Monday, October 11, 2010

How to Art Direct a Photo Shoot

I just finished my first portfolio shoot models Natasha Brady and Andrea Tomlinson-Britt.

I'll be posting the results here, but first I'd like to give you a little tutorial in art directing a fashion photo shoot (in case you're interested).

Location Scouting:

Finding the perfect location for your shoot can take a bit of lateral thinking. You have a concept (for example; a time period or theme such as “Alice in Wonderland”) which you want your location to convey. But traveling (even an hour or so) can be expensive and time consuming. Everyone involved (hair dresser, models, etc) needs to be able to easily get to the location, so on top of a mountain isn’t advised. It has to be public property (or you need permission from the owner), but even then, people love to harass photographers and models in the middle of a shoot (see Art Direction for how to handle this). 
Take photos of the location to see how it looks in frame.
Our theme was “Faeries in the Wood”. I found a local, public trail in the woods next to a stream, which was only a few yards from a public parking lot (so we could park and schlep our gear).

Art Direction:
I’m actually serious about the handling of the aggressive looky-loos; this happens - a lot. Someone in the production needs to be ready to handle this, because the models and photographer cannot stop to deal with it. That person is usually the art director, which is why it’s always me dealing with the crazies, moving along the homeless (and oblivious) out of the shots, and threatening to call the police when the weirdos get really weird. But more so, the art director plans the theme and brings any props needed for the shoot. They decide which outfit (and accessory) is changed into when, and what else needs to be in the shot. They also handle any repairs needed, and trouble shooting.

What to bring:

In regards to props, I think about my color palette and scour my own house first for anything that fits into the shoot. For this shoot all of the garments were pastels, so I focused on aquas, pale greens and ivories. I looked for anything vintage. I brought one big ivory covered wing back chair and one little shabby chic aqua table I had painted that fit in with the theme. Mirrors and other shining objects (such as brass) also work well in shoots to play with light. I always bring coordinating yards of fabric to shoots because it is a versatile way to get color into a frame.
I purchased a variety of silk flowers at Hobby Lobby (on sale), and usually go thrift-store hunting if there is something specific I need, such as accessories and shoes (you don’t want to go broke, but you do want a great photo).
I made one tutu (see my tutu tutorial) and borrowed another vintage one from a co-worker.
Additionally (to cover every contingency) I bring: a hammer, nails, screw driver, spool of wire, scissors, tape, lots of safety pins (you always have to pin the garments – always!), band aids (you never know), tampons (what I said),  make-up, hair brush/ pins/ bands, hair spray, bug spray, paper towels, baby wipes, windex, a step stool and a big blanket to lay on the ground for the garment samples to lay on.
At this shoot I forgot that the models would have nothing to sit on (since we were in the woods) in between takes, and was lucky we had two step stools.
I also document "behind the scenes". I bring my own little digital camera and a video camera, and shoot when I can, to let everyone (and you) see how it looks outside the photographer's lens.

What to ask of your models:
Models are hip and fun and they have a lot of resources. Ask them if they have something you need, and they may. Natasha has a sister that is a ballerina, and we were able to score two sets of pointe shoes (which we simply could NOT find cheap anywhere else!), so thank God for her.
Because we did not have a make-up artist or a hair dresser for this shoot we sent the models video and photos of how I wanted the hair (Gibson girl like) and make-up (china doll). You can’t expect them to get it exactly right, but it will be a jumping off point (a lot of which can be touched up in post-production). Andrea also brought several excellent accessories which we used.

Prop Styling:
The rule of the prop stylist is: start with everything, and then edit. I began by asking the photographer where his focal point would be and then set up the furniture. As he set up the lights I hung a painting and a mirror to create a living room in the woods. I played with the props and revised as we went along. 

The shoot:
As the art director, once the shoot starts most of my job is to stay out of the frame. I need to know intuitively when the photographer is adjusting his lenses or lights - I can jump in and fix hems, hair, wrinkles in the fabric, etc. I am also the time keeper; I make sure the photographer knows how much time we have and how many changes are left. I make any adjustments needed within the frame, and am ready with the next change as soon as he is. If I want something of the models I tell him, and he tells them – it can get extremely confusing having several people shouting conflicting commands at you (ever seen “Double Exposure”? It’s a wonder those people ever get a good shot! They’re nuts.).
My car packed with props (multiple cars are advisable, because models often need a ride).
Setting up props.
The location.
I even hung silk flowers to style the trees.

The models make last minute adjustments.
Natasha sits for lighting tests.
See the results in my next post!


  1. I love all the suggestions. I pretty much do everything (hair, makeup, directing and photography) so it's a little crazy. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. I just stumbled across your blog looking for photo shoot inspirations, and I love it! Thank you for posting this. :-)