Business essentials: Preparing for a photography shoot

Portrait of Scottish multi-sports athlete Joanne Thom near the summit of Meall nan Tarmachan, a Munro in the South-East Highlands of Scotland

Portrait of Scottish multi-sports athlete Joanne Thom near the summit of Meall nan Tarmachan, a Munro in the South-East Highlands of Scotland

Whilst preparing for a photo shoot with an upcoming client, I thought it would be worthwhile sharing some of the key steps I go through to prepare for a shoot, from receiving an initial request right through to delivering images to the client.

Here are some of the things I'll do to make sure things go as smoothly as possible on the day.

1. Get to know the client

The first thing I'll establish is who has contacted me. Is it a company, an agency or a magazine? Before I call anyone back, I like to find out as much as possible so I'll do my research before responding. For example, if it's a magazine, I'll browse through past issues to check out recent features and photography style. If an advertising agency has contacted me on behalf of one of their clients, I'll review both the agency's portfolio of work and the company to see what work they've recently commissioned.

2. Find out more about the request

What am I being asked to do? A question I'm commonly asked is 'what is my day rate?'. As a freelance photographer, I'm responsible for all my own costs (e.g. camera equipment, insurance, working location, pension, repairs, etc.) so I don't have a set day rate. To establish an appropriate fee for a shoot, I need to take into account a number of things, such as my cost of doing business, how complex / involved the assignment is, the number of images a client would like, how they wish to use them, etc. At this stage, I'll get on the phone and verbally go through the brief with the client (in person if I can) so I can gather as much information as possible to put together an accurate estimate.

3. Produce an estimate

When considering how much a job should cost, there's a variety of things I'll take into account, depending how complex the requirements are.

These include;

  • What do I need to do to create the images?

  • How does the client plan to use them?

  • How many days will the shoot take?

  • What resources are required?

  • What equipment will I need?

  • Is there a planned location or do I need to find one?

  • Do we need to visit the location up front? Do we need a permit?

  • How will everyone get there?

  • Etc.

I can only answer these questions if I've discussed the requirements in depth with the client so early communication is key.

4. Prepare for the day

Once I've agreed a price with the client, I'll go into full-on research mode. I like to know as much as possible in advance so I'll Google anything related to the shoot. If required, my estimate will have included one or two scouting days so we'll have a chance to physically check out the location and scope out suitable positions or landscapes we can use to meet the brief. If not, I'll use the internet to find out what the terrain's like, what's nearby, the prevailing weather conditions, etc.. Anything really that helps me anticipate what to expect and gives me a jump on making creative images. I'll also consider a plan B location (and often a plan C) should the unexpected happen and we need to react accordingly.

If there's no brief as such, e.g. for a portfolio shoot, I'll prepare my own by putting together a shot list. This makes me think creatively and helps me focus better on the day. I'll often share these ideas with a client in advance so we have an opportunity to discuss them.

The week before a shoot, I'll finalise a production sheet and model release forms that I'll have prepared previously and shared so everyone knows what is expected of them and there are no outstanding questions. I'll also start to prepare my camera and outdoor equipment, making sure e.g. all the batteries are charged, the sensors and lenses are clean and I have enough equipment to stay safe.

The actual gear I take with me on an adventure sports photography shoot depends on the requirements but there's a minimum amount of gear I'll always have with me:

My minimum gear for a photo shoot;

  • Professional camera body (x2 full frame)

  • Professional lenses (wide angle, telephoto and a fast prime)

  • Memory cards (at least x100Gb)

  • Batteries (rechargeable AA, AAA, Lithium)

  • Speedlight and light modifiers

  • Light meter

  • Light stand

  • Remote control triggers

  • Tripod

  • Sunseeker app

  • Lens cloths

  • Waterproof jacket

  • Insulated jacket

  • Gloves

  • Hat

  • Food

Other items of equipment I might take on a shoot include a tripod or a monopod, an underwater DSLR case if the shoot involves swimming and an iPad or laptop, so I can tether the camera and share shots immediately with the client (see my thoughts on the excellent iWorkcase here). In short, I'll bring anything I think I need to meet the requirements of the brief, and beyond.

5. Deliver as planned

On shoot day, my focus is on turning up early, engaging with the client, athletes or models and shooting as much as possible. With all the pre-work and preparation we've put in, things should go smoothly.

If it's appropriate, I may suggest other potential shots to the client when we're on location. Otherwise, once we've got what we need to meet the brief, the shoot is a wrap, so to speak, and it's time to celebrate. Before I'm finished, I'll make sure all the shots from the day are backed up, copying the images from my memory cards onto my laptop plus a portable hard drive so I have 3 copies, making at least one copy redundant.

Back home, I'll download all the images from the shoot to my main computer and follow my workflow process to perform an official back-up and create proof files for the client to choose from. These proof files I'll share initially as low-resolution JPEGs for the client to make a selection from. I'll then finalise these selects and deliver them in high-resolution JPEG and TIFF formats, along with copies of any documentation relating to the shoot, e.g. the brief, model/property releases, expense receipts, etc. to finish the job.

Overall, my aim is to be as prepared as I can be so our shooting days are as valuable as possible and I'm quick and efficient following the shoot so my clients get what they need, when they want it.