Prepping for a big shoot

BRENT PENNINGTON Promotional images featuring the cast of "Pride & Prejudice," produced for The Vintage Theater.  Session was held at Conor O'Brien's home on Saturday, 23 March 2013.

I’m in the process of preparing for what may be my biggest photo shoot to date. It’s exciting – and a little scary. There’s a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into into a shoot, well before the camera even comes out of the bag. So as I’m putting pieces together, I thought I’d share a little of the behind-the-scenes process.

The client in this case is The Vintage, specifically their theater production of “Pride & Prejudice,” which open in mid-May. That’s almost two months distant, but the photography is already starting – this weekend we’re shooting promotional photos for the production to use in their marketing.

This is a big deal, both in terms of importance and overall footprint. We’ve booked a great location – one of the producer’s homes, actually – that has a very cool period look. We’ve got the cast scheduled for several hours, along with staff for hair, makeup, and costumes. I’ll have someone designated as Art Director to collaborate with during the shoot. And by the end of the session, we’ll have a lot of frames, a lot of poses, covering everything from staged environmental portraits to candid scenes based on the story; from the two leads up to a majority of the cast.

I’ll be on-site an hour early to begin setting up. The plan is to find a set-up we like, then shoot several series of images there under constant conditions. Then we’ll move and do the whole thing over again, to get some variety.

Perhaps most importantly, we have a theme. Actually, the show has a theme, which we’ll be able to adapt and work with. This rendition of “Pride & Prejudice” is set in the 1960s, so all the sets and costumes will naturally be specific to that period. We’d originally thought of somehow contrasting that back to the story’s original Elizabethan English origins, but that caused too many logistical issues.  So instead we’re setting the stage as a cocktail party; a mix of Mad Men meets Jane Austen.  Should be interesting!

So as I write this several days before zero-hour, what does my checklist look like? Here we go:

  • meet with the Art Director before Friday evening and go over everything. We’ll talk concepts and figure out what images their promotions will need. We’ll sketch some (bad) stick-figure setups. We’ll draw up a shot list and plot out which actors we’ll need in what frames, and try to find some logistical organization therein. Basically we’ll be doing as much pre-planning as possible, so that when we walk on-set on Saturday, we know exactly what has to happen, and how and when, so that things run as smoothly as possible.
  • conduct a gear inventory based on the concept art and shot list. This will help me hone in on the specific equipment I’ll want to use: which lenses, how many lights, what modifiers, what accessories, etc. I’ll scribble down a quick list so that when I’m leaving the house, I’ll know I have everything I need. And when we wrap up, I’ll be sure to bring it all home again, too.  (It’s easy to assume that I should simply bring everything – but too much crap is almost as bad as not enough.  Some things should be left behind – no sense cluttering up the shoot with unnecessary gear, unnecessary options.)
  • test everything – every flash, stand, grip, modifier. On-set is not the place to find out that something isn’t working, when there’s no time to possibly do anything about it. The testing will be done by Thursday at the latest, so that if I have to get a replacement, there’s time. (My octabox hasn’t been opened in months, for example, so I definitely want to make sure it’s in perfect working order before opening it on-set.)
  • charge batteries en-mass. They all get popped into the charger no matter what display read-outs say. Top off all the camera batteries, all the AAs for the flashes. We’ll be shooting for a couple of hours and the flashes will be the main lights, so each flash will need at least one backup set, which pretty much means I’ll need all the rechargeable AAs I have.  (And as insurance, I’ll have a pack of regular AAs with me as backup.)
  • format all the memory cards and have a plan for tracking them. It’s hard to imagine that I’ll go through and entire 16GB card, but it’s possible. I have backups, and they (and any filled cards) will live in a little card/battery case that I’ll have clipped to my belt. Used cards are put into their cases upside down (contacts up) and the case’s red flags are pulled out over them. Sounds simple now, but when you’re on-set looking for your 3rd SD card, it’s good to know that there’s a system in place, that’s easy to remember on the fly, to keep you from screwing up. (To this end, nothing gets formatted on-set. It’s all done ahead of time, so that there’s no possible reason to accidentally erase a card full of images.)


Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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1 Comment

  1. Congrats on the big gig! When I shot sports my card system was pretty simple. Ready to shoot in left pocket. Already filled in right and everything was pre-formatted before the game started.

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