So what I will be talking about today is actually something that is not new. I’ve been doing remote photo shoots for about 15 years now. There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to do this.
Remote photo shoots are when you are shooting without your client being in the same space as you. During your remote shoot you are telecommunicating with them, in some way while you are creating the images for them.
It’s been a super fun, convenient way of doing a photo shoot for a long time, but these days, this way of shooting will become more of a request, I am sure.
Please keep in mind, it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, remote shooting always takes longer than a regular photoshoot because of the time it might take to get final approval of each image as you are working on them.
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Options For Shooting Remotely
There’s really only two ways to shoot remotely that I can think of. Either way, you will explain to your client ahead of time how this will work. It is crucial that the client be available all day during the shoot day.
Using Email And Cell Phones: The simple way is just using email and cell phones. That’s how I’ve been doing it for the last 15 years.
They must be willing to review images via email and/or cell phone and be available for questions – all day!
As you are shooting throughout the day, you will be emailing them images for review, and for them to answer questions, and then for final approval. You will email, call, and/or text them to approve each image before you move on to the next one.
The biggest mistake most photographers make when shooting remotely, is NOT getting approval for each image they go throughout the day.
This sounds simple, just send an email – but you would be surprised how quickly your clients stop responding on time. They need to take a phone call, get on another Zoom conference meeting, break for lunch, etc. A lot of time will be wasted tracking them down. It’s just the nature of this way of shooting.
Using Teleconferencing: The more complicated way is using a teleconferencing software like Zoom. A major photo organization did a webinar talking about shooting remotely using Zoom, and the things they suggested were not good ideas.
The problem with what they were suggesting to do was that none of the creative decisions had been determined ahead of time. This will be a huge mistake, and will waste a ton of time for you and your client on the shoot day.
The only advantages of using Zoom I can think of, is the client can see your set, if you have your webcam set up properly for them to see it. Then you can also share your computer screen.
To share your computer screen, you must be shooting tethered and sharing with them either your Lightroom window, or Capture One Pro window on your computer. This could be useful if they are not understanding something on set, but what I am suggesting will eliminate the need for this.
In order to use Zoom, you will need some sort of webcam, and you really should get a decent USB microphone. If you intend on walking around and talking to your client while using Zoom, then you should get a lavalier microphone that has a long cable (the wireless ones are very expensive).
Instructions For Your Client
You will need to make it very clear how remote shooting will work. I start including my rules about this in the estimate so it’s very clear what I expect of them, and what they can expect of me.
The most important part of your estimate will be to have a clause that explains that immediate approval while food is on set is required! And no reshoots after image approval, unless they are paid reshoots.
The biggest problem with shooting remotely is when your clients become hard to get hold of on the shoot day to get questions answered, and get images approved. This always happens! They always go missing at some point, so you will have to track them down.
You will need their cell phone number to start texting and calling them when they don’t respond to emails.
I have very strict rules about this. While I am working on set, I will be emailing the client images as I work through the shot to get questions answered if they come up for me and my crew. If I don’t hear back from the client within 15 minutes, we move on and what ever I decided would be best for the image, is what goes.
If the client isn’t responding to my emails, texts, AND phone calls, I’ve clearly done everything I could to get their approval, and the opportunity to change anything before we move on. If they disappear knowing that we have live food on set, then what ever I say goes after that for the image.
So what I do is I text the client to warn them that I will be sending them an email in 5 minutes (or whatever the time will be). Then I will email them the image, if I don’t get an email response back in 5 minutes, I start texting them. If I don’t get a response at that time, I will then start calling.
After 15 minutes if I can’t get any response from them, I send them a text and an email that we are moving on, and in that email and text will be the final image.
Normally that will work to get a response, but if not, me and my crew have to move on so that we make our shot list for the day.
This way if the client comes back an hour later saying they want something changed, and we already moved on, then that will need to be an extra shot and they must pay for that because we will most likely go into overtime at that point.
Again, all this must be explained before the shoot happens so that your client fully understands your requirements for the shoot.
Here is how you can make sure your remote shoot goes as smoothly as possible
You Must Be Organized And Do Extensive Pre-Production
The most important thing about shooting remotely will be your pre-production and pre-planning. When you are shooting in person with a client, you take for granted how easy and quickly it is to get decisions made and questions answered about what you are shooting, because your client is right there.
When working remotely with a client, any question you have during your shoot will take some time to get a response – this is what you have to try to minimize.
Show your client any creative options ahead of time
After I’ve had a thorough conversation about what the client would like their images to look like, I have a good idea about what kind of props, surfaces, and backgrounds we need. However, there will be some detailed decisions that will need to be made.
For example, the client might say they want certain colored surfaces. So I will gather some colors that I think they will like as options.
This image above is showing how I show my clients their options for our photoshoots. This is a private gallery I make on my website that is just for the client. With each image, I can put notes next to it.
The client then goes through and picks what they want before the shoot day. In this case, the client wanted several different surfaces, so I showed them all our options based on our previous conversations.
Here’s the deal, I always do a prep day for my photoshoots. I make sure all my gear is working, cameras are capturing, and computers are talking to the cameras. I set up my lights and get everything ready. I do this the day before our shoot day. I’ve been shooting this way for 25+ years.
During the prep day after I get all my lights set up, I will photograph any creative options we have. I will photograph options for plates, bowls, props, and I will also photograph all background options that closely match what we discussed earlier.
People, when you put down fabric or a wood background on your set, it can radically change under your lighting conditions, so it’s crucial to test to see what they will look like the day before, and show those to the client for approval.
The client must give me their choices by 8am the next morning when we start shooting the job.
I’ve been seeing photographers make “background” galleries on their websites just showing the background only. The problem with this is you are not showing your client the scale of the background texture with items on it, or what it will look like with the actual lighting you will be using for their product.
You can’t predict what a background/surface will look like in your image. The online background gallery can be a start but I always do a prep day so we can see exactly what we have to work with under the lighting we will be using.
A smooth, efficient photo shoot depends on you doing thorough pre-production.
Here is a check list for the best ways to conduct a remote photo shoot.
#1. Make A Detailed Shot List
As with any photoshoot – in-person or remote, get as many details about your shoot as possible when you are working on your estimate for the job. Please see this post about making a shot list. You must make a very detailed shot list for every image you need to create on the shoot day.
#2. Make Lists For Food, Prop, Background, Etc.
After you have your detailed shot list, break down everything that is in each shot – food, props, surfaces, backgrounds, etc. into their own list. This is crucial that you get as detailed as possible. You are trying to eliminate as many questions and decisions as possible before the shoot starts.
#3. Get Creative Questions Answered By Client Ahead Of Time
Now that we know what items will be needed for each image, talk with your client about the options for each, and if any decisions need to be made, like the color of the plates, the surfaces, the backgrounds, etc. Make a list of those questions, and get as many choices and decisions figured out before the shoot day! If anything comes up that you still have questions about – get them answered asap. This will be the key to a fast shoot day.
#4. Get Info To Crew Members
If you have a budget where you will be hiring people for the shoot, like a food stylist, or a prop stylist, they will obviously need to know all these details too, so the sooner you can get this information, the better. If we are still social distancing, it will take more time to pull props together, so you must allow for this.
#5. Get Client’s Contact Info For The Shoot Day – All Points Of Contact!
On the shoot day, you will need to contact your client regularly during the day. You must get their email address, their cell phone, and office number if applicable! They will disappear on you at some point during your shoot day – I guarantee this.
#6. Take Breaks When Your Clients Do
If you are working with a client in a different time zone, shooting remotely will be more challenging. Your client will not adjust their schedule for your time zone. They will break for lunch and dinner when they want to, so you need to know their schedule in order to plan for this.
I was shooting remotely for a very large brand in Canada and they were three hours ahead. Even though I told them we start at 8am pacific time and it’s a 10 hour day – they didn’t care at all. At their lunch time, they didn’t tell me they were breaking for lunch, and didn’t respond for over an hour and at dinner time our main contact disappeared for over two hours.
We ended up shooting until 11pm that night in order to get everything done. There was overtime for the crew and we had to reshoot images (which they paid for).
Just know, shooting remotely will take more time, and plan for that in your estimate.
#7. Have A Discussion About Viewing Devices
This is actually very important. Most of your clients will NOT be viewing your images on a calibrated monitor – you better be using a calibrated monitor though. This is the most difficult part about shooting remotely. You need to have a discussion about this ahead of time.
I simply ask my clients when was the last time they calibrated their monitor. 95% of them don’t even know what this means. So then I teach them what it means and how important it is – before the shoot happens.
They need to understand that if they are viewing your image on their iPhone, it will most likely be too bright or the colors might be over saturated – just be prepared for question like, “hmmm, it seems a little bright, don’t you think?”. That’s when I ask them again, what they are viewing the images on and when did they calibrate it last. I remind them of this discussion about viewing devices and how radically different they can all be.
Even designers with many years experience are not calibrating their monitors so you have to tell them they can’t look at the image for exposure or color, but for general composition and where things are placed along with how the food is styled.
So there you have it. This is how I’ve been doing remote shoots for more than 15 years now.
Take my suggestions and create your own way of shooting remotely!
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