Documents for a Photo Shoot

Posted by Donna Rouviere Anderson April 28, 2015

"A passport, as I'm sure you know, is a document that one shows to government officials whenever one reaches a border between countries, so the officials can learn who you are, where you were born, and how you look when photographed unflatteringly."

— Lemony Snicket

Nothing can kill a photo assignment faster than not having the documents you need to get access to what you want to shoot. For this reason, preparing documents is the first thing we do to get ready for an assignment.

We start by making assignment files. We have a file on our computer desktops called Active Projects. As soon as we get the go ahead for an assignment from a client, we create a subfile for the project inside this Active Projects file. We also use Omnifocus, which syncs on our computer and iPhone, to keep track of all of our projects and photo work, so we also make a file for the assignment in it. We also create a file in our e-mail program for the project. For projects that have paper files, we create a hard copy file as well. If a shoot is a complex, involved one with a lot of research material, we create a project bin. We give the project a one-two word name and label all of the files with that name and a color that is consistent across all of them. This makes it easy for the file to stand out among our other project files. From this point on until the assignment is completed and archived, we place every record associated with it into one of these files. When we start shooting and organizing photos or video or creating graphics associated with the assignment, we metatag those assets with the same name as the administrative files. We don’t necessarily keep all of the photos or video we shoot on the assignment in the administrative files, but we do make sure the labeling is consistent between them so that we can do a quick search and find all of the assets or information on the assignment that we need.

We include notes on phone or other conversations in these files, including the label name and date at the top. This information is important when we invoice a client, complete tax forms, settle problems regarding the project and write captions and descriptions for the assignment.

In Omnifocus, we insert:

  • Our daily trip schedule
  • Links to important emails about the assignment, email travel itineraries or other relevant email documents and urls.

We create a contact list for the assignment in our phone and a text copy in our hard copy file in case we run into phone problems. The contacts include primary contacts for the assignment and alternative ones in case the primary ones aren’t available when we need to reach them. We also make sure we have addresses of family, friends, medical resources and other essential contacts in our phone and computer. We include airline and hotel contacts, U.S. embassy or consulate addresses and phone numbers in areas where we are traveling if we are going abroad and any needed banking or other financial contact information.

We create a map in our phone with shoot locations, hotels, restaurants, ATMs and other important locations. If we are going to an area where phone service may be disrupted, we include a hard copy map in our hard copy file.

We keep a camera and computer equipment list with serial numbers in Omnifocus and in our wallet.

We download apps to our phone that have basic and emergency words in the local languages in the areas we will be traveling to.

We include copies of travel documents, credit cards, insurance papers, medical prescriptions and guidebook information in our file.

We include the following travel documents in a wallet or carrying case:

  • Passports that will be valid for the next 90 days with any required visas
  • Extra passport photos
  • Airline tickets and boarding passes if we don’t have them on the phone
  • Information about car rental reservations
  • Equipment U.S. customs registration if necessary
  • Health certificates with current immunizations
  • Driver’s license. We check to make sure that our  auto insurance will cover us if we rent a car. If not, we'll have to buy the rental company’s insurance.
  • Any press passes, accreditation or cards that are required
  • A list of rates for excess baggage and weight on the airlines we are traveling on
  • Cash
  • A guidebook for the locations we are traveling to
  • Any notes or letters of introduction to people we are photographing
  • A small portfolio
  • An envelope to keep receipts
  • Model and location release forms that are legal in the areas to which we are traveling
  • Any written permissions that give us access to areas where we need to shoot
  • Bank and credit cards
  • Information on copyright and privacy laws for the specific locations and countries where we are shooting 
  • Liability insurance

It is also important to check to make sure that you will be able to use your smartphone in the area where you are traveling. You may have pay extra for service in some locations.


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