Pro Tip #4: My Approach

// June 30th, 2014 // Pro Tips #, Technique

In this post I’m going to go through the basic approach I take to preparing for the photography jobs that I’m offered. This is effectively a checklist of the steps I go through, although I’ve done them so often by now I don’t need the list to remind me.

My goal throughout is to give clients the best, most useful images possible. I don’t try to apply my style to their job, in fact I’d hope I don’t have a style, rather I try to figure out what they need, then figure out how to make the images.

By preparing thoroughly in advance and knowing exactly what I need to do going into a shoot I have more time to work with people and be creative on the day.

Initial Contact

Roughly what does the potential client want, and do I want to do it? When does it need to be done and am I available? What would my fee be and are they willing to pay it?

Refining The Brief

When it’s established that I’m going to do the job I’ll go into the brief in much greater detail. It’s usually me that leads on this rather than the client – part of the reason they’ve come to me is they don’t yet know the details of what they need, and I know how to work them out.

Part of this process is me doing research into the client, who are they really, what image do they want to project and who their customers are. This helps me establish who the photos are really for. It’s usually for two distinct groups, the client themselves and _their_ clients or potential clients.

For example, if I’m asked to take photos for a clothes shop then the photos are delivered to and paid for by the shop so it’s important they like them, but the people who the photos must really appeal to are the kind of people that might potentially buy things from that shop. This is an important distinction but one that some clients may not be self-aware enough to make.

At this stage I can look at the brief and guide the clients towards what would work best for them and their market given the practical constraints of time money and resources (there are always constraints!)

Reference Material

For most jobs I like to have reference material. Sometime it comes from the client but whether they provide it or not I’ll always search out my own too.

Reference material serves a number of purposes:
– If the client has provided the references I get a good idea of the kind of thing they’re asking for and it’s a useful starting point when setting up the practicalities of a shoot and setting expectations.

– To see what else is out there, how other people have approached similar tasks.

– To trigger ideas I might not otherwise have had.

– Explaining to the client what I’m trying to achieve.

– Poses. People who aren’t used to having their photograph taken can have a hard time knowing where to look, what to do with their hands and so on. It’s sometime useful to just show them a picture of someone else doing something and getting them to copy the pose.

Reference material can be very domain specific, for example looking at photos of heavy metal bands when preparing to photograph one, or be more about feel or mood, for the metal band I might look up dark, brooding, aggressive etc. images. A selection of references is often called a ‘mood board’.

I also like random searches that seem totally unrelated to the task at hand. I think about the kind of photos I’m trying to make then type a couple of random words into Google image search, such as ‘atomic squirrel’, then pick one of the images that shows up and figure out how (and if!) I’d incorporate some element of the that image into the shoot I’m doing.

Using reference material isn’t about directly copying what other people have done, it’s about being aware of what’s out there and building my own thing.

And communication. Communication is very important with the client and any people I might be photographing.
I’ve learned through experience time and again that people are really bad at describing images, and even two people who use exactly the same words can be talking about something completely different!
Having a picture that can be pointed at helps a lot.


Now using the research and reference I’ve compiled I’ll make a list of ideas. I’ll probably be thinking about this over the course of a few days and jot down things as I think of them.

Sometimes I write ideas down in words, sometimes sketches, sometimes annotated reference material. This is perhaps the most fun part of the whole process.

Shot List/Schedule

Figure out what exactly to (try to) do, what order, and how long each might take, and write a simple schedule for the day of the shoot
I’ll also probably write a list of equipment I need at this stage.

Final Prep

Make sure I have all the equipment I need packed and ready to take with me, and that I have all the information I need to take – addresses, contact numbers and names, shot list etc. – usually on my phone and as a print out for backup.


I’ll talk about a typical shoot in a subsequent blog post…