Ask Anything – DO’s And DON’Ts On A Shoot

- - Ask Anything

Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.

QUESTION:

Once on a shoot with creative directors and producers what are some do’s & don’ts as a follow up question to your previous post about the meeting? Be yourself I get, but what about protocol while shooting or even after the shoot?

Amanda and Suzanne: What you do on set is crucial to your success and crucial for a client to consider hiring you again. Many people often read Dos and Don’ts and often say “well that’s obvious” but when you are under pressure or nervous, you too can slip up. We hope these guided tips from our well-respected industry creatives will sink in and help on your next shoot!

ANSWERS:

ART PRODUCER:

The following are other tips beyond what I hope most of the readers will understand to be standard protocol (stay on budget, keep to deadlines, no whining, etc.) I could probably go on and on, but here are a few tips that have tripped up many photographers…

Do:

Describe the ground rules

No later than the pre-pro, clearly outline any ground rules that will be important to enforce in order to achieve a successful shoot. For example, if it’s a closed set for a lingerie shoot, let everyone know who is allowed on set and when. That does NOT mean banishing the client to a closet so they stay out of the way. It may, however, require a description of how any talking on the set tends to distract you from interacting with your crew and the talent, thereby compromising the shot. Reiterate these rules on the day of the shoot prior to clicking a shutter.

Engage with the client

This means both the agency and the client. Let them know you are interested in hearing their input, even if further discussion is needed. Most of the big questions should be answered at the pre-pro, so hopefully there won’t be many curve balls on the day of the shoot – but it does happen more often than I wish it would!

Provide sustenance

It’s difficult to think clearly when hungry. Provide a variety of healthy snacks and beverages. Find out if the client has special food needs, such as food allergies, being a vegetarian, etc. It’s very embarrassing if everyone is eating – except for the vegan, who is only sipping fruit juice because nothing else was edible to them. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just tasty. (If your client is a junk food junkie, then accommodate appropriately.)

Deliver what you promised

This sounds so simple, but I can’t tell you the number of times the photographer didn’t deliver, despite continuous reminders and reassurance that they would. If you agreed to provide all images on a removable hard drive before they left for the day, then be prepared to do so by hiring the necessary digitechs. That means you should promise only what is possible to deliver: “Before you leave for the day, I’ll provide you with low res jpgs for the first 3 shots; low res jpgs for the other 3 shots will be sent to you by Fed Ex for delivery on Friday morning. Once you make selects, I will send you hi res files by FTP.”

Treat your crew well, but professionally

A dysfunctional relationship with your crew is obvious to everyone; even if you think you hide it well. I’ll bet nearly every photo assistant or client has a nightmare story about a jerk photographer, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, one who is too friendly with his crew and won’t ask them to perform basic tasks because they’re friends.

Make the clients feel like the shoot mattered to you

Mundane or exciting, clients want to know you care about the shoot. “Thanks for a great shoot. I sure enjoyed (working with you/the project/getting to know you).” Obviously, keep it truthful, so if you can’t say something nice, just let them know how you’ll wrap things up. “Thanks so much for the project. I’ll be sure to get those files to you on Thursday.”

Make certain you know the “safe zones”

The art buyer that you’re friendly with over the phone may or may not be the person to open up to about the Art Director From Hell. The buyer’s first loyalty will be to the company and you may be the one thrown under the bus if things don’t go well. When in doubt, keep conversation job-related and not editorial.

Get an FTP service

Sending large files via email is not only cumbersome, but it’s possible that they may never make their destination. Share location files, casting shots or production files over 1 mb this way.

Don’t:

Give too much information

They don’t need to know the details of how you’re going to accomplish something, they just need to know you’re going to take care of it. Thinking out loud can make the client wonder if you’ve got a good handle on things. The client also doesn’t need to know that you’re on your third marriage because your other wives were gold-diggers.

Presume you are a close friend of the client

Avoid friending them on Facebook as soon as the shoot is over. They may be kind, but not interested in a more personal relationship. Take your time in nurturing the relationship or you may be identified as creepy rather than friendly. Personally, I use LinkedIn for professional relationships, and it’s not until I know someone on a more personal level that I accept FB invitations from them.

Ask for the next job

I cringe as I write this, but it has happened. Instead of asking, “Are there any other projects in the works that I can bid on?”, say “I sure enjoyed working with you and I hope we can work together again soon.”

ART DIRECTOR:

You have to deliver great photos and that’s a given. Beyond that:

Do:

- Listen to creative concerns and be open to questions.

- Ask questions to figure out what is behind what you consider a “bad” or “stupid” request from AD or from their client. By understanding where the concern comes from, you might be able to troubleshoot a solution that you all can be happy with.

- Always deliver what you are asked for first and then if you have enough time add in any extra shots you are inspired to do

- Make sure AD, client and anyone agency staff feel taken care of – basic courtesies. Beyond doing great work, you can develop client loyalty through genuine little human touches.

PHOTOGRAPHER #1:

I’m not aware of any specific shoot protocol. Here are a couple of things I try to do, though, just ’cause it seems like the right thing to do:

1. Always provide a comfy place for the client to sit and be busy with their work, since more likely than not they will working on other projects while the shoot day details are worked out. This seating area is close enough that they can glance up and see the progress, but not be ‘in the way’ of the behind the scenes work. Internet access a must. Food, bev, all that…

2. If the agency client is in attendance, I make sure to show ‘in progress files’ to the art director only first. If they want to share the in progress stuff, the AD can share with the AE who will in turn show the client.

PHOTOGRAPHER #2:

Do not answer calls, emails or talk about any other project other than what you are working on. I like to make my client think they are the only client on my mind. If they ask about your other clients or what else you’ve been shooting, feel free to answer just don’t ramble.

CONSULTANTS (wonder who they might be):

Do:

Use please and thank you to your crew and models (you are being watched by everyone and your every move is analyzed)

Don’t:

Never yell at your crew (in front of your client or behind the scenes)

To Summarize: On a shoot there is always pressure, but that doesn’t mean you have to break under the pressure. If you are educated on this subject and handle yourself and the project calmly, you will be able to make a positive impression.

Call To Action: Make a list of things you have done well in the past and mistakes you might have had. Learn from both. Repeat the great moments and avoid those mistakes. GOOD LUCK!

If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (here and here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.”

There Are 22 Comments On This Article.

      • @craig, for me it is useful, I know some of the things are pretty obvious, but it’s good that someone put it together…

  1. Your just a gun for hire not the new sheriff in town so play the part, act it well , show them you mean business . Be the director of all things in leadership , leave your ego @ home , one one gives a hoot how loud you sound . Above all make pictures that leave them gasping for more than they showed you in the initial brief .When it’s all said & done they hired you for your vision & your soul contribution to give them more than the paper it was drawn on – NOTHING else . Give till it hurts & then 1,000,000 % more . End of story . Next assignment . Your only as good as your last client .

    • @Sean Kennedy Santos,

      Leave your ego at home? I know that’s the logic, but I can’t point to many prima Donnas getting great jobs over and over again. Some even get their own reality TV shot. Wish it weren’t true.

        • @Shane, Trust me the age of primi donnas is FAST coming to an end my friend . CHANGE is happening now more than ever .I have this fantastic saying I saw in a Picasso momo once it said – The merchants come & go but the artists stay ! Realty TV , Social Media , celebrity status. Fame has a life span of 15 minutes Infamy lasts a little longer. Keep your mouth shut & shoot the shot . That’s the only voice that matters to the client .Do that & you’ll be long remembered for the guy who did the do & got it done !

  2. Always hire a good crew. I like to have a first assistant that in a worst case scenario situation, can shoot the job in my stead. A second or third assistant that is good at “housekeeping”. Making sure client needs are taken care of, lunch is dealt with appropriately and can run errands. Creature comforts can make or break a shoot.

  3. Tokyo Assistant

    I’ve worked as a freelance assistant in the automotive still photo industry here in Japan for the last 6 years and as such have had the chance to work with some of the best in the industry as they travel to Japan on commissions.

    Photographers at this level know the deal, they treat all well with courtesy and respect and being on these crews is always a great experience. Moat shoots are a week to 30 days. The greatest learning experience for me on these shoots is watching the interaction between the photographer and the creative team / clients and seeing how the photographer not only directs the shoot but makes sure everyone on set feels involved, important and entertained.

    One photographer in particular blew the rest away. 30 days on set is increadibly boring for the client and tha is so easy to forget as a member of the crew with always something to do. Way up the back of the studio he build a three station mini office with proper desk chairs, Internet, coffee and a water cooler (it even had a fern in the corner) where the client and AD could work in comfort when they needed to (mist of the time clients still need to complete their regular workloads while oversees on the shoot). In the other back corner was a large screen plasma TV with a wii, DVD library and a whole pile of games

    Food was always fresh, always on time and covered everyone’s needs (retoucher was vegan, I’m not a fan of sushi on set) We worked long days (8am to 12pm) but everyone excersised at least twice a day.

    It’s a real joy to work on these sets, it’s not work it’s living the shoot. I think up and coming photographers are not aware that they are very much the director and the better they handle the whole situation the much higher chance thy have if being hired again.

  4. During my years assisting, I’ve witnessed plenty of “big name” photographers yell at crew (including me) in front of clients or celebrity subjects. One in particular must’ve thought he was Gordon Ramsey or something; like it was his schtick to yell and curse aloud. I guess if you can shoot in a way that nobody else can, and it’s something everyone wants, you can get away with it.

  5. When I was an assistant, I worked for a cocaine addicted photographer who though nothing of throwing temper tantrums on the set. He would throw things at me or other assistants, go without feeding anybody and act like a complete prima donna. Eventually, he burned out and the last I heard was that he was driving a taxicab.

    I learned what not to do from him. I learned to pay assistants at the end of the shoot, to treat vendors well, to be fair with people, to be honest, to show leadership on the set and to make amends when a mistake is made.

    Assistants can learn a great deal from this posting. Assistants need to control their emotions when the shoots get tough and hang in there and act like a team member, even more so, be a team member.

    For the longest time, there was the model of the successful shooter who dictated on the set and that he was a god and to be feared. Eventually, that crazy model and mindset faded away in the nineties. (except I hear, in some fashion shoots)

    I learn from Rob’s blog all the time. I’ve been in the business for a while and I think these conversations help all of us.

    • @Cameron Davidson, you have been in the business for years and have continued to stay busy because you have always truly cared about your clients needs. I know you personally and can say that your caring attitude has kept you in the game for a long time and will continue. Most of the Prima Donna’s I know may work but usually it is only once for that client. Yelling at crew and not treating the client well, will not create repeat business! I speak from experience.

  6. Interesting post. I think the main thing that disturbs me is this bullshit of handing over hard drives of files right away???? who is the untalented no nothing that started that???? nothing is ever that urgent. I like to look through my images before sending them out, the client doesn’t own all the images, it’s the number one reason why photography has become a repeating pile of bullshit in the last few years. any photographer who hands over raw files is a douche! to say otherwise is even more douchy!!! ok that’s enough ranting. save photography by having more self esteem!!!!! Art directors you don’t know, so quit pretending you do. only a handful of art directors actually have enough taste to pick a good photo. the rest of you morons need to draw out your shitty visual pun because you are so worried nobody else in the world could possibly understand what your after becuause you are so inarticulate you couldn’t inspire a piece of bread to toast. ok now the rant is over.

  7. I have to agree with ‘craig’ at the top of the comments feed.
    This article seems to have been issued by The Department For Stating The Obvious. Basic professional courtesy, it really is.

    As for Photographers who yell at their Assistants; Unless the Ph in question is a genuinely bad person, it happens for good reason. The Assistant should then step up, figure out what went wrong, and sort it. It’s what he does for a living.

    (Angry!) Stu – nobody above insisted that the Photographer hands over the whole RAW shoot at the end of the day. Very few ADs insist on it, and those are usually on last-minute Editorials with a major Sports or Music celebrity.
    Control over Retouch is a reason often cited for this.
    In my experience (as a Digi Op for 5+ years) they (ADs) are usually fine with the whole shoot as batched JPEGs, and so is the Photographer. It’s called trust, and it’s earned by both sides.
    Coming over all Stanley Kubrick gets you nowhere these days…

  8. Ed Hamlin

    Yes all of this is common sense. Yet there is a younger generation that looks backwards to the older generation and has gotten a mixed message. There were those who were the a** holes and those who were professionals. There is still somewhat of a mixed message when you have an example like Klinko on cable.

    The clearer message is treat the people like you want to be treated. Oh there is a difference between yelling and raising your voice too. Neather desireable however to get someones attenetion immediatedly….I’d think the latter is more desireable since you still are incontrol.

    I am glad that Rob shares what he does, lots of wisdom, common sense that is somewhat lacking in the younger generation.

    @Stu I had to chuckle at your rant, I hope you just needed a coffee with a quad shot…….Peace.

    • Amanda & Suzanne

      @Ed Hamlin, Thanks Ed for reminding everyone that not everyone knows all the ins and outs.

  9. There are no real rules and I’ve seen everything work just depending on the situation and context. Every person on the set is different, and the only way to know how to please everyone is to be a clairvoyant. One person’s idea of “courteous” is another person’s idea of “kiss ass.” One person’s idea of “assertive” is another person’s idea of “jerk off.” One person’s idea of “providing entertainment for the client” is another person’s idea of “they’re trying to get the client out of the way.” Anything and everything will work and not work depending on the situation.

    • Amanda & Suzanne

      @Mike M, Great point. Be Authentic, while taking care of your client.

  10. Hey! That’s my question!

    I wouldn’t have thought about the dietary considerations of potential vegans in the group! The FTP site is a great idea. I had a customer recently from a magazine based in NYC who did not have an FTP site which I thought was odd. I would have liked to have an FTP site of my own at that time….

    Thanks Amanda

  11. What about proper communication onset?

    I was on a shoot not too long ago where after a few minutes of shooting the art director stepped out from behind the light to shout at the subject “do something silly”. Which had the marvelous effect of making the subject freeze up…