Technically Prepare & Organize for the Photoshoot
Preparation is key. This is what I love doing, and this is how it makes stuff clear for me. I like listing everything down. I know this looks really complicated, and it actually was, because after I drew it out, I was like, what the hell did I draw? And I had to get sharpies and color coordinate it. But basically, it's a lighting setup, with four different looks, and I like to list everything that I need. Like, for this one, you've gotta have a game plan. I was like, first look, warm/cool look. Second one, classic Rembrandt. Third one, Portrait of Power, black and white. And then the fourth one, the single, beauty dish. And I just draw it all out, and you have it there all in one set. And you have to be really concise with that area, because when you only have one minute with a person, you can't move 'em from set to set. So like I was saying, being able to react to your situation is really, really important. Things can and will go wrong. Have a Plan A, B, C, D, E through F and all that...
. So you have to have a game plan, and I like saying being prepared. And if it doesn't work out, don't be so tied up in trying to execute that one vision that you missed opportunities going on. Sometimes getting the shot is better than trying to just stick to your original plan. An excuse can't be published, right? You can't go back to your editor or to anyone and be like, oh, well, you know. So back to the Women's World Cup one, I hired a really experienced assistant. With that one I worked with Art Streiber, and I am known for blowing power breakers, I've blown a lot. 'Cause I shoot in ISO 100 or 50 at F18. And so that one, I hired Andy Lee. He's awesome, and he asked the hotel room, he did the math for all the amps in each breaker, we brought in all the lights, and Abby Wambach walks in early, 'cause she's done a ton of photo shoots, and she just wants to get it over with. So I start photographing Abby, and we start shooting, and immediately I see, like, four lights go off. And right off the bat, I knew our power breaker blew, right? It's like, I've been here before, I've done that. Luckily I had, like, 11 lights in that set, so four blew, I still had six left, and I was able to get the shoot going. I was like, Andy, go tell the hotel room to fix this. He ran out, he went, he came back, and he was like, they said they're gonna send someone in. I'm like, no, go back right now and don't leave, tell 'em right now, because the athletes leave, they're not gonna come back. But what happened was, it wasn't his fault. The hotel room gave him the wrong amperage for an outlet, so he calculated it wrong. So that's why that breaker blew. So now, when I do a test, I don't trust any hotel room to tell me anything, so now I try to blow the breaker before the athletes come, just to see if what they told me was right. So that one, I took well. So what I'll literally do is I'll have the whole lights set up, have all lights going off, just pop 'em, boom boom boom, like a system basis, to see it's not gonna blow. But that happened on that set, and I was as prepared as you could be prepared with that one. I had three assistants on that shoot, and it still goes. And then talking about preparation is key, right? Being able to deliver. I had to photograph him in the bathroom the following day. That's a bathroom setup. He didn't come the day we did the shoot for the men, so I had to photograph him the following day, and that's where I had to photograph him. And you can't make an excuse and say, oh, well, I didn't have enough room, I didn't do this. You have to make it work, and make it in the bathroom. And this is the result, the side view on that one. Here's a picture I like from this one. Here we go, this is Sydney Leroux, this was down in southern California. This was a very, very similar setup to what we're gonna do. And again, that's actually Andy back there, the assistant I was talking about. But this is the setup that I had, and this is the shoot that went. This was a three-day shoot, this was the third day. She's the last one I photographed on that set. This was actually a really awesome shoot, besides the breakers blowing, because I had 10 minutes with each athlete. And that's a lifetime for me, I love that. I actually ended up only shooting them for eight minutes, just to do that. I was like, okay, you gave me 10? I'll finish it in eight, which is great. So this is the setup for this shoot. This was one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight-light setup, and then I had two more lights on the side. We're gonna do something very similar to this. I'll be able to show you and walk through all the lights and do that, but this is the setup right here, and you can see, right here, this arm, this one's right on the boom, and with the grid right here. And the great thing about that, is if you have the assistant in the back, and you throw a spray on it, you can get a beautiful mist, that's all done in-camera. And it has to be done properly like that in-camera. Especially if you're shooting so many images, I don't wanna do post-production on a lot of images. When you're shooting anything, athletes, or anything, for that matter, even weddings. In my opinion, you need to know what you need to get for your clients, and then what you want personally. I always, always, always, always, always, whenever I can't shoot for myself, even on, actually -- I've got a great story to tell you. The very, very first assignment that I got from Sports Illustrated was Brad Smith, when he was the director of photography, he called me up, and I knew him because I met him at the Eddie Adams workshop, and then he gave me assignments for the New York Times, and then he moved from the New York Times to Sports Illustrated. And then he called me up and he told me, Alexis, I loved working with you at the workshop, I loved the work you did for me at the New York Times, and more importantly, I love you. And I want you to be our guy when we have jobs, when we need a guy in the San Francisco Bay Area for Sports Illustrated, and I'm like, okay, great. And he's giving me my first assignment, so he kind of tells me the rundown of what he needs. He's like, you're gonna get a gray seamless, and I want it lit nicely and I know you know how to light nicely, and as soon as he told me that, he told me, just light it real simple, with a gray seamless, and just nice soft lighting, he kind of lifted me up, and I got really excited with all the compliments, that's when he told me what he needed, I knew exactly how he said it, it's like he drove a dagger right through my heart. I was like, dude, that's like, man, I know exactly how that's gonna look, that's gonna look generic, it's gonna look nice, but it's gonna be an SI. And a lot of things ran through my mind, I'm like, okay, it's gonna be a cool tear sheet, but it's not gonna look how I wanted it to look. So I was like, man, that sucks. And he kept telling me the assignment, what he needed. He needed a long shot list. And before we got off on the phone, he gave me, in my opinion, this is the best photography advice that I've ever gotten. I feel, Brad, if you're watching this, I feel like you should get a royalty every time I share this. Because, right before he hung up the phone, he said, keep it simple, have fun, and he literally just said it like that, and I was like, wow, okay. Okay, cool, I was like, damn, what do I do now? Like, you know what I mean? I was like, ugh! 'Cause I was like, no, I know what he wants, but I know what I want. I don't like to work like that. I like to light dramatic, warm/cool, and all that sort of stuff. So, I didn't listen to him. You know, I respect him a lot, I'm good friends with him, I have an immense amount of respect for him and I appreciate all the opportunities he gave me. But I didn't keep it simple, I certainly messed it up, and I, now looking back on it, I have fun now, but it was a little stressful. So what I ended up doing, I have a video on YouTube about this, is that, I did extra homework and I figured out how I could shoot two different setups at the same time, back to back. And I gave him both. I gave him the look that he wanted, and the one I wanted, and ended up publishing the one I wanted. Which was just great. So that, to me, is super important to always shoot what you want. Because that's why I do photography, because I do it for me, even when it's a paid client. Because if you're just gonna do a job and just gonna do what a client wants you to do, in my point of view, I would just quit doing photography and get a dayjob, because I'm just, this is who I am, this is all I know how to do good. I'm gonna shoot to satisfy myself. So I think that's always really, really important to do. So, again, this is what works for me. Prepare, for me, prepare a photoshoot, but expect it to be cut short. I know this applies for, I've seen this for the athletes that I photograph, but I think that applies to everything. If you do weddings, people get really impatient in front of the camera really, really fast. So you've really gotta know your stuff, and be focused on it. I like to set my lights and forget 'em and just focus on the person. I don't even like switching lenses. That's why I shoot with a zoom lens, so I can get a 3/4-shot and a tight head shot, and just get it like that with a fraction of a second. Be quick, efficient, like I said, people are impatient. So how to prepare and get ready for a shoot? Know the results that you want. If you know the results you want, then you actually have a gameplan. If you actually don't know what you want, then you're kinda just gonna be all over the place, or just producing mediocre work. And that applies to anything, once you start getting, take it out of photography. If you know you want to get into fitness, and you know you wanna look a certain way, then you know the end results of how you wanna look. Then you know the meals you've gotta eat and exercises you've gotta do. If you don't have that goal and know what you want, you're just gonna eat whatever, and you can tell the difference, right? When our model comes here, you can see how fit he looks, 'cause he's making an effort on how he wants to look, versus someone that doesn't pay attention to what they eat. Because he just knows the results he wants. So that applies here to photography. What works for me is drawing a lighting diagram, and I like listing all the gear you need. Like the lights, the grip, the cameras and everything, 'cause that just helps me layer everything out, logistics and stuff. And one of the things I like saying, too, is for some people that look at this and say, oh, I could never afford pro photo lights, or I could never afford all this big setup and stuff like that. I always say, never struggle with what you have. Because if I started with what I have, I would literally have nothing. I would start with a wishlist, and a dreamlist, and just write down, literally, the most ridiculous things that you want. I did a personal shoot with a ballerina, and my list was that long. I wanted to shoot him with five RE sky panel lights that are 5500 each, with two-gel equal lights, and five pro photo lights, and I write that down. And when you write all that down, regardless how ridiculous it is, then in your mind, you can start thinking how you can make that happen, right? Like if you wanted to do a shoot with a Ferrari and models, if you write all that down, and you had that list right in your mind, it's gonna start searching, do I have a friend who might have a friend who could borrow a Ferrari or something like that. So I always say, start like that, not with what you have. And this shouldn't be far out for anybody. I'm doing this stuff, and it's not like I'm a trust-fund baby or anything. Literally, I was born in the second-poorest country in the western hemisphere. If people want to know where this ring is, I'm from Nicaragua, that's what's on the flag. So I came from there, I came here when I was six and didn't speak any English, so it's not like it was privileged or anything like that. I just literally had such a passionate drive to create what's in my mind that I'm able to make it, and fortunately I've been able to build relationships with companies and make things happen. But if I always started and victimized myself, and said, oh my god, I can't do this, I can't afford that, you're gonna get nowhere fast. And a lot of people do that. Online, they're like, well that pro photo light's expensive, that's expensive, they go for the lowest common denominator and you're setting yourself up for failure, in my opinion.