Jan 20, 2010

Shooting an Editorial: Pre-Production

I've written about and posted to my Flickr stream plenty of technical info about my shoots, but what about the operational stuff?  The nitty-gritty planning and pre-production that has to happen before I get to pick up a camera and make pictures?

In this case, I've got a fashion editorial "spec submission" that I'm shooting later this week that I think makes a perfect case study.

In a nutshell, a fashion editorial is a series of images run in a magazine that tell a "story" or speak to a central concept or brief.  It could be "vintage air travel", "liquid", "Day-Glo futurism"...it's just a matter of designing a series of photos and fashion looks around that initial brief.

A "spec submission" is something that the photographer and team are shooting with no guarantee or expectation of publication by a particular magazine.  We're going to produce, shoot and edit the story on our own, then shop it around as a finished piece to any number of magazines to see if we can find a good home for it.  It's not uncommon, but not having a magazine's name attached can make it harder to source wardrobe and other resources.

So, that said, this was my process.

Three weeks before shoot:
I've had an idea rattling around in my head for a couple of months now but just haven't had the steam to make it happen.  Basically, it involves using long swaths of raw fabric to fashion makeshift dresses on models, then matching each "dress" with appropriate hair/makeup and jewelry.  Given that it's currently frickin' freezing in NYC, this is definitely a studio shoot.  I decide I'm picturing it as a study in monochromes - black/white fabric, simple and clean.

I get on the phone and pitch it to a wardrobe stylist I've been working with lately and she's into it.  We decide that it really sounds like an accessories story - the fashion that it'll really be about is jewelry, shoes, bags, etc.  The "dresses" will be a stylistic backdrop to those other items.  She also says she'll be comfortable handling the draping and forming of the "dresses", so that's one less other person we will need on the team.  We pencil a date into our calendars and give ourselves mutual to-do lists.

The stylist mentions that, without a "pull letter" (the proof that a magazine is agreeing to publish the results of a shoot) it might be tough to get mainstream or major label wardrobe, so we agree that we'll end up pulling from independent and younger designers that she has relationships with.  In general, this means that we'll also end up shopping the photos to more-independent magazines.

Two weeks before shoot:
I confirm the date with the hairstylist and makeup artist that I want to work with - both of whom I've worked with in the past and know I'll be on the same page with.

I run the shoot past my first-choice model agency to check availability for models - in this case, Ford Models here in NYC.  I've had nothing but great experiences with them and the booker I work with there has taken wonderful care of me, so if she's interested and has girls available it'll make my life much easier.  I ask for two models and mention that I'd prefer that they be of similar "type".

Ford emails me a "model package" - basically a link to a lightbox on their website that shows a hand-selected group of models and their stats, electronic portfolios and polaroids.  The booker also suggests that one of the models included is someone she'd really prefer that I include if possible - luckily she's one that I would have chosen anyway.

I accept that girl and agree to select the other and finalize details the following week, once I have confirmation on our wardrobe pull.  I also download PDF versions of the portfolios for the girls I like so that I can keep them for reference and distribute them to the rest of my team.  Since we're fashioning the wardrobe ourselves, sizing is less of an issue that normal...we're basically going by the models' general looks and whether we think they'll bring something interesting and exciting to the shoot.

Wardrobe stylist mentions that she's found a great jewelry designer with some cool pieces available for loan but that the designer is asking for insurance or collateral - I email over a PDF of my proof-of-insurance certificate demonstrating $2,000,000 loss/damage coverage.

Five days before shoot:
I pop out emails to a couple of guys I know to see if they'd be interested in shadowing the shoot and do some light-duty assisting.

Wardrobe stylist confirms that she's either getting or gotten the items she wants for the shoot and feels confident about everything.  We make a date to get on the phone and talk through a loose shot-list, so that we have a sense of how many "dresses" we'll be making and what shapes they'll take.

Already having a studio means I know where I'll be shooting and all of my gear is already in line, otherwise I'd be calling around to reserve lighting equipment and a rental space right around now.

Three days before shoot:
I confirm the models with Ford only to find out that one of my choices has been booked to another job in the interim, so they send me another model package with suggested replacements.  Three of the four I like, but one of them is listed as having a 10.5 shoe size - the model we already have reserved is an 8.5.  I verify with the wardrobe stylist that this will pose a problem for the wardrobe pull and eliminate her, leaving two models to consider.  The booker loves them both, so the stylist and I choose the one that we think would bring the best energy and counterpoint to the shoot.

We set model call times and nail down the details.

I confirm call times with the assistants and team, then start planning out my shooting day: first model will arrive at the studio at 9:30am, so I'll have the team arrive at 9, the assistants at 8:30 and I'll arrive at 8.  I'll get the heat turned on and pull my lighting gear out, then once the assistants arrive we'll repaint the cyclorama and start staging lights.  Second model will be arriving at 1pm, so that gives me a sense of how quickly we'll need to move: if we do 3-4 looks per model and expect to lose 90 minutes/model to hair and makeup, I can expect to have about 2 hours of shooting time per girl...let's call it 20 minutes/look to be safe.

...and that brings us to today.

Stay tuned for the shoot itself!


Matt Fricovsky said...

Thanks Simon. I like hearing about the behind-the-scenes details.

Moustafa Mazhar said...

Thx Simon for sharing this info, i did like to share it with you one day :)


evert said...

looking forward to that; I really enjoy the info that goes with all the Flickr photo's. Not that many great photogs willing to share and educate.

Ken said...

Great info as always...looking forward to hearing how the shoot and concept went.
What insurance do you carry? Doesn't sound like the usual photography gear damage insurance...

Lam Tran said...

Love the story. I'm waiting to see your published pages of the shoot.