Preparation is the Key to a Successful Shoot

What to take and how to pack it

Some of the followers of my recent blog on rolling camera cases were curious about the equipment I had packed into my Temba Universal, shown in the blog’s photograph. They wanted to know how I decide on what equipment I might need, how I organize my shoots and what kind of pre production is required before heading out.
Obviously, every assignment is different but my basic preparation is always the same. Research is essential, whether it’s the location, subject matter, availability of gear, or local customs and requirements. The following is typical of how I approach an assignment.

I happen to be on my way to the Florida Keys to do a portrait of a scientist for an upcoming National Geographic project. Although my subject lives in coastal California, I need to photograph him standing in the Atlantic Ocean. Florida is warmer than Long Island and the waters along the Keys are calm, with little surf and easy to access. Islamorada looked like a good location and it’s not too far from Miami. Besides, shooting in Florida gets me away from the frigid winter in New York.
From past experience, I knew that a permit is usually required by a park commission, county, state or city for photo shoots on beaches. A couple of weeks prior to leaving New York, I contacted the information officer with the Florida Film Commission who set me up with their film liaison person for the Florida Keys. She agreed that Islamorada had some nice beaches and quiet waters. Google gave me satellite views of a good looking, public beach controlled by the city of Islamorada and a private beach in front of the Islander Resort that also had potential. I talked with the people from the city and the hotel and explained that I needed to do a still photo that would include me, my lighting assistant and my subject. I told them that I would be setting up a couple of light stands and a tripod. There would be no need for a generator since my lights would be battery operated. I wanted to distinguish what I was doing from a large motion picture shoot, or a big fashion production with mobile homes, generators, stylists and large crews. Both the city and the resort needed a certificate of my insurance naming them as coinsured for the time I was shooting. This was an easy process, accomplished via email between me and my insurance carrier.
Once the location logistics were under control, I could focus on the equipment I would need to make the picture work. I decided to bring two Profoto 600B battery strobe units that put out 600 watt seconds of power and two flash heads. I also brought extra batteries, though I don’t anticipate needing them. My battery strobe units are very efficient, but it’s always better to be on the safe side. The lighting look I am going for requires a small Octabank and a small Chimera light box, both of which give a nice, broad soft source of light. Once I get to the location I’ll decide which one will be my main light source, as each has its own nuances. I don’t want a light bank that’s too large and will spread out on the water; I want the light focused on my subject. To further control the mood, I packed ‘eggcrates’, a grid that goes in front of the boxes to help focus my light. My other light will have a standard reflector or a Profoto sports reflector which produces a narrow beam of hard light. This head and reflector will be positioned right by the camera, and will control contrast from the light of the softbox which will be off to the side of the subject. The lights will be triggered using pocket wizards.

Since Miami has a lot of camera stores and rental houses, I don’t have to be as careful about what I bring as I would if I were going to a remote location. I plan on renting my light stands and some grip equipment. Carrying large C-stands on an airplane is a nightmare and expensive. I already told the rental house that since one of the stands may be in the water, I would rent one that was pretty beat up. Though I could probably rent everything I needed in Miami, I feel more comfortable using my own equipment whenever possible.
The strobes, heads, and extension cables fit nicely into a large, rolling Pellican case that weighs 60 pounds –the airlines aren’t so friendly with anything greater than 70 pounds. My extra batteries (which are heavy), reflectors, pocket wizards and some grip equipment fit into a medium sized Pelican case. My tripod, Octabank and Chimera, along with a boom pole that breaks down into three pieces fit nicely into the bottom of the duffle bag that holds my clothing. I was able to eliminate the need for an additional, lightstand type case and to pack everything into three checked cases – very efficient packing.
My cameras, of course are on the plane with me in the new Tenba rolling bag I discussed in the last blog. As I was going through security at La Guardia airport, I was asked to put my new rolling bag in the test template – it fit with room to spare.

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