Research a Photo/Video Shoot

Posted by Donna Rouviere Anderson June 16, 2015

Capturing a photo like this one by Forrest Anderson requires careful thinking and planning about the meaning, style and other characteristics you want to capture.

Planning a photo or video shoot can be done fairly efficiently if you have a good workflow. Here is the planning section of our workflow. 

1. Research the subject.

  • Immerse yourself in it so you can decide who and what you might film. Reach preliminary conclusions so you know what to focus on.
  • Decide on the restrictions that will narrow and deepen what you shoot. Know what aspects of the subject you are not interested in, don't want to shoot and then decide what you want to concentrate on and the strategies you'll use to do them justice.
  • The subject and type of project determine the kind of research you should do. 
  • Start a list of contact names for the area and subjects you want to cover. Get good knowledgeable local help if possible to get past the obvious shots.
  • Identify the experts, ask them questions to make sure you've have got it right, revise your research and insert them into your contacts list.
  • Study relevant maps. 

2. Make a working hypothesis

  • Decide tentatively what you believe on the subject.
  • Decide how your film or photos will show that in action by exploring particular situations. 
  • Who or what are the central characters and what are their characteristics.
  • What each wants to get, do or accomplish.
  • The main conflict and who or what it is between.
  • Decide what will determine the video's structure.
  •  Decide what you want your audience to feel and realize.  

3. Create a shooting plan, budget and schedule.

  • Designate a purpose for each scene in the video or photo shoot's likely narrative.
  • Analyze each situation for its significance and ability to show what you want to show.
  • List the basic information each scene must convey so your audience can attain your level of understanding.

4. If possible, observe the activity you want to film to:

  • Plan a shoot that is characteristic, telling and brief.
  • Figure out when significant or potentially dramatic things start happening.
  • Get to know the participants and explain to them your motivation for the shoot or video. Try to get them to trust you.
  • Understand the participants' roles. Decide who represents what and narrow your choices.
  •  Decide who will be the most communicative and visually effective.
  •  Imagine different possible outcomes once you start shooting and how you will deal with them.
  • Rethink the possible meanings your photos or video could delver.
  • Write a proposal that outlines the shoot's intended content, theme, style and outcomes.

5. Assemble all the resources you need to begin shooting.

  • Make a list of sound and photo material you will need for each scene.
  • Decide which people to use and who your central character is.
  • Decide who or what is in conflict, what is at stake for your participants, those around them and society at large. This is the key to giving the shoot the definition and clarity it needs to be effective. Its purpose and identity changes as the shoot evolves, so keep watch on that. Figure out how to make any oppositional forces meet in confrontation. 
  • Determine the central point and counterpoint of the project's argument so that you collect all materials you need.
  • Identify thematic goals for each part of the shoot or sequence of video and for the project as a whole.
  • List the expository information that the audience need to understand each sequence.
  • Determine what is typical and atypical in each part of the shoot to guide your shooting.
  • Plan to collect images such as cityscapes, landscapes and workplaces that set the scene for your participants' location or condition.

6. Define the main point of view, whose it is, why it matters and how you'll make the audience empathize with it.

  • Who must the audience specially understand and sympathize with? How will you take the audience inside these emotional viewpoints? What changes in thinking and feeling do you want the viewers to experience as they follow the story? What should they feel and think by the end?
  • Define secondary points of view, as you might tell the story through secondary characters.
  • Define your own angle or point of view, what you want to say and which what emphasis so you collect the materials to do it. 

7. Define the shoot's style

  • What style best serves each sequence and the stylistic characteristics of the shoot as a whole. 
  • How point of view might effect style in each sequence and in the whole shoot.
  •  Style issues to avoid. 
  • The project's genre.

8. Make a draft of the information you have created. 

9. Obtain permissions.

  • Place - Secure written permissions for owners or administrators of non-public locations. Many cities require you to get a permit from the authorities to film int he streets or on public transportation. Permissions to film in a location must be obtained in writing before you start shopping. All events on private property must be cleared by the relevant authority to avoid invasion of privacy. Anything unrestrictedly open to public entry such as streets, markets and public meetings may be filmed without asking anyone's permission.  However, you need to get police permission and perhaps pay for a cop to control traffic or wave away troublesome bystanders in some situations.  New York  requires you to work through a specials division of the mayor's offices or state film commission as does  Paris. You must cary proof that you have liability insurance in case your activities cause injury.
  • People - Secure a committment for agreed dates and the amount of time and involvement from those you intend to film. Personal releases should be signed immediately after participants are filmed. For video, no signature is valid without a $1 minimum legal payment which you hand over as symbolic payment. Give a small sum to help people if they are in great need and you have filmed them. 
  • Copyright. If music or other copyrighted material is necessary, now is the time to secure it.

10. Scout locations if possible.

  • Make a list of problems the locations pose.
  • For an exterior, when is available light at its most useful? Carry a compass so you can estimate the angle of the sun at different times of day.
  • What scenes look promising?
  • Is there enough electricity for lighting interiors?
  • Can power cables pass under doors when you close windows during shooting?
  • Where can lighting stands go so you have  freedom to shoot?
  • How reflective are the walls and how high is the ceiling?
  • Where might the camera go if it's a public event and you must shoot unobtrusively from a tripod using a long lens? 

11. Sound at locations

  • Clap your hands and listen. If the room is reverbant, sound will be thrown around the room. This is a major concern and may require using another venue. because sound reflectivity can make the sound unworkably bad.
  • When in doubt, record representative dialogue in dubious sound locations and roughly edit the results together to see how serious the problems are.
  • Consider whether drapes, carpet, soft furniture or irregular surfaces can be introduced to absorb unwanted movement of sound within the space.
  • Determine whether the alignment of surfaces will cause sound bouncing between opposing surfaces and whether the room has intrusive resonances (common with concrete and tile).
  • Determine whether people can walk around during the shoot without the floor squeaking.
  • Consider ambient sound and noise from the outside - airport paths, highways and railroads, schools, construction sites as well as refrigeration, hvac and other sounds inside.

12. Secure any crew you need.

13. Make a shooting schedule, building in options to deal with inclement weather or unavailability of a major element or participants.

14. Do any necessary trial shooting 

  • Audition dubious participants or crew.
  • Set standards for work you are going to do together.
  • Test new or unfamiliar technology.

15. Schedule

  • Break your material into intended sequences or scenes and allot time for each. Expect to cover perhaps two lengthy sequences in a day of  work, provided you can get from one to the other without too long a journey.  Setting up lights slows things down.
  • Don't cover too much and have inhumanly long hours. Consider:
  • Travel distance and the time it takes to tear down equipment in one location and set it up in a new one.  
  • Amount and complexity of lighting and sound setups.
  • Amount of randomness inherent in the subject.
  • Consider that a 20-minute interview can take 3 hours. Leave time to socialize.. 

16. Revisit your contact list and flesh it out with the mobile phone of everyone involved, a phone contact for each location if possible. Also list special equipment or people needed at each location and directions and a map to each location.

Further aspects of pre-production for a photo or video shoot will be outlined in later blogs.