Zen & the Art of Production: 12 Tips for a Smooth Photoshoot

Hi friends.  Kate here again.  I’ve been reading your questions lately, I’ve noticed that many are about production. It’s no doubt that shooting days can be stressful:  you have a set of objectives that need to be accomplished, time is limited, the client is present, weather, travel, lodging and permits may be a factor, you’re coordinating people and there are always little surprises that crop up.  Plain and simple, there are just lots of moving parts to a shoot. It follows that the more you can reduce your unknowns and possible stressors, the smoother your day will run. So, whether you are running the show yourself or you hire a producer, here are a few simple tips that may help you run a smoother production.

  • Have a plan. And a backup plan.  Production is all about planning.  The more organized you are ahead of time, the better and more smoothly your shoot will run.  A great production is very front-loaded to allow time on set for you to focus on the shoot and deal with any surprises.  Do your homework:  think hard ahead time, anticipate possible challenges, run through the day in your head and preempt problems before stepping on set.
  • Prioritize. Work to get the most bang for you buck.  After you’ve made your to-do list, prioritize the most impactful tasks and the most time sensitive items.
  • Clearly set expectations. Good communication with everyone involved is essential.  Schedule a pre production meeting early on to get everyone on the same page.  Follow up in an email for clarity.  We all remember different parts of conversations that affect us.  Summarizing is a great way to make sure that nothing is omitted.
  • [for 9 more tips, hit continue reading below…]

  • Have fun. Laugh a lot.  Smile.  Enjoy your day.
  • Remember people’s names. The bigger your crew gets the harder this can be, so create a system for yourself.  Create a call sheet that lists everyone involved on the shoot and keep it with you for reference.
  • Allow enough time. Plan the day so that you have plenty of time.  Set the call time early enough so that you and the team don’t feel rushed. Take breaks.  Enjoy lunch together.  Pad the schedule in case any scenarios run long.  Be realistic.  Can you really accomplish what you hope in the time alloted?  If not, you should either reconsider the objectives or increase the budget.  We can all be guilty of packing the days pretty full, so save time where you can: quick transitions
  • Be budget conscious. One huge source of stress on a job can be trying to do too much without enough resources.  Try to match your production to your costs.  Know where you can have flexibility: your own time/rate, negotiating rates with your crew, street casting vs models from agencies.  And and where you can’t: adequate food for the crew and permitting fees.
  • Feed your crew. It is amazing how this will keep spirits high.  Pamper your crew.  Serve a warm lunch.  Provide plenty of water.  Have healthy options.  Have some special treats.  Dine in a restaurant.  Do something unexpected.  Know your team’s dietary restrictions.  Remember people’s favorites and you’ll be the hero with lots of smiles all around.
  • Know your kryptonite. This is my only ‘don’t’ on a list of ‘dos’, but a very important one.  It’s very important to recognize what factors contribute to your stress, and then try to reduce its presence.  My kryptonite is caffeine.  What’s yours?
  • Be grateful and show it. First, remember why you love working in the film/video industry.  Whether is because of the creativity, the people with whom you work, the variety, the travel, or the [insert your reason here], be thankful that you are doing it.  Second, be thankful to those who are helping to make it happen: the talent, the crew, the client, the caterer, the location rep; anyone touching your production.  Tell them you appreciate them.
  • Do your best. That’s all you can really do. And this doesn’t mean you won’t have made mistakes or that you haven’t learned a ton or even that you won’t do things differently next time, it just means that you did everything you could for this particular shoot.  Be happy with that.
  • Reflect. After your shoot, take a few moments to debrief the shoot.  Celebrate your successes.  Identify areas you wish to improve.  Take notes so that next time, you are not reinventing the wheel.

I wish I could say that I do all of the above all of the time, but I cannot… yet.  It’s a work in progress, but I can say that the more that I follow these tips, the happier I am on set and the smoother my productions seem to go.

Please use the comments below to add your own tips for smoother productions.

42 Responses to Zen & the Art of Production: 12 Tips for a Smooth Photoshoot

  1. Dwayne D.C. Tucker II May 4, 2011 at 9:24 am #


    Thanks for sharing again. Agreed with everything and the most important point I loved and would share with anyone is to: Have fun. Laugh a lot. Smile. Enjoy your day.

    Nassau,Bahamas | Miami, Florida

  2. Dexter Maneja May 4, 2011 at 9:37 am #

    Thanks for this Chase. My “kryptonite” is my wife but she is part of the team… what to do?

    • wurks October 5, 2011 at 11:43 am #

      S-O-L same problem lol

      • Will Foster February 15, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

        Your wife is your kryptonite? Sounds like there is something else going down in your marriage that you may want to look at and work through together outside of production.

  3. Marcin Retecki May 4, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    My kryptonite wouldn’t be caffeine but rather the smell of the coffee;) I’m a huge fan of being organized and I try to keep all my shoots at leech. Obviously, as you said, having fun is as important, and i found out myself that the more you know beforehand, the more time for actual time you will have during the session. Some very good points in here, Kate, thanks a lot for sharing!

  4. diala chinedu May 4, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    Thanks Kate…Great post. Even though this is geared towards advertising/commercial shoots, theres also great advice for portrait/wedding photographers like myself, especially ‘Planning’, ‘Laughing/Smiling’ and ‘Remembering people’s names’…these have been very helpful to me so far…

  5. Brice Ferré May 4, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    Thanks Kate,
    Laugh, laugh, and laugh more. You’re right, our job is one of the coolest job we could have, we get to meet amazing people and photograph beautiful faces. What’s not to love.
    To quote Chase who actually quoted Lincoln: “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe”.

    Be prepared, and all should go well.

    Thanks guys.

  6. Daniel Snare May 4, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    So much useful information, thank you Kate,

    I definitely need to do more pre planning on my photo shoots!
    Love the idea of reflecting afterwards as well. Plenty of information to take away from a shoot other than photos

  7. Tommy May 4, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    Thank you Kate,

    This is a great list and perfectly timed as I’m in pre-production for my first big shoot. Lucky for me I have an amazing producer – otherwise known as girlfriend ;)

    Also I REALLY like that Lincoln quote above!

    Best – Tommy

  8. Jeremy May 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    All these things seem simple but to see it written out is great. I took the file and opened in reader and used it at a shoot today! Worked great! Thanks!

  9. Danny St May 4, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    Thank you so much for these tips. I shall take all these by heart.

  10. Venki May 4, 2011 at 9:38 pm #


    I follow the same for Software ;), its a great tips also.

  11. Katrin Nilsson May 5, 2011 at 1:35 am #

    Thanks Kate! Useful stuff! :)

  12. Danny May 5, 2011 at 5:35 am #

    From one who’s been shooting for 30 years I can tell you you hit the nail on the head.


  13. fas May 5, 2011 at 7:34 am #

    And people thought photo shoots were easy. They were darn wrong.

  14. Pepijn May 5, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Hi Kate, thanks for taking the time. Good tips, and I agree especially with smile a lot, be grateful and have a good time.

    My tip is: try to relax how difficult that may be, but if you are relaxed it will reflect on the crew. It keeps your focus clear and you know better what to do.
    If something went wrong, and something always goes wrong, try to cope with that, relax and figure something out. hahaha good advice huh?

  15. Jomar May 5, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    Hey Kate!

    I guess one more thing important and I think, this really makes a shoot run smooth is to (like what chase said before in his speeches) be the first to arrive, be the last to leave.

    With my experiences on shoots, clients and agency people appreciate if we (me and my team) arrive ahead of them. They say that it shows them that we are ready and serious to capture the best or if I may, excellent shots. I think my kryptonite are people who are disorganized. They make the aura of the whole studio heavy with their attitudes.

  16. Monika Zaldo Fotógrafa May 6, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    Hello, my English is a little bad, but it will tell you that I loved this post! I think I’m going to do frequent your blog. :-)

  17. KFinn May 6, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

    thanks Kate! I don’t take notes on my thoughts after a shoot but am going to start doing that. I always review it in my head but notes for future reference — way better. thanks for sharing!

  18. DanielKphoto May 9, 2011 at 12:04 am #

    Thanks a lot Kate :)

  19. Rohn Engh May 9, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    Thanks, Kate. And another presidential quote (President Teddy Roosevelt) and another point to add, “Speak softly and carry a big stick” All the great Hollywood movie producers seemed to have this attribute.

  20. gin pineau May 12, 2011 at 2:36 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing again.
    Thank you for all the inspiration you spread!

  21. Aberdeen Photographers May 14, 2011 at 5:37 am #

    Some great tips thanks. Agree that you should always know what gets you stressed as you wont be bothered to put your heart and soul into it.

  22. Serge May 24, 2011 at 4:08 am #

    thank you Kate, great list. Funny thing is that, when related to photo, i do’nt have kryptonite. Maybe i am not “stressed enough”.
    Another factor that could help here as well is to pre-visualize the photo you will get. Not cheating with the back of the camera, simply let your imagination, together with your mastery or simply, technique, build and construct the future picture. This motivates me a lot.


  23. Hetaher Smith May 26, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    Backup plans!! I often look back at a production and think ……..WHY NOT have a backup plan. Sure it takes a few extra minutes or hours to put one in place, But oh how it could save your production in the long run. It also puts you a step ahead of the game. In a world where anything and everything COULD go wrong, but hopefully doesn’t, it never hurts to have alternate plans mapped out. Have alternate locations permitted, a pa on hold for the unexpected,backup talent comp cards pulled or have the stylist pull additional clothing or props that was spoke of but maybe not decided on…because its in the clients heads….. and a lot of times they will wish for it or even ask for it even if it was decided against. Than you get to save the day with the prize on set.

    Thanks for all the helpful info. The only way to master the art of production is to learn through your own experiences or the experiences of others.

  24. Nena January 17, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    Love this post! Whether you do it yourself or hire a producer, these tips will help you run your shoot smoothly…or better understand and appreciate your producer :) … i’m an independent producer in San Diego.
    Think of the photographer as a trapeze artist and the producer/team as the safety net. Solid pre-production and anticipation may seem overboard to some people, but in the end, it allows the photographer & talent ultimate freedom on shoot day to be creative and change things during a shoot for a better end result!

  25. Jesus Hidalgo January 17, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

    I really truly appreciate these notes of wisdom coming from such successful team. I guess that the more you do the leg work the more you learn to deal with adversities and [not so good] surprises. It’s always a matter of taking notes, what works and what doesn’t and try to implement that knowledge onto the next project. Thanks a million again!

  26. Lori Nicoli January 17, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    Thanks, Chase. I needed that! I am expanding from landscape to portrait photography and suffer the angst every.time I have a new session. But it’s getting better and your simple advice, “Do your best and be happy with that”, is exactly what I needed to hear!

  27. Julene Bielefeld March 21, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    I was so touched…… It was fantastic.. and made me appreciated.

  28. Emiliano Leonardi August 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Thanks Chase!
    This is one winner tip! I assisted Steve Thornton not long ago. My only goal was to make him find everything he needed at hand and keep the crew’s spirits high by, as you said, pampering them. Water, blanket, dietary habits and getting to know every single one of them.
    Thanks again and keep up this magic you call blog

  29. Yair Haim August 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    Beautiful post Kate! Thank you!!!

  30. Al Graham August 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    What’s my kryptonite? Redheads! I’m inexorably drawn to them, yet in their presence I become weaker and weaker.

  31. David Ruston August 12, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    Again, awesome tips. Cheers Kate!

  32. Bluestill August 12, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

    Amazing list, one which I will print and add to my roster. Funny how so many of these things are norms of my mandatory list of things I do for my shoots already, but then there are a few things even I had overlooked that is on this list. My point in saying this is to say, never think you have it so together that you don’t need to stop, look or listen to what someone elses to-do list is saying, because it might help your own list out a great deal. Thanks so much for sharing this.

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  34. Joe Vahling March 25, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

    My kryptonite is my ambition. My imagination wants to write checks that my skills cannot cash.

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