Amazing images rarely happen by accident. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a photographer. Success, be it of a single frame or over the span of a career, requires far more than natural ability. It is cultivated from talent, yes, but also (and perhaps most importantly) preparation, confidence, hard work, and a bit of luck.
It can be difficult not to be discouraged when you compare yourself to others. Especially when you compare your work with posts on Instagram and other social media outlets, which show only the outcome, and not the full process. Looking at the work of others may lead you to assume they were handed the models, the location, the wardrobe, and other elements on a silver platter. “Of course they were able to take a good photo – look at what they had to work with!” This assumption is rarely accurate. More likely than not, they worked hard to cultivate the shoot, taking great care to put it all together. Be encouraged, though, that you can set yourself up for success with every shoot as well. Whether it be an engagement session, an editorial shoot for a dress designer, or a small portrait session of a single model in simple dress, you can achieve consistent success. The key factors are the same in every scenario. Read below for the four components you should focus on before (and during!) every shoot to cultivate the imagery you aspire to create.
It’s difficult for others to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself. Confidence in your photography, in your vision, and in your abilities as an artist is key. Remind yourself that for every shoot you are hired, the clients had many photographers from which to make their selection. They chose you. Your work spoke to them. They trust that you are the right person for the job. Trust in their decision, and believe in yourself too. Confidently lead your clients through the planning process to ensure a successful shoot. Your confidence and the demonstration of your knowledge and expertise in creating a successful shoot will encourage your clients to trust you even more. This trust generally allows you the freedom to lead the decision making process, making it much easier to carry out your vision and create a shoot that is set up for success.
It’s okay to speak your mind (in a respectful way, of course). Not only is it okay, it is really a key component of the client service you provide. If you have a thought, an idea, an opinion, you owe it to your clients to share it with them. They hired you because they believe in your talent and your perspective as an artist. If you don’t speak up and confidently take ownership of your shoot, you are in a sense not giving your all to your clients. The collaborative relationship cultivated by you voicing your opinions and opening up a dialogue during the planning process brings out the best in everyone involved. As you communicate with your clients leading up to a shoot, work to eliminate as many unknown factors as possible. Surprises can be fun, but the less you have on a shoot, the better. Talk through wardrobe, hair, makeup, location, timing… the list goes on. The more you discuss, the better.For engagement or other couples shoots, remember to address wardrobe and styling for guys. Having a beautiful girl with perfect hair & make up and killer wardrobe won’t look nearly as amazing when she’s next to her man in an ill-fitting suit or jeans and a t-shirt. The man has to be elevated to the same level as the woman, or the result will fall short of amazing.
For designer and editorial shoots, model selection is a critical component. Take time and care to curate model options before presenting to the client. This will ensure that not only you are happy with the final choice, but that they are happy with the choice as well, having been involved in the process. They’re more likely to be thrilled with the final result if they helped in the selection process.
Location, Timing & Light
Light is king. It’s important to put a great deal of thought into planning out how you’ll be able to harness the light throughout each shoot. An open field with beautiful breezy grass that will look amazing for the last hour of light probably isn’t going to be as flattering during the early part of the shoot when the sun is higher in the sky. Take care to have locations that provide solutions/settings to handle harsh light (trees and walls that provide shade). Present clients with 2-3 location options(based on what they’ve let you know they’re looking for) and then narrow down their choices together. Having them involved (but not in charge of) location selection allows them to feel like they are getting exactly what they are looking for, without jeopardizing your ability to have a successful shoot.
Having a mental picture of success truly does affect your ability to carry out those beautiful images. Take time to visualize your shoot before it happens. Having had so much control and say in the process leading up to the shoot, you’ll have a better grasp of how it will all play out. Feeling prepared and without the fear of surprises, you’re able to dream bigger, think outside the box for a few key shots, and ultimately use your creative energy in elevating an already perfectly planned shoot, instead of wasting energy dealing with surprises/unexpected hurdles and problem solving during the shoot. This is where “a bit of luck” comes into play for your recipe for success. Having worked to cover all your bases, you are open and prepared to take advantage of the serendipitous moments and shots that may come your way, creating those images that sometimes do happen by accident after the groundwork for success has been laid.