What follows are some of the things I run down in my mind when I am deciding what to shoot, why to shoot it, how to shoot it, etc.
This is the more general version of the very specific post on pre-planning earlier. If that was a specific game plan, this is more of a general playbook.
Not saying that these are the same questions you would ask. But maybe there is something in this list that you might not be considering.
What do I want to accomplish with this shoot?
More and more, this is my first question. In fact, it is the overriding question for all of my photography as it points me to more interesting and meaningful work.
What kind of photograph will help me accomplish that goal?
Portrait? Still life? Landscape? Conceptual? Again, overall goal drives the stream of choices in the actual photo, too.
What should subject be?
Consider the obvious, but brainstorm other potential subjects. Take mental side roads.
How can I gain access to that person and/or other subject?
This is a skill that differentiates "lucky" photographers from unlucky ones. You cannot shoot someone if you cannot get them in front of your camera.
What environment/location would make the work best?
I keep a camera with me, and use it to generate scouting pics of locations and/or backgrounds for possible later use.
How can I best gain access to that environment?
See above, re: accessing people.
Are there permissions involved?
Sometimes, by going in via the right person, you can avoid location fees/permits/red tape altogether.
Is there another use for the photo that would allow me to combine resources and leverage the results?
Once you have picked up a scent -- but before the shoot -- think laterally. Who else could use this photo? Could they help you with better access? Maybe more time? Perhaps even funding?
Prepping for the Shoot
What add'l content, and/or secondary elements would help the photo?
This is where a good location selection will really help. Look for multiple options in one location.
Again, goal drives photo, which drives decisions further down the line. That lends a logic to choices that could otherwise be random. Would B&W be better? Even though you shoot color files for it, you'll approach it differently.
What about things like plastic lenses? Different formats? Or shooting to do some special post work afterwards? Let the photo drive the style, not the reverse.
Lit or ambient?
Just because you know how to light does not mean that you automatically have to.
If lighting, how?
Sooo many choices -- aped natural light, motivated light, stylized light. Again, the top-down examination helps to drive logical choices.
What kind of lighting gear needed?
The style drives the gear -- not the other way around. Sunset light can be aped with a SB-800, and AB-800 or the headlamp to an 800cc motorcycle.
How can I source the gear?
If you do not own it, look to borrow first. (Co-pooling with other photogs is a great idea for many reasons.) Otherwise rent, or maybe even DIY.
What can I research about my subject to better the odds of a good session?
When you show up and know the subject (or subject matter) you can almost hear the big sigh of relief. Do your research. Everything you can find out. Google, Wikipedia, quiz the secretary, anything.
During the Shoot
What common ground can I find between subject and myself that I can use to create a moment/connection?
After all of the pre-thinking, leave yourself free to give your subject full attention. Have a conversation. Talk. Listen. Learn.
Look for intersections. They are key to both building rapport and extending shooting time. "Is that your boy? How old? Mine is 9, too ..."
Before you Wrap Up
Is there anything I can remove from this photo to improve it?
Easy to forget after all that work on a setting and context. But frequently the best photos are ones that are stripped to their essence.
While I have access, is there another photo I should be trying to make at the same time?
Always get a high-quality head shot, for instance. And details, too -- graphical elements that can stretch a package out, visually.
After the Shoot
Are there secondary uses for the photos?
Goes hand-in-hand with covering your bases while on the assignment or shoot. Make full use of your access during, and after the fact.
Can the photos/relationships that I just created help gain me access to another opportunity?
Can't tell you how many opportunities I squandered before I started doing this religiously. Usually in the form of a follow-up email, which sometimes contains a low-res pic.
Serendipity on a project is great. But I will take introduction to one or more colleagues who may turn out to be my next subject over that any day. And it is flattering both for your subject to have the power to suggest/intro, as well as for the new subject to be suggested/intro'd.
What do you do different?
Please share your tips/tricks with us in the comments.
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