Shooting Celebrities - A Beginner's Guide.

Jonah Lomu in a small bath.

Taking portraits of celebrities is not something every photographer ends up doing, or even aspires to end up doing, so this may be something of a specialised post. All the same, I feel that much of the advice I'm going to offer is relevant to any portrait shoot, as there's so much common ground. These days, with the exception of absolute A-listers, I treat a celebrity shoot just the same as any other portrait job. That is to say that I approach all my jobs with the same level of professionalism, regardless of whether the subject has just released a new album, or if they're the secretary of a golf club.

So I can validate some of what I'm saying, here's a brief list of some famous folk I've shot over the years:

Richard Branson, Tim Westwood, Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie, Ricky Hatton, Jean Claude Van-Damme, Dara O Briain, Darren Campbell, Dermot Murnaghan, Jerry Springer, Armand Assante, Jonah Lomu, Jodie Kidd, Bobby George, Danielle lloyd, John Reid, Tessa Jowell, Andrew Strauss, Sophie Wessex, Matt Dawson, Jimmy Carr, Darren Clarke, Retief Goosen, Devilfish, Victoria Coren, Eammon Holmes, Kyran Bracken, Sir Roger Bannister, Phil Hellmuth, Goldie Lookin' Chain, Gilberto Silva

This is only an edited list (and it's a pretty odd list when you look at it)- there's several others, but I think I've made my point! All the links got to the relevant page on Wikipedia, just in case they're not as famous as they think they are and you've never heard of them! There's lots of others I could add from my assisting days, but since I wasn't actually behind the camera I think that would be cheating.

Anyway, enough of blowing my own trumpet, how do you turn what could potentially be a very intimidating encounter into a memorable shot that keeps your client happy? Well, in one word: Preparation.

Be Prepared. (And yes, I was a boy scout once upon a time)

  1. At a really basic level, do your essential pre-production work. The link goes to a post that will give you more detail, but at the risk of repetition - know where you're supposed to be, when, how to get there, what you're taking, who you're meeting, what facilities you can expect, how much time you'll have, what sort of shot the client is after and so on. This is the same for any shoot, but celebrity shoots have a tendency to be very short and sweet, so you need to have everything ready. To give you some idea of how short and sweet, I photographed Jean Claude Van-Damme in 45 seconds, and Tessa Jowell in 12. Both of these were official shoots - not grabbed on the street or anything like that. That's simply how much time they permitted me. It's not the time to run out of batteries, or try out a new lighting technique. Mind you, I did spend all afternoon in the pub with Dara O'Briain earlier this year, so it's not always like this.
  2. Do some background research on who you're shooting. Primarily this is so you can get a grasp on who they are, what they've been up to lately and so on. This can give you ideas for shots to try and get, provide subjects for conversation (or subjects to avoid!), as well as preventing you from shooting something that's already been shot. Some of this might seem daft - surely these people are famous and we all know what they're up to? Well, I for one don't watch the telly, and I hardly bother to read the papers either. I certainly have no idea what's happening at the "tabloid" end of the market, and neither do I want to. Yes, I'm a cultural snob and proud of it! On a recent shoot I had to do the full monty and read up as much as I could about the subject I was photographing, as even though she's been on the front page of the tabloids many times, I didn't know her from Adam.
  3. Get your technical stuff well sorted in advance. Make sure every bit of gear is functioning properly, fully charged, cleaned and so on. If the opportunity to set the shot up beforehand is available - do it, and get someone to stand in (the art director, your assistant, a passing dog) for some test shots. Then once the real deal arrives simply slot them into place, and away you go. I've still got stacks of polaroids from my assisting days of me "sitting in" for people prior to them turning up on set. If you think you'll be able to get (or have been requested to get) several set ups done, then prep as many of them as time permits. It's at this point that the stuff you've been doing in No.1 above will tie-in nicely, as you'll already have a good idea of the location and so on, so you should be able to set up and shoot accordingly.
  4. Have your ideas already sketched out and as ready to go as possible. Obviously your ideas will be tying closely in to the brief you've been given by your client, but at the same time it's worth having a range of them. This is for two main reasons, the first is that you can never be sure which ones will work, or which ones the celeb will simply go "no" to, and the second is to try and present your client with something more than they were hoping for. The first of these is perhaps the most critical, and I tend to have a few "fallback" ideas in mind in case my hero shot doesn't come off. Despite the impression given above of quite rigid sounding setups, the key thing is actually to be flexible. Lots can change on shoots like this - the subject can turn up late, refuse to be shot outdoors/indoors, the weather can change, they might refuse to take their shades off (it's happened to me twice!) and so on. If you've got a range of ideas to play with, you can just roll with the punches on this one.
  5. Now is not the time to try a brand new lighting technique, or give some new equipment a test run. By all means, if you've got lots of time with the celeb, and they seem amenable to it, go ahead and muck about - you may get some fantastic results. However, your client is expecting something usable on their desk, and if all they get are lots of unprintable experiments there may be trouble ahead! If you're keen to shoot something particularly interesting and arresting, brilliant, but make sure it's something you've already perfected elsewhere. The other facet of this problem is that if you're mucking about, and generally looking unsure of what you're doing you will give off the impression that you don't know what you're doing to your subject. This can be a bad thing. At worst they may simply leave (no, really), and at best you'll destroy any rapport you've managed to build up. This applies on both a creative level, with respect to the ideas you come up with, and a technical level, with regard to how you shoot and light something.
So that's the basics. Now onto something a little less tangible - the psychological side of things. I'd be the first to admit that if you're just starting out, being asked to go and shoot someone famous can be more than a little intimidating. If you didn't feel nervous, you wouldn't be human. One of the best ways to build your confidence is by following the methods prescribed above. If you know that all your equipment works, that you've got lots of ideas to fall back on, that you've got lots to chat with the celebrity about, and you arrive nice and early with ample time to set up, then your confidence in yourself and your abilities will naturally rise as well.

Part of this nervousness seems to develop because in our current culture we seem to think of people who've gained some level of fame as superhuman, when of course in reality they're pretty much the same as you and me. Admittedly they might earn a bit more, and get recognised on the street, but they still have good days and bad days, and in my experience the best way to behave around them is to act normal. Just be friendly and polite - though not too friendly! Out of all the celebs I've worked with down the years, the vast majority have been polite, down-to-earth, and businesslike. From their point of view, things like photoshoots are part of the job, and although they may get tired of being asked to jump through the same hoops over and over again, they all understand that part of their fame is based upon working and collaborating with us in the media.

That's not to say I haven't seen my fair share of tantrums now and again, or had to deal with someone who got out of bed on the wrong side that morning. For reasons that should be blatantly obvious, I will not be going in any details about those!

As far as the shoot itself goes, one thing that will always help is trying to establish some sort of connection or rapport with them as soon as possible. This is where some of your background research can come in handy, as it can give you something to talk about. Beware of being sycophantic - it won't get you anywhere. The best trick I've found is when discussing something they've done, talk ABOUT it rather than going "oh my god, you were brilliant in that film, I loved that stunt you did!" This way you can appear interested without being awestruck, though I must admit it has happened to me once. Try also to keep your chatter to a polite minimum, don't overwhelm them with your own stories/problems etc, and
it's here that I want to bring in the one golden rule I've not mentioned so far - there's only room for one ego on a shoot, and it should be that of the person in FRONT of the camera. The reasons for this should be self-explanatory.

Bear in mind also, that there may be a lot of personnel around on shoots like these, the star may have brought their own entourage with them, you may have your own people (assistants, make-up etc), and the client may have a presence as well, and all this will create it's own atmosphere and something of a performance, as well as an opportunity for egos to flourish. I well remember in my early days of assisting, looking round the studio and going:

"OK, he's the photographer, that's the celeb, there's the stylist, that's the make-up artist, that's the journalist to do the interview - who are those other 5 people?"

Celebs can turn up with any number of people in tow - agents, publicists, friends, their own personal make-up artists/stylists, pets, family - the list is endless. 99% of the time these people will have no bearing on a shoot, though agents particularly can be a touch overbearing now and again. On a recent shoot the celeb I was shooting got so pissed off with the agent moaning at him to keep the sponsor's label visible, that he removed it from his shirt and stuck it over his mouth! I of course, was more than happy to photograph him like this. As always, a calm confident air around these people is all that's required, many of them are actually there because it's preferable to a day in the office, and who can blame them? If you're working with an assistant, then one of their jobs should be to keep this crowd off your back so you can concentrate on taking the picture.

One last thought, as this has already rambled on longer than I'd planned. With respect to equipment, I've already
pointed out that it should be in proper working order and so on, but what I haven't mentioned is that it should also look the part. I'm in grave danger here of sounding like an equipment snob, which I'm most certainly not, but if you'll indulge me a moment I'll try and explain why. Put yourself in the shoes of the celeb you may be photographing. They walk off a film or TV set where everything is hugely expensive and lavishly produced, and waiting for them in the green room to do a quick portrait is you, with your tiny little camera, your cardboard and silver foil reflector and your cheap plastic tripod. This appearance may reflect badly on you, and similarly the client you are representing, and anything that undermines your confidence is a bad thing!

This not to say that you need a full set of Profoto flashes, a Hasselblad with a P45 back and so on, but a little investment here and there can work wonders. Buy a grip for your DSLR, and instantly it looks bigger and more professional, get some monoblocs rather than hand-held flashes and so on. None of this costs the earth, and helps to create the right impression. Along the same lines try and dress appropriately - not necessarily your wedding suit, but looking like you just rolled out of bed might not give the correct professional impression! I hate to sound like I'm cow-towing to celeb's ego's here - but effective;y that's exactly what I'm doing. At this sort of level a lot of stuff is actually about show, performance and looking the part (sad but true). It's quite a holistic thing, and as part of the whole picture your confidence will count for far more than a fancy camera, but it's best not overlook the details.

At a glance lots of this may seem very "celeb specific", and of no interest or use to those who shoot Joe Public. However, I firmly believe that the fundamental principles are exactly the same whomever you're taking pictures of. Being properly prepared at every level, and ensuring that the person in front of the camera is the only one in the room with an ego will serve you well whether you're shooting your mates or the Prime Minister of Azerbaijan. Though it is particularly useful when you've only got 45 seconds with Jean Claude Van-Damme!

P.S. I just know that the only comments I get are going to be about my last statement about equipment. Ah well, so be it.

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Post Production

Setup shot for a slightly disappointing (and overly elaborate) test earlier this year.

Immediately After the Shoot.

OK, so the shoot's over, the client thinks you're the bees knees, and they've booked you for another job next week - how do you keep the ball rolling, stay on the horse, get ahead of the game and max the envelope?

Not sure about that last one.

Get Paid. (Always a Good Thing).

The first thing I usually do is gather together all the necessary info to invoice the client - receipts, mileage costs, invoices from other personnel and so on. Then I prepare and send out the invoice. I'll be talking about business and finance soon enough, but in a nutshell, when you take into account all the delays that can occur between you sending out an invoice and actually receiving the money, you'll realise that you should be as quick off the mark as possible to get things started.


Now, moving on to the computer. The next most important thing is to back your work up. I'm presuming at this stage that you've delivered a disk on the job to the client, if not then priority one is to get the images processed, burned onto a disk (if that's how they want them) and delivered. You'll have established at the outset of the job (or found out whilst shooting) how the client wants their images, so it should be a simple job of picking one of your versatile workflows and letting the computer work it's magic. I'll be covering workflows in more depth in a later post, as mine continually evolve, and there's no need to go into greater detail here. Once the images are on their way to the client, then get backing things up. Everyone has their own preferences, but my backup system currently involves:

An exact copy of the clients disk
A disk copy of the RAW files from the camera (stored off-site)
A copy of the RAW files on a removable/portable hard drive

When you consider that the client has a copy as well then there should be 4 copies in existence. I feel any more than this getting a bit silly, we used to managed quite happily with 1 set of negatives/trannies, and although I'm aware that digital files may not be quite as stable in longevity terms as film I thing making any more copies is a little pointless - you soon reach the stage where you have a backup of a backup of a backup and so forth. I would always suggest having an exact copy of the clients' disk, ideally burnt at the same time, so that if they encounter any problems you can hopefully see what they're referring to. Storing images off-site should be self-explanatory, and the copy on the removable hard drive allows ready access from my main computer. You can find lots more info about backing things up all over the web, as I've pointed out, everyone approaches the subject slightly differently.

Equipment and Paperwork.

Turning to equipment, I suspect many people can predict exactly what I'm about to say next: Now's the time to clean, recharge maintain and reformat all your gear so that it will be ready for you when you next shoot. If anything untoward occurred during the shoot, now's the time to check it out, rather than as you start working next time.

At this point I try and catch up with any paperwork that I gathered on the shoot - things like adding details from business cards to my address book, putting dates in the diary and so on. Then, providing you didn't cock the shoot up completely, the phone rings and you start the whole process all over again....

Related Posts: Production for Photographers - An Intro, Pre-Production 1 - Production Begins at Home, 2 - Organisation, 3 - Equipment, 4 - Car and Mobile/Laptop, Useful sites, Production on the Job.

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Production on the Job

Shooting Vicky Coren for a magazine cover.

Bit of a Cop-Out.

I'll expand on this section in more detail in the piece I'm intending to write, which I shall boldly title: "1001 quick production tips", otherwise it will come to dominate this series of posts. However there are still a few production aspects that I can't really cover under the heading of "tips for working quickly and improvising" so here they are:


Communication is just as important, if not more important during a job than before it. The clearer everybody involved knows what's going on the less likely problems are to occur, and I can't say it simpler than that. If plans change either immediately before or during a shoot, then everyone needs to stay up to date with any changes, whether it be location, or personnel, or even a change in the brief itself. If your client, or a representative of your client is on the shoot, then you need to keep them constantly informed of what you're doing, and ensuring that you're carrying out the brief to their requirements. Rest assured that it's highly likely that communication from them will be fairly prompt and abrupt if they think you're straying from the brief.

In olden times, when men were bold, and dragons roamed the earth, you would shoot a Polaroid and everyone would huddle round it and voice their opinion. In the blistering white heat of the 21st century we use either the back of the camera or the laptop screen, but the principle is the same. You don't need to show your client or subject an image every time you shoot something, but it's very important to get their feedback now and again, and it's quicker than waiting for a Polaroid to develop. If you're shooting people, always communicate with your subject - I used to assist some photographers years ago who kept up a wall of silence whilst photographing - this might be OK for fashion models, who are accustomed to being in front of the lens, but for almost everyone else you're much better off chatting away, keeping them informed of what you're doing.


Moving on from communication comes delegation - something that those of us who are one-person businesses can often find difficult. If you've got extra personnel on the shoot, such as assistants, work experience monkeys or studio staff - use them to take care of the mundane tasks. Your job when shooting is just to shoot stuff - it's absolutely fine to hand your mobile to your assistant for the 20 minutes or so you might be concentrating on the last shot. Likewise, don't get caught up over the basic aspects of a shoot, from cleaning the floor to getting tea for everyone - that's what you're paying your assistants a good day rate for. You don't have to become a fascist sergeant major and boss them about like worms (though we've all done it once or twice - the power, the power!!!!!), but if a client is paying you a decent day-rate then they've booked you for your creative and technical skills, not your floor-sweeping ability, and they'll expect you to concentrate on the job in hand.

Image Delivery.

As the shoot finishes you may need to deliver the images to the client. Usually this takes the form of burning a disk from your laptop, for which you have of course brought a sufficient supply of blank disks and ready-made boxes. Precise details about this are covered in the much awaited (and continually being revised) article on workflow, which I will finish soon. Honest.


Lastly, keep up to date with paperwork. Collect every relevant piece of paper as you go along. This can include; receipts, invoices, business cards, delivery notes, faxes, and emails. Likewise, take down any information you may need with regards to invoicing, turnaround times and delivery of the job, and possible future work. This includes things like totalling up your mileage if necessary. I've alluded to it already a couple of times on this site - but the vast majority of your work as freelance photographer is going to come, in some way or other, from existing clients, and gathering contact details with everyone you work with should be second nature. Even overlooking actual paid work, you'll want to take down details of models who you might want to test with, similarly make-up artists or stylists, or an assistant who was particularly good.

Related Posts: Production for Photographers - An Intro, Pre-Production 1 - Production Begins at Home, 2 - Organisation, 3 - Equipment, 4 - Car and Mobile/Laptop, Useful sites, Post Production.

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Pre-Production 4 - Car and Mobile Phone/Laptop

Setup for a portrait of Sarah and Abdul.

Here in my Car, I Feel Safest of all.

Strangely enough I managed nearly 8 years down here in London without a car, only hiring them once or twice when the job required it, and using taxis for large scale jobs within central London. London is one of the few places in the world where this is possible, as despite it's many failings we do have a fairly comprehensive public transport network, plus I'm a tough old git who's prepared to heave a heavy camera bag and a rolling case around the place. However, just recently I've bought a car, for a whole host of reasons, which I won't go into, and this obviously has an effect on the gear I can carry to jobs.

The first main principle is that it allows me to load the car with equipment almost to capacity on any job, and then make decisions once at the location. The second is that I have the car set up as a mobile "base", with almost everything else I could need out of the office. Things like my list of phone numbers are duplicated in the glove box of my car. I've even gone so far as to stash things like all weather gear and an overnight bag in the space around the spare wheel so that they're hidden away, and permanently in the car whenever I might need them. It's quite comforting to know that I've got the gear for any weather, plus I can comfortably stop overnight in a travelodge if I feel exhausted. I've also got things like sat-nav, hands free mobile kit and in-car chargers for the various batteries that I use - the whole idea being that I can survive a few days in succession without having to get "back to base".

A neat example of this was late last summer, when I had to drive to Scotland (flying was not advisable at the time, due to the grave danger of bottles of Coke blowing you out of the sky!) to shoot a reportage story on Colin Montgomerie, then shoot 2 portraits just north of London the day after, then spend the next day shooting fitness equipment in the midlands in a portable studio. The demands of these jobs meant that I was carrying almost my full kit, and using different combinations day after day - the reportage story had quite different demands to the portable studio!

It shouldn't need to be said, but running a car, and using it as part of the business only adds another piece of equipment that will need looking after, taxing, MOT'ing and suchlike. Make sure all the basic maintenance things are up to date, particularly before a long-distance job.

Laptop/Mobile Phone.

Like everything else, make sure your laptop is fully charged, and purchase and carry a spare or long life battery if possible. Likewise, ensure that everything is up to date, that all the software you use is patched up to the current standard, that the virus checking and other routine maintenance has been done. At a slightly deeper level, make sure that all your regular software is set up correctly, so that you don't have to spend extra time doing such mundane tasks as embedding colour profiles or changing resolution. Things like FTP settings, passwords, profiles and all the rest should be setup as required, and ideally find some way of being able to access them if you're unable to go online. I suspect that like me, many people have got a bit complacent in recent years with regards to online passwords, and the ability of software to store them - this is all very well until you can't connect for whatever reason and/or you suffer a catastrophic crash. Then suddenly you can't access any of your normal info online, or send files to clients and so on.

I'd also suggest that you carry a basic modem/phone cable, even if your laptop is wireless enabled - wireless coverage is by no means universal, and can be very expensive, and if you only need to send a small file or check an email, dial-up is sufficient.

Your mobile (hate the things, but don't really have any choice) will be fully charged, and if you're travelling for more than a day or so, a spare battery and/or the charger would be a wise thing to carry. Program any essential numbers for the job into the memory as well, in case you lose your job sheet. I'm well aware that these days there are devices that are fully multifunctional, with phone, diary, email, toothbrush and prophylactics all in one, but I've never really got on with them whenever I've tried to use them, so I'm not qualified to comment on their use. I'm sure they're very handy if you can get used to using them. One word of caution though - anything like this is dependent on battery power, and to a greater or lesser extent, connectivity. Don't take it for granted that you can just bring up google and find what you want anytime and anywhere - you're bound to get caught out sooner or later. Just recently I was working with a client who was the proud owner of a new iphone, and the first time we met he was very keen to show off all the features. Very impressive it was too. The next time we met, he didn't have it on him, as it had suffered a complete crash in it's OS. This is not meant as a criticism of iphones per se, merely to point out that sometimes an old mobile and a paper diary is more use.....

Related Posts: Production for Photographers - An Intro, Pre-Production 1 - Production Begins at Home, 2 - Organisation, 3 - Equipment, Useful sites, Production on the Job, Post Production.

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Pre-Production 3 - Equipment

Right Tool for the Job

As far as production goes, equipment can simply be thought of as "the right tool for the job". This works on 2 levels, the choice of and purchasing of the equipment in the first place, and then the choice, transport, care, and use of the equipment on the job.

At the purchasing/selection stage I'd recommend you bear a few things in mind. The old adage of "you get what you pay for" holds true for a great deal of camera gear, so beware of making a false economy with some cheap gear. Off the top of my head I can think of the example of tripods, where I must have owned a great many in my 15 years of shooting, the vast majority of which broke within a few months of heavy use due to being cheap and crap. My 11-year-old manfrotto, however, at a seemingly expensive £200, is still going strong. I'm trying to make a point about reliability here; as it should be obvious to anyone that equipment that frequently breaks down is not worth carrying around with you and will eventually end up costing more than the expensive one did in the first place. No piece of equipment is immune from failure, but there are certainly brands (usually the professional ones) that are far more reliable than others.

In a straight choice between 2 reliable professional brands, always bear in mind the versatility of each tool - a flash head that can be adjusted through from 1/32 power to full is more versatile than one which only goes down as far as ¼ power. Likewise, if you're on a budget, a constant aperture zoom is arguably more versatile then 3 or 4 primes, though it will obviously not be quite the same quality. Size and weight should also be borne in mind; and if something is too big or cumbersome to carry around it will tend to stay in the boot of the car or the office. Other seemingly unimportant factors like power consumption ought not to be overlooked, and don't forget compatibility with existing gear in your armoury.

You may notice I haven't exactly been very explicit about particular brands. That's because I have no desire whatsoever to get into a "discussion" with anyone who'e evangelical about their equipment. It's just gear - as long as it works how and when it's supposed to, who cares what's on the label?


This next bit should be blatantly obvious, but I'll say it anyway since even I've come a cropper now and again (yes, it does happen, though thankfully not very often!) Before you set out on a job make sure that:

  1. Everything is charged, including all spare batteries (you are carrying spare batteries aren't you?)
  2. Everything is cleaned, particularly lenses and chips (by which I mean the filters in front of the chips for all the pedants out there.)
  3. Everything works - test fire where necessary. This won't guarantee it will work on the shoot, but at least it may give you fair warning of any upcoming problems.
  4. You've got ample supplies of formatted memory cards and blank CD/DVD's
  5. All the settings on equipment are back to what they normally are, for example if you've just been shooting something for "straight to web" and usually shoot RAW.
Transporting the Gear.

Selecting which gear to take on the job will hopefully be very straightforward, as you'll have answers to all the questions you asked up front, so it should be a simple matter to decide whether this is a job that calls for 1 body and a standard zoom lens, with batteries and cards stuffed into your pockets, or every case you own and 4 mains lighting heads. Obviously at this stage your choice of camera bag becomes important. I've clearly developed some sort of fetish for camera bags over the years as I've owned a vast number. In regular use at the moment I have:

2 shoulder bags, a camera rucsac, 1 rolling case, 2 hard cases, 4 clear sided plastic cases, 1 tripod bag, 1 lighting stand/reflector bag, and a set of "webbing" style pouches and belts.

Now, I don't use all of these on every shoot - I'm not that mush of a fetishist! What I will say is that having this selection enables me to get the gear I want exactly where I want it with the minimum of hassle, and allows me to shoot the job as effortlessly as possible. As an example of picking and choosing my gear for the job in hand, I can't think of a better instance than some of the golf jobs I shoot. When I'm shooting instruction pieces I'll take the full camera rucsac, a rolling case with lights/stands, spare flashes, tripod, the vagabond power pack, the reflector bag, and probably 1 of the clear sided cases with lots of extra bits in. I can do this because I know that not only will I have time to set things up and light them properly (and I'll be expected to, as they demand high-quality shots), but that we'll be moving around from location to location in golf buggies, so weight and transportation is not a major concern. At the other end of the scale, I often have to follow people round as they're playing, and this obviously offers no chance to set things up, so I opt for just the basic camera essentials which I carry in the webbing gear as it allows me a great deal of freedom of movement. Tomorrow I'm doing the lot, as I'm shooting a feature which requires me to shoot studio portraits, some reportage (probably in the rain), and will also require me to put my whistle on for a sit-down dinner afterwards.

Related Posts: Production for Photographers - An Intro, Pre-Production 1 - Production Begins at Home, 2 - Organisation, 4 - Car and Mobile/Laptop, Useful sites, Production on the Job, Post Production.

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Pre-Production 2 - Organisation

Shooting golf on a mountainside in Crete. Very early in the morning, and very cold too.

Moving on to more tangible aspects of production now, and something that everyone can do, and that's get organised. There's no excuse for this, anyone is capable of being organised, and if you run your own business there's no excuse not to be. I'll be making references to it throughout all these production posts and there are heaps more resources you can dig out online (expect a list of links fairly soon) or in self help books if you find organisation itself challenging. One of the simplest things you can do, and which I do for even the smallest scale shoots, is compile and print out a job sheet, which contains all the information you could need to know about the shoot. On it I put all the relevant phone numbers, times, locations and addresses, names, emails, as well as the brief from the client, my own notes, some sketches of ideas, as well as maps/directions if necessary.

I also always carry in my camera bag a "phone list" which is basically just the phone number portion of my address book printed out from the computer. The amount of times I've had to call somebody in the middle of a job for advice/help is too many to mention, and it's usually someone specific to the job, who is not always to be found in the memory of my mobile phone. I also always have my old-fashioned paper diary with me, which I keep up to date with the one on the computer every day. I've never got on with PDA's personally, but if you can work with them I'm sure they're a great aid to organisation.


Next I make sure I've got a good supply of pre-printed blank CD/DVD's, (I've nearly finished a short article on Workflow which will go into more detail here), and likewise a CD case with the job written on it, or more than one if I know that several copies will be required. There's not much point looking very professional by burning a copy of the finished job for your client at the end of the shoot, only to have to scribble on it in biro and hand it to them in an improvised paper envelope. Last but not least, make sure that whilst you're out of the office business can continue as normal - check your answer machine message is up to date, and that your "out-of-office" email response is on.

Related Posts: Production for Photographers - An Intro, Pre-Production 1 - Production Begins at Home, 3 - Equipment, 4 - Car and Mobile/Laptop, Useful sites, Production on the Job, Post Production.

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Production for Photographers - Useful sites

I'll try and add to this as time passes - it's a fairly basic list at the moment. One of the problems I've always found with websites is that it's so easy to visit one and get the vital info for a specific job, then never return!


(mostly UK based, due to my working experience)

Wikipedia - For background research
Google/Google image search - background research and to see what's gone before
Metcheck - weather forecasts
Multimap, Googlemap, Streetmap, Google Earth - mapping, both at a basic level, and may also point out stuff you might not have noticed that will add to the shot.
AA, RAC, TFL, National Rail, BAA, - useful travel info.
Trainline, Expedia - Travel booking details
Airlines - BA, EasyJet, - Luggage weight restrictions/guidelines, bookings, timetables. Avoid Ryanair, I've had nothing but bad experiences with them. Of far more use is this piece by the Telegraph, which lists current luggage guidelines. Also of interest is my piece on flying with camera gear.

Time and Date.com - Local times around the world, daylight saving, plus sunrise and sunset.
Film london, GLA - locations permissions
Kemps film and TV - essential production info
Car Rental - Addison Lee - for Taxis within London, Alamo, Hertz, Nova - for normal car hire.
Calumet, Direct Lighting, Pro centre - Equipment hire
Lonely Planet, Foreign and Commonwealth office - useful travel info about destinations, safety, voltages, currency etc.
Model agencies - Girl Management, Ugly + Rage, Sugarbabes, Samantha Bond, OneModelPlace, Nevs, MOT Models, Models Plus, Model Plan, I.M.M., BMA.
Hire Studios (London only, and only ones that I've used and can vouch for!)- The Lemonade Factory, The Roost/Perch, Holborn Studios, Blank Space.

Related Posts: Production for Photographers - An Intro, Pre-Production 1 - Production Begins at Home, 2 - Organisation, 3 - Equipment, 4 - Car and Mobile/Laptop, Production on the Job, Post Production.

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Pre-Production 1 - Production Begins at Home

Shooting a test in my old house

Basic Interrogation Skills.

Production work begins the second you get the phone call (or email) asking you to shoot the job. If such information isn't mentioned then the first thing you need to do is ask the obvious "who, what, where, when" questions. You'd think this would be automatic when someone briefs you, but I can think of at least one of my regular clients with whom I have to play a kind of CIA style interrogation game to get information out of them. You should also be asking questions of a more esoteric nature, along the lines of "what sort of shot are you after?" "How many images are you looking to use?" as well as more practical ones such as "what usage will the images be put to?" and "what's the budget?" It's from these few basic questions that you're going to have to build the whole job, so it's very important to get as much information as possible, as soon as possible.

Thinking back over my career there have been times when this one phone call has led to a simple half hour shoot that's 20 minutes travel away, and involves just one disk of images to one client for one usage, and times when a similar phone call leads to a week long foreign location job, thousands of shots, and about 6 months worth of content for a magazine. The fact that the repurcussions of that initial phone call can be be so broad is one reason why you need to get things as clearly defined early on. Asking the right questions up front can save you enormous trouble and embarrassment further down the line.

Initial Research.

Unless the person/place/thing you've been asked to photograph is something you've either shot before or are very familiar with, the next thing you should do is get on the Internet and do a bit of research. There are 3 main reasons for doing this:

1. Basic politeness - if you turn up to shoot some one's portrait with no idea of who they are you could not only embarrass yourself, but you risk pissing them off as well, and thereby jeopardising the shoot. Research can help to clarify why you're photographing them, and might point up areas which could even cause conflict - not that you'd be stupid enough to get into an argument with them of course, but knowing, for example, which team they support can give you something to talk about (or something to avoid talking about!) At a very basic level the facts about your subject will have a major impact on what sort of image you start working towards. To pick a random example, you may reject several of your initial ideas if you found out that the subject of a portrait was only 5'2" tall.

2. By broadening your search to include images you can find out how your subject has already been photographed, and this can be vital. In keeping with my general notions of influences by familiarising yourself with what's gone before you may well be able to build a picture that goes way beyond what's already been shot.

3. Following on from the image search, the flip side is that it can help you avoid repetition. There's nothing worse than going to great lengths to organise something elaborate, only to find that you're essentially copying something that was shot last year. As with no. 1 this might also suggest new ways to approach the subject .

Initial Ideas.

After initial research I tend to then move on to my initial ideas, and will work some of them up to fairly elaborate plans wherever possible, whilst keeping some in my proverbial back pocket for emergency/contingency use. Already as I prepare these ideas, other production issues will start to spring up from them - indoors or outdoors, mains lighting or ambient, how much time will I have to set-up etc. Before you set out you should have answered as many of these questions as you are able, as you're not really being paid to discover them on the job. Once again the internet can be a very quick and effective way of answering many of these questions, and coupled with phone calls/emails to the person who commissioned you or the people who'll be on the shoot you should be able to get all but a definitive set of answers.

Some Important Questions To Ask.

What will the weather be like? (If on location), and following on from that, what will we do if it doesn't do what we want it to?

What time does the sun set/rise?

Do we need permits? What are the security/safety arrangements on site?

How am I (and everyone else) getting there? How will we find the place? If necessary, how are we being transported around once on site?

What are the opening hours? Where can I park?

How many people are likely to be there? Will I be fighting through crowds, or do we have exclusive access? Who are those people likely to be? (Clients, agency people, general public, PR people etc)

Will I be allowed to use flash? If so, mains or battery powered? What is access to power points like?

How soon does the client require the images? In what format?

Is there the budget/space for an assistant?

Do we need to arrange specific premises (hire studios/apartments, swimming pools etc)?

Do we need any specialised personnel? (Make-Up Artists, Stylists, Animal handlers, models, armourers, model makers etc)

What paperwork will we need? (Tickets, visas, passports, permits, carnets etc)

This list of questions can go on almost indefinitely (feel free to add any extra ones in the comments), and the larger scale the shoot, the longer it will take. There are also a host of questions that you'll need to ask yourself regarding equipment, and they're briefly dealt with in another post.

Related Posts: Production for Photographers - An Intro, 2 - Organisation, 3 - Equipment, 4 - Car and Mobile/Laptop, Useful sites, Production on the Job, Post Production.

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Production for Photographers - An Intro

Golf Monthly, March 2007 Cover, shot in Southern Spain December 2006

OK, as with several other things on this blog, I'm describing something that to some people will be second nature, but will be a little hazy and ill defined for others. What do I mean by production with reference to professional photography? The easiest equivalent I can draw is from film and TV. In these areas a producer is someone who is responsible, in a very universal way, for bringing the piece (film, show, documentary) to the screen. This means that they have ultimate responsibility for budget, personnel, equipment, locations and arguably every aspect of the "production" right down to the paint used to paint the sets and the type of coffee served at lunchtime.

Although it's the director whose creative vision and interaction with the actors will be what people take away from having seen the piece, it's the producer who enables all this to happen, or in some cases doesn't when, for example they overrule a directors desire to create a particularly expensive sequence. The parallels to photography should be obvious; as a "director" you employ your creative talents, your people skills and all your technical ability to realise an interesting and successful image, but as a "producer" you have to get everything together to enable the picture to be taken, ranging from the more obvious things such as hire studios, through to more mundane bits like spare batteries and the right bulbs for the studio lights.

These pieces could never be exhaustive, as professional photography covers such an enormous range that I couldn't hope to ever encompass all the possible aspects of production on my own. What I've tried to do is illuminate areas that people may not have thought of. These pieces are a little bit more list-like and practical in its nature than some of the others, but perhaps that's necessary to balance out some of the airy-fairy stuff that I'll soon be writing (be afraid!). There are several other pieces on this blog which touch upon production, as it's such a fundamental topic. The portion of this piece which deals with production whilst shooting will be discussed in more depth in a future piece (hopefully not too far in the future) as it's such a large area in it's own right.

Related Posts: Pre-Production 1 - Production begins at Home, 2 - Organisation, 3 - Equipment, 4 - Car and Laptop/Mobile, Useful Sites, Production on the Job, Post Production.

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