Shoots that run smoothly will always produce better pictures and keep clients happy. Use this detailed checklist to avoid any major headaches and improve the chances that your next photoshoot is a huge success.
There's a myriad of things that can derail a photoshoot and most of these issues can easily be avoided with a little forward planning. Quite simply, the less drama that happens during a shoot, the best chance you give yourself of making great pictures. Anything that leeches your energy and attention while shooting can only have a negative effect on your work. It's for this reason, that I always plan my shoots with detailed precision and keep any drama to a minimum. The following preparations are typically what I do in the 24 hours leading up to a big shoot.
1. Send Reminders out to Everyone
The first thing I always do in the lead up to a shoot is to send out a message to everyone who will be attending. While the main purpose of this communication is to remind people about the shoot, I always make things feel more like a friendly and informal nudge. You would not believe how many times people have thanked me for the message as the shoot date had completely slipped their mind. Thankfully, I've never had any major headaches from personnel over the years, and because I remind people early enough there is potentially still time to find alternatives in a worst-case scenario. I'd rather find out someone wasn't coming to a shoot the day before than have a nasty surprise while stood on set.
2. Make a Kit Check List
I always like to make a physical list of all the kit I will be using on the shoot. In my head I visualize the setups, starting with the camera, to the lights, reflectors, stands, etc. This list helps me to never forget anything when I'm packing up my gear as I can cross things off as I pack them up.
3. Charge up All My Gear
Once I know exactly what I will be taking with me I get all the various batteries I need together and charge them up. I do like to charge my batteries reasonably ahead of time so I can make sure everything is working as it should be. It also means I can actually pack in good time. If you leave charging the batteries in your laptops, lights, triggers, and cameras to the evening before your shoot then you're going to be packing up your gear late into the night or even worse, on the day of the shoot.
4. Clean My Kit
I use the day before a shoot as the time to clean my kit. This way, there is no confusion if it's actually been done or not. I personally start by cleaning the sensor and the lenses. Next, I de-clutter my laptop and any hard drives which I may be using. Finally, my laptop screen gets a good clean as there is nothing worse than having distracting marks on it when you are looking at important details.
5. Test the Kit I'll Be Using
Now I know what I will be using and everything is charged up and clean, I test that all my gear is still working. I may have only shot with some of these items a few days or weeks earlier but I never take for granted that it still works. I'd rather get a nasty surprise now than when I'm stood on set with a team of people.
6. Reset Everything
Once I'm happy everything works as it should, I reset anything which may have been switched on especially during the last shoot. Maybe I changed the channels on some of my triggers, decided to use mirror lockup on my camera, or perhaps I switched my lens to focus manually. All these things are minor issues, but take time and energy correcting when you should be shooting.
7. Wipe and Format Memory Cards
While I'm resetting everything I also take the opportunity to wipe and format my memory cards. Shooting on clean cards gives me the maximum amount of storage space and stops me reimporting old work that I may have left on there. I have to admit that there are a few times I have forgotten to do this and it's a headache. There is nothing worse than finding your memory card filling up quicker than it should do as there are old pictures on there. It also doesn't look good when you are showing a client pictures and accidentally scroll back to a previous shoot.
8. Load a Memory Card Into the Camera
Many may think this one is insignificant but it's actually a good habit to get into. Once the cards are wiped I always put a memory card back into the camera so it's ready to go the next day. You just never know when you may want to take a quick candid shot before a shoot. It also means that if the worst were to ever happen to my gear I'd still be able to shoot. I'm thinking about delays, theft, or even loss of gear in transit. This may seem a little dramatic but as long as you have a camera and a card (the bag with my camera never leaves my side) you'll at least be able to take some pictures.
9. Check the Weather
I actually check the weather a few days leading up to a big shoot so I can start to work out possible alternatives or cancel things in good time if the weather is going to be a problem. Even if we are working indoors an unexpected change in temperature can make conditions an issue and extra arrangements may need to be taken into account. I usually mention the weather forecast in my reminder message to everyone so they can dress appropriately.
10. Work out What I'll Be Wearing
Now I know what the weather will be like I can work out what to wear. This isn't about being a fashionista, this is more about dressing appropriately and having one less thing to think about on the day of the shoot. This may sound a little finicky, but there are certain items of clothing I like to wear when I'm shooting. Some have lots of pockets for obvious practical reasons and all are comfortable without exception.
11. Think About Food for the Shoot
I have been told that I'm a bit of a feeder on my shoots but I know how much of a difference it can make to the day. Once people get hungry and their sugar levels drop the pictures you make suffer. The night before a shoot I will think about what snacks and drinks to bring. I never rely on there being food or places to eat where we are shooting so I always like to make sure I have stuff with me. Like many of the things on this list, this is about being as prepared as you can be so you can minimize the amount of energy and the number of decisions you have to make on the day of the shoot.
12. Make a Shoot Running Order
If the shoot is rather complex I like to make a running order so we can all work from it. This takes the form of an old fashioned list and is something which can be handed to everyone on the team. Not only does this help to make things run more smoothly, but it also helps us to not forget certain shots as we can physically cross things off as we go. A running order also helps me to work out how I will pack my gear too. This can be especially useful if there is lots of kit to carry. If things are organized in shoot order we may find that we don't always need to haul every single bag we bring to the various locations we are shooting at.
13. Get Everything Packed
I always pack my gear the night before a shoot. To do this on the day of the event itself just seems like a bad idea and a waste of valuable energy. Packing when you are in a rush can lead to you forgetting important items too. If that wasn't enough of a reason to pack early then giving yourself an extra hour in bed by doing it the day before should be.
14. Put Some Reference Pictures on My Phone
I always like to have reference pictures with me to help articulate what I am after in my work. The easiest and most accessible way to do this is to put them on my phone. I like to do this the night before so they are at the top of the camera roll of my phone. There's nothing worse than having to trawl through a million cat pictures to find the pictures you were after.
15. Organize Some Music Playlists
Just like the reference pictures, I like to have some appropriate music ready on my phone just in case I need it. I've already talked at length about the benefits of music while on a shoot and having some tracks ready can make all the difference. Maybe you're shooting something themed and you have some relevant music to play to set the mood. Or perhaps you find out the subject of your shoot is a big fan of a particular musician. It's only a small gesture but people appreciate these kinds of things and it could really help to transform your shoot and improve the pictures you make.
16. Load the Car the Night Before
While I appreciate this may not be possible for everyone, I like to load the car with my gear the night before. It saves time and energy on the day which is very much welcomed when a busy and strenuous shoot is ahead of me. There is nothing better than being able to leisurely wake up and know that everything is good to go. I'd rather break a sweat while shooting than doing so before I've actually got there.
17. Put in the Location of the Shoot Into My Satnav
If I'm shooting at a place I don't know I will load the location into both my satnav and my phone the night before so they are ready for the next day. I also always jot down the address and any contact numbers on a piece of paper so I have them at hand in case technology fails me.
18. Look at the Location on Street View
Even though the location is loaded into my phone and satnav I still like to see what the location looks like on Google Street View. Sometimes you'll discover a crucial turning or landmark near the location that isn't shown on any map. For me personally, I like to be able to visualize these things and Google street view does that brilliantly. It also helps me to explain where we are shooting to others on the shoot. I have been known to take a screenshot of a place and send it over to everyone on the team. Again, anything that can help make the day of the shoot run more smoothly is well worth doing in my book.
19. Switch off and Relax
Now everything is ready for the shoot in good time I can switch off and relax for a few hours. This time is actually really important as you can get to close to things when you leave everything to the last minute. Relaxing, recharging, and thinking about other things can only leave you in a better place both physically and mentally. Make sure you carve out some time before a shoot for you to relax a little.
20. Get an Early Nights Sleep
Carrying on from giving yourself some time to relax, an early night before a big shoot is always a good idea. Being rested will maximize the chances of you feeling your best and producing great work on the day of the shoot. I know many photographers who love to boast about running on 4 hours of sleep for one reason or another but that kind of behavior can only have a negative effect on things. If it's within your control then have an early night. Your body will thank you for it.
So there you have it, 20 things I always do in the 24 hours leading up to a big photoshoot. The big motivator for me is to always try and minimize the chances of any drama before or during a shoot. It's an obvious point to make, but the more smoothly things run, the more I can actually focus on making great work. It also makes me look much more professional to the clients I am working with. The role of a photographer is hard enough as it is without any extra headaches that could have easily been avoided with some forward planning. If you don't already, make a list and work through it in the 24 hours leading up to your next shoot. You may be surprised how much more smoothly things go on the day when you do.
How do you prepare in the days leading up to a big shoot? Anything you think we missed off the list? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.