7 Things Only the Photographer Cares About on Set

7 Things Only the Photographer Cares About on Set

Being a photographer comes with perils that only fellow photographers can relate to. Here are 7 things that only photographers care about on set.

Physics

Let's start with the biggest one. Creative directors rarely care about the laws of physics. All they want is the final image. Trying to explain to someone that they can't have even lighting with dramatic shadows that is hard, specular, whilst remaining soft and diffused can be tricky. Working out what is done in post and what is a lighting job and translating that to your client is really the crux of most commercial shoots. It is rare that you have a director who is concerned with physics, but I guarantee that every photographer does. 

Is it Sharp? 

Sharpness isn’t everything, but in certain applications it is important. This is particularly important if a client says “ We are not sure on the use of this image yet” as you may find yourself needing a pretty extreme crop later on. I am forever being told off for zooming in by stylists or directors when we are checking for critical focus. It is certainly something that only photographers think and care about, until it becomes a problem. 

The Backplates and Post Production Options

This won’t be relevant to all types of photography, but as a food photographer is it vital to shoot backplates. There are often many links in the chain between the client, agency, and myself. There could be brand alliances that are broken post shoot, items that are no longer wanted nor relevant, or a host of reasons as to why the hero of a flat lay now needs to be moved to the other side of the shot. Having a solid backplate taken both at the start and end of set up is so important. It can often feel to the client that we are slow, but it would be far more catastrophic if we didn’t have this in place when they had alteration requests. 

The same goes for post production. I often check in with a digital tech to make sure we have the options that the client may want. A lot of people assume that anything is possible with Photoshop, and maybe it is. However, to keep it cost effective and also looking realistic, we often do test edits before moving onto the next shot to avoid any nasty surprises later in the day. 

Backing Up 

Shooting with a big camera often means only writing to a hard drive when tethering. With massive 100 megapixel files and and plenty of test shots, this often means doing large data moves throughout the day. I personally try to move files to a “transit” drive after each image is finished and then have someone move it to my main system in the office. This obviously takes a few minutes and is something that I need to be fully focused on to avoid any mistakes. I’ve often found a pen tapping director nearby wondering what the delay is. 

We have all read the many horror stories on about photographers losing entire shoots due to a poor back up practice. In my studio is isn’t too complex, but when we are abroad and out on location rather than in the comfort of a studio this becomes more time consuming and important.

Lunch and Home Time

Some people work through lunch or don’t eat it at all at their 9-5 desk job. However, a photoshoot is not a 9-5 job. If we are shooting 9-5 that means I had my breakfast at 5:30am and will probably leave the studio around around 8pm, if we stop shooting at 5:30pm. The importance of finishing on time is one that weighs heavy on my mind. Sure I can shoot until 11pm if I have to, and some clients push for that. In my early days I often fell victim to it. However, that shoot might be their big shoot of the season, but it might also by my Wednesday and I might be at the other side of the country the following day for someone else's important shoot, or out of the country a few days later. As I have made it into my 30s I have certainly felt the build up of fatigue to be more pronounced than in my 20s so keeping on top of this is more important than ever.

This is also prime stupid time. When you work for too long you end up over writing a back up with the wrong files, leaving a lens in the kitchen that you needed to be packed into a case for the next days shooting, or as I did last time, accidentally turning the heating up to 30 degrees in the middle of summer before a 5 day trip away (it was tropical on my return). 

Delivery Format and Method

When ever left to chance this will be wrong. I have sent Wetransfer to places where their sever blocks it, TIFF files that are monstrous that have brought down the council's servers and all manner of daft assumptions that in the end have left me re-exporting and sending in time that I do not have allocated to the job.

Knowing the file format, address to send to, and the method in which they would like to receive them is such a great time saver. 

The Deadline 

There are several reasons that you need to be concerned about this. You need to get the deadline in writing. Firstly, this lets you know how much you can fix in post and what you need to get sorted in camera. If there simply isn’t time for Photoshop wizardry then you want to make that glass immaculate in camera rather than falling back on fixing any smudges in post. You also need to know if you need an editor on site to be able to meet the deadline.

Then there are the clients who move the goal posts. I have been on shoots with a 7 day turn around to be told that they now need it next day. I fell foul once when the only agreement to timings was via a phone call, so I had to suck it up, call in an editor and sit with them throughout the night before turning the images in and making my way to the next job, which thankfully was only a few hours away. Make sure that you have these things in your contract and that you also educate the client that just because you need a day to edit, that it doesn’t mean that you are free to take that day anytime soon. This is especially important for last min bookings. 

What would you add to the list?

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18 Comments

Will the client pay on time? Keep the chatter of the crew low. Why is the assistant, stylist, model, etc. looking at their phone and not paying attention. Why can't the client make up their minds? Why is it that the second shot after lunch always takes forever?

Scott Choucino's picture

Hahaha the client who’s glued to their phone and then pipes up with an after thought once we are all done to justify their presence in the room.

Blake Aghili's picture

In free collaboration shoots I literally say ok let's go when I am hungry :D

Scott Choucino's picture

Never let the photographer get hangry haha

Robert Nurse's picture

Haha, I'm never hungry during a shoot! I don't know what that is. After the shoot, I'm famished!!!

How to politely explain to the client additional images will cost more?
How to politely explain that additional parties were not included in the agreed upon contract and again will cost more? Even if the additional party doesn't really need the images its just as a favor.
Is the assistant trying to poach the client - or making us look bad because they're in conversation not concentration?
How to politely explain all the additional time setting up is because none of the pre-production styling that the client assured would be taken care of needs to be done by the photo team? Seems like I've replaced more lightbulbs than most custodians.

Max Bridge's picture

Great article!

I always do my plates at the end of every shot! Remove each item one by one, grabbing a frame each time, then finally shoot a frame with an empty set. It's all getting cleared away anyway for the next shot so doesn't take too long. Very important step!

With the backups, can you not just run backup software throughout the day? I probably misunderstood that point. I have the session on my computer and one copy continuously backing up to an external HDD. If shooting in my own studio that's simultaneously being uploaded to the cloud. Would that work for you or did I misunderstand that bit?

Scott Choucino's picture

That’s work fine in my studio if I could get it to work with my Mac. How are you doing to auto back up?

Max Bridge's picture

I use a program called Bvckup which is for PC (I'm weird in the photographic world, a PC user. Get so much crap for that!). It runs automatically in the background and creates a copy on an external HDD. On a multiple day shoot, if not working from my home studio with auto cloud backup, that HDD comes home with me and is then backed up to the cloud in the evening. I then leave that drive at home and use a new HDD for each day. That way I've got data in multiple locations for added safety. My laptop on the shoot, HDD at home, and the cloud.

On Mac there's a program called ChronoSync (I think that's the main one) which does the same thing as the program I use.

Scott Choucino's picture

The only people who I know that are successful in auto back ups use PC. I’ll give that software a go

I used to have auto backup software running during a shoot until the auto software somehow screwed up and deleted files. They were recovered but there was some internal panic. We now back up the session manually after each shot to two HDs.

Scott Choucino's picture

This is the experience I had to sadly. But it may have been my fault as I’m not great with tech.

I'm not a pro, so educate me please. Why do you want to do backup in a field? Don't all pros have camera with with two memory slots? Did any of you had both memory cards corrupted in a same time ever? If you are paranoiac about never happening event of both card getting corrupted, why don't you use low capacity 32GB cards in a second slot and keep changing them at some interval? Why do you use last century technology in 21st century? And what is it about telling customer that more images will cost them more? Does it really cost you more to push a shutter button few more times to keep your customer happy? Don't they pay you enough already for a job any high school kid can do with modern equipment?

Scott Choucino's picture

Medium format cameras will only write to a single hard drive location or card at any given time. Usually there is no memory card involved n a big shoot when tethering.

Thanks for explanation. I never had medium format camera, so I just assumed that all pro cameras have 2 memory slots like my full frame ones. Nor did I know that medium format cameras do not write to memory card when tethering.

Scott Choucino's picture

Not a problem. Dual card slots seem to be on sport and wedding cameras predominantly. More commercial aimed cameras tend to have a single slot for location and then write to computer only in the studio. I would imaging its mostly due to the file sizes these cameras create and the viability of recording to both cards at such a slow speed. Might be wrong though.

Hahahaha. I literally do everything you have stated here Scott. I love this post! Reminds me a lot about myself. Please can I write on some of my experiences as a photographer? I would really love to do so. Thanks Scott.

Howard Paul's picture

I have never shot food. What is a backplate?