genre that you shoot. So this week, I want to share some thoughts with you about shoot prep.

Just like most photography skills, preparation is a skill that can be learned and with some discipline and experience this is an ability that can be improved over time, by almost anyone.

So in this episode my goal is to help you not only understand the importance of proper prep for a shoot but to also walk you through the details that will make your shoots go smoother and help you achieve better results.

Release Date: April 8th, 2021
 
Transcript | TOGCHAT Resources

Episode Links


App – The Photographer’s Ephemeris
https://photoephemeris.com/en

App – PhotoPills
https://www.photopills.com/

App – SunSurveyor
https://www.sunsurveyor.com/



Transcript

SHOOT PREP — How to Make Your NEXT Shoot Your BEST Shoot

Joe: 0:00
Lack of preparation is one of the biggest obstacles to improving your photography, regardless of the genre that you shoot. So this week, I want to share some thoughts with you about shoot prep. Stay tuned.

DJ: 0:12
You’re listening to the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast, the only podcast dedicated to the HOWS and WHYS, hind creating consistently great photographs. Here’s your host, Joe Edelman.

Joe: 0:30
Hey gang! This is episode #246 of the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast. I am Joe Edelman and my mission is to help photographers like you to develop a better understanding of the HOWS and WHYS behind great photography.

A few quick notes for you…Be sure to check out my website — www.JoeEdelman.com. If you have never been there — what are you waiting for? If you have been there — I want you to know that it looks a lot different and there are some cool new features. Now when you visit the website the first thing you are going to see is my portfolio — not a bunch of articles. The articles are still there, but I wanted to put the images front and center and I will be expanding on the portfolio and adding my fine art nudes and abstract photographs over the next few weeks.

There are over 300 articles and tutorials on the site along with a directory of modeling agencies and makeup artists from all 50 of the United States. You will also find some great advice for models as well as the photographers that photograph them and the website serves as home base for all of my TOGCHAT podcast episodes as well as The LAST FRAME LIVE.

Be sure to sign up for my email newsletter to receive updates. Don’t worry — I never sell the list and I only email when I have something exciting to share. No spam from Joe.

I am hoping that you subscribe to my YouTube channel and that you have seen my new series called The LAST FRAME LIVE. The LAST FRAME is a one-hour livestream that happens every Wednesday evening at 6:00PM ET in the US.

Each week, the Last Frame focuses on a different topic with no scripts, no razzle dazzle, no canned presentations. I do my best to give you a lesson or demo or series of tips based strictly on my experience — in other words — how I do it. No rules. No bullet points, No top 5 ways, I share my ways of doing it so that you can get an inside understanding of how another photographer works. This is not your usually YouTube tutorial stuff. You can find the link in the show notes. I hope you will check it out.

If you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube Channel yet, please do.

DJ: 2:55
If you’re listening to TOGCHAT on iTunes or any other platform that allows reviews, please leave a few positive notes to help other photographers find out about the show. Remember photography is not a competition. It is a passion to be shared.

Joe: 3:08
Honestly — the reviews help to attract sponsors which help me to continue providing you with access to all of these amazing photographers.

My photography thought for the week — We all have photographic memories. It’s just that some of us lost the memory card.

DJ: 3:34
Next up is this week’s TOG Topic.

Joe: 3:37
A quick Google search for the phrase shoot prep or shoot preparation brings back millions of results — most of which are written for the subjects of the photo shoots, NOT for the photographer. It is an unfortunate example of why so many photographers struggle to really master their craft.

Excellent preparation is not always fun. In fact, it can be a lot of work and many photographers avoid it because it can appear to be boring and uninteresting — especially to those who love the adrenaline of spontaneity.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying; “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”

Excellent preparation can prove to be one of the most valuable skills that you can master as a photographer. Those who practice this skill avoid the build-up of stress and anxiety as they work to improve their photography, meet deadlines and impress clients.

Part of the challenge is that some of us are naturally detail oriented and planning and preparation comes naturally. Others among us are not as organized and struggle with this skill set. The good news is that great preparation skills can be learned.

Just like most photography skills, preparation is a skill that can be learned and with some discipline and experience this is an ability that can be improved over time, by almost anyone.

Some of you will say that you prefer to live in the moment to allow your creativity to flow. The problem with that is that you are being reactive instead of proactive — preparation is the difference between those two things. The advantage of preparation is that you can walk into a shoot knowing that you have a plan, knowing that you have created the best possible scenario to accomplish the shots that you want and that time that you invested in preparation will allow you to manage problems much quicker and more efficiently. Having this confidence is what allows me to avoid the stress and anxiety of having to create on demand. It allows me to be more creative because I have removed all pressure from the situation and my time with a camera in hand is dedicated solely to creating images — not trying to figure out what to do in the moment.

So in this episode my goal is to help you not only understand the importance of proper prep for a shoot but to also walk you through the details that will make your shoots go smoother and help you achieve better results.

This isn’t a discussion about the technical aspects of photography, but it has everything to do with the process of making a great photograph. The simple reality is that this information only holds value to you if you take the time to really learn your cameras and all the basics of photography.

Preparation will help you improve your photography the most after you reach the point where your gear is an extension of your thought process — like driving a car. When you get in the car — you turn the key or push the button and then drive. Certainly you pay attention to the traffic and the directions, but at no point do you stop and say to yourself “Wait a minute — how do I drive the car?” Most of you can pick up a screwdriver and with a simple reminder of “Righty tighty — lefty Lucy” you are able to turn the screwdriver in the proper direction. Yet, so many photographers have spent thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars on camera gear, and they still don’t understand the relationships between ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. Many don’t properly understand Depth of Field or the Inverse Square Law. All of these things are critical to producing consistently great images. I make that point because I don’t want you to think that this information I am about to share with you is the silver bullet to make your photos great. It is just one piece of the puzzle.

So with that in mind, if you are serious about improving your photography — I want you to commit this acronym to memory.

GREAT PREP stands for Great Photographs Require Excellent Preparation

I put so much effort into PREP so that when I finally pick up my camera, I have the confidence of knowing that I have created the optimal situation for me to work and create in. I know that I have thought of as many details as possible and created a situation that will allow me to work virtually problem free and focus my attention on creating the images that I imagined instead of running around thinking about what I can do next and then trying to figure out how to do it.

This acronym: Great Photographs Require Excellent Preparation applies to all genres of photography. Regardless of the types of photographs you want to create, the more prepared you are, the greater your ability to create outstanding images.

DJ: 9:37
Enjoying the show. Please take a moment and share it with your friends on social media.

Joe: 9:41
Professional landscape or travel photographers don’t just show up at a location and start shooting amazing images. They research and plan for great images first.

They begin with WHY — why are they going? In other words — what are they hoping or planning to do with the images? Will they be sold for publication? Possibly for stock? Maybe they will be used as part of a gallery exhibit or a documentary effort. Maybe they will be sold as wall art. The answer to WHY will impact every other decision that landscape or travel photographers make in planning for that trip.

Once they’ve established the WHY — they can begin to research the place they plan to travel to. Research will include everything from what are the most visually interesting aspects of that place to what are the best times of year to photograph in that locale. If the images are documentary in nature, historical significance will influence the selection of places to shoot. Since we are talking about travel and landscape photography, research will also include any special travel requirements, passports, visas, licenses, property releases or permits that may be required for photographing at various locations.

As the research becomes more detailed those photographers will turn to apps like Google Maps, and The Photographer’s Ephemeris or Sun Surveyor to help them plan their specific travel routes based upon the best time of day to photograph each location — based on the lighting and likely weather in that location.

Now this is just a cursory overview of the amount of research and planning that goes into great prep for a landscape or travel photographer and that is why their work is so much better than the images that you are able to take when you go on vacation and show up at an important location at mid-day.

Since I am a people shooter, I am going to use portrait and model shoots as my examples, but I assure you that these concepts can be adapted for any genre of photography.

From this point forward I will be using the words portrait and model somewhat interchangeably. Some info that I am going to give you will be specific to just model shoots and I will do my best to highlight when that is the case — but most of this information applies to both.

So let’s dig in…

As you begin your preparation for a shoot, the first thing to keep in mind is;

Who is the client? There is always a client — even if you are shooting for fun. If you are shooting just for fun the client is you! Or maybe you are shooting for fun and the actual client is your subject because it is a friend or relative that has asked you to take pictures. If you are shooting for business — the client is the person or company who has hired you to create the images. If you are shooting on speculation of getting your images published — the client is the art director of the publication that you intend to submit to. If you are shooting for stock sales — the potential clients are companies, advertisers, magazines, bloggers, video creators all of whom could potentially purchase your images. There is always a client or potential client.

I put this as the first item on my Shoot Prep workflow because this little nugget of information — “who is the client?” — should guide ALL of my decisions as I plan and work with collaborators on this shoot. Basically, this is a reminder of who I am accountable to.

Step 2. WHY — Why are you doing the shoot. WHY is one of my favorite words and it is a question that we don’t ask enough. If you don’t know why, there is no thread — no accountability for the decisions that you make as you move forward. WHY establishes the goal — that finish line that you are working towards.

Let me give you a great business tip. If you are in business or planning to start a business… Never say yes before you know why! That is the easiest way to find yourself in a situation that you regret. Trust me, this applies to working pros and even to somebody taking pictures for friends or relatives. If someone asks me to photograph them, the first response that I have for them is not YES — it is to ask them WHY? The answer to WHY will lead me to ask the right questions and will begin to reveal the red flags if there are any.

Why do they need the portrait? Is it for an online dating service? Is it for a resume? A company website? Is it meant to be an heirloom portrait that will be printed large and hung above a fireplace as the centerpiece of a room? Is it a family portrait? Is it a wedding or engagement portrait? Is it an acting headshot? Maybe an environmental or even conceptual portrait? Each of these answers will require variations in the planning and creative process. If you want your client to be happy — WHY becomes the accountability behind all of your choices.

I don’t like to make assumptions, so I don’t want to assume that you all understand the importance of WHY based on the list of portrait types that I just gave you. So, let me point out what may be obvious to some of you…

A portrait for a dating service could be done in a studio or on location and it should not only make the subject look great but it should also make them look interesting, approachable and fun. The background is not terribly important — mainly it shouldn’t be distracting. Clothing and jewelry should certainly reflect the subjects style, but it should not become the focus of the photo and I would limit jewelry as much as possible as science has proven it is a distraction in a portrait.

A portrait for a resume or company website should probably be done as a studio portrait with a solid color clean background. The lighting should be simple and flattering and the expression and body language should depict someone who is intelligent, responsible and fun to work with. Camera angle should be at eye level or just slightly below to put the person in a position of authority. If the photo will appear on a company website — be sure to inquire about website colors so that your backgrounds and the subjects clothing don’t clash with the companies brand colors.

An acting headshot should be head and shoulders with lots of personality. If the actor is East Coast the shot should be done in a studio — West Coast can be shot indoors or outdoors and headshots for both coasts should have soft even lighting and make the subject look like they could be “that person”. The “I know I have seen them somewhere before” kind of person.

Now I could go on and on with these, and I am sure that some of you are feverishly taking notes for these examples. The notes aren’t really going to help you, in part because this information changes over time — it evolves.

Don’t worry this information is available at your fingertips. If you are asked to shoot an acting headshot or ANY of the portrait types that I mentioned, and if you don’t have prior experience with that type of portrait, all you need to do is go to Google and do a search for Acting Headshots and you can even add your location to the search term and then click on the Images tab to see what other photographers in your area are offering. Do the same for engagement portraits and pretty much any kind of photography you can imagine — for business or for fun.

I am definitely not suggesting that you copy these results exactly — but I am letting you know that these search results will give you a great sense of what things you should be considering as you plan your shoot — provided that you take the time to pay attention to the details. Details are everything because just like in life — Success is in the details.

DJ: 18:14
Did you know that you can have Joe as your personal photography mentor? I’m talking about direct access to ask him questions and get advice. You can also attend weekly video meetups for members to share and help each other with Joe’s guidance. Be sure to check out the link in the show notes.

Step 3: Always have a contract. This applies to amateur shoots and professional shoots. It applies to TFP shoots as well as paid portrait and wedding and commercial shoots. Contracts serve as a record of commitments for both parties. At their very core, contracts are relationships. Two parties agree to work together, and forge a connection that is beneficial to both parties. A contract is the visual representation of that relationship. Contracts prevent conflicts and mitigate risk. Contracts often go through a negotiation process that ensures both sides are getting the best deal possible. Good negotiation should lead to a mutually successful outcome that prevents conflict down the line and sets the foundation for a strong partnership moving forward.

Contracts serve as a collaboration and communication tool. From their very creation, contracts are by nature relational and collaborative and serve as the foundation for building healthy communication and opening up collaboration. For professional shooters contracts also help generate revenue. Client requests that are above and beyond the contract are billed above and beyond the contract.

Ok, before I go any further with the contract discussion… time for a recommendation and warning: Never take legal advice from someone other than an attorney and especially not some guy that you found on a podcast.

Now that we have that out of the way… I have never used a contract with a model or portrait client regardless if it was a paid shoot or a trade. Don’t get me wrong — I am not careless. I do create a digital paper trail that is extremely detailed and thorough and is designed to make sure that realistic expectations and benchmarks are being set for both parties — myself and my client.

I know some of you are already thinking this preparation stuff seems like a lot of extra work, doesn’t it? It is actually.

I automate and streamline wherever possible. All of my planning and confirmation emails are templated, so I only have to copy and paste. This way I can use a template over and over and simply make modifications as needed. It still means it is extra work — but its not like I have to type all of it out from scratch each time and the fact that it is so detailed — keeps me on track and makes sure that I am covering all the important details with my client.

All of my client emails begin and end with the statement — “Please respond to this email to confirm that we are both on the same page”.

I can’t tell you how many times that sentence and a confirmation email has saved me massive problems. First — when your client receives it, and reviews it — this is your last opportunity to make sure that realistic expectations are being set and that everyone is on the same page. Regardless of how good you are at verbal communications and negotiations, you will be surprised how often you will get to this point and your clients will be like — “But I thought I was getting this…?” — or “I thought I was paying this…”.

My confirmation emails cover how many outfits we are shooting, it details the arrangements for hair and makeup and who is responsible for that cost, it goes over the payment balance due on the day of the shoot and it outlines the deliverables as well as the timeframe for delivery. The goal with this email or contract if you will, is to create a digital trail of my conversations with the model or client and what we agreed upon.

Moving on to Step 4. Scheduling. The biggest mistake that I see new photographers making with scheduling is not allowing enough time for the shoot. You see these young freelance models all over Instagram, Facebook and Model Mayhem posting that they will be in such and such a city for a day, and they have a 1-hour opening between 2:00 and 3:00pm. I’m sorry but you can’t create anything special like that. You just can’t. 1 hour is not enough time to establish a rapport, set-up lights, test, shoot, work the shot and look for other opportunities. Not to mention that leave no time for hair and makeup.

I don’t know about you, but for me — a one-hour window of availability is called lunch. Not to mention that this model has been shooting for several hours already and her makeup is already worn and abused. It simply doesn’t create an environment that allows you to make great photos. I won’t schedule a shoot or pick up a camera with a model unless I have at least 4 hours to work with them. That 4 hours includes hair and makeup time and then I would have enough time to create one or two unique shots.

The same thought process applies to any genre of photography. You can’t rush greatness. Great images take time and perseverance. If you don’t allow yourself enough time — you become your own worst enemy.

This becomes even more important if you start doing paid work because you should be charging your clients for your time. The client will want to keep the amount of time they have to pay you for to a minimum. The biggest rookie mistake is not being honest with yourself about how much time it will take, so that you can give the client a lower price to ensure that you get the job. Then if you do get the job, you are either rushing to get it done in the agreed upon amount of time or you find yourself working many more hours than you are getting paid for just so that you can do the job properly. Either way you lose.

For those of you working with models, I want to touch on a few other considerations. I realize if you have a day job that shooting in the evening is most convenient. My strong advice to you is don’t. Set aside time on the weekend instead and shoot first thing in the morning. You want your subjects to be well rested. Doing a shoot in the evening means that your model was doing other things during the day and was even wearing makeup before arriving at your shoot. Even though the makeup can be removed, that is a lot of abuse on the skin and it makes it much more difficult for your makeup artist to do their best work.

Even for a simple portrait — earlier in the day is better so that your subject is well rested and is not rushing to get the photo done in between other things on their schedule.

One last scheduling tip for models… I apologize in advance — this is a sensitive topic, but I swear to you that I have this discussion anytime I am scheduling a shoot that includes body wear with a female model and I have never had a model complain or be upset with me. In fact, they usually thank me for thinking of it. When I am on the phone with the model — I would never do this via email — when I am on the phone working out the date and time for the shoot, I always ask: “Just to be sure, is this a good time of the month for you to shoot? I want you to feel your absolute best when you are in front of the camera.” The question is honest and sincere and I have yet to meet a woman who wants to be photographed — especially in anything that shows her figure — when it’s that time of the month.

Ok on to Step Number 5 — The ideas. One of the most frequent questions that I get about my photography is where do the ideas come from? My favorite answer is: Drugs! But seriously — I’ve never done drugs. Life and new experiences are my drugs. I will tell you that coming up with new ideas and concepts for shoots is a skill that requires some effort and practice. You need to have an idea or concept BEFORE you show up for the shoot if you are serious about making great photographs. And that idea should be well-thought-out. Saying that “I want to shoot some swimwear” or “Let’s shoot some glamour” is not an idea or concept.

Probably the two best resources for the creatively challenged are Instagram and Pinterest. You can type in a search term like Fashion Portraits and see thousands of images. Of course the same idea will work for acting headshots, engagement portraits — you name it. Now the goal here is NOT to copy what you see. Any Zombie photographer can copy a picture they found on the internet. The problem with a copy is that it is never as good as the original. You can copy all you want, but you will always be one step behind the people who are truly innovating. Pablo Picasso is quoted as saying that “Good artists copy and great artists steal”. I couldn’t agree more. If you are going to copy what another photographer did — you should pay them. Pay them for the idea and pay them for the fact that your copy devalues their brilliance.

I am always on the lookout for elements that will help me begin a shot — complete a shot or add to a shot. Creating the kinds of images that I make is like putting a puzzle together with the help of a few friends. So I have folders full of idea images both in my Dropbox account and in the camera roll of my phone. I have no plans to copy or replicate any of the images that I save. I saved them because of an element — a color scheme that I wouldn’t have thought of — a hairstyle that I think is unique or maybe it has a certain vibe to it that goes with a concept I want to try — like maybe a sci-fi feel. It could be a certain pose or body posture that is cool. Maybe a lighting concept that I have never thought of. If an image catches my attention — I will add it to my folders. No notes — no details — just the image. If the element in it is that good — it will continue to grab me each time I go through those folders and eventually the right model and right outfit will come along and I will build my own unique photograph using that element.

If you make it a point to do this routinely — it will turn into a habit and then become something that you do naturally. If you would like to learn more about that concept, Google the phrase Divergent Thinking.

DJ: 29:49
Be sure to check the show notes for any websites and video links that Joe mentions.

Joe: 29:54
Another PRO TIP for you: Make it a point to visit craft stores and fabric stores on a regular basis. I only purchase fabric when its on clearance. Visit the same places regularly. I have two little old ladies that work at my local Joanne’s Fabrics. Every time I visit they run to the stock room and bring out ends of fabric rolls that they think would make great pieces for my photos. How do they know? I show them new pictures every time I go and now they have fun collaborating with me to find material pieces that wind up in a photo that I show them on a future visit.

Fabric stores are also great resources for DIY background fabrics. I have included a link to a video I did about DIY Backgrounds in the show notes. Frequently a piece of fabric will become the idea or catalyst for an idea or it becomes the finishing touch that brings an idea to life.

This brings us to outfit selection — which is Step 6. Remember that a portrait is about the subject. Not the clothing, not the hair, not the jewelry, not the makeup, not the background, or the lighting — the subject. While these rules will change a little depending on the type of image you are after — The best rule of thumb is to KISS IT! Keep It Super Simple.

Now please — don’t be the very amateur photographer who tells their subjects to bring a bunch of outfits with the idea being to figure out what to shoot and how to shoot it when they get there. Any photographer who does that deserves to fail. That is simply lazy and pretty much ensures that you will wind up with less than ideal outfits to work with. It also demonstrates to your client that you are not very involved and don’t care about the outcome. That is important to understand for you photographers who complain about models flaking and not showing up for shoots. 99% of the time it is YOUR fault — not theirs. You are the one who has been unprofessional, they just figured it out and saved themselves the misery of a bad shoot. I have never had a client flake on a shoot.

The crucial step that I take with outfit planning is to tell my client what I want them to bring. How many tops for headshots, casual outfits, fashion outfits, swimsuits, fitness, lingerie — depending of course upon what we are shooting, I am going to let them know how many outfits I want for each category.

The way that I avoid the potential disaster of hideous outfits at a shoot is by giving my client very specific guidelines in advance. My portrait and modeling clients are instructed that clothing must be solid colors — no prints, no patterns, no florals. I have them stick with classic, basic and traditional styles unless we are shooting something that is fashion or conceptual. If I am shooting headshots or portraits, I make it clear that I want the tops to be solid colors and that they cannot wear spaghetti straps or tank tops. The vertical lines are distracting and in the summer months there are good odds that your subject has tan lines that you will have to retouch. The sleeve length doesn’t matter — it can be long sleeves, short sleeve, cap sleeves — as long as the shoulders are covered.

To finalize the outfit portion of planning for a shoot. I make my subjects put on the outfits and take a simple mirror selfie and text it to me. I make it very clear — I don’t care about hair or makeup — I just want to see the clothing on their body. Not on a hangar — not laying on a bed — and believe me if you don’t specify that — they will photograph it on a hangar or laying on a bed. I explain very honestly that I want to see it on their body so that I have a sense of how it fits and what kind of poses I can do with that outfit. I have them text me the photos because in today’s world — getting a subject to take the selfie and send it is the easiest and fastest way to get them to put in the effort. Besides — if you are working with models, every young girl is a pro at mirror selfies.

Also, especially for the gentlemen who are listening — this should apply to women photographers as well….if I am planning a shoot involving swimwear or lingerie I make it a point to tell my client that they should take the selfies in those outfits from the shoulders down — so that they are not sending provocative selfies of themselves via text. They may choose to do that with their boyfriends or spouses — but I will not be responsible for having that happen.

Another PRO TIP for you: Consignment Shops — Second Hand Stores — Goodwill Stores — these can be great sources of really cool outfits and extremely low prices. Most consignment and thrift shops are Mom & Pop operations. Meaning they don’t have large advertising budgets, but just like any business they need advertising images. Ask to speak to the owner and see if you could work out a deal where you leave a deposit — take an outfit home to photograph it and then return the outfit and provide them with a few photos that they could use for their advertising. I have done this in the past and it is a win-win for all parties involved in the collaboration. If you enter into an arrangement like this — remember that you now potentially have more than one client involved in your shoot. Your cool concept may be a head and shoulders beauty shot, but if you have partnered with the thrift shop to let you use the outfit — they need full length shots to show off the outfit and hopefully find a buyer for it — so don’t get so caught up in your shot — that you forget one of your clients.

I routinely hear from makeup artists who agree to do a trade or test shoot with a photographer in exchange for images. When they get their images they are ultimately disappointed and realize they wasted time and money because the photographer was a jerk and shot all full length images. If you are doing a trade like that, the makeup artist is also a client and you need to shoot some close-ups for the purpose of showing off the makeup.

DJ: 36:21
Are you a member of a photography club or meetup group? Did you know that Joe presents virtually to clubs all around the world? Follow the presentation link in the show notes to learn more.

Joe: 36:31
Another PRO TIP for you: Make it a point to visit craft stores and fabric stores on a regular basis. I only purchase fabric when its on clearance. Visit the same places regularly. I have two little old ladies that work at my local Joanne’s Fabrics. Every time I visit they run to the stock room and bring out ends of fabric rolls that they think would make great pieces for my photos. How do they know? I show them new pictures every time I go and now they have fun collaborating with me to find material pieces that wind up in a photo that I show them on a future visit.

Fabric stores are also great resources for DIY background fabrics. I have included a link to a video I did about DIY Backgrounds in the show notes. Frequently a piece of fabric will become the idea or catalyst for an idea or it becomes the finishing touch that brings an idea to life.

This brings us to outfit selection — which is Step 6. Remember that a portrait is about the subject. Not the clothing, not the hair, not the jewelry, not the makeup, not the background, or the lighting — the subject. While these rules will change a little depending on the type of image you are after — The best rule of thumb is to KISS IT! Keep It Super Simple.

Now please — don’t be the very amateur photographer who tells their subjects to bring a bunch of outfits with the idea being to figure out what to shoot and how to shoot it when they get there. Any photographer who does that deserves to fail. That is simply lazy and pretty much ensures that you will wind up with less than ideal outfits to work with. It also demonstrates to your client that you are not very involved and don’t care about the outcome. That is important to understand for you photographers who complain about models flaking and not showing up for shoots. 99% of the time it is YOUR fault — not theirs. You are the one who has been unprofessional, they just figured it out and saved themselves the misery of a bad shoot. I have never had a client flake on a shoot.

The crucial step that I take with outfit planning is to tell my client what I want them to bring. How many tops for headshots, casual outfits, fashion outfits, swimsuits, fitness, lingerie — depending of course upon what we are shooting, I am going to let them know how many outfits I want for each category.

The way that I avoid the potential disaster of hideous outfits at a shoot is by giving my client very specific guidelines in advance. My portrait and modeling clients are instructed that clothing must be solid colors — no prints, no patterns, no florals. I have them stick with classic, basic and traditional styles unless we are shooting something that is fashion or conceptual. If I am shooting headshots or portraits, I make it clear that I want the tops to be solid colors and that they cannot wear spaghetti straps or tank tops. The vertical lines are distracting and in the summer months there are good odds that your subject has tan lines that you will have to retouch. The sleeve length doesn’t matter — it can be long sleeves, short sleeve, cap sleeves — as long as the shoulders are covered.

To finalize the outfit portion of planning for a shoot. I make my subjects put on the outfits and take a simple mirror selfie and text it to me. I make it very clear — I don’t care about hair or makeup — I just want to see the clothing on their body. Not on a hangar — not laying on a bed — and believe me if you don’t specify that — they will photograph it on a hangar or laying on a bed. I explain very honestly that I want to see it on their body so that I have a sense of how it fits and what kind of poses I can do with that outfit. I have them text me the photos because in today’s world — getting a subject to take the selfie and send it is the easiest and fastest way to get them to put in the effort. Besides — if you are working with models, every young girl is a pro at mirror selfies.

Also, especially for the gentlemen who are listening — this should apply to women photographers as well….if I am planning a shoot involving swimwear or lingerie I make it a point to tell my client that they should take the selfies in those outfits from the shoulders down — so that they are not sending provocative selfies of themselves via text. They may choose to do that with their boyfriends or spouses — but I will not be responsible for having that happen.

Another PRO TIP for you: Consignment Shops — Second Hand Stores — Goodwill Stores — these can be great sources of really cool outfits and extremely low prices. Most consignment and thrift shops are Mom & Pop operations. Meaning they don’t have large advertising budgets, but just like any business they need advertising images. Ask to speak to the owner and see if you could work out a deal where you leave a deposit — take an outfit home to photograph it and then return the outfit and provide them with a few photos that they could use for their advertising. I have done this in the past and it is a win-win for all parties involved in the collaboration. If you enter into an arrangement like this — remember that you now potentially have more than one client involved in your shoot. Your cool concept may be a head and shoulders beauty shot, but if you have partnered with the thrift shop to let you use the outfit — they need full length shots to show off the outfit and hopefully find a buyer for it — so don’t get so caught up in your shot — that you forget one of your clients.

I routinely hear from makeup artists who agree to do a trade or test shoot with a photographer in exchange for images. When they get their images they are ultimately disappointed and realize they wasted time and money because the photographer was a jerk and shot all full length images. If you are doing a trade like that, the makeup artist is also a client and you need to shoot some close-ups for the purpose of showing off the makeup.

Thanks for listening to the TOGCHAT Photography Podcast. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something because your best shot it’s your next shot. So keep learning, keep thinking and keep shooting. Adios.


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FTC Disclosure: No sponsors have paid for inclusion in this show. I am an Olympus Visionary photographer, a Delkin Image Maker, a TetherTools Pro and a StellaPro Champion of Light. These companies do provide me with various pieces of gear that I frequently discuss or mention, however all words and opinions are my own, and I was not asked to produce this show. Product links included in this page are generally Amazon or other Affiliate Program links from which I do earn a commission that helps to support the production of this show.
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