How to Direct a Photo Shoot

Learning the basics of camera functions and lighting fundamentals is a challenge in itself. Yet, the aspects that separate novice photographers from professionals have nothing to do with technical understanding. As Clinton Lubbe explains, having an open line of communication on a shoot allows for a photographer to have full control of their elements and often transforms great images into extraordinary ones:

Opening up and letting models in isn’t a skill that’s built overnight. Regardless, it’s never too late or too early to start building on these skills. Here are a few guidelines that can help when it comes to directing a photo shoot efficiently:

  • Cast your characters. Instead of using models thoughtlessly for the sake of convenience, use a subject that fits into the idea you’d like to convey. The attitude and aura that an individual brings to a scene can dictate the direction and feel of a photograph.
  • Develop a friendship. Annie Leibovitz once said that, for just a few minutes, she allows herself to fall in love with the people she photographs. While it’s important to maintain a professional relationship, befriending your models can be an excellent way of building comfort and getting the best possible results from your subject. Remember that the people posing for you are people too; simply taking the effort to get to know them a bit can provide helpful insight as to what sort of person they are and what sort of direction they’d best respond to.
  • Get to know people off of the set. The makeup artists and hairdressers that are just out of the camera’s view can be an incredibly useful outlet. Be open and discuss with them your goals for the shoot. Most importantly, this will provide guidance for them aesthetically. In addition, it’s worth considering that models often spend an hour or two at a time off the set chatting and connecting with the people fixing their hair and makeup. If the people behind the scened have an idea of your expectations ahead of time, they can assist in conveying the mood or feeling you have in mind. As the shoot goes on, be sure to keep everyone on the same page by providing progress reports.

connecting with the camera

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare. One of the easiest things that you can do to guarantee a successful shoot is to complete the prep necessary ahead of time. Scout your location and develop a loose game plan, complete with a potential shot list. This will prevent you from having to completely improvise on set. Part of preparation includes sharing your ideas with those around you. Be sure that assistants and models alike are fully aware of your expectations.
  • Know when to move on. Keep in mind that you’re working with a limited amount of time and that difficulties and unexpected limitations on set are . Sometimes, the shot you dreamed of just won’t be possible. Learn when to compromise as well as when it’s necessary to move on to the next idea.
  • “Build” your image. No matter what your experience happens to be as a photographer, the first shot you take will almost never be your best. Experienced models will often go into autopilot and cycle through about 4 to 5 poses that they’re comfortable with. Speak up and coax them into trying new things. Even a subtle movement or angle shift can completely change the mood of an image. Take the time necessary to perfect your composition. Use light and body language to tell the story you want to tell.

“…You are their safety net. When someone’s in front of the camera, you are the person that’s making them look and feel good.”

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