Some photo shoots are ALL about the preparation

Take a helicopter manufacturer in Somerset for example: I was called upon by a PR company to attend a site visit of the new build area. The visit was a rare opportunity to photograph the top management of all the involved parties. I knew the manufacturer and I’ve photographed ground breaking ceremonies before, years of photographing for local and national media had me in good stead, I also knew this was not an ordinary site visit. I arrived early, it was wet and extremely muddy, I needed to find the site office to sign in and gather names for captions. There were some very busy, very important people about to arrive for the visit; MDs and CEO’s who had packed diaries and were no doubt running late. I knew that I would have just a couple of minutes of their time, if that, before they were hustled off to another part of their tour.

Organisation was key. Once I had a list of everyone who might be attending I spoke to staff at the site office to work out who the main parties were and who I should create a focus around.

Next I found someone with authority to pause work on site and re-route three pieces of heavy plant, the bigger the better, to an area that I had identified.

I quick dash to the car for my extra tall ladder, and to pull on my high vis jacket and PPI.

I arrived back to find another photographer arranging a group shot from on top of a gantry, it was not the shot I wanted but I joined her to shoot a couple over her shoulder, mainly to make myself feel useful.

Next we managed to herd the group towards the front of the diggers. I jogged on ahead, escorted by site crew to check I didn’t run under any caterpillar tracks or fall into a big hole, I needed to set up a light with sand bag, it was a windy, dark day and the rain was coming in sideways, not ideal – but it was what it was, and if nothing else, it created a certain atmosphere. The plant drivers and site crew helped me get everything into place, with a few final tweaks to get the massive machinery to frame my shot.

My subjects arrived, and by now I had memorised the main players I needed for the front of the shot and had a good idea where to place everyone else. I needed my big voice from the top of a windy ladder to get everyone’s attention and, once people understood the plan, they were pretty good at following instructions.

I needed one shot, but pushed the group as hard as I could to get some variations. It’s important to read a group like this, there’s always a limit as to what they will give, and it’s not a good idea to overstep and overshoot. These chaps were busy and had places to be. In less than four minutes the job was done, people and the diggers were moving away.

There’s always more I’d like to do, in this case, I would have pulled the centre vehicle forward and gathered the group around, and in, the huge shovel … but these guys had somewhere else to be and my time was definitely up.

Work like this can be intense, and I always hope my client (in this case the PR company) has some idea of the different demands presented with each job – being a photographer is not just about understanding light and cameras. I often invite PR companies to attend if they can, and when they do, they get a good insight into how a photographer operates, the challenges we face and how we work hard to ensure the shoot runs smoothly and how we capture the images to brief.

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