This is it. By now, You will have been inspired, honed your ideas, found the perfect location and booked your talent. You will have taken that little bit of inspiration and nurtured it into a full fledged shoot. If you are anything like me, you will have tossed out far more ideas than you kept and you will have spent hours upon hours solidifying the few that stuck with you. It is safe to say that the hard part is over. You are no longer a writer staring at a blank page or a painter leering at a white canvas. The vision is in your head and tomorrow it will be in front of you on set. Tonight is the last step in the process before you capture the images that you worked so hard to bring to life. If you invested your time and effort into each of the previous steps of planning your shoot, tonight should be easy, exciting, and stress free. I always spend my last night before shoot day doing two things. First, I make a checklist of everything I need to bring with me to the shoot and make sure it is ready to go. After that, I spend the night relaxing to get my mind and body ready for what lies ahead.
For those who fly by the seat of your pants, this may be unfamiliar territory. You may read this section and think it doesn't apply to how you like to do things and you may be right. It might not fit with how you like to do things but it does fit with how you should be doing things. In some aspects of my life, I absolutely love to act on a whim. That craving for spontaneity is something that has been deeply engrained in my soul since I was young. If you share that longing, I applaud you but this is not the time for it. Tonight is the time for being prepared. The night before every shoot, you should make sure that you have everything you need packed up and ready to go. Save this task until the morning and you may end up rushing out the door while leaving something crucial behind. To save your self the hassle, get out your trusty journal and make yourself a checklist. This checklist should include absolutely everything you need to bring. Once you have it all written down, pack it up (checking it off as you go) and make sure it is all ready to be carried out the door in the morning. It is work that needs to be done anyways, why not do it a night early and save yourself from leaving something behind?
Take it Easy
Here is the final piece of the planning puzzle. This is absolutely the easiest step in the process. If it isn't easy, you are doing it wrong. Planning shoots can be strenuous. Your images are something you believe in, something you love, and something you should hold to your highest standards. This means that before those images are made you have spent time making difficult decisions and have likely gone through the ups and downs of what you may have thought was going to be an easy process. Regardless of the difficulties you may have run into, now is the time to clear your mind and relax. Relaxing means different things to different people. For some, it may mean going out for dinner and a movie, for others, a good book may fit into the picture. For me it means putting on my loose pants and sitting through half of a season of Friends with my wife and our cats, but of course I would never admit that. Whatever your method may be, tonight is the night for it. Tomorrow you will wake up, pack your gear and spend the day shooting, organizing, and most importantly, thinking. Spend tonight clearing your head, putting a healthy meal in your belly and getting a full night's sleep. I promise that you won't regret it.
Last year, while I was in Atlanta for a test shoot, I was sitting on the bed in my hotel room on the night before the shoot listening to a weatherman tell me that I should expect nothing but rain the following day. The shoot I had planned was high energy, bright, and sunny. If it was going to rain, I may have made this trip to Atlanta for a shoot that fell flat on it's face. It would have been a waste of time and money. I sat in my room for about 5 minutes, annoyed at my bad luck before deciding to take some time to relax so I could figure out a plan B. After a brief trip down to the pool I came back to my room and cracked open my journal. I flipped right past the pages where I had planned my bright and sunny shoot and I started planning a much softer, editorial shoot that I would aim for if the weatherman was right. At this point, it was out of my hands. I had spent my 5 minutes huffing and puffing and came up with a plan B. After that, I put my journal back into my bag where it belonged. If I wanted to, I could have spent more of the night with my nose buried in it's pages but the time for that had passed. Now was the time to leave it to fate and unwind. I ordered a dinner up to my room and spent the next few hours before bed watching one of my favorite things, the Olympics.
It turns out that the weather man was spot on. On my way to our shoot location along the Chattahoochee River I was driving in some of the worst rains I have ever seen. Being raised in Florida, I was used to rain, I was even used to hurricanes but I sat in bumper to bumper traffic on a highway watching rain that I thought was going to break my windshield. I thought about calling off the shoot but after an hour of sitting still on the highway the rain started to pass. When I arrived to the shoot location the river was covered in fog so I went with plan B. We shot for about an hour (mostly on my Contax 645) and I ended up with some of my favorite and most popular images of the year. Long story short, relax. If I hadn't made the decision to clear my mind from the stress I was feeling about the rain, there is a good chance I would have left Atlanta empty handed. Figure out what it is that puts you at ease and set aside time before every shoot to mentally and physically prepare yourself for a successful shoot.
Contax 645 + 80mm 2 on Kodak Portra 400 / Thanks to the fog that came after the rain had passed, I was left with a scene that had beautiful soft light and a background with the colors and contrast faded enough to make Shaina (my model) pop out of the frame.
If you think that taking a night off before a shoot won't leave you feeling a bit more relaxed and ready, chances are that you haven't taken a proper night off. After all of the planning and packing is finished, take a night to rest your mind and body so you wake up on shoot day feeling refreshed and ready to create.