1. Choose the right characters for your shoot
With a photo shoot, half of the success of the production is in the casting of the characters. Don’t just get anyone who is available. As the director of your shoot, it is important to pay attention to casting the right characters.
2. Be the person’s friend
One of the key elements in directing is to be the person’s friend. You need to establish a relationship between the camera and the person who is being photographed. Ask questions about how their day is going – dig a little bit and become friends because you are their safety net. When someone is in front of the camera, you are the person who is making them look and feel good, so have a great rapport with anyone you’re working with, and remember to always be professional.
3. Work with people you trust
In the video, I’m doing a photoshoot with Liz and Dionne, two characters I chose specifically because they bring great energy to the shoot. Don’t bounce around changing your team all the time – find someone that you trust, whose personality you enjoy and that you know brings out and sets the tone for your shoot of the day.
For example, the makeup artists that I often use, Maureen, is a great asset. When you’re on set, the first and the longest relationship that is built on a set is between a model and a makeup artist. Before the shoot, they sit for an hour to two hours and discuss their lives, the shoot and more. If the makeup artist is someone that you don’t know, have a discussion with them before the time and tell them how to set the tone for the day. But, remember that your ability to communicate the correct tone depends on preparing for the shoot beforehand. This will allow you to have formed a more concise idea of what you’re trying to achieve with the shoot.
4. Time your shots
Generally, there isn’t an allowance for a production manager, so as a director, it’s your responsibility to keep everyone informed on the progress of the day. It’s not going to serve your shoot if you get lost in capturing the picture to the point of leaving your makeup artist and model only 15 minutes to change a look. This is why it’s important to time your shots. It’s important to know when to let something go and move onto a next idea. If you do this, you’re results are going to get better and better.
5. Conceptualise your image
I love building ambiguity into my shots, so with this shoot, I had two dramatic and powerful characters in mind. An ambiguous picture doesn’t just serve an image on a platter – it lets you think about the image and its various elements.
The ambiguity in this story comes from this power couple. We don’t know if they’re family and we don’t know if they’re lovers, but what we do know is that there’s this beautiful sisterhood that exists between these people. So, in terms of directing, I’m going to sit down with everyone on the shoot and clearly explain my expectations for the day. I will run through my envisioned story, and a brief shot list of where I want the story to begin, go to and end. It’s the basic elements of a story and if you can build that into an editorial shoot, you’re ensuring a more successful shoot.
6. Discuss the wardrobe
I will also discuss the wardrobe choices with the models. Even though the intent of the shoot isn’t nudity, some of the wardrobe might be a little see-through, so I’ll discuss this with the models beforehand. This is where casting matters as it doesn’t add value to the shoot by casting someone who is sensitive towards nudity. Lay all the cards on the table and make sure everyone is well-prepared before-hand.
And finally, directing on set…
Once on the set, I don’t want people to model for me, for example, using practiced poses. I prefer an image to be built by finding poses and shapes that enhance the image, working with the lighting in the image, and then gently directing from there. Every angle and nuisance in the shot affects the final mood in the shot.
So, in terms of directing, I’ll always give someone a line of sight, which means that their head, noes and eyes must focus on a specific point. From there, I’ll direct the model to look at me or adjust the angle of their head. These subtle adjustments in directing (hands, eyes, and shape of the head on the shoulders), and directing the rest of the crew all forms part of shaping the final image.