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3 Essential Pre-Production Steps for Photographers


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I do not like surprises….never have. I’m the girl that finds an amazing birthday gift for someone and then calls them up and says, “I just bought you the most amazing gift…and I can’t tell you!” and then after being pressed with for one minute with questions I cave and tell and there goes the surprise (my sisters actually love this about me because they find out their Christmas presents way ahead of time). I just love planning and knowing all the ins and outs and checking things off the list. It is the way I’m wired up! Artists often get a bad rap of being flighty and unorganized but I’m here to tell you that the right and left sides of the brain can work together in harmony (we just might have to work a little harder at it). I implement pre-production in my business to eliminate surprises and keep organized.

“What,” you may ask, “is pre-production”?

In the film and music business, pre-pro is the work before the work. It is the listing and working out of the details ahead of time and the time in which you craft and refine your ideas so that once you begin the final creative process you can truly shine. No movie director, art director, or music producer would dream of starting a project without intense preparation. We might not be dealing with celebrities and million dollar budgets, but at every shoot we are an art director and producer and every client deserves our best work. Below is a list of some simple pre-production steps that can help your sessions go more smoothly, keep your clients happy, and ensure sales and return business!

1. Know your clients

Having pre-consultations, whether in person or over the phone, are so key for a successful shoot. Because I have a very hectic schedule, I do my consultations over the phone. I use this time to get to know my client, find out if they have an vision in mind for their shoot, any particular shots they really want to get (I make a list), their style, etc. With my senior high clients I take this time to dig in and find out what makes them tick, what their fashion style is, where they shop, and so on. By getting to know them ahead of time you can truly craft and style a session to fit their needs…thereby creating a custom experience. Plus, meeting/talking ahead of time breaks the ice and results in a more relaxed experience for everyone. After our initial phone conversation, I typically will be in contact via email and text quite a few times before our shoot and typically will chat one more time on the phone the day before.

2. Know your vision

After talking to your client and having a better perspective of who they are and what they want you can then start planning out the shoot. Once I get in their head a little bit, we start planning out their wardrobe (most sessions involve up to four outfits) and once that is set I begin planning out their session. I plan out what outfits go with what ‘scenes’ and make notes accordingly. All my clients send me pictures of their shoot wardrobe before their session and this allows me to choose props and make location suggestions that best compliment who they are and what they are wearing. I have people all the time say, “I just love how the props you used went so well with what she had on”. Well, 99% of the time that is planned and not just a happy accident! My favorite example of this was from a senior shoot last August. The day before her shoot, my client found another dress she wanted to incorporate and because we had already been in communication she knew to text me a picture of it. She sent me this shot (on the right) of a perfect condition 1940’s newspaper dress and I was immediately inspired and was able to bring things to the shoot to create this….

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and this.

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She and her mom were VERY happy. : )

3. Know your locations

Knowing your locations inside and out can save you so much time! Always do a test shoot before meeting clients at a new location. You need to always ensure that the lighting will be sublime and the background will translate in camera. I know the best lighting times for all my locations based on the weather (cloudy vs sunny days). If I find a new spot or my client suggests a new spot I will always go out before the session and test the lighting to make sure that it will work. There is nothing worse than shooting somewhere new and realizing too late that the light is not good and then spending hours and hours in post processing trying to fix your mistakes. You could have the most amazing location in the whole world but if the light is bad it won’t matter.

Now, just to let you know that sometimes pre-production can be very very “pre”…. I was on my way to a session a few weeks ago and saw this amazing field right off the highway (very near where we were going to start our shoot). I was about half hour ahead of schedule and so I stopped and perused the field, watched the light and shot for 15 minutes, and when I saw the light wasn’t changing, I then called my client and asked her if she mind starting out in a different spot. If I hadn’t happen to be running extremely early and had time to sit and test things out I would have never asked her to meet me there. Thank goodness though I was ahead of schedule that day and had time to test it out and was so happy with the beautiful images we got. We shot there and then proceeded to our other spots as planned.
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You also want to make sure that the locations translate well to camera. I’ve happened upon some amazing spots in my treks around town that I’ve gotten super excited about and with a test shoot have found they just don’t pop in camera like I thought they would. Be very intentional about where and when you shoot and don’t be afraid to tell a client “no” if they want to shoot at a place or at a time that will result in less than desirable images.

Implementing these three steps has really helped me to utilize my time more effectively, shoot more purposefully, and make my clients very happy. We want to give our clients the best of the best and a putting some work into planning can help you soar!

Angela Richardson is a portrait photographer from Dallas, TX who specializes in high school seniors and children. She loves vintage modern style and obsessively collecting antiques.


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  1. jenifriend on June 27, 2011 at 10:27 am

    This is fantastic advice; thank you so much for sharing! I’ve begun to do this in my sessions this year and have found that it really helps to convey more professionalism (planning) on my end to the client as well as provide a great overall experience AND great images!

  2. Mindy on June 27, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    This was super helpful, thank you! Do you have a truck to lug those props, like a huge chair around?! haha

    • Angela on June 27, 2011 at 3:41 pm

      Mindy,I have a super hip mini van (aka swagger wagon) for my props! HA! I put the seats down, and pack it up with chairs, couches, etc….leaving room for a dolly so I can lug it easier. : )

  3. thatgirlblogs on June 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    love the first session shots, perfect idea!

  4. Karyn Collins on June 27, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Wonderful post. I’ve just begun doing pre-session consults this year and, oh my goodness, what a HUGE difference this has made!

  5. Julie on June 28, 2011 at 4:02 am

    Fantastic! Thank you so much for this advice, I’ve started doing this and am finding it helps out so much more.

  6. Tammy on June 28, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Love the article, great advice. I’d like to see an article on the props. I have an SUV and I’ve got a couple of great couches, but without a trailer, I can’t haul this stuff around very easily. Also, did you already have that vintage typewriter? I get stumped when I see props and I think “where do you store this stuff?” I’ve got some props, and my house is beginning to look like a junk store. How do other’s manage this? Thanks for the great article!

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