How to Commission a Photographer / Part 9: The Day of the Shoot
Part 9: The Day of the Shoot Well the day has finally arrived, it’s shoot time, the fun, creative bit!
If all expectations have been communicated clearly, the ‘pre-production’ efficiently organised and all key elements approved, then, in theory, everything should run like clock-work when it comes to the day of the shoot.
Fair enough, you can’t always be prepared for every eventuality. I was just chatting to one of my photographers who mentioned a few classics…
‘’Model having a ‘boob’ job after the casting but before the shoot. Arrived and they were indeed quite impressive however nothing but a man’s shirt would fit.
7 year old girl losing 2 front teeth just before shoot, resulting in overhead, from behind and strategically placed items in front of mouth throughout shoot.
Stylist trying to get flames going on a shoot involving an open fire, newspaper catching fire, scorching wall and ceiling (repainted with no one any the wiser)
Being asked by a ‘pop star’ who’s got the drugs?!’’ (thanks Iain!)
A few incidents stand out in my head from over the years; such as a photographer getting stuck in a lift for 2 hours when he nipped out to get his car from the car park (with no one knowing what had happened to him as he hadn’t mentioned what he was doing); a producer having a rather bad bout of indigestion and spending most of the shoot day on the location bus toilet; the 1000 turkeys that died of heart attacks when the strobe flashguns all fired at once on their farm; a model who took a swing at an art director on a shoot - it can be a dangerous game!
Models turning up looking nothing like their pictures, or fibbing about their age, size and height, when we’ve only been able to do an online casting, is the most common problem - which is why we always advise on a live casting.
Unpredictable shoot crew (booked by the client, not us, of course!) is another. The 80 year old home economist who had a meltdown when her meringue didn’t work out on set and just went home, the stylist who had a hissy fit as she didn’t want to carry her suitcase up a small hill to a park location. We can safeguard against most things to a certain extent but as you can appreciate, some things just can’t be predicted!
Seriously though, as we’ve discovered in the last few weeks there’s a few key milestones that go into the commissioning process. The more diligence that goes into each of these stages, the greater likelihood of a relaxed, enjoyable shoot with no nasty surprises. Some of the things that need to be considered are completely down to us as shoot producers, but we are at the mercy of the agency or client with some as you can appreciate. Let’s just have a quick recap on what we’ve explored over the last few weeks in this guide. These are your foundations to a great shoot with perfect results.
This is a good starting point. Look for the perfect match in terms of style, experience, personality, approach, price (cheapest is rarely best!), a good team and production support as back-up also really help.
Whether it’s a specialist home economist, a stylist with interiors experience, a super helpful 1st assistant or models with the right attitude, we pride ourselves on finding the right crew for the shoots we produce. We also do our best to put the most compatible teams together, it makes such a difference to the atmosphere on shoot day and can prevent some of the incidents I mentioned above!
The clearer you can be about your requirements the easier it will be to meet expectations. The more detail that goes into the initial brief the better. If extra shots are added on the day of the shoot or something has been overlooked or miscommunicated this can cause problems.
If the brief is clear then we can provide accurate costs and stick within budget on the shoot day. Any aberrations are likely to cause issues such as crew overtime or additional expenses.
It’s important to plan an achievable schedule taking everything into account. Releases, permits and visa’s for example can take time to process. If elements of the shoot need approving by several parties, allow time for this.
Get all the business terms agreed before the big day. The contract lays down legal guidelines and misunderstandings here can cause major issues for the shoot day and beyond. If the image usage changes on the day of the shoot, this could cause big problem if models are involved or a larger format is required, or if ‘real’ people are being photographed but the client hasn’t noted that they are responsible for model releases are just a few examples.
Last thing we want on shoot day is for the client to suddenly announce they want a red dress or they don’t want to feature pork for example. A PPM is a good idea if time allows.
An officious local council officer calling the shoot off as you haven’t got a park permit or children’s performance licence, for example, would be pretty disastrous.
It won’t help matters on the actual shoot day if something gets damaged for example, but will add to peace of mind.
• Let everyone know what they are doing, when and where, as much as possible before the day and on the day of the shoot
Clear instruction and communication is vital. We do everything we can to make sure the shoot runs on time and within budget. We make sure our crew are fully briefed (usually way before shoot day) and we send out a call sheet a couple of days before the shoot. Call sheets include all the key people on the shoot with contact details, the location details, start, break and finish times, prep and shoot agenda, weather forecast if the shoot is outside, plus any other useful or important information.
• Send a good art director to the shoot
On the actual shoot day, having an art director that is really on board with the brief is very important. Iain Crockart, has been represented by LPA for many years now ( and supplied some of the stories above!) used to be the Creative Director of award winning agency CDT in a former life.
I’ve represented Iain from the very beginning of setting up LPA, 14 years ago now. He used to be a client and made the transition to becoming one of our successful photographers remarkably smoothly. Aside from his great ‘eye’ and passion for his photography, his agency experience and perspective from different directions helps immensely. Iain has also kindly contributed some tips for good art direction:
• Collaborate. Share. Discuss. Develop.
• Involve the art director and photographer from early on in the process of preparing for a shoot. Invaluable.
• Discuss and agree stuff that you know and accept, adapt to the stuff you don’t.
• Be part of solving the problem, not part of the problem. Not all shoots go to plan regardless of the preparation. Be flexible, be creative and have a sense of humour!
• A good photographer is an extension of the art director, the photographer then adds his or her own feel, eye, vision to help make the shot more than what was expected.
• Work with not for. This is vital.
• Be passionate about the brief.
• Got an idea on the day… share it. But understand the ramifications if it is a major departure from the agreed shot- time of day for light, schedule, models and crew running over time, additional costly shoot expenses and tricky logistics for example.
• Shooting tethered is good for the client and eases any anxieties of the ‘have you got the shot’ type, but keep the eyes to the minimum.
• Everyone has an opinion if asked but the AD’s (and the photographer’s) view are the two most important ones.
• If it's a large team establish roles and responsibilities.
• Enjoy it… it’s a great job.
• Ensure everyone has what they need on the day
If we are producing a shoot we try to make sure that everyone is as comfortable as possible so they can get on with the task in hand. From warming food and hand warmers on a chilly day, to cold drinks and sun cream on a hot one. If the shoot requires it and budget allows for it, we will always send a producer or production assistant along to make sure everyone has what they need and things run to schedule. Likewise we’ll always book additional assistants if an extra pairs of hands are needed on the day, from helping the stylist move props around to keeping things tidy and making cups of tea.
Recently one of our photographers, Michael Heffernan was commissioned by brand and digital agency Embrace to shoot a bank of images for healthcare giant Hartmann. Michael shot some brilliant lifestyle imagery over several days in sunny Cape Town.
I must say Embrace were exemplary in providing us with a clear brief and implementing meticulous, water tight processes throughout. They created an impressively detailed shoot document detailing every signed off element and expectation. They pretty much left no room for error, and the result was a stress-free, slick shoot and a happy client. In the light of this I was keen to get their take on things…
What in your opinion makes for a smooth running shoot?
Ultimately, it’s all in the planning. If you plan something well, it shouldn’t fail. If you produce a clear and actionable briefing document, you’re 90% of the way there.
You want to be very clear as to how the end image should look together with the messaging that it needs to convey and be able to work backwards from that.
And while it’s important to plan the shoot and allow for all eventualities, it’s also good to allow some free rein for the photographer to trial his own things, sometimes the perfect image comes in on the fly.
Agencies are still best placed to help brands with this as they have regular experience commissioning and actioning shoots and are well versed therefore in all the extraneous details like how to book a model, work out the rights, realistic timelines etc.
My experiences are from an agent/shoot producer point of view and we usually deal with creative agencies. In your opinion what can be the problematic areas when it comes to dealing with your clients in terms of commissioning shoots? What are the main considerations mostly?
Again, this needs to come back to meticulous planning. Unless everyone can see a clear articulation of what is going to be captured, it’s easy for everybody to imagine the output in different ways – and that of course can be problematic. So it’s essential for the client to sign off the job at regular landmarks in the process. Getting the client at the shoot is also important, not only for real time input and approval, but also for them to experience it first hand
Unless the client is experienced in shoot production, they aren’t always aware of all the detail a shoot requires, like timetabling, storyboarding, legals, location-sourcing, auditioning, syncing of schedules etc and the knock on effect that has on costs, which can rack up pretty quickly. It’s not just rocking up with a camera, it’s a military operation.
The final images looked great, were they what you were expecting? If the answer's yes (which hopefully it will be!) what do you think were the main contributing factors to this?
For Hartmann, the images were indeed what we were expecting as we’d created an indepth briefing document that was signed off at every stage of the process, so everyone was on the same page. We were also lucky enough to work with a brilliant photographer, Michael Heffernan who was experienced with the locations that we were shooting in as well as in this type of ‘lifestyle’ photography thanks to his brand experience. We wanted to bring a new feel to this type of corporate brand photography for the healthcare sector.
But of course, you’re also dependent on a smidgen of luck on the day not only for the photography to sparkle, but no matter how well you plan something, there can always be a curveball that needs you to think on your feet!
Thank you to Simon Davies, Creative Director and Howard Wilmot, Communications Director of Embrace for your help this week, seems we have found a common cause!
Embrace have also written some really interesting articles themselves on the subject of commissioning photography, which you can read here:
Just one more part to go now! Putting my producers hat on, I’m going to be tying up all the loose ends and concluding the series next Thursday with Part 10: After the Shoot. What happens next?
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