9 Free Tools To Produce Your Next Photo Shoot

Eventually, as we progress in our commercial photography careers, we will become a part of sizable shoots with producers attached. Your first shoot with an experienced producer will feel like flying first class for the first time; you will never want to go back.

I am so grateful to all the producers I get to partner with ("partnering" being the keyword) because they allow us photographers to focus entirely on the creative challenges and not the logistics of a project.

In the beginning, however, every photographer has to wear the producer hat. This on-the-job training is a good thing, as every shooter should know what it is like navigating all the logistical traps as a producer. We all should keep fresh in our minds how difficult that job can be to appreciate the support and even lend an experienced hand when needed. 

The truth is, no matter how experienced you are, you will always find yourself a part of shoots that do not have a producer attached a few times a year, especially during more challenging economic times, such as what we are experiencing now when budgets are tighter. Keeping your photoshoot coordination skills sharp will make you more marketable and save you hours of preparation in the run-up to your shoot.

What Does a Producer Do?

To grossly oversimplify, the goal of a producer is to get all of the members of a project on the same page with schedules, art direction, and communication. Everyone should know when to show up, where to show up, and precisely what is expected of them when they arrive on set. This alone is a full-time job without covering usage rights, talent fees, permits, location management, prop budgets, shooting schedule, insurance, food, parking, release forms, and COVID safety protocols.

While smaller shoots without a producer should be a lighter workload and less pressure, every shoot deserves a level of pre-production due diligence. Below are some of the tools I use in my process in order of use.

Tools

1. Pinterest ( Free )

Probably the most obvious choice, but Pinterest is where a lot of shoots begin. Let me be clear; a mood board is not art direction. It's just a tool to get the conversation started. The planning should move away from Pinterest and mood boards after the first creative call/email. Combining your Pinterest board with a customer profile and brand analysis are the key ingredients to creating a treatment in Step 3.

2. Concord Now ( Free Version )

There are a ton of features in this contract platform that I love, but what Concord Now does differently is allow for contracts to be collaborative, transparent, and easily understood in the process. Stakeholders can make changes, comment on sections, ask questions, and of course, submit signatures for approval. Any changes made to a contract are tracked and can be subject to approval by the key team members.  Adobe's contract signing platform, Adobe Sign, looks interesting to me, but I have yet to try it out. Payment is integrated directly into the contract to confirm a booking. Has anyone tried it yet?

3. Google Slides ( Free )

Google Slides can be where the principal creatives do most of the preparation and idea generation. I usually start by making a treatment that informs the client of what I would like to bring regarding art direction, lighting, casting recommendations, locations, etc. The images in the treatment include as many shots that I have taken myself as possible. As the pre-production process moves forward, I use aspects of the treatment to create a hybrid concept deck and shot list. As flexibility is vital in any production, all the head creatives share editing rights over these documents. Want to know more about treatments? Check out this example courtesy of Photographer Jason Little.

4. Google Meet/Zoom ( Free/Free Version )

Remote meetings are only going to become more central to communication as time passes. I used to reject this and would even drive hours for a good old-fashioned face-to-face. I still believe it's the best forum, but it's not always possible. The combination of Google Slides and Google Meet makes for a powerful tool in any pre-production meeting. I prefer Google Meet to Zoom, as it is integrated seamlessly into other Google products, such as Gmail, Calendar, etc.

5. Slack (The Free Version Is Really All You Need)

"OMG, email is terrible."

That's the thought I had five minutes after using Slack for the first time. Slack saves time and prevents mistakes while helping you stay focused on what you and your team need to do. For the past two years, I have created a separate Slack Workspace for each client's internal team, and doing so has paid dividends. Utilizing this tool has evaporated a lot of challenges of communication and planning. If you have a client with monthly/quarterly shoots, I highly recommend Slack or a product like it.

Pro Tip: Create a separate channel in the workspace for each typical conversation topic, such as Important Links, Call Sheets, Inspiration, Revision Requests, etc.

6. Peerspace (Sort of Free)

Peerspace is an AirBnB for studios and event locations. Each property owner lists their space for an hourly or a day rate. By now, many have had big productions come through and use their space, so the owners have equipped their homes, ranches, lofts, warehouses, etc. with supplies and resources to help with your shoot. Several locations in my experience had their sandbags, apple boxes, and C-stands already on site, which is a game-changer when you are self-producing your shoot.

Pro Tip: Many Peerspace locations are also on Airbnb, so book the space the day before so your team can do a tech-scout, stay the night, wake up, and get started first thing in the morning.

7. StudioBinder (Free Trial, Limited Free Version, and Paid Versions )

The Free Forever Plan includes a fantastic call sheet platform. I used to obsess over making call sheets, and StudioBinder's service saves me a ton of time. A good call sheet is packed with a lot of information but is also be easily understood.

The best part is that the call sheet tracks to ensure everyone sees the call sheet. No more stress about ensuring everyone shows up on time; it comes complete with automatic reminders and GPS location. If you schedule three shoots or more a year, I recommend buying into this service to save you hours of your time.

Pro Tip: If you are a part of a one-day photography shoot, send the call sheet out 48 hours before the call time at the latest. A multi-day video shoot is a different, more complex animal, so call sheets the night before is typical and should be left in the hands of a real producer anyways.

8. Dropbox, WeTransfer, Smash, Hightail (Free Versions Available)

Delivery of assets is tricky, as everyone has different preferences for receiving and reviewing images. Personally, every shoot I do calls for a slightly different handoff geared towards a client's different needs.

Dropbox is the best, but it's not good. It's the most common, and you can securely store a ton of files for free to relatively cheap. My problem with Dropbox is that it is slow with a convoluted user interface. Also, the lack of the Proofing and Image Approval process is frustrating, but apparently, they are working on that. 

That being said, Dropbox is the most common way I transfer images because almost all of my commercial clients already use it and insist on receiving their deliverables this way.

WeTransfer and Smash are clean, simple, and straightforward ways to deliver large files. You can set passwords and expiration dates for downloadable links. These two companies understand user interface so well that I will go all in as soon as one launches a full proofing service. Until then, I have upgraded to Hightail.

9. Expensify (Free Trial)

This is my favorite way to track expenses on a project. Whether you shoot a receipt on your phone or have an invoiced email to you, Expensify will collect and organize all of your project transactions into a professional clean expense report.

Would you mind taking a moment to let us know what tools you use to organize your shoots in the comments below?

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11 Comments

Alejandro (Alex) Martinez's picture

Thanks, Dana, for letting me know about Space For Arts. I will definitely check it out.
I agree about Studiobinder; it's so slick and gives a clean first impression. I wish the price was a little friendlier to solopreneurs, but it is what it is.

J.d. Davis's picture

Went from Visicalc to Lotus to Excel ~ it all transferred to libreoffice calc and it's FREE!

Alejandro (Alex) Martinez's picture

I have never heard of LibreOffice so thanks for dropping the comment.

Jonathan Bischoff's picture

For file transferring, https://swisstransfer.com seems the best option to my eyes: free up to 50Go transfers (yup!), password protection, link expiration... And it's hosted in Switzerland, under the swiss privacy laws.

Alejandro (Alex) Martinez's picture

Thanks for putting Swiss Transfer on my radar. I will add it to my list and check it out. Thanks, Jonathan!

Catherine Bowlene's picture

Ah, Pinterest. Good old times when I had my own blog there and filled it with 'aesthetics', haha! Still use it to get ideas, it never lets me down. I was never friends with Google Slides though, Smartshow 3d is better imo, has more tools and there is also a free trial. I'd also add Photodiva to the list, since it's a free portrait editor.

Alejandro (Alex) Martinez's picture

Thanks for the recommendation, Catherine! I will check out Smartshow 3d the next time I need to create a presentation.

Bruce Grant's picture

Pixieset works great for me. Three gigabytes of free storage to start though you have to deal with their branding. Great layouts, password protected portfolios and downloads and clients pick their favorite proofs which lets me know their top images I'll edit.

Alejandro (Alex) Martinez's picture

I honestly really like Pixieset. They do a lot of things right. I wish the client-facing interface was a little more enterprise/commercial inspired for the marketing teams and agencies I work with. There is just something about presenting shots from a campaign on the same platform that their wedding was delivered on that seems a little off. Am I alone on this?

Fristen Lasten's picture

Remember: if the product is free, you are the product.