How to Prepare for the Unexpected at Your next Photoshoot

How to Prepare for the Unexpected at Your next Photoshoot

“Expect the unexpected” is great advice for anyone, especially for a photographer. Making the necessary preparations for a photoshoot is essential to success, but what about matters that are beyond your control? We will review three of the most common obstacles that can potentially derail your next session, and how to best handle them both preemptively and after the fact.

Location Mishaps

You have provided your client with potential locations for their photoshoot, and are slated to arrive at their chosen destination. But upon arrival, you see that there is some private function that has taken over the entire area. What do you do?

Before you contact your client to inform them of what has happened, you need to have a plan of action. Could this shoot be accomplished back at your studio? Is there another nearby area that could yield similar results? Ensure that whatever your Plan B is, that it will not suffer from the same issue as the current set. Contact your client and inform them of what has happened, and provide them with their options. Your client may be more than happy with the next location, or may request to reschedule the shoot. Abide by whatever precedent you have laid out in your contract while doing what you can to please your client.

This is perhaps one of the most difficult issues to handle, as an atmospheric session can be ruined with a poor location. There are many ways to avoid this from happening in the first place, and should be steps that any professional takes to ensure the best production possible.

Scout the location shortly before the shoot date. Not only is this a great way to familiarize yourself with the set in order to pre-visualize your images, but you can guarantee that the location is how you thought it would be. I have been to flower fields that were nearly barren during the time of year I happened to be there, or went to a location while it was undergoing unsightly renovations. In both instances, I scouted the location first, and verified with my client that its current condition would still meet their standards.

For locations that may be out of town or difficult to access, be sure to pick up the phone, email appropriate contacts at the location, or research what you can online. Having permission to be where you are, and double-checking that there will be no conflicting events taking place will go a long way in ensuring a smooth session for you and your client.

Weather Changes

Perhaps the most unreliable of aspects on this list, weather can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Check the forecast a week before the shoot date, and plan accordingly based on your findings. If your shoot is outdoors at the beach, inform your client of what can be accomplished in covered areas should you be anticipating rain. If the forecast is proving entirely unfavorable, then discuss other options that may include indoor sets.

However, it isn’t just rain or snow that a photographer should be worried about, but in the quality of light that is being provided. You may schedule a shoot to take place during the golden hour after sunrise, but have your session delayed, rendering an entirely different aesthetic to ambient light. Be sure that you are prepared to make necessary changes to your lighting setup by utilizing scrims/diffusers, flags, reflectors, or strobes as needed to properly shape the light.

Team Cancelations

We’ve all been there. An hour before the call time of a shoot, when suddenly you receive that last-minute cancelation text from a model or member of your team. There are few things more frustrating than last-minute cancelations, as they jeopardize an entire production. Fortunately, there are many ways to help minimize the chances of this happening, as well as handling it after the fact.

Send a confirmation email, text message, or call the night before the shoot to share enthusiasm for working with said person, as well as confirming vital details such as time and location. There are many websites and applications that allow you to schedule appointment reminders, which can make this a really easy task. In most cases, you will get a response from those you contact, which can be reassuring for a project involving vital players.

The key to avoiding cancelations ahead of time is to establish a sense of accountability with the person. If they feel that their presence is needed or are invested in the project (either creatively or monetarily), then it becomes much harder for them to cancel on a whim.

But what can you do for those times when someone has in fact canceled? When working with untested models, I make it a point of casting two models, typically scheduled for different call times. At best, I will have two models that I am prepared to work with, and if one does cancel, then there is still another capable model for the shoot.

When it comes to handling cancelations from makeup artists and hair stylists, you can employ a few tricks. More and more makeup artists make it a point of learning at least the basics of hair styling, so I make it a point to hire those that consider themselves a MUAH (makeup and hair) rather than just a MUA (makeup artist). This has saved a few shoots where someone has canceled by being able to leverage the multiple talents of this individual. Another tip is to always recommend that your models bring their own basic makeup kit, so that if push comes to shove, they can apply their own makeup.

There are those rare instances where a wardrobe stylist or even a designer will cancel, and for a fashion shoot, there is nothing more disastrous. Make connections with local boutiques or designers that will let you pull clothing on short notice. I personally had a fashion editorial where the wardrobe stylist didn’t show (or even notify that they canceled), leaving myself and my team high and dry. Through the quick thinking of my makeup artist, she recommended several local stores where we could pull wardrobe. With barely any time left to spare before the call time, we were able to salvage the shoot and produce a high-quality product for the magazine.

In the end, it will always be quick thinking, composure, and decisive action that will help you navigate through these unexpected scenarios. Take solace in knowing that it happens to the best of us, but be determined to take control of the situation and make the most of it.

What have been some of your own experiences when a monkey wrench was thrown into your plans? I would love to hear some of your personal stories in the comments!

Team Credits - Photographer: Kendra Paige | Models: Yana Poly of MP Mega Miami & Joanna Moccia | MUAH: Andrea Joe Cicalese | Stylist: Gen Bell | Retoucher: Svetlana Pasechnik
Kendra Paige's picture

Kendra Paige is a fashion and beauty photographer based in South Florida, with a passion for whimsical and colorful imagery. She discovered her love of photography while developing film in a middle-school darkroom, and has strived to be a positive influence in the photographic community ever since through education and mentorship.

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The worst thing I experienced during a job was a power outage in the neighborhood that lasted all day. Thankfully I knew someone who had a ranger RX pack from Elinchrom so I was able to borrow that, not ideal because my modifiers wouldn't fit on there but I also got an octa with it and winged it with one light and a reflector.

Oh, wow, that does sound awful! I think my Vagabond Minis were the first investment that I couldn't live without. They have definitely helped in a lot of situations where power wasn't available. Though they have their limitations, so I may look into higher-end power packs.

That was quick thinking on your part! I try to keep my lighting setups simple myself, so I'm sure you were able to get plenty of great shots with that setup!

I'd love to see your work, if you'd ever be interested in sharing it. Feel free to send me a message if it's not something you wish to share here.

As always, thanks for your comment, Alice!

I'm in africa right now and am browsing the site from a tablet but when I get back I definitely need to update my profile! :)

Looking forward to it. Hope you are enjoying your time in Africa!

When I was working with Pulitzer INC you never fully knew what to expect as far as shooting. I would shoot anywhere from 3-6 assignments a day all different types. I could be shooting EP, Formal Portraits, Sports, Product shoots, and News in any condition.

Two of the worst this to shoot were child homicides and Terminal ill. I had to shoot a girl who was 16 I was told had a brain tumor but she did know at the time of the shoot what also her mother was dying of cancer.

Thank you for sharing those experiences with us. I can't even imagine what that must have been like.

Good piece. I've found, though, that coming up with that "Plan B" weeks before the shoot is better. That ways everyone involved is familiar with the backup plan before the day of the shoot and are ready to act in a moment's notice.

Thank you for your comment! I also agree with having a Plan B ahead of time, however my stance on informing the team differs. For editorials and commercial projects, I'll inform them ahead of time, but for tests or instances where I am working with untested models or crew, I will keep those plans to myself until the need arises. I've found that providing people with too much information can sometimes be alarming to them, so I keep it simple until I've come to know their work ethic.

It doesn't matter if you're shooting in a studio or on location; always have a plan B and have backup. People won't show up, studios will double book, equipment will break (like the time I dropped my flash meter and broke the dome). Have a second model you can use, have an alternate location, and if you have an indispensable piece of equipment, bring two of them.

I've shown up in a suit for executive portraits only to be told they were called away and I would be crawling over pipes in the boiler room for some equipment shots. I had an assistant forget to load the strobes for a shoot that was 2 hours away from the studio. And many more.

Plan well, have a backup and be flexible.

Have Fun,

Very valid points, Jeff! One can never be too prepared, and equipment is definitely one of those areas that can hit a photographer when it's too late.

Thank you for your comment!

I've shown up at an outdoor portrait shoot without a single sync cord for my RB67. There was a fire the night before that had burned the hillside across the street from my home right down to my neighbor's backyards. So I had to drive home, then wait my turn in line to enter my own neighborhood. All because of one $5 cord.

More recently, I grabbed the wrong cable for the monolights I was using, so I had no way to plug the Pocket Wizards in. Luckily, I had a spare body (EOS 40D) with pop-up flash in my bag. I used that to fire the flashes. It was a volunteer thing for a church, not a paying gig, and they were thrilled with the results, which is all that counts.

Oh, man, that sounds nightmarish! I was in a town that was ravaged by brush fires when I was a child, and that was really terrifying to go through. Compounding that with a photoshoot hanging in the balance only makes the stress that much worse.

I'm glad to hear your quick thinking salvaged those situations! A lot of photography is problem solving, so kudos for keeping it together!

The most important thing to me as a photographer is to make sure i have all the gear i plan to use inspected and accounted for, all batteries are charged, and even more importantly, having 2 of every critical thing. That means a spare set of memory cards, bringing both Buff battery packs in case an outlet isn't available or the location changes, as well as keeping spare emergency reflectors in the car.

I also have an emergency box in the trunk that contains a spare set of cables in case something happens with one of my Einstein ones, and one each for usb, micro usb, and ones for apple iphone 4 and 5 plugs (for keeping my phone charged and the models, depending on which she has). I will say that i was on a shoot and a power cable for one of my strobes went bad and having that spare in the trunk saved the entire shoot. Same for the reflectors when i chose to change location another time and didn't have any gear with me but the camera.

It's also a good idea to keep a box of spare jewelry such as necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets, because you WILL encounter a model that forgot to bring her bag of jewelry with her. And to have a box of bare necessities- hair clips, hair spray, an eyeliner pencil, and hair rubber bands- they will get used, and will also save your shoot, i can promise you. :)

I bring snacks that can be kept in the car or thrown in a ziploc and carried to the shoot- small bags of chips, cookies, and candy- bc if a model gets really hungry or their blood sugar drops, you risk jeopardizing the shoot if they can't perform at 100%. I've seen this happen and always make sure food and drink is available because of that.

I really think this is such a great point. Going to make sure Im doing this with all my team members from now on!

"The key to avoiding cancelations ahead of time is to establish a sense of accountability with the person. If they feel that their presence is needed or are invested in the project (either creatively or monetarily), then it becomes much harder for them to cancel on a whim"