10 STEPS TO A SUCCESSFUL PHOTO SHOOT

Courtesy: Walid Azami

Courtesy: Walid Azami

The ingredients for a successful shoot is more than a camera and light. One of our readers (IG @Lens_to_Life) asked a question about the process of finding a model for your shoot. I'm going to explain my own process, and hope that it helps you on your quest. I will state the obvious, every photography has a similar process but it's hardly ever the same.

BIRTH OF AN IDEA: Personally ideas are born when I'm driving or doing anything mundane like cleaning or laundry. It's where my brain is on autopilot and there's music in the background. Come with your idea, where ever it comes! Once you have this, write it down. Life is busy, write your ideas down instantly and for this I use Evernote. The reason why I suggest this app is because you can record voice, take a photo, scribble or type notes. It syncs perfectly with the desktop app, and it's really where many of my ideas live. I could be at the mall, see something amazing but don't want sit and write the idea. I take a photograph and even add a quick voice memo to it. It's an incredible app and you should get in the habit of having a paper notebook or electronic one with you at all times.

VISION BOARD: After the idea is born and an assortment of notes live on your Evernote, you make it visual. This is a crucial step to bringing the team together. Trust me, whats in your mind is NOT the same image your wardrobe stylist sees. Grab ideas from magazines or online sources. I scour Tumblr, Pinterest and even Instagram accounts like @TheFashionPhotograph which is a library of gorgeous imagery from the world's best photographers. I screen capture or save the jpeg, and make a folder for each section. For example, there's a hair folder and a posing folder, one for clothes and another for location. Can you put them all in one folder? Sure, but I'm trying to help build good habits because as the jobs get bigger, so does your mess.

STYLIST/HAIR/MAKEUP: Your team is your backbone. The end. Pick carefully because a beautiful model, stunning lighting in a gorgeous scenery is worthless if the make up looks like a mess. Pick people who have a vision but also know how to stay in their own lane. This is important. Master your lane and stay in it. If everyone does that, it's brilliant! Share the vision board with them and take a minute to go over what you're looking for. Remember that as the photographer you're the leader of the shoot, everyone follows your direction. However, you ideally pick your team because they bring something to the table. When I work with a team, I'll say things like "I want her to look like she slept in her make up and it's nice but still kinda messy". The makeup artist responds with, "Smudged?" - sure what ever you call it but that's what I want and here are pictures of that style. Then he/she will add their ideas to that. For example they might suggest that we can't have glossy lips if the makeup is smudged (just an example). Work with good people and take their good advice. 

MODEL: Decide what type of shoot you want. Ask yourself if its for a local business or a high brand. Even with a test shoot, you have to pick your direction. One great source for finding a model are websites like ModelMayhem. ModelMayhem is a great resource but it's a quite a search. Not everyone should be a model, not everyone can follow directions. Place your ad with your criteria but I like to give specific instructions like "Don't leave a comment here, please send a message privately and also tell me about any experience you have modeling". You'd be surprised how few can follow these instructions. I'll still get grown men/women placing comments in the ad, and they say things like "Interested!". Well, I'm not! I'm not interested because you can't follow directions and this is key because you want a model who will show up on time, with the right things, who can listen and follow directions on set. Weed them out! That's the perk of going through a modeling agency. You're guaranteed a professional.

LOCATION: Tough one! Make sure your local laws do not require a permit for shooting. Many in the LA area do. If I'm doing a test shoot, I'll move it over to Orange County or Riverside. Also many locations within LA have become redundant. Keep in mind you don't need a grand location. A beautiful door you saw on your walk, an empty parking lot or even a beautifully colored wall on the side of a garage is perfectly fine. Remember that your shoot is about the model and not the location. The location is merely an accessory and shouldn't steal the attention. Again let me state the obvious, if you're on private property ask for permission. If you're against artwork, ask the artist if you can shoot in front of their work. Get it in writing.

CALL SHEETS: Make a call sheet. It's everyone's go-to and something people keep for future networking. Your call sheet should have a few essentials on it. Put the crew start time and talent start time. They'll be different unless you're all traveling together. List the hours of sunrise and that of sunset. Sometimes cellular reception is weak, you'll need something that listed all of the information for you. Write the high and low temperatures for the day and people will use that to dress for the day, perhaps bringing a light jacket. Don't forget to give the name/number/address of the nearest hospitals. Emergencies happen, please be prepared. You may also list a couple local stores like a hardware shop, local camera shop, and even shopping mall. Sometimes you'll have an assistant make runs for you, let them have it and they'll map it out the night before. Finally, have a contact for each person on set. You'd be surprised how many people get lost because many shoots go to remote locations. 

PRE-SHOOT TIME WITH MODEL: I spend a few minutes with the model ahead of the shoot. I let them know why I hired them. It could be their books, their athletic ability, and even random things like "I really love your eyes". It's not creepy if it's on set. It IS creepy off set. This helps the model realize their strengths and also what you're after. It's a process I'll do when they're in the makeup chair. You have a captive audience here. Then small-talk with them. Talk about life or something you can all relate to. The few minutes you spend with them is CRUCIAL! You will form a bond sooner, which means they feel comfortable in front of your camera and everyone gets better pictures.

THE PHOTO SHOOT: This is your style. Do you. For my own shoot, I take several photographs and find their best angles and also see how they do with little instruction. Then I'll sit with the model and show them what we photographed. I'll point to the images that I love, and tell them why I like it. I'll point out the bad ones, let them know how they could improve. This small procedure increases your odds of a successful shoot tremendously. Then shoot! Have a great time and communicate with your team. Remember we're not curing cancer. We're just taking beautiful imagery and we're fortunate to do this. Have a good time.

PICKING SELECTS: Trust from experience, the more chefs in the kitchen the higher the stress. As a photographer people want you to lead. YOU pick the selects. I've made mistakes in the past where I want to be courteous to everyone, and see their take on the image selection. Disaster. I do it all solo now, because the idea was born from me.

POST PRODUCTION/EDITING: After the selects are made, which is a painful process you will go into editing. That's your direction and based on the vision boards created but you're permitted to change your mind. Remember that, you can change your mind on the coloring, etc... Personally I work in Lightroom with selections and coloring and then do fine tuning in Photoshop. That's it! And then it's available for the rest of the world or my corner of the internet to see. 


Walid Azami is a photographer and director based out of Los Angeles, CA. He's captured images of the world's top star in advertisings, album covers and magazines.