It’s funny with photography, it’s pressing a button. However until you get to actually ‘do it’ it can be so effortless or so incredibly complicated. There’s definitely a good range of possible roadblocks between you and the photos you want to achieve. In the end it comes down to who you are as a photographer and what you would like to shoot. One thing is easy for sure, it’s to think, “I could have shot that,” but you simply haven’t until you have. One of Scott Kelby’s favorite quotes of Joe McNally has to be, “If you want more interesting pictures, you gotta stand in front of more interesting stuff.” I’d like to use this guest post to show you my process of shooting new work for my portfolio, maybe it will help some people to go and make the work they want as well.
You can scale your shoots from simple and cost free to a high end production. This is just my approach. My goal was to work on my lifestyle book and shoot new work. I had the chance to go to Cape Town which has basically everything you need: the weather, locations, models, stylists and so forth. Sounds like a game plan, but the trip was miles outside my comfort zone. These shoots came out of my own pocket and I needed to bring together a lot of people to make it happen. As just mentioned this would be: models, stylists, make-up, etc. All willing to work for free or cheap and in return for new photos. Testing is a common term for shooting for your portfolio when working in a production environment. Everyone involved likes to use new images to promote themselves with new work in their field or to show a new direction.
Before making the trip to Cape Town I started to reach out to all kinds of contacts in order to get a team together. The majority of hair/makeup artists and stylists work with representation. This makes it easier to localize and finding the right people for the test. I found a stylist that was into the idea of shooting a road trip like story. There was also one scenario where styling wasn‘t as key and the model could bring his own clothing, which made me a bit more independent scheduling. For models I planned on finding talent either local or on-stay. You can approach model agencies and ask for new faces that need to build their book. Established models also do tests, you just need to be more convincing.
Finding locations can work either way too. For the road story shoot, locations were lonely roads or places by the coast and not a big deal to shoot at. For another test I wanted to use a pool and therefore worked with a location scout to find one. In that process I also came across an apartment that I liked where the owner was fine with a half day rate, which made it affordable to rent it. Again, no big budgets so tweaking it on all ends was necessary to make it happen which also meant cutting my shot list to what suits a half day.
With all the when and where in place, I was able to start casting. I used some of my personal contacts and also reached out to model agencies. Usually when shooting with people I know or my friends, I‘ll tend go into a direction where I make them feel comfortable and they can do well in the shoot. Meaning not necessarily chasing a vision first. Whereas having a set idea and finding models to match that, is the same procedure as on a job, which I find is good practice. Another plus of test shoots. It’s a good idea to have a Plan B in place when it comes to casting. Out of 7 models I shot with, 5 models cancelled last-minute because a paid job came along or they needed to go on a casting. Understandable, paid jobs come first.
Finally I was done with pre-production and it was time to shoot photos. This is the fun part. It‘s a test, this is the time to try things, learn and improve. At the same time you have your team and the model that would like to have results they can work with. I like to find the balance – achieve results, not re-invent the wheel but also have room to play, allow error, learn something new.
I hope this serves as a bit of inspiration for you to go out and shoot the photos you want, even if what you want is to hang your shot of the Eiffel Tower over your couch. Then your only chance is to make a trip to Paris to photograph it. The one in Las Vegas is a joke and does not count. ;-)