Thursday, January 05, 2006

[Essay] Guide to Photo Shoots for Editorial Assistants

1) The simpler it is, the easier it is for you. Typically, the easiest shoot to organize is one that requires the talent (subject of the photograph), the photographer, and the make-up artist. The more people involved, the harder it is to organize a photo shoot. Why? Because if just one person cancels, your perfect photo shoot is gone. The odds are, the less people to coordinate with, the higher your chances it’ll push through. It’s also easier to coordinate and reschedule if necessary with three people, compared to a dozen.
2) Set different call times. Call time is the agreed upon time to meet for the photo shoot. Theoretically, everyone should have the same call time. But in my experience, that shouldn’t always the case. The fact of the matter is, people operate on different times. Some come early (a rarity). Others come late (and at different degrees as well). There are also those who value promptness (“When I arrive, let’s begin the shoot!”). Because of this, it’s advisable to give different call times to the staff. For example, if I have a make-up artist who’s usually an hour late no matter what time I give him/her, my call time is one hour earlier for him/her. A talent that’s usually three hours late has a three hour earlier call time. A photographer who doesn’t want to wait up on the make-up artist and the talent might get a call time of one hour later, so that when he arrives, make-up has been applied and all he needs to do is take some test shots and is good to go. And of course, you yourself should, at the very least, arrive on time if not earlier. Depending on the location, people will surely be asking for directions, or inquiries on who’s there and who isn’t. There’s no room for equality when it comes to time. Of course this tip can only be handled with experience. If you’re working with someone for the first time, you really don’t know if he/she will come on time or not. Just to be sure, give them an allowance of 30 minutes. Keeping records is also handy, so that you know how what call time to give the next time you work with someone.
3) Learn small talk. I’m the last person you should be getting advice on this from, but learning small talk is a valuable skill for the editorial assistant. Suffice to say, people will be late. It could be the make-up artist, the talent, the photographer, or any combination from the three (and that’s assuming there’s only three other people involved in the shoot). When the two other people haven’t arrived, you should play host. Talk to the person, entertain him/her. The last thing you want is for them to be disgruntled. It’ll reflect on the way they do their job, whether it’s in the make-up, the photography, or the pose. At the very least, they’ll consider working with you again in the future. When the other person arrives, you can relax as the two will most likely talk and make their own introductions. But in the meantime, make small talk, and be interested in the other person.
4) Be a shock absorber. Actually, the correct statement should be “be ready to be a shock absorber.” You’ll be one whether you like it or not. The reason why setting different call times and learning small talk is important is because some people won’t come on time. In a perfect world, that shouldn’t be the case, but it’s obvious that’s not how things work. The instinct of people is to blame someone other than themselves. And since you’re the person who organized the shoot in the first place, they will blame you. If the talent is late, the photographer will blame you. If the make-up artist is late, the photographer and talent will blame you. If the photographer is late, the talent will blame you. If the shoot doesn’t push through, your boss will blame you. Obviously, it won’t always be your fault: no matter how much allowance you allot someone for being late and no matter how often you follow-up, they will find ways to disappoint you. A photo shoot is a group activity, after all, so not everything is within your power to control. But still, you will get blamed. Learning small talk delays the anger. But if someone arrives too late, you have an angry staff. In a certain way, it’s good for them to be angry at you. If a photographer is angry at a talent, for example, it might come out in his/her photo. Same goes for the talent, or the make-up artist. Now there are times when someone you’re working for is the reason why the photo shoot didn’t work out too well. Don’t place the blame on them. The last thing you want is for the staff to refuse future jobs with the company because of an incompetent boss. It’ll also look bad on you: I mean how would you react if an employee constantly kept complaining about his/her superior? Better an incompetent employee rather than an incompetent company. You’re a shock absorber whether you want it or not. The trick is to be ready for it.
5) Plan Ahead. Have a checklist prepared. When it comes to pre-production for a shoot, make sure that everything is in place: you have all the necessary props, you have all the necessary staff, and make sure all permits and logistical necessities have been done. Account for time it takes you to file for the necessary permits, or to get permission to make the necessary pull-outs when it comes to accessories. Another helpful tip is that it’s better to have more than to have little: be generous when making allowances. And when taking photos in a public place, make sure you have all the necessary permits. You don’t want several weeks of preparation go down the drain because when you get to the location, you’re halted by the local authorities.
6) Follow Up. The secret to setting up a successful photo shoot is to follow up, from gathering the talents and photographers to securing permits and pull-outs. My typical formula is to inform, confirm, and then follow up. Inform the subject that they’ll be involved in the project, confirm if they can commit, and then finally follow up on it on the days to come. Make no mistake, there’s a difference between nagging the person and following up on them. If the shoot, for example, is one week ahead, don’t call the person everyday. Inform them on the first day, perhaps confirm in the middle of the week, and then follow up one day before the shoot. I also text them the address of the location on the same day both as a reminder and to make sure they get the proper directions.
7) Gratefulness and Respect. Even if your company is the one hiring the talents, the photographers, and the make-up artist, they’re not working for you; they’re working with you. There’s a difference. Give them proper courtesy and talk to them properly. Smiling and small talk helps, but also be grateful for the service that they’re doing. Don’t be too thankful, since there’s a certain posture to be maintained (and the photo shoot is an endeavor that has mutual benefits and is not simply a favor to one person), but don’t be too snobbish either. Handy statements are “thanks for coming on time” or “it was nice working with you”. And when someone doesn’t meet expectations, such as not coming on time, never insult them. You can show your disappointment, but don’t let your words reflect your anger. You’re here to coordinate a photo shoot, not start a brawl. Accept the apologies and arrange the photo shoot as best as you can with the given circumstances. Chastisement should occur after the shoot, in private; you’re not here to publicly embarrass them. And even then, scolding them should only be the last resort. There are probably other, more peaceful ways of reflecting your disappointment with their tardiness or ineffectiveness. If they are truly disappointing, don’t work with them in the future. They’re not worth the headache. If you’re forced to work with them again, you’ll be glad you didn’t insult them.
8) Post-Shoot Work. It could be paying the fees of the contributors, collecting the photos from the photographer, or returning items that you pulled out. Whatever the case, they must be done. In the case of collecting the photos, all your hard work will be for naught if you don’t have the final product to show for it. Assist your staff in getting their payment or whatever else that they might need; you never know when you’ll need them again, and it’s better to work with a positive slate rather than an indebting one. Also keep your receipts and take note what items were used and/or paid for during the photo shoot. You want to be compensated for them, or at the very least keep a record of what was involved for future reference.
9) Don’t Fret. Not all photo shoots will work perfectly. Sometimes, in pre-production, people won’t respond immediately. In times like these, a common reaction is to panic, get nervous, or be anxious. Don’t be. It’s not in your hands anymore. If the talent can’t respond immediately, no amount of follow ups will change that. Be patient and concentrate your energy on other stuff. Work on other projects. Read a book. Meditate. You will face the same anxiousness again during the actual shoot, while waiting for all the elements to come together. Again, don’t panic. You can follow up on people once. After that, you’ll just have to trust them and be patient. Constant nagging will only annoy the other person, especially when they’re en route to your location.
10) Reward Yourself. The secret to being sane is to reward yourself. It doesn’t have to be big. It could be treating yourself out to dinner. Or looking at the final photos, and congratulating yourself at a job well done. There are rewards to every venture; one must just pay attention to them. Give yourself some breathing room before you go on and move to the next photo shoot.