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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Biggest Shoot Of Your Life

For a young professional, building your book is a daunting task. Here’s how Rachel Whaley, a 21-year-old, California-based professional, planned and executed a high-concept, multiday spec shoot.

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Building your book takes time, but you need a complete portfolio if you want to get business. Clients need to see what you're capable of doing, you need a website that shows a range of work, and every image needs to be perfect and completely professional. Although she's only 23 and just out of school, Rachel Whaley embarked upon an ambitious shoot at the Salton Sea in California to get portfolio-quality images—and hopefully some sales. The shoot was complex because Whaley knew she needed to have makeup, wardrobe and modeling professionals involved. Planning your shoot in detail and making the best possible use of everyone's time were critical to the success of the project.
"The majority of my favorite work is my personal work," she says, "just because I'm really able to express my creativity and my vision. I definitely am always working on personal projects because I always have ideas that I feel I need to photograph."

The vision for the shoot in place, Whaley was ready to begin preproduction. Any given shoot can be broken down into three parts: preproduction (the planning and preparation), production (the actual photo shoot) and postproduction (the editing and processing of the finished image files). In these pages, we tend to focus primarily on production and postproduction, but perhaps the biggest separator between professional and amateur is the preproduction. Pros don't just wing it. Magic doesn't just happen. Planning is critical.

For Whaley's desert shoot, she would have to determine not only where to shoot, but also when, who, what they would wear and with whose help. That's a lot of problems to solve, but it's the nature of preproduction.

Whaley decided the ideal location would be the Salton Sea, a desert area south of Palm Springs. This meant that not only would her shoot be ambitious, but also that she wouldn't have the luxury of working close to home. She made scouting trips to determine the ideal locations in which to work, and with those in mind, she was ready to recruit the necessary assistance.

Assistance is another area in which professional shoots differ from amateur ones. For a student shoot, a photographer might recruit an attractive friend to model. She might suggest a look through the closet to choose the best wardrobe and likely would require the model to handle her own hair and makeup. For a helping hand, the student would no doubt recruit friends and classmates. All of this would be fine, of course, assuming nobody flakes out on the shoot day. And, in the end, the results will look like student work.

With a professional shoot, though, all of these roles would be filled by professionals. Not only are they typically more reliable with money on the line, but they also have a personal stake in doing great work—and the experience to actually do it. Whaley was able to work with professionals and maintain high quality, but she also kept her costs down. She spent just $350 on food and gas for what she estimates as a $5,000 project. She was able to do this because of her passion.

"A lot of people agreed to collaborate with me," Whaley says, "which was extremely beneficial. These people are willing to give their services to me just because I have the passion to do it myself. After they view my work, I feel like they understand how committed I am and that they want to be a part of it. They want to be a part of a legend! It has a lot to do with my energy and my personal view on my career. I'm looking out for everyone else just as I'm looking out for myself. I feel like, the people who are helping me now, later on down the road I'm going to have a big job and I'm going to hire them because I know they're personally invested in their careers as well as mine. I feel like what separates me from the majority is they don't understand how to communicate what their vision is and get people to jump on-board and be just as excited as you are."

Whaley recruited a wardrobe stylist, two hairstylists, two makeup artists, five female models, three male models, an assistant, two behind-the-scenes shooters, a videographer and a fashion designer who brought his own crew. The difference between a crew of 20 professionals and a collection of friends with nothing better to do is obvious. It's the biggest lesson Whaley has learned at her young age, and it's something pros of all ages would be well served by. Have a vision, have passion and work with other talents to produce top-quality images. And do this whether it's for your portfolio or a paying customer.


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