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15 Photography Pros Share How They Prep For Shoots

by Whitney Ricketts
photo & video

All of the best photographers in the world have one thing in common: preparation. Think about this scenario: you work your butt off, and then one day, out of the blue, your dream client comes knocking. Whether it’s shooting the cover for Newsweek (a la Gary Knight), or an editorial spread for major fashion magazine (a la Emily Soto), how do the world’s top working photographers get in the right mindset? While there’s no magic formula, there are plenty of things every photographer can start doing today to be ready for that call from Vogue when it comes.

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Some of CreativeLive’s top instructors share some words of wisdom below:

“I try to relate to the client as much as I can. For example, if shooting a commissioned portrait I ask for personal stories that make that person who they are, so that I can draw inspiration for their picture from that. If it’s a book cover, I try to find out as much as I can about the author and book, so that I know their taste and needs.”
— Brooke Shaden

“Small job or big job is all the same — remember the gear, bring backup, dress accordingly to the job, have fun. The size of the job does not affect how I act or feel.”
— Mike Fulton

“Over-prepare, do the mental checklist, relax.”
— John Greengo


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“I try and stay calm the week and especially the day before. And make sure that I don’t stress out and don’t vary from my routine so I don’t let it ruin my entire week. I get prepared the day before a big wedding just like I would any other wedding and double and triple check to make sure that I have everything I need. Sticking to a routine is key for me staying mentally prepared for big jobs.”
— Vanessa Joy

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“I always find that I shoot my best and I feel the most creative when I’m relaxed and inspired. To stay relaxed on big jobs, I treat them just the same as I would any other job. That keeps me from putting too much pressure on myself and keeps me in a mindset of fun instead of work. To get inspired before a shoot, I always end up either digging through books, or watching movies that get my mind thing creatively. Other than that, sleep and a damn good breakfast.”
— Ben Sasso

“Mental rehearsal. Not only do I go over all the scenarios in my head for gear packing, but I also imagine myself shooting and coming up with ideas on the spot. I leave a lot to spontaneity, but I also plan to be able to be more spontaneous by using visualization to put myself on the spot before hand. I imagine myself in the scene, talking to my subjects, seeing the light, etc. I imagine myself being relaxed and ideas are flowing in to me. Sounds all metaphysical and stuff, but it works for me.”
— Kevin Kubota

“Well, there is the usual pre-production and planning insanity that accompanies every big job that must be ironed out. Schedules, models, equipment, assistants, art directors, designers. Lots of emailing and phone calls to set times, dates, and comings-and-goings.  Along with that comes the usual preparing of all the gear and battery charging, which I suppose is pretty standard. But to get into the mindset, it may come as a shock that I don’t really do anything to get psyched up, if you will. I find that the more I think about something the more I freak out, so mentally, l approach very important job the way I’d approach a not-so-important job. That is, to say, that I will just shoot the hell out of it and create the best pictures possible without thinking too hard about the pressures of the job.”
— Mike Kelley

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“I make a lot of lists, get things ready days or weeks in advance if possible, then dance around to Dance/Club music on Pandora for 2 days before.”
— Erin Manning
“I personally have to have a very low key hour or two before the gig to relax and get into the right mindset. On the wedding day it really helps for me to get to the venue early to load film and to scope it out.”
— Josh Moates (right)

“The key to preparation is just that, preparation! I do as much as possible to prepare before the day of the shoot so that I am simply putting a plan of attack into action. I create mood boards to help determine the direction of the shoot, discuss my ideas with the creative team, and then make sure everyone is prepared to do their part. This way, on the day of the shoot everything is set to go much more smoothly!”
— Lindsay Adler

“Freak out. Then breathe. Think big picture, bring passion. then break it down to bite size pieces.”
— Jonny Davenport

“Have a good meal and get a good night’s sleep.”
— Pei Ketron

“The mindset has to come prior to the big job. Like the saying goes, dress for the job you want, not the job you have. You should always work on a job as though you’re working on the biggest client of your life. And then when any job comes around, you’ll always be in the mindset. Know that you are born for that job. It was meant for you.”

— Pratik Naik

“It’s never hard getting up for a big job — it’s much more important to relax and do the things that got you there.”
— Brian Smith

“I always triple check that my gear is properly packed so I will be prepared for anything.  I don’t like to be overly nervous (although some nerves are a good thing!), so if I feel my nerves are getting out of control I meditate.”
— Jen Rozenbaum


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Whitney Ricketts

Whitney Ricketts is CreativeLive’s Senior Communications Manager. Email her at whitney [dot] ricketts [at] creativelive [dot] com.