HOW TO TUESDAY #11 - The Anatomy of an Advertising Photoshoot: Why Client Meetings, Location Scouting, and Prep Work is so Important. Part 2 of 2 / by Zack Smith

In HOW TO TUESDAY #9 we talked about how important it was to have face to face meetings with clients. I feel that no matter how large or small the client or how small or grand the budget may be it is so important to use face to face meetings as your #1 fact finding mission that will set the vibe of the entire shoot. Take a quick read of HTT#9 and then come back to this post when you are ready to move on to Part 2 - Location Scouting and Prep Work.

As we learned in HTT#9 I was working with the New Orleans ad agency Peter Mayer on a new portrait photography campaign for Hancock Bank on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. At our first meeting I found out we would be shooting at locations already picked out by the agency and their client, but unfamiliar to me. The locations were very specific: The Friendship Tree on the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park Campus and a lighthouse at the new Gulfport marina. I had never been to these locations and were unfamiliar about the surroundings, parking, accessibility, and if any permits were required. Luckily the agency had already taken care of the permitting, but it was up to me to visit the locations to determine a few Key Components When Location Scouting to insure a successful shoot:

1. Finding the Best Light - doing some prep work on sun direction will help even before you leave the house. Plugging in each location's address in Google Maps will tell the you the orientation of your location. From here you can even get an idea of some possible Backgrounds using the Streetview option. (more on Backgrounds later...) Using the LightTrac app on your smartphone will tell you the direction of light at your location at any time of day. It helps to notice the direction of light at each Magic Hour - Sunrise and Sunset. (Click the link for tips on Natural Light and Strobe Portraits in HTT#5) These are your ideal shooting times if you can make it work. 

2. See it for Yourself - the absolute best thing you can do after mapping out the Best Light for each location is to get in the car and hit the road to see these locations with your eyes and through the lens. By doing this you can put yourself in the right position and in the best light with the perfect lens before all the hustle and bustle happens on shoot day.

+ for my shoot with Peter Mayer, I was able to visit each location at both Magic Hours of Sunrise and Sunset. This provided me with first hand experience of what my light looked light, what backgrounds were available for each portrait, and it put me in a good position to figure out shoot logistics like travel time, gear load out options, and where the closest coffee shop was :)

+ I have a little tactic I call getting the Real Background. When I am location scouting for portraits I like to focus where my subject will be so that the background will appear as it should when someone is in front of it. Shooting a sharp and in focus background does nothing for you or the agency you are working with if you don't have a softer option to show what it will actually look like when your subject is in front of you.

3. The Walk-Around - When I have taken a few shots of the #1 Location, I always do a 360 degree turn, and then walk around the entire location just to be sure I am not missing anything. This is a great tactic to get you thinking out of the box and not just what's on the paper. I often find my best locations here as I can get outside the bubble and relax my mind. (hint hint, click for HTT#7 on this very subject!)

SHOOT DAY

We started the day at sunrise at the Lighthouse shooting to the West since the sunrise was in a perfect position to illuminate our subject and the structure evenly. We only added some hair light (Paul C Buff White Lightning 800x) and a large softbox for some fill light (White Lightning 1600x) but let the soft rising sun do the rest.

Here's the Peter Mayer team as stand-in's for a possible shot. Notice the dedication!

Here's the Peter Mayer team as stand-in's for a possible shot. Notice the dedication!

Here's the final shot with final editing treatment.

Here's the final shot with final editing treatment.

Here is the location we ended up using. The sun was rising just behind us with a warm glow, but to the West was our perfect soft blue light we could control!

Here is the location we ended up using. The sun was rising just behind us with a warm glow, but to the West was our perfect soft blue light we could control!

We ended the day with the low setting sun behind our subject at the College. We had to use a 4'x4' diffusion panel to shade our subject mostly to keep her comfortable but also to shield her from the direct sunlight. Controlling the ambient light in any outdoor portrait shoot is your most important element since it provides your background light source. You can only do so much to control your Subject Light Source but not alot can be done to control your Background Light Source if your background is big and especially far away. One great way to keep your Background Light in check is to shoot in times where the sun is lower in the horizon: Magic Hour Morning and Magic Hour Afternoon. ( I can't say that enough!)

I used the bird to act as a stand-in.

I used the bird to act as a stand-in.

Here is the location the client ended up choosing, which was actually not on the initial location list. This was found doing my Walk-Around.

Here is the location the client ended up choosing, which was actually not on the initial location list. This was found doing my Walk-Around.

Note: I did put a full power 1600w strobe right on the eagle in the background to give it some more detail. You can see the difference in these two images.

Note: I did put a full power 1600w strobe right on the eagle in the background to give it some more detail. You can see the difference in these two images.

Notice this image is out of focus.

Notice this image is out of focus.

This is not the Friendship Tree, but a much cleaner and open tree across the street that we ended up using for a second shot.

This is not the Friendship Tree, but a much cleaner and open tree across the street that we ended up using for a second shot.

There you have it. There are so many components to organizing, scheduling, and executing a comfortable and creative photoshoot. While many of these tasks even by themselves may seem daunting, by working on them one at a time and adding them slowly to your repertoire you will soon have your tool belt full of helpful techniques and tips for any shoot. Make sure you SIGN UP for my mailing list on the HOMEPAGE to get How To Tuesday in your INBOX! 

Take advantage of these short days and low sun! Shoot for the Wall!

Zack