Thy (the client’s) will be done

Tip 27 for Better Shoots by Heidi Rondak

“Let the Photo Shoot Begin”

PART 2: Thy (the client’s) will be done

Based on your own experience or after reading my last article “Simulation of a typical photo production day” you may already have a sure feeling for how a commercial photo shoot works. With this in mind hiring and briefing a team of professionals to operate it according to a smart schedule is half the battle when creating a new campaign. Yet, there’s more that you or your deputies can do in their role as the client. In this article, we’re looking at the very things that YOU ideally contribute to a frictionless production with great results – which no one else is entitled to do. 

The client is king

Guess who’s playing the most important role in a campaign shoot? It’s neither the photographer nor the model. It’s you, the client! You can tell best whether the model’s poses and the overall pictures correspond with your brand. There is a profound truth in the saying “the client is king”, however, it is often mistaken for authority and privilege only. Good sovereigns, in fact, ever overview the bigger picture and wisely instruct their people for the benefit of the ensemble or the outcome. Translated to photo shoots that means that the client has concrete duties to fulfill which I’m pointing out in the following. If you’ve been just looking forward to a fun day out of the office with entertaining new impressions and enjoying yourself on set – don’t worry – you’ll experience it even better when you’re actively involved and mindful of how your project is taking shape. 

Exercise your right of veto and approval

To start with the most important duty of the client: constantly giving thumbs up or down is crucial and it requires your undivided attention towards the creators and their results. Depending on where you shoot and on the team’s working method (which you can certainly discuss with the photographer before the production) your focus should always stay with what’s happening on set. When shooting analogue resp. digital but on memory card your presence on the frontline is in demand. Ideally, you observe the model performing and pass your opinion to them and the photographer. More established these days is another option: when the digital photos are uploading to the computer right away (which is called tethering) you’re most probably sitting next to the digital operator and watching the photos appearing on the screen. This setup is mainly used in studios but can be built up on location and outdoors too.

Either method has its advantages and disadvantages. On a screen, you can see the photos with their actual crop and a first filter suggesting how they would look like after post-production. As much as this a great development since analogue times, it shifts the attention away from the photographer and the model completely. Oftentimes, when everyone is gathering behind the screen it slows down the process of giving feedback due to several reasons: 

  1. It’s easier to get distracted or sink into conversation with everyone around, like e.g. the digital operator, or the make-up artist. Instead of evaluating the results the minute, they come in this bears the risk of missing the great shot you were looking for or otherwise detecting any flaws, e.g. in the styling. Both can cause delays because either the photographer continues taking a number of unnecessary shots or relevant corrections are made late – or not at all.
  2. The distance between you and the photographer is increased. This, basically, makes it more difficult to talk to each other directly. Thus, when you want to give instructions you’ll need to call out what’s on your mind, literally.
  3. Sometimes the tethering is slow which means that you’ll see the photos that the photographer took a minute ago. If so there might be no point in suggesting smaller modifications or saying things like: “This one is great – can you please take a few more like this?” as the model and photographer will have moved on already. Unless you’re stopping the work for being completely happy or unhappy with what you see some comments can turn out to be rather ambiguous. In this specific case, someone will need to keep an eye on both the screen and the set and give constructive feedback that fits the current situation in front of the lens.
  4. When you, the client, are several people you can split up to be close to the photographer and the screen and overcome the issues of slow tethering. However, when all of you are sitting close to the screen it’s not only more likely that you get distracted in conversation but also one might have a better view of the photos than the other. It is, therefore, important to establish a (possibly temporary) hierarchy between you and rock-paper-scissors who has got the final say, e.g. when you’re selecting images on the spot but especially when it comes to giving feedback to the team.

  5. Last but not least there’s another factor about watching the results on the screen which can be both beneficial and counterproductive at the same time. Particularly when the first shots are coming up the make-up artist, hairstylist, fashion stylist, potentially the set designer, etc. will need to have a look at them as well. By doing so they can better estimate whether the overall look is fine or changes would be necessary (especially the make-up can manifest differently in the photos). For this reason, at bigger productions, we like to have several screens installed around the set for everyone to see. However, when the budget doesn’t allow this, people tend to gather around one small screen blocking your sight or vice versa. Though a positive side effect is the reachability of the very same people – you can easily talk to the stylists about what needs to be changed and use the photos to point it out. Either way, no one should stick to the screen all the time and miss out on supporting the model and photographer on the battlefield. If the place around you is getting too busy and you can’t hear yourself thinking any more you have the right to ask for more room anytime. Remember you’re the wise king taking care of the bigger picture.

Something off-topic:
the computer desk is not a coffee table

As you’re getting comfortable next to the digital operator, please keep in mind that you’re dealing with a workstation full of technical devices. Maybe it’s just me being stuffy but working around lots of items like coffee cups, smartphones, grooming products, etc. dropped there by the team (including the client) at any occasion is challenging! Needless to say, open beverages next to the computer, above all, are jeopardising the whole production. After all, I’m probably not the first person to point out that they should be taboo. Anyhow, keeping the place tidy helps to work more effectively instead of constantly pushing around other people’s belongings.

Accept professional advice

As mentioned above it’s crucial to have a hierarchy and make clear who the boss is between you and your co-workers but also when the photo team is losing perspective. However, the opposite can be the case. In the rare case of you yourself getting carried away, it’s the expert team bringing you back down to earth with what they know. E.g. when you’re very fussy about each and every wisp of hair you might be right about it. But considering that you’re probably not a hair expert, if you’re not right, the hairstylist will try to tell you that and suggest other realistic options. To revisit the monarch metaphor: a chief is nothing without their savant advisors. By staying open-minded and empathic you’ll be able to always differentiate the situations that require your determination or receptiveness. 

The client’s voice has the power to save time and money

Paying close attention to what has been shot enables you to judge whether the perfect photo has been already taken and if so to communicate this to the team in real-time. It also allows you to criticise what isn’t satisfactory yet and suggest some refinements or a couple of extra shots for good measure. Remember that everyone on set is there to please you which is why the photographer won’t dare to stop shooting as long as they haven’t heard any eidetic feedback from the client. It is, therefore, your responsibility to approve that moving on to the next scene is safe and no more time gets wasted on the current motif. Your speaking out of positive or negative feelings towards the work in progress can help to increase the mutual understanding on set avoiding uncertainties and exhaustion. Oftentimes, the first couple of photos are the strongest anyway because naturally, after a while, people run out of ideas for more variations. Eventually, stopping the process of photographing as soon as a great shot has been taken also spares you a good amount of time when selecting the final images for post-processing.


If you enjoyed reading this article, or you found it helpful in one way or the other, I would love to know (reach out)! You are also welcome to support my work and writing by donating whichever amount this is worth to you. I will thank you with lots of telepathic love and more interesting journal entries. Cheers!


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