The pre production is the process in which we plan and prepare all the elements of a photo shoot. For many is a formality, for the best photographers is their secret weapon. Pre production is something many of us photographers don’t put enough attention on, because they think it is not in pre production where the strength of a photographer lies. This is a mistake.
A solid pre production is at the base of a great shoot.
Pre Production: what is it?
Pre production is a wide term, and it involves many aspects of the creation of a photo shoot. Depending on the type of shoot you are dealing with, it may be pretty short, or insanely long. In general, the pre production includes the preparation of a mood board, location scouting, dealing with any permission you may need, team building and call sheet.
For a small shoot with a single customer, a quick pre production may mean a simple call sheet. We have learned that the more you prepare, the better you are at doing what you do when you have your camera in your hands.
Why is pre production so important?
I find myself free to shoot creatively when I know what I am doing. When I have clear in my mind what are the elements I want to touch during a shoot, I know I will let myself create beautiful things. Pre production is the part of the shoot where the boundaries are set. If I know where I am shooting, who I will be shooting, what I will be able to do, I will have less to think during the shoot.
Do you know why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same t-shirt every day? It is because the less decision he has to take, the more he will be able to focus on the decisions that really counts. We are all like him, we have a certain amount of decisions we can take every day. If we take many decisions in the pre production phase, this will allow us to focus more on the shoot.
I don’t want to be snowed under too many things to think of and many decision to take when I have my camera in my hands. I want to have things prepared, planned and clear. This makes my life as photographer easier.
The minimum pre production you should do
It is very difficult to say what is the minimum amount of pre production you should do for a shoot. Is it an editorial? A Boudoir session? A portrait? The reality is that “it depends“.
For a normal session, nothing too fancy or complicated, I generally tend to follow few steps:
- Mood Board A mood board is a set of images that should be able to explain your vision to the rest of your team or to your client. What’s in your creative mind is for sure amazing, but if you are not able to make it clear to the others who will work with you, you are going to have hard time fulfilling your vision.
- Team Makeup Artist, Models, Stylist, Assistants and whoever not. You need to find them and clearly communicate with them. The clearer the communication, the easier your life will be. And don’t forget to send everyone a gentle reminder the morning before the session.
- Story I tend, whenever possible, to incorporate a story in my shoots, especially when I photograph portraits. A story to tell, for how simple it is going to be, is a killer feature to have. Knowing what you want to tell is the first step in telling it. Avoid getting your mind going blank the day of the shoot.
- Location Scouting If you are not working in a white studio, make sure you know your grounds. In our boudoir session, we always know where certain shoots looks best. Maybe it is one wall of the room instead of the other, but that is the difference between a good shoot and a mediocre one.
This is by no mean a complete list, but it is what I try to have for every shoot. The story, in particular, is something quite tough to have. Creating a storyline with few images is complex, nonetheless it is one of the things that will bring huge advantages in the creation of the final list of images.
A personal story
I want to leave you with a short personal story. Few days ago I shoot a portrait session. The session in itself was simple and straightforward, and because these days seems too busy, I skipped my usual pre production. I thought that it would have been simple to get there, find in my subject what was amazing about her and capture it. Plain and simple.
What I did not take into consideration was the fact that a lot of my energies would have been spent in meeting the person for the first time, knowing her, understanding her and deciding the best and most flattering way of shooting her. If you sum the fact that the rest of my energy went into shooting her, it left me without a single idea on how to move the shoot from one frame to another.
My mind went blank, I had too much to think to, and I simply switched off. The result is that the images I captured are good images, but all the shots that would have built the story around the main shoot were either missing or just poor images. The lack of pre production did not give me enough time, calm and brainpower during the shoot to make it unique.
The good thing: Lesson Learned!