“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.
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.
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.
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!