Whenever I'm working with a model for the first time - be they a professional or an amateur - I always like to give them a briefing.
Every photographer works differently, so it is only fair that I try to let them know how I shoot. I try to get it to them at least a week before the shoot, so that they have time to read it, ask any questions, and get prepared. It's pretty much a standard document, to which I add or remove things as required, depending on the type of shoot we're doing.
Today I'm going to share my standard briefing with you.
This little note is to give you some background on what we’re going to do, and how I usually go about doing a photo shoot. Read this a few times. Some of it will make sense instantly, some of it won’t – but it should all make sense by the time we’re finished. Please note that I will mention your unmentionables in this document. There’s a reason for it.
You’ve already got the outfit(s) I hope. Wear them a couple of times so they don’t look new, and also so you feel comfortable in them and getting in and out of them.
Now, some details:
Weather permitting, let’s aim for half a day all-up. I know that sounds like forever, but that’ll include travelling, getting set up, shooting, and finally having a bit of a review of the raw photos. Expect to spend no more than about 2 hours in front of the camera. Time flies when you’re shooting.
This can be varied, if you’d like. For example you might want to go a bit longer to get some ‘after five’ pics, or night shots with creative lighting. That’s your call though.
I have one location planned at this stage, although this is changeable depending on the weather and so forth.
As a model, you should expect a few things of me as a photographer.
No touching. Even if I want to move a stray strand of hair, I’ll ask you first.
Courtesy and respect. You are a human, not a wooden prop, so you should always feel that respect.
Privacy. If you need to change outfits or adjust your wardrobe, you will be able to do so without feeling like you’re being watched.
Examples. If I want you to try a certain pose or facial expression that you’re not familiar with, I’ll either demonstrate it myself, or show you an example of what I’m thinking of.
Friendly atmosphere. I’ll be talking to you the whole time, because that is the type of bloke I am.
Comfort. I won’t ask you to do or try anything that is uncomfortable – either physically or psychologically. If I wouldn’t do it, I wouldn’t ask you to try it either. Also, if you need a break, say so!
Creative input. Your ideas are always welcome! If you have a thought – no matter how silly it might sound – mention it. Some of the best photos are those taken when you leave the ‘script’ in the bag. This is your shoot too, so your ideas are valued.
Professionalism, with humour.
Clear communication. I won’t be too ambiguous when I’m saying something. If I want you to put your bum in or out, I’ll say so in those words. I usually speak with a PG to M rating, but if I do say a word you’re uncomfortable with, please say so!
Fun. If it’s not fun, then I have failed as a photographer.
A mood sheet. These are the images that will show you the look, style or pose we’re aiming for. It might only be part of the image (i.e. the facial expression) or the whole thing. These are a base, we build on those with your own look and personality.
A shoot sheet, or shot list. This goes with the mood sheet to give a list of the shots that are “must have”. Think of it as a bit of a guide though, rather than a script.
Professionalism. Whether we're doing a paid shoot or a TFP shoot, we're professionals at what we do and should show it.
That you will be on time and ready to work on the day.
Let me know if you are not sure what to do with your hands or feet, they can change a ‘good’ photo into an ‘average’ photo.
Talk to me. If you’re not comfortable (like you’re sitting one something too hard, or you’re too cold or warm), or not feeling the mood we’re gunning for, just say so. I don’t bite. Much.
If I ask you to try something – like a certain facial expression or pose – have a go.
Be prepared to have a laugh and be a bit silly. Photography is supposed to be fun.
Have a couple of ideas for a photo that YOU want. A pose, an expression. Give it some thought.
What to bring?
A couple of changes of clothes and a warm jacket or coat. Bring your favourite, most comfy set of clothes too, so we can do a couple of extra “looks”. Include a pair of shorts in case it gets warm.
If it rains you’ll want to get dry and change quickly, so also include a towel.
Accessories, such as spectacles, sunglasses, a hat, purse, mobile phone. These can also be used as additional props during the shoot.
Comfortable shoes (joggers or hiking shoes/boots)
Something to drink (I will also have iced water there too) and a snack.
Some music that you really like, preferably with a beat, either on your phone or an MP3 player.
If you wear prescription glasses, bring them – they can also add a lot to a picture.
A bow or piece of ribbon to tie up your hair.
What to wear?
Tights are a good start if it’s cool, you’ll appreciate the extra layer on your legs. If it gets warmer, then we can readjust according to comfort.
A white bra or plain white sports bra, or a lighter colour bra with a white singlet, that won’t show through the outfit. (see image at right)
A jacket, so you can easily put it on between shots to keep warm (again, weather dependant)
Matching shoes to your outfit(s).
How to prepare?
Get a good night’s sleep beforehand. If you’re tired, you’ll be off your game a bit and it will likely show on your face too. If you normally wear makeup, don’t. Come au-naturale or otherwise according to the make-up artist’s suggestions.
Be sure to eat a couple of hours beforehand. You don’t want to be hungry, but you don’t want to be feeling completely full either. If you normally drink tea or coffee, be sure to have some of that too. Don’t change your morning routine too much.
Don’t wear tight underwear! This will leave marks and creases on your skin that can take a long time to subside, especially if your outfit lends itself to an off-the-shoulder pose, or we're doing boudoir-style. I wouldn’t suggest running commando, unless that’s your usual thing, but be aware that, under added flash lighting, even dark outfits become translucent, and white outfits will bleed through any colour from underneath.
I’ve binned plenty of otherwise-good shots due to these dreaded wardrobe malfunctions. Again, a loose-fitting sports bra with wide shoulder straps is usually the best option.
Who to bring along?
Mostly there is no place for hangers-on at a photo shoot. We are there to work. People who don't have a function as part of the shoot shouldn't be there. However there are occasions where having someone escort you to a photo shoot is unavoidable or, if you're under 18, mandatory.
Boyfriends and brothers are an absolute no-no. They can get really pissy or just make things feel awkward by always wanting to look at how the photos turned out in the middle of taking them, or getting jealous at the photographer when they say “now blow a kiss”. (No, seriously, this happens a lot)
Girlfriends or sisters are better; because they’ll help you relax and can give you a hand if anything needs fixing/changing/adjusting, as well as being a lot more positive during the shoot.
As a rule, parents are also a bad idea, unless they’re happy to sit back and keep quiet until asked or needed for something. Many a photo shoot has been ruined by intrusive relatives either giving the photographer grief, wanting to view each and every photo, or constantly chattering to the model about “don’t stand like that”, or “stop picking your nose”, and ruining her mood. It’s your nose, you can pick it as much as you like.
How do I shoot?
I use at least two, sometimes three, cameras during each shoot, with different lenses attached to each. This makes it easier for changing the type of shot without having to constantly switch lenses. This can vary from a small, wide-angle lens at very close range, to using a longer, tele-zoom lens from a distance, or a combination of these.
Even in daylight, I’ll be using external, remote flash units, using radio triggers, to even out the light. These are usually mounted on a tripod, on the ground, behind something to bounce a little extra light, or sometimes on the actual camera itself. Sometimes, if there is an extra person, I might get them to hold one of the flashes on the end of a pole to change the lighting angle. There will be a bit of faffing around with the lights to get them right before each new shot, plus taking a few test shots to make sure the lighting is even. The lighting can be the hardest part of a photo shoot.
Most times I’ll take multiple frames of each shot, in a burst. This should allow for things like blinking to be avoided. With movement shots, expect a sustained burst of up to 20 shots through the move.
Sometimes I’ll set the camera up on a tripod and use a remote shutter release. This gives me some flexibility to make minor adjustments to your pose, replace stray hair, avoid a ‘blink’ shot, and also catch you in a relaxed moment. It’s deliberate on my part.
Between shots, I’ll have a quick look at the back of the camera to make sure that we’ve captured it. Then there will be a slight variation with some directions, such as “drop your shoulder a bit”, or “look more to the left”, or I’ll make some adjustments to the camera or lights. It might sound picky, but we want these to look right. When we have a break, I’ll show you some of the shots so you can gauge how they’re looking.
If you’re doing something and I say “hold that pose”, I mean it. Freeze exactly as you are. Sometimes it can be something that you’re doing unintentionally or by unconscious habit that can give the best shot of the day.
If there’s someone along for the shoot (mum, friend, sister) I might also give them a pocket camera to take some “behind the scenes” shots during the shoot. These are really cool for putting on Facebook or whatever to show the whole scene, with all the gear set up, as well as being a good way to keep them occupied while we’re working.
We’ll hopefully have some extra time after we’re finished with the directed shoot. If you want to get some different shots in a different outfit afterwards, bring the clothing and we’ll tack it on at the end.
The look we want is you. Your smile and personality are the key things that I’d love to see coming out. Fresh, youthful, exciting, confident, cheeky – then contrast with soft, tender, peaceful, shy. If you’re not feeling the mood right away, say so and we can build up to it, or switch from one to the other.
There are three distinct phases – if we have the time.
Movement. Dancing or gymnastic moves that emphasise balance, flow, strength.
Life. Doing ‘normal’ things, like fixing your hair, putting on shoes, arranging your things.
The finished product.
It’ll probably take me a week or two to process the photos completely, but I will try to get a couple of highlight shots to you quickly.
At the end of it, you get a copy of all the finished photos, which are yours to use for whatever you like.
Above all else, be prepared to have a bit of fun and move to the edge of your comfort zone with your expressions. If you show the camera some love, it will love you right back.
The shoot will be all about you. Make the most of it.
Advice from experienced models:
"Have fun in front of the camera. Don’t be shy about goofing off, and before you go, if you don’t do this already...practice your poses in the mirror. Learn how facial expressions feel on your face so that you can do them with ease for the photographer. Learn how to hold your body in the positions that flatter your figure best; and remember how they feel!"
"Remember not many people can stand in front of the camera and not feel self-conscious at the start of a shoot, but as much as possible try to relax so that this doesn’t show through in all of your pictures. After a few sets, you’ll feel a lot calmer."
"Talk to your photographer! Unless they’re a total a**hole, they’ll want you to give feedback during the shoot."