Forward Planning: Preparing for a Photography Shoot

By Geoff Harris

There’s a slightly geeky joke that tickles me. There are 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don’t. Binary notation gives you two choices: 0 or 1.

People can be surprisingly binary at times. Take organisation for instance. Some people are efficient, prepared and ready for all eventualities. Some just aren’t.

Guess which type a photographer has to be?

Sandisk 8Gb SD ultra II memory card, Planning a photography shoot, Forward planning, Packing

Even just turning up at the right time for an event, whether it’s a social occasion or a sunrise, requires planning. That planning often starts long before a photography shoot.

If the shoot requires travelling then basics such as transport and accommodation need to be considered well in advance. On the evening before a shoot is the time to pull together the necessary equipment.

Batteries should be charged and memory cards checked. I now have a checklist that I run through before a photography shoot.

The checklist includes all the equipment that I own (including easily forgotten items such as battery chargers, necessary if the shoot involves a few days away from home).

Once an item has been packed (or I’ve decided I don’t need it) it’s then ticked off the checklist. When I get back from a trip I often revise the checklist if I feel other things need to be added.

Once I’ve decided on what’s needed for a shoot I’ll then pack my camera bag. Now camera bags are a slightly underrated item of equipment in my opinion.

They’re not exciting in the same way that a new lens or filter is. However, you’d struggle to get all the interesting stuff to a location without a bag.

The two main requirements of a camera bag are that it’s big enough to fit all your equipment and that it’s comfortable to carry. My camera bag fits both these requirements.

It’s a struggle to pick up but all is well one it’s on my back (though I swear I’m now three inches shorter than I used to be).

How a bag is packed is important. Another photographer once told me that he thought that a bag is essentially a craftsperson’s workbench.

I thought that was an inspired observation. If you had a workbench you wouldn’t leave tools lying haphazardly around it would you? Every tool will have its place so that you know exactly where to go when a particular tool is needed.

Ever since then I’ve arranged my camera bag in a consistent manner. On location I know exactly where to go when a certain filter is needed, a lens, or, if it’s a full day out, where water and sandwiches are.

This all saves precious time, something that can make all the difference between getting a shot and just missing the opportunity.

Street performer dressed as a spirit of the park in Ridley Park as part of the celebrations of the 'Blyth in New Light' event held as part of the 2008 'Northumberland Lights' festival in November 2008, Planning a photography shoot, Forward planning, Packing

Although it pays to plan for events you still need to allow for spontaneity and unexpected opportunities.

During a shoot it still pays to be organised. Separating full memory cards from empty memory cards saves embarrassing mistakes (I never format a memory card until it’s just been emptied for that reason).

SD memory cards have write-protect switches that should be flipped when the card is filled. CompactFlash cards don’t have a write-protect switch, However, a rubber-band wrapped around a full card is a good reminder that it needs emptying.

If the shoot has certain goals it’s worth creating another checklist. This is particularly important when covering a structured event. It’s a big help if you can acquire an itinerary beforehand.

Even when the shoot is over it organisation is necessary. There’s not point in undoing all that hard work with a slapdash post-shoot routine. I copy all the images to my PC immediately on return from a shoot, importing the Raw files into my Lightroom database.

Leave that task for a few days and it’s all too easy to format the memory card by mistake. The images are then backed up onto DVD so that I have another physical copy.

Then of course comes the task of processing those files. Rather fittingly using software written by people who really do understand binary. And who hopefully think my opening paragraph deserves 1010 out 1010.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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