The creative process of producing a photo shoot is a collaborative effort that doesn’t always run so smoothly. The pressure of the final result is intense, there are multiple creative egos and opinions all vying for their ideas to be conveyed, and at times it appears every necessary element is working against you. So how exactly do you make your innovative ideas and vision a beautiful, successful reality?
1. Plan, prepare and plan some more.
The concept of creating a photo shoot allows us to engage and partake in the act of physically making. It is the process of design, interacting with all the essential layers and moving parts needed to produce the desired end result. Every element involved in conveying the final look and theme needs to be prepared, have direction and a plan to follow on the day, so that all components are interacting and working together. Rachel Montgomery, 2011 AHFA Make-up Artist of the Year, explains, in order to achieve the best possible result, all elements of the shoot need to be on the same page, “If one part fails, the entire shoot fails.” In order to achieve this cohesion and strength within the team, planning, pre-visualising and story boarding is essential. “The more organised I am, the better the results,” explains Stevie English from Stevie English Hair, “We plan and prepare enormously, our creative team has meetings and we share influences to create a rough idea of the looks we want to produce.” Preparing the logistics of the day and ensuring everyone is at the top of their game not only results in a smooth, successful shoot, but also allows for some experimentation and creative improvisation to occur. Luci Arias-Martinez, Creative Director of bseProduction, explains preparing the looks in advance ensures there are a suitable amount of options that reflect the style of the shoot, “Alot of new ideas will come on set, however, I need to have the clothes and accessories to back them up,” she says.
2. Communicate, you are part of a team.Working with a team of creative minds can often be difficult, especially when everyone has their own outlook and view to portray. All elements must be equally as strong, however, they also need to work together explains Michael Greves, Principal Photographer at Michael Greves Photography, “Each element should relate to at least one other and then the stylist and the light pulls it all together.” Greves also explains the importance of communicating your issues and ideas with those who are directly in charge, “Find out who is really in control and where the direction stems from, always go to the top to avoid Chinese whispers.” In order to create this necessary cohesion, there needs to be the strong presence of communication and the sharing of ideas. All elements have to support each other, explains English, “They are all equally as important and the only way a successful shoot can materialise is if the entire team is getting along and communicating to make it work.” Although some members of the team will have a stronger and louder voice than others, ultimately, everyone needs to work together and be on the same page. There’s no other way to make a shoot succeed explains Arias-Martinez, “If one element fails, the whole shoot fails, you have to communicate and let everyone do what they do best.” The aesthetic and concept of the shoot needs to play a dominant role in each separate element’s creative direction, Montgomery explains, “You are part of a team, if everyone only worries about themselves, it simply cannot work. You have to take into account the overall feel and message of the shoot.”
3. Have a story, but be flexible.
Each shot needs to have clear direction, a story to tell and a pure idea behind it, “Shoot for a purpose,” says Greves. When you a have a solid idea and concept, you can ensure the message you want to convey has a strong presence. The theme is essential and to ensure its existence huge amounts of time and effort are put into the design of the concept, this lessens the chance of the narrative getting lost, explains English, “I like a strong message that leaps out at you from the images.” However, the material and ideas that develop from planning and preparation can not all be forced into one shot, and on numerous occasions your original concept won’t transcend through the camera. As a result, you have to be open-minded, flexible to explore other ideas and discard your presupposed image. You can’t be too precious about your vision, sometimes something amazing is created from collaboration and sometimes from sacrifice, being guided by someone else’s vision takes you to a place that you might not have gone, explains Montgomery, “Some of the best work I’ve done has happened because I had the courage to acknowledge and remove what wasn’t working.” New opportunities will always emerge that clash with your individual ideas and visions, you have to react artistically and disregard your ego in order to produce the best possible outcome. “It’s a matter of detaching to a point where you can decide what’s good for the shoot, not just what’s good for you,” explains Montgomery, “When it’s your shoot then you get to decide the narrative and the creative vision!”
4. Don’t take yourself too seriously, nobody else is!
The atmosphere on the set of a photo shoot is full of excitement, determination and creativity, and maintaining this positive energy plays a large part in producing a successful shoot. There is always a buzz and a sense of excitement on set and it’s really important to maintain this vibe explains, Arias-Martines, “It’s always great to be able to have a laugh after a 12 or so hour day. We’re creating, so love it and don’t take it too seriously.” Remembering to have a sense of humour is so important, explains Montgomery, “Don’t take yourself too seriously, creating a photo shoot is like playing for a living, so have fun with it, be professional, be nice and smile.” If you are well organised and everything has been planned, you have the luxury of focussing on the mood and aura of the set. Music makes atmosphere, explains English, “We like it loud, slightly crazy and always upbeat, I am a positive guy and if you’re prepared and relaxed, it will always work out.” If you’re doing what you love, covering your bases and being mindful of your surroundings, the shoot will be a guaranteed success, explains Greves, “The way people view things is all new and it’s opening up alot of exciting challenges for us to explore creatively.”
All images except the first, (which is unknown), Natalia Vodianova by Mario Testino in State of Grace, Vogue UK May 2009