I've gotten a lot of questions recently regarding the typical rundown and procedures I normally encounter on any given shoot, so I thought I'd lay it out here and hopefully it will help some of you have a better session. The following post is based off of a two hour shoot that focuses on mostly fashion and glamor photographs. Of course this is just a general layout on how to plan a photo shoot and you can certainly make tweaks or changes where necessary. In fact if you do have changes I'd love to hear them and possibly adapt my work flow in accordance.
Pre-shoot Model Checklist
Directions are obviously very important for the model to have because without a model, the shoot goes no where. Be sure to make the directions as simple as possible, and if they are not simple consider meeting the model somewhere easy and then have them follow you to the shoot location.
Phone numbers are also of a great import. With the prevalence of the cell phone, most people will have one with them which makes finding the studio easier if they end up getting lost. Be sure to give the model your number beforehand so that they have it in their phone. Also be sure to get their phone number so that you can confirm the shoot time and if they are canceling or not.
Outfits and clothing make the shoot, especially if it's a fashion shoot. I normally tell models to bring at least two different outfits, but not more then four. Unless you have specifically determined it to be a long half or full day shoot, the normal hour or two for a shoot will not allow you a time frame that indulges more then a couple different outfits. I normally suggest a model bring one classy outfit that has an upscale look, and a more sexy intimate outfit. Obviously this depends greatly on the type of shoot you are planning on doing, but where I typically work in the glamor categories this grouping of outfits works best. With a classy and sexier outfit you can normally mix and match to create a few additional looks without the need to bring a suitcase full of clothing.
Model Releases are extremely important, even for a portrait session. I generally never shoot a single shot without the model having signed a release form. This is good practice to get into due to the legalities involved if someone decides to pose questions about the usage rights of their photographs. A general release form normally acknowledges the photographer as the rights holder of all images created during the shoot, but if you are working with a model that has specific terms be sure to alter the release form so that both parties are satisfied with it.
Shoot payment and pricing is always something to be upfront and candid with the model about. No one will want a return visit if you spring all sorts of additional fees and hidden charges on them at time of payment. Be fair in your pricing, and if you are just starting out, consider shooting at a discounted rate until you can get yourself established some. If you have no idea on what to charge for a shoot, do a search for local photographers and see what they are charging for the same shoot. Chances are they will have a pretty high price for shoots, as they have been established much longer.
Camera Check List
The first place any good photographer will start when checking their equipment is with the batteries. Without power, you can't continue, and the last thing a model wants to do is wait around while your battery charges. For this reason I usually carry three different batteries with me at all times. I shoot Canon and the camera and backup camera I have use the same battery type which allows me a greater flexibility if I need to switch cameras for whatever reason. The three batteries allow me to have both cameras powered and a battery in reserve at all times. Generally I am only shooting with one camera at a time, so technically I have two backup batteries. If one happens to fail I will have a primary and backup battery still. This may seem redundant and over kill, but its completely worth it. I've been shooting several years straight with no down time due to batteries with this setup.
Along with a good battery plan, you should have a rapid charger available to you as well. This will lessen the impact of downtime if you do for whatever reason find yourself waiting on battery charging. The charger I have will completely charge a dead battery in roughly twenty minutes. This is the maximum time I want to be with a model and not shooting anything.
The same level of backup should also be applied to your lenses. Now I'm not saying to go out and buy two or three of the same lens, not that it would hurt, but you should at least always have two different lenses on you at all times. Lenses are temperamental beasts and can easily become unusable especially if you are shooting in a dusty or windy location such as a beach.
If you find yourself using a particular lens over and over again for a multitude of shoots, consider buying a secondary lens as backup. This will also allow you to rotate the lenses to prevent wearing them out. If you have a choice between two lenses or one really good lens that may cost a bit more for good glass, I recommend opting for the better glass personally.
Flash / Lighting is absolutely key if you are shooting studio setup portraits. If you are shooting outside its not as important, but still a crucial element, that you should have considered before leaving for the shoot to have the lighting you will need with you. Studio setups will obviously be easier to control as you have absolute control over your lighting. Outside setups are more difficult simply due to the weather and climate conditions you might find yourself shooting in. Plan ahead if you are going to be shooting outside, and know your location.
Studio setups should be flexible, but they should also have been tested out ahead of time. I normally keep a sketch pad handy for setups that I've used before, so that I can quickly and easily put the lights and settings back together again in short order. I highly recommend getting a test model (mannequin, neighbor, spouse, etc) to sit for a few different lighting setups. Be sure to draw out positions of the lights and there respective settings for future usage.
Depending on the type of shoot you will be doing with the model, you should have ready in advance whatever set might be most advantageous for that shoot. For example if you are shooting head shots, be sure to have a modeling stool handy. These can be as elaborate as you'd like, and I've seen them sell for upwards of $300. Personally I think a nice wooden stool that costs $10 works just fine!
Of course you will need to have thought out wardrobe changes before hand as well. The model will require a place to change for this, and most don't feel comfortable changing for the public! If you're working in the studio this isn't hard to accommodate, but if you are working outside it becomes a problem. Usually I inform the model ahead of time about the location we'll be shooting in, and make sure they wear something that can be a base layer underneath clothing that they don't mind changing out in the open with. Cars and walls can also be used as impromptu changing rooms, but are uncomfortable and should be avoided if possible.
Shooting outside can cause all sorts of issues with lighting, be sure to check the weather ahead of time! If it's a nice F16 day (with lots of sun) you'll have lots of light to play with. However, if its cloudy and overcast (not such a bad thing) you will have to work a bit harder to capture all the light. For this I always have a reflector in my bag. Reflectors are great for outside work since they can be propped up or held by an assistant to push some extra light in a subject.
For location shooting, its all about knowing the location ahead of time if at all possible. Sometimes you'll just see a site and have to stop and shoot which is good, but its always a good idea to have a sketch pad with you to record notes about the location for future use to help plan a photo shoot. Having a book full of locations with setup diagrams and notes is invaluable.
This concludes the first part of this posting, there will be more in the coming days. Future posts will include the shoot itself, and post shoot help. Be sure to check back often for updates on how to plan a photo shoot.