Commercial shoots are often complex creatures that take a lot of planning and prep work. You'll need the help of your peers to pull off many of the concepts your clients demand and you will need to keep your wits about you as you try to squeeze the entire process into the fast paced deadlines of the business world. I'd like to offer you all some tips and insight on how I like to tackle this process.
Meeting With The Client
This is where it all starts. Depending on the kind of clients you have this might be a foreseeable event or it might be the result of a sporadic phone call. I personally try and choose long term clients with recurring projects. This is why I choose to work with the food and fashion industries as much as possible because they are both very seasonal industries. Lookbooks and catalogs tend to be created on a bi-annual or quarterly basis for the most part. Many restaurants change their menus with the changing seasons as well and will ask for updated images. Knowing this I am able to plan for the future and estimate when I should be receiving calls for meetings from certain clients. This is however just a personal preference and the way in which I like to work. I find it gives me peace of mind.
Regardless, the first step will be receiving that phone call or email from your client, at which point you will initiate a conversation about the details of their latest project. In this initial conversation you will want to discuss the volume of work, the budget, and the usage. Even for my seasoned clients I still go over these same details each time because they are all very flexible. Some of my clients have seen incredible growth and with that come larger budgets and higher expectations. I like to establish what all those are from the get go.
The last thing I touch on in our conversation is to ask about any artistic direction. Some clients will have art departments which have a drafted moodboard prepared for you while other clients will leave all of that up to you. I always ask because even those clients that like to give me very open ended projects tend to have some thoughts and ideas of their own, even if they are extremely preliminary and vague. It is always a good idea to discuss this and get a feel for what your client really wants.
Creating A Moodboard
As mentioned earlier some clients will have their own art departments that pretty much determine the look and feel your project will have. In those instances you will usually receive a moodboard of some sort right away indicating the inspirations, colors, and items to be photographed. Often times clients will also include a short paragraph encompassing a message that they would like to get across in their images. This can be pretty verbose, or simply a collection of words to inspire an emotion or feeling. For example here is one I received a few weeks ago for an upcoming project:
“Confident, fashionable, fiercely independent and knows her worth. She has high standards and always stays true to herself. She knows self-love is important and regards herself as a Queen. She takes pride in her appearance and exudes confidence at all times. Exquisitely beautiful, challenges boundaries and is ready to face whatever the world throws at her. That means she never takes 'No' as her final answer! Unleash Your Inner Queen.”
Whether you receive a predetermined moodboard or not, I believe it is always a good idea to make one anyways. It will help you get a deeper understanding of the project as you choose your own inspirations that fit with the direction of the project. It will also give you the chance to run your own thoughts and ideas by the client so that you can either ensure you are on the right track or to pitch them on some of your own ideas which they may not have considered.
Set Time And Location
Once the details of the project are set, and the moodboard settled on, the next phase of the process is to come up with a realistic timeline for the entire process. The client will inform you about the first date of release which is usually aligned with some sort of sale, reveal, or rebranding for the client. This will be your deadline. Everything you plan for the shoot has to fit within the time frame of initial contact to date of release.
Within this time frame your first priority should be to scout and book the location. If you have your own studio this can be a very simple process. If you are renting however, or shooting on location, you will want to make sure of availability and any red tape that is associated with trying to get access to a particular location. Without a place to shoot the rest of the planning process won’t quite come together.
Put Together Your Team
With commercial projects you are rarely a one person show. This means you’ll need a solid team of talent to help you put the entire plan into motion. If you’ve been doing commercial work for a while you will build up a roster of go to people for every piece of the puzzle. Most people in this industry freelance so it will be important to have doubles and triples for every contact so that in the event that one is booked up you are still left with options.
Building your team will be an ongoing process for a good part of your career.
Scout The Models
Once you have your team of supporting talent selected I personally like to select and book the models at this point. The reason I leave the booking of the models until after I have selected the team is so that I have a chance to run the model selections by make-up, hair, and wardrobe stylists. Although they do not make the final decisions, I often find their input invaluable for creating the final look that the client and I are after.
Once the moodboard has been created, the location found and booked, the team put together, and the models selected, I like to plan a small pre-shoot meeting for the entire crew. I find that having a pre-shoot meeting is a great way for the crew to bounce some last minute ideas and flush out any questions that may not have been raised until this point.
I also like to include a rough schedule to give everyone a timeline for the day of the shoot so that we can transition in between sets and looks seamlessly and without hesitation. I find that it puts a lot of the newer clients at ease when they have a small shoot itinerary so to speak. They can see that the time they are paying for is being used to its full potential.