Photographers: Preparing for Your First Shoot

Due to popular demand, here’s my blog for photographers, on preparing for your first model shoot. Models, I’ve got one for you too… that one’s here.  Now, these are just suggestions and shouldn’t be taken as the end-all-be-all regarding doing a shoot.  Certainly not all of the suggestions I have will work for everyone, or apply to all situations.  But they’re all definitely worth making note of.

Before The Shoot: General Communication
Discuss everything in advance with the model, including her limitations, what you both need as far as work goes, location, time, if there will be a MUA and who will pay for him/her, image delivery, etc.  You should also make sure that your rules regarding escorts are laid out here, especially if you do not allow them.  Generally, you want to make sure anything that could be questioned the day of the shoot or afterwards is taken care of before hand. It will lessen confusion, drama, and anger if done so.

Make sure you get both a phone number and an email address from the model, and that you give her your number and email as well.  You need to have an open line of communication off-line should on-line not be available, and it needs to be open from both your end and the model’s.  Many suggest a quick phone call prior to the shoot helps, but this likely depends on the model.  A simple confirmation email that outlines the date, time, and shoot concept/style and asks the model to respond by X time or else you will consider the shoot canceled should be sufficient.

If you require a stated ID to shoot, make sure you let the model know to bring one.  Especially if she’ll be taking public transport and not driving (not everyone carries a state ID at all times).

Before The Shoot: Ideas
Give the model some ideas, specifically, of what you’re looking for.  Don’t just tell her “bring whatever you want” and then, when she gets there, tell her “oh, I wish you’d brought [list of random stuff]”.  Heck, send the model some example shots if that’s easier for you.  But make sure you communicate what it is you need from the model in advance, so she can be as prepared as possible.

If you are going to send the model specific ideas, it’s generally a good idea to print those out as well, so you can reference them the day of the shoot.  Same goes for shots that have poses you like in them.  There’s nothing wrong with having a few pages (or even a book) to look at while shooting.  Especially if you have specifics in mind.  A 3-ring binder may be helpful if shooting on location, so nothing blows away.

Before The Shoot: Location & Equipment
If you’re shooting on location, make sure you check to see if a permit is required to shoot there, and secure one.  If you opt not to secure one, make sure you’re prepared to deal with authorities and any problems not having a permit may cause.

Set up and/or scout the location in advance, or at least while the model is doing hair, makeup and/or getting changed.  It’s pretty irritating to get to the location, get ready, and then have to sit around for 45 minutes while the photographer scouts the location for the best spot, unpacks his lights, and sets everything up.  If you can’t get there in advance, get there early the day of the shoot (if you’re renting a studio, perhaps ask the model to show up 30 minutes after your rental time starts, so you can set up).

On that note, make sure you know how to set up and use your equipment.  If it’s new, open it up at home, set it up, try it out (use the dog, the wife, the kids, or even a bowl of fruit).  Your shoot with the model may very well be a test for the product, but the product should at least be out of the box, have batteries in it, and the instruction manual should be read.

Before The Shoot: Home Studios
More experienced models are generally ok with home studios.  However, new models might still be wary of them.  If you shoot out of your home, make sure you note so in your pre-shoot communications.  It also helps find your location when one knows to look for a house, instead of a building.

If you have a pet, warn the model in advance in case of fears or allergies, and contain the pet if necessary.  If the model has an allergy, cleaning the area the model will be in would be nice, because even if she’s taken medication to subdue the allergies, they can flare up if there’s heavy dander in an area.  Generally, allergy attacks aren’t very photogenic 😉

(I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’ve been in some gross places.)  Make sure your house is clean enough so that the model doesn’t feel like she’s stepped into a landfill.  There should be no moldy dishes in the sink, no weeks-old take out containers scattered around, no garbage spilling onto the floor, and no bugs or rodents scurrying around.  The bathroom should have toilet paper, a clean hand towel, hand soap, and the floor, toilet and sink should be clean, not sticky or otherwise filthier than a 50 year old truckstop that hasn’t seen a mop in 45 years.  The model doesn’t have to be able to eat off the floors, but your place shouldn’t look (and smell) like a frat house after a 48-hour party.  Know what I mean?

Day Of The Shoot:
Some photographers drop the model a message or call her to see if she’s coming.  For a location shoot, this might be a good idea (though I recommend a phone call, as models might not check emails prior to a shoot).  It may also help to do this if directions to your place might be confusing, or if there are any development regarding getting to you (like construction, snow route parking, etc).  Just make sure that if you’re going to call, you call at a reasonable hour.  If your shoot’s at 1P, don’t call at 6A.

When the model arrives, this is when you’ll want to ask her for her state ID.  Some photographers take a picture of the ID, and of the model with the ID.  That’s up to you.

If you’re shooting at your home or studio, have her put her stuff down, and then show her around.  Let her know where the restroom is, where the changing area is, and where you’ll be shooting.

During The Shoot: General Stuff
Don’t be nervous.  It will show, and it will trickle down to the model (especially if she’s not experienced), who may get uncomfortable, which will end up showing up in the shots.

Don’t be afraid to talk to the model, have fun, and treat her like you’d treat any other person you have a professional, business relationship with.  It’s generally a good idea to avoid hot-button topics when it comes to jokes and conversation (you know, things like race, religion, sex, and politics).

Be polite and courteous, but don’t try too hard.  For example, ask if the model would like a bottle of water, but don’t force it on her if she declines.

Avoid hitting on the model, even jokingly.  Complements are fine, but be wary of over-complementing and leering.  Both can easily be viewed as “creepy” and can totally screw up the mood of a shoot.  Remember, you want to project a professional vibe, not come off as a horny douchebag looking for a date at the local bar.

During The Shoot: Directing
Ask before touching the model, even if it’s to move a stray hair.  Avoid touch-posing and use your words, your body, and even photos to help direct the model into poses and expressions.  If you’ve made printouts of ideas, make sure they’re nearby and easy to get to.

If the model is an experienced model, you’ll likely have to do less directing.  However, an experienced model generally likes to receive feedback while shooting–even things like, “good” and “hold that but turn a little to the right” works.  So make sure you give feedback while shooting.  We like to know how we’re doing 🙂

If you’re working with a new model, you’ll likely need to communicate better to get what you’re looking for.  Explaining which light is the main light, the area they have to move in, and showing them a few test shots so they get an idea of what they have to work with may help.  While shooting, you may need to be more direct with your instructions.  Printouts of examples may help here, and if you’re in need of specific expressions, feel free to guide the model through a scenario.  For example, if you need a model to project happiness, ask her to tell you about her favorite childhood memory, or something funny her pet has done.

Unless you’re purposefully being a goof, try to avoid things like, “that’s right, work it baby” and “oh yea, make love to the camera sweetie” and “ooh yea, that’s totally fierce”.  They’re just… no.

During The Shoot: Keeping Track of Time
Many artists get “in the zone” when working and lose track of time, and both models and photographers are no exception. It helps to have a clock (a working clock) near your set so both you and the model can keep track of time during the shoot.  If you’re on a set schedule, it’s especially important to do so.  Heck, if you’re on a really set schedule, set an alarm on your cell phone to go off approximately 30 minutes prior to when you need to end.

After The Shoot: Done!
If you need the model to sign a release, typically right after the shoot over is the time.  You can either do it right after the last frame is taken, or say, “go change into street clothes and I’ll print a copy of the release for you to sign when you’re done”. 

Some photographers prefer to, after a shoot, go through all the images with the model right away, and choose what to edit.  If this is how you opt to work, you’ll need to make sure you let the model know about this ahead of time so she can plan for the time in her schedule.

Generally though, it’s best to part with a handshake, a “thanks for your time, it was a pleasure working with you”, and a quick mention about when the model can expect the images in the format you agreed upon before the shoot.

I highly suggest (especially if you’ve rented a studio) going through the area where the model’s stuff was during your shoot to make sure she hasn’t forgotten anything once she’s left.  If she has left something behind, drop her a quick call to see how far away she is and if she wants to come back for it.  If she can’t come back for it, put it somewhere safe, with her name on it, and hang on to it until you two can figure out how she’ll be getting it back (her picking it up, you sending it with her CD, you bringing it to a local event).  Whatever you do, do not use the item as a way to get her to shoot with you again, a way to get her to agree to go on a date with you, or otherwise hold it hostage.  Not cool.

That’s it! That’s all I’ve got.  Hopefully it was helpful!

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4 Comments to “Photographers: Preparing for Your First Shoot”

  1. One thing I’m debating about is having some supply’s on hand for the model.
    Such as hair ties,bobby pins, hair spray.advil,etc…

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had models ask if I have that stuff.

    I know it’s not the photographer’s responsibility but in a pinch it’s good to have on hand.

    What do you think? Am I going beyond the call of duty by doing that? lol

  2. Bobby pins, hair ties, hair spray, safety pins, and even cotton balls and q-tips are helpful things to have on hand for models, and are easy to forget or run out of. Most can be bought cheaply enough (even at the dollar store!) where having a small supply in a tackle box wouldn’t be a bad idea. Same with pain meds, and even tampons. It would be going above and beyond, but I always find it helpful if a photographer happens to have something I’ve either run out of, forgotten, or didn’t think I need.

  3. Oh yeah, cotton balls and safetly pins! I’ll add those to my list.

    Great. Thanks for verifying my purchasing these items. Alot of times when I shoot, I just go on the fly as far as concepts & there might be a time when I need the model to tie her hair back and such so it’s good to have these items on hand.

    Good to know.

    Thanks Rach! 😀

  4. Any time 😉

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