Okay, 4:30 in the morning isn’t my favorite time. Except when I’m on the ramp waiting for that magic moment. There really are only two times a day when the light is sublime: sunrise and sunset. Everything else is subpar, getting progressively worse as the morning sun rises higher in the sky. Noon is the absolute worst – everything is flat and bright. You want the long shadows, raking light and golden warmth that the beginning and end of the day bring.
Plan, plan and plan some more
It is essential to have a shot list and schedule with every detail ironed out in advance and agreed upon by all parties. You need to know exactly what time the sun will burst over the horizon. I work from a spreadsheet that has the time, description of shot, model name, wardrobe, prop and action. That way I can be on the ramp in position, ahead of time with our photographer, assistant and makeup artist waiting to pounce at the perfect time. If you need a tug or an aircraft moved, chocks in place, engine covers off or the door opened, do it in advance. When the magic light comes you have to be ready to shoot quickly, efficiently and with no wasted motion.
Care in casting
When planning for onsite talent, we set our criteria – age, gender, role that the model will be playing – and start searching local agencies for possibilities. We narrow it down to our favorites and check to make sure their photo is current. After all, who knows how old that photo is. Have they changed their hair? (Do they have hair?) Have they gained or lost a few pounds? It all makes a difference. We secure pricing, check availability and send our recommendation to our clients for their input. If at all possible, we have an in-person look-see, and double-check their current look. We triple-check their sizes and measurements so we get people who look good together and so one doesn’t tower over the other. When the model shows up and doesn’t look quite like his headshot, don’t panic. A shave, professional make-up, lighting – and an injection of photographic charisma – can turn it around.
Wardrobe that works
Five minutes before the shoot isn’t the time to be looking for pants that fit. (I actually had to borrow a pair of pants right off a general manager at a photo shoot years ago when our model didn’t show up. The generous, but pantless, GM had to sit in his office in his underwear until we finished the shoot.) Ship in back-up wardrobe choices the day before. Add an iron, steamer, pins, clamps, tape and rubber bands. And don’t forget about your attire. It can be chilly and windy out there. Rubber-soled shoes and a good windbreaker are a must.
Due diligence will save you every time When considering usage rights, determine where and how often the photo will be reproduced. Try to negotiate a full buyout with the modeling agency and photographer if possible. It’s always better to anticipate your usage requirements up front than try to negotiate from a position of weakness years later. Have your model permission forms ready to go and get them signed so you cover your bases. My rule is everyone in the shot signs one on the spot.
Scout the location in advance
Scout the day before. There’s a great iPhone app that shows the position of the sun and the length of shadows – use it. Remember, during winter months the sun is lower and your shooting window is shorter. Brainstorm the shot list with your team to determine aircraft location in relation to the light. If possible, communicate with the tug operator by drawing a thumbnail diagram of how you want the planes positioned. Arrange for a room to call your home base and have your breakfast and lunch catered in. Take care of your team with healthy choices, so have the fuel to do a good job. Nothing wastes time and interrupts the flow more that going out to lunch. Designate an area for your make-up and hair person and realize he needs room to spread out.
Props add life and energy
Pull in a luxury car or SUV – the sexier the vehicles the better. Turn on the interior lights. If shooting inside the aircraft, include a flower arrangement or other interior props. Outfit your models with great luggage, a high-end purse, a set of golf clubs, sassy sunglass, luxurious leathers, a great-looking dog, anything to give the photo a back-story. Who are these people and where are they going? If you really want the shot to sing, wet down the ramp so everything has a glow.
If you are shooting people with the aircraft, get them moving. There is nothing worse than a couple of guys doing the standard grip and grin. Have them walk toward you, to the car, down the stairs. Have another model frame the shot, adding scale and drama. Have a cherry picker, lift or ladder on hand to give your shots more dramatic angles.
Keep your eyes open for spontaneous shots
Be aware of what is happening around you. If you see a great aircraft taxiing by, or another taking off in the background, be ready to grab the shot. The most important advice I can give is to have fun. It will be contagious with the crew, the models and the people assisting you. A happy crew makes for a great end result. Which makes for a happy client.