Building a Shoot- Part I: Why?

I doubt the start of my photographic journey looked much different from the start of any other portrait photographer's journey.

There was a lot of fumbling with camera settings, spraying and praying, and editing a ton of glorified snapshots, with too many ending up in my digital garbage bin.

When I first began to realize that I wanted to turn photography into a career someday, it came to my attention that consistency was vital. I had the benefit of becoming quite adept at Photoshop before I ever really took photography seriously, so technically I could fix nearly anything in post. However, spraying and praying had no guarantees, and 'fixing it in post' came with too many hours in front of a screen and too much wrist pain. 

I needed to develop a method, a process of planning shoots and working with humans, that guaranteed the shots.

Not only did I need to be able guarantee the shots, I also wanted everyone on set to be comfortable and have a good time.

I’ll share my process with you next week in a follow up post: Building a Shoot Part ii- How?

For now… 


For me, pre-planning is key. Envisioning the image(s) and then planning out the process that is going to get me there before I ever have a camera in my hand is how I free my mind and energies to be in the moment with my clients and how I leave every shoot with consistent, quality images. 

With so much of the work accomplished before we ever meet to shoot, I have the space to be able to really connect with my clients and help put them at ease in front of my camera. Much, if not all, of the creative decisions have been made in the weeks leading up to the shoot, freeing up a ton of my brain space and allowing me to work in the moment. Responding to lighting issues or getting the posing just right happens much more intuitively when I’m not trying to figure out what I want in the frame, what lighting, what lens…you get the idea.

As I began to more consciously create my images, things on set began to flow a little more naturally and client confidence increased.

Client confidence is essential to a great portrait. Finding yourself on the business end of a photographer’s lens can be a bit nerve-wracking, and lack of confidence shows through in people’s expressions. It looks awkward.

There’s no photoshop confidence filter, no fixing it in post. 

As my clients gained confidence in my abilities, they were no longer just standing there, nervously wondering how bad they were going to look in their pictures…they were trusting me, and working with me, to get the shots. 

When our clients believe in our abilities, they believe in our direction…and having this confidence in their photographer seems to allow them the space/peace of mind to relax and have confidence in themselves. They move with more confidence, they hold a pose more confidently, their expressions show a strong sense of self and their eyes connect with the camera. 

In addition to consistency and client confidence, spending time and energy planning your shoots in advance allows for much greater creative control. There are so many variables that work together to create an image; location and wardrobe, set and styling, lens choice, lighting…. so many decisions to make as you work toward your final frame(s).

  • Do you want to let the environment help tell the story with a wide angle lens, or do you want to focus on your subject and remove distractions with something in the telephoto range?
  • Are you looking for a light and airy image with high key lighting? Or do you want it to feel more dramatic and moody with light that’s a little more low key?
  • What props can you incorporate to help tell the story yet not distract from your portrait subject? 
  • Do you want their wardrobe to coordinate or contrast with their environment?
  • If you're working with natural light, what time of day do you need to start setting up in your chosen location? If you're working with artificial light, what modifiers do you need to achieve the look you are aiming for? 
As you start to consciously make these decisions, you will find a consistency to your images, a “style” emerging. Your lighting and styling will begin to develop a creative signature.

My style tends to be that late afternoon light, the kind with just the right balance of softness and shadow… weather that’s natural light or strobe.

My images also have a very candid feel, I like to capture very intentional images that look like no thought went into them at all.

Perfect snapshots.

I also find I tend to shoot with either my 50mm, or 85mm.  I am not a fan of the compression of telephoto lenses, so much so that (gasp!) I don't even own a 70-200mm.

Similar to my light, I like to let just enough background in to make my viewers curious about the context, the story…but allow my subject to take center stage. Every once in awhile I enjoy a wider angle, but often I find I lose my subject amidst all that environment.

I couldn’t think like this, let alone see my own emerging style, before I started to consciously make decisions about a photograph long before I ever pressed the shutter.

I believe I possess some solid skills when it comes to the more photojournalistic approach to photographs, but photojournalistic doesn’t mean unprepared. My preference is to go into things with a solid idea of what I’m trying to achieve and what it’s going to take to get me there.  This is why I spend the time before the shoot doing the creative and technical planning that is needed. Then, when I get there, I can focus on being in the moment with my clients and create incredible (well-planned) images together.

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