Preparation Is One Of The Keys To A Successful Photo Shoot

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By Steve Russell

Two weeks ago I posted an article entitled “The 5 Ps of Photography.” This week I’m focusing on one of the Ps – Preparation.

If you have a photo shoot coming up, unless it’s in your home, or studio if you have one, one of the keys to a successful photo shoot is having all the equipment you need. It’s one thing to be out on a shoot and see another photographer using a lens or other piece of equipment that you don’t own and wish you did. That can be disappointing but at least you can console yourself by adding it to your wish list. It’s an entirely different disappointment to really need a lens or other equipment that you own and suddenly realize that you left it at home.

Pasa Doble
A few months ago I was shooting a ballroom dance showcase that had 25 different performances. On average I will capture 10 to 20 images for each two minute performance. Before I left home I checked the remaining memory on my CF card and saw there was only space for a little over 200 images.

I took out my handy-dandy Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket to put in a “fresh” card. I slipped a new card out of the wallet-like CF card holder and then decided I wanted to go ahead and fill the card that was already in the camera so I replaced the card in the Pocket Rocket. At one point that evening during the shoot I looked at the indictor and noticed I had room for less than 100 additional shots remaining. When I went over to my bag to get a “new” card the Pocket Rocket wasn’t there. I had failed to put it in my camera bag and it was laying on the kitchen table at home. I still managed to capture some images of all the dances but for the last ten or so I had to consciously limit the number of images I was shooting.

The next day I set up a process to try to prevent something like that from happening again.

Using a spreadsheet (I use Excel), in the first column I listed every piece of equipment I own down to my LensPEN Lens Cleaning System and a large plastic garbage bag. The second and third columns are blank but are titled “Need” and “Packed.” The day before I’m leaving for a shoot I sit down and plan what I’m going to be doing and what equipment I may need. For each item I’ll need I put a check mark in the second column. Then I pack everything and as I put the item in the bag I put a check mark in the third column. I may include additional equipment that I don’t think I’ll need but have room to carry. For example, If I’m going out to shoot landscapes I need wide angle lenses. I may include a 300mm lens just in case I see something that requires a telephoto lens.

Wear comfortable clothes but for goodness sake, make sure your clothes are appropriate for what you’re doing. Don’t wear a swimsuit to spend a morning or whole day in the woods. You laugh, but I know someone who wore swim trunks and a T-shirt to shoot in a wooded area next to a lake. The next week he went through an entire bottle of Calamine Lotion.

If you’re shooting a wedding, don’t wear shorts, ragged T-shirt and flip-flops and if you have an assistant make sure they dress appropriately as well. Yes, I attended a wedding where the second photographer was wearing shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops. I heard more than one person ask the bride who the photographer was and then comment they wanted to make sure they never considered hiring that person. No one expects you to wear a tux to the wedding and reception, but no one expects you or your assistant to dress in a manner that detracts from the wedding.

If I’m going out to shoot birds and/or other wildlife I will almost always wear a brimmed hat, long pants like cargo pants with lots of pockets and a long-sleeved shirt even in the summer, especially if I’m going to be out more than an hour or so. Long-sleeved shirt in the summer may sound uncomfortable but at large sporting goods stores like Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop and Gander Mountain you can buy shirts designed for fishing that are very cool and well ventilated. The Columbia brand is very good.

There are two reasons for dressing this way; sun and insects. Sun screen and insect repellant really don’t mix very well with plastic and at least some of your photography equipment is plastic. I still use both the sun screen and insect repellant but by wearing long-sleeves and long pants, I’m not drenched in it and it’s easier to keep it off my equipment.

If I’m going out into fields and meadows in the early morning to find dew covered subjects, I have what are called upland game hunting pants that you can buy at any of the stores above. The front panel of upland game pants is made of heavy nylon that doesn’t easily tear, snag on briars or get soaking wet. The first time I used them I thought it was the best thirty dollars I’d spent on photography related clothing.

While it may sound like nature photography requires a lot more preparation than other forms or genre, studio photography has its own preparation challenges that I’ll cover in a later article.

Having the required equipment and proper clothing will make your day or trip go much smoother. I encourage you to set up your own pre-shoot process to ensure you are always prepared for your shoot. Preparation helps achieve success. Success creates happiness.

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  • Dick Beery

     Two Questions:

    1. Why would you ever keep such a full card in your camera.  It seems that one should always download and backup immediately after a shoot so can reformat card when needed.

    2. Why would you want to fill a card up to the maximum?  Seems like you should have put blank card in immediately if you wanted maximum flexibility while shooting.

    The problem seems to be more one of procedure than about forgetting to take a piece of equipment with you.