The Photographer's Checklist: 12 Things to Do Before That Big Shoot

The Photographer's Checklist: 12 Things to Do Before That Big Shoot

Having a good routine leading up to an important shoot can be the difference between success and failure. Make sure you do these 12 things well before you pick the camera up and press the shutter button.

There are a million things that can derail a photo shoot from forgetting vital gear, to overlooking the weather forecast, to not fully researching the location. While certain eventualities may be hard to predict and prepare for, there is still lots that can be done to maximize the chances that things go as smoothly as possible. The following is what I do in the 24 hours leading up to a big shoot.

1. Make a List

This might seem like an obvious one, but the first thing I always carry out is the making of a list of things I must do, pack, and remember before the shoot. I quite often find that while I'm getting organized I will be reminded of other additional things I must do too. I also find that being able to cross things off a physical list helps me to better assess the job at hand and reduce the chances of forgetting anything.

2. Charge Everything Up

The day before a shoot, I will always charge the batteries for everything I plan to use. Not only does this include the obvious camera batteries, but also laptops, phones, two-way radios, and power packs too. Ideally, I like to have this completed early enough the day before that I'm not rushing to pack everything last minute in the evening. It also gives me enough time if I need to replace anything.

3. Test All My Kit

I never take for granted that everything in my kit bag still works after the last time I used it. While I've never been unlucky enough to have any major kit die on me, I'd rather find that out before the event while I still have time to do something about it. I also have certain pieces of kit which I only use very occasionally. Spending five minutes making sure they still work and refamiliarizing myself with them will always make things run much more smoothly.

4. Clean my Gear

Image by Alex Andrews via Pexels, used under Creative Commons.

Once I've tested that all my gear still works, I like to give everything a clean. It's a good excuse to make sure my lenses and camera sensors are all in good order. I also make sure my laptop, iPad, and monitor screens are all looking good too. There's nothing worse than working on a screen with distracting finger marks and smudges on it.

5. Clear Memory Cards

If I'm not tethering to a laptop, then I'll be using a memory card in my camera. If a card I thought was empty already has 1,000 images on it from a previous shoot, then I'll be in for a nasty surprise when I get the "Memory Full" message more quickly than I expected. It really is painful to have to manually delete images mid-shoot, so make sure you wipe your cards before you start. Giving them a quick format in the camera is the best way to do this. Just make sure you have everything on them backed up first.

6. Reset Settings and Camera Functions

I always like to make sure my camera and lenses are reset back to default before a shoot. If the last time I used my camera, I was on some wild ISO or I was using the mirror lockup function for some reason, I'd rather not waste time on the day rooting through settings to switch things like that off. Even making sure lenses are put back onto autofocus is a good habit to get into.

7. Release Forms

Having release forms filled in as much as possible beforehand makes getting them signed on the day much easier. I use a model release app on my iPad to do this and create separate files for each person and location that will need one. The other useful thing about having this ready the night before is that if I'm busy while on the shoot, I can hand the iPad to someone else and they can get the forms signed for me. No one likes doing paperwork, so if I can make this process as quick and painless as possible, then I will.

8. Check Out the Location

Even if I've been to the location in the past, I never take for granted that it will still be the same as it once was. If I'm close enough to visit the place in person, I will check it out the day before. There have been times when I have visited locations prior to using them to find them six feet underwater or on other occasions that the parking situation we all planned to use was no longer viable. These little surprises are best experienced beforehand so alternative arrangements can be found in good time.

There are instances when the first time I see the location is on the day of the shoot. This isn't ideal, but it does happen. If this is the case, then I'll check out Google Street View so I can at least get a visual image in my mind of what the place looks like. You would not believe how useful this can be when finding the location in person on the day.

9. Contact Everyone on the Shoot

Image by Alex Andrews via Pexels, used under Creative Commons.

The night before, I'll always send out a quick message to everyone involved with the shoot. People shouldn't really need reminding, but we all have busy lives and it's easy to mix up dates. If someone forgot to tell me they can't make it, I'd rather find that out the day before so I have time to make other arrangements.

10. Check the Weather

I'm sure we all do this, but I like to constantly check the weather reports before any outdoor shoot. The number of times the forecast has suddenly changed in the hours leading up to a shoot is far too often for my liking. While i can't control the weather, I'd rather not be surprised at what it will be doing.     

11. Load the Car

Apart from the Pelican Case with my cameras and laptop, I like to have the rest of my gear and anything else I plan on using loaded into the car the night before. Not only does this save time in the morning, but it makes for a better start to my day. Anything that minimizes exertion and perspiration can only be a good thing.

12. Make a Note of All the Important Details

Technology does fail, and it's for that reason that I like to physically jot down all the important details of the shoot on a piece of paper. If your phone is the only place you have all the numbers, details, and addresses, then you could find yourself in trouble if that device lets you down. I once dropped my phone down the toilet the night before a shoot, and while the phone survived, it wasn't much use for a few days after. Thankfully I already had all the details I needed on a piece of paper taped to the inside of my camera case.

So, there you have it: all the things I do in the hours leading up to a big photo shoot. Many of the steps mentioned in this list will hopefully help to minimize any problems that may arise when the big day comes. For me, it's about getting all that trivial, distracting stuff out of the way the day before, so when it comes to shooting, I can actually focus on the important task of taking pictures.

Do you have a similar routine leading up to a shoot? Anything you think I missed on the list? I'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

Lead image by Alexander Dummer via Pexels, used under Creative Commons.

Paul Parker's picture

Paul Parker is a commercial and fine art photographer. On the rare occasion he's not doing photography he loves being outdoors, people watching, and writing awkward "About Me" statements on websites...

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13. Review your mood board & references. You may have last minute inspiration.

Great suggestion Felix, even if you don't get any last minute inspiration the material will be fresh in your mind.

Ive forgotten to wipe memory cards many many times!! So frustrating. It also does not look great when scrolling through pictures with a customer & you scroll back one image too far & they see you taking pictures of your cat!!

It really is easy to do Robot. Glad I'm not the only one to do this from time to time! :)

Robert* sorry about that! 🤖

What's the app called you use for your release forms?

It's called "releases". I talk about the app & others here: