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Production Strategies proven to make your complex photoshoots blissful

Sometimes a production is so complex; you end up spending more time staying organized than you’d like to. I’m currently in the middle of one of those productions. Here are some of the production strategies I use to make the job blissful for my clients and uncomplicated for me.

The photography is pretty straightforward, with a couple of portable strobes to capture environmental images of small business owners. It’s the logistics of producing photographs of 20+ individuals, who are spread all over the county, that can be anything but blissful.

I love the people I get to photograph

Solid production strategies helped me plan the photo shoot and keep everything organized.

I’ve produced the same photoshoot for the same client for 5 years now and I love it. My client is a foundation that hires me to create images that tell the stories about these entrepreneurs in my client’s annual report.

These businessmen and women are amazing people to meet. They come in all ages, from college kids to retirees. Men and women, sole proprietors and companies with dozens of employees. They hail from many different countries and cultures. The only thing they have in common is the love they have for the service they provide or the product that they make.

And they all live and work in Miami. A city with almost half a million people living and working within 56+ square miles. And that’s where one of the challenges of this production lies. All the images I am creating for my client are environmental portraits. That means I am currently working on construction sites, in beauty parlors, commercial laundry facilities, law offices, and many other places scattered all over the city and beyond.

Production Problems: keeping track of everything and everybody

Here’s the issue I face with this photo production: I am working together with my client to schedule over 2 dozen people for photography. We need to group them by availability, but also by geographic area of the county. I don’t like driving 25+ miles in between locations in one day. In addition to the schedule, I need to keep track of model and property releases, insurance certificates, and what emails have been sent to which person. It all starts out great until the first day of photography. Then you better have some well-established production strategies in place to thrive.

Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke is famous for saying – and I’m paraphrasing here – he actually didn’t use production strategies he used the word ‘plan’, but that’s almost the same thing, right?

Von Moltke belied in planning for the unexpected. Had he been a photographer he would have used these production strategies.

No production strategies survive contact with the enemy.

Field Marshal Graf von Moltke

Now by no means am I comparing my clients with the enemy. But what I’m fighting here are the changes that inevitably happen:

  • People forget appointments (even after email reminders from my client and myself).
  • People go on vacation – no, I’m not kidding.
  • People get sick (in this case, one of our subjects got a positive COVID test).
  • People’s schedules change, and we end up photographing in a secondary location.

Production Strategies that work: Communication and Automation

If I’m not communicating, I’ve already lost. So the first of my top two production strategies is clear communication with my client.

  • Who are the people I’m photographing?
  • How can we geographically group them together?
  • What is the best (or only) location I can photograph them?

Then I need to communicate with the people we’re photographing.

  • I want to introduce my business to them and set the expectations for the shoot (How long will it take? What do they need to bring?)
  • I like to explain the need to sign model and property releases.
  • I need to confirm the appointment we set with them the day before to make sure I don’t show up to an empty building.

Production Strategies require great Client communication

Fortunately, this is the easy part: a shared google spreadsheet with all relevant information is updated in real-time.

That, plus text messages, emails, and phone calls, make this part of the production run easily. In this case, my client is my point person. They have been working with their partners for a much longer time than I have.

[Pro Tip: I often work with companies, where I am handling prototypes, trade secrets, or other sensitive information that needs to be protected. My chosen tool for text and phone communication at that level is to use Signal. Signal is an end-to-end encrypted app, that allows you to securely communicate with your clients. And before you tell me that WhatsApp gives you the same protection, you are partially correct. WhatsApp does use the same encryption algorithm that Signal uses, but it stores the texts in plain text on its servers. Ok. Back to the importance of communication.]

Production Strategies require direct communication with the people I’m photographing

Hello Bill, 

Let me introduce myself. My name is Pascal and I am the photographer who will create your portrait for the

My production strategies don’t just require communication with my client. I also want to have a direct line of communication with the people I’m photographing.

This is the way my introductory email begins. Then I tell the recipient that I’ve been photographing for this client for a couple of years now. I talk about what they can expect from the shoot and how they can prepare as well as what documents will have to be signed. Finally, I give them my contact information and ask them to reach out to me if there are any questions.

Now, these emails are personalized with the person’s name, the business that they represent. Also, where I am planning to photograph them and their contact info.

And that’s just the introductory email. I have at least one more email to write, which confirms the time and place of our shoot. Again customized to the individual, I’m addressing.

If you believe that I am writing these emails 20+ times without any automation, you’re sadly mistaken.

Production Strategies require reliable Automation: The secret sauce of productivity in a complex production

The second of my top two production strategies is automation. If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you know that I am a big believer in automation. My chosen tool to create all of the documents I need for here is Salesforce.

Every one of my client’s small business owners is a potential client of mine. They can purchase the right to use the photographs I’m creating for my client’s annual report on their own social media or website. But -more importantly- some of them will need product photography or video for themselves at some point in the future. Capturing their contact info is vital for my business. Oh, and I will use the same production strategies when I produce images, video, or marketing strategies for them.

Step one: Data Entry

Remember that shared Google spreadsheet I referred to when I told you about client collaboration? Well, guess what, they’ve already inputted all the data. Owner first name, last name, street address, city, state, zip, phone number, email address, business name, etc. While you might enjoy entering 9+ pieces of data times 20+ individuals (that’s almost 200 data entry points to fill out), I prefer not to do that myself.

Production strategies are easy when you used shared documents to keep your client and yourself on the same page.

Salesforce allows me to import all that data from a CSV file that I export from the shared spreadsheet. Mapping the data from that file into my Customer Relationship Management system takes about 5 minutes. (That’s much less time than it would take me to manually enter 200 data points.)

Step two: Email Templates

I love “{{{.” Hmm, you might say, I don’t recognize those symbols and it doesn’t look like any emoji I’ve ever seen, and you’d be right. I’ve learned that there is tremendous power in those 3 brackets.

Especially when you combine them with data from your CRM. When I create an email template in Salesforce.

Like magic {{{Recipient.FirstName}}}, becomes Angelica. And Carmen. And David. And every other name in my email list. And who does not like production strategies that are magic?

Automate as many production strategies as you can. You'll thank me later.

Other fields become their company names, street addresses, etc. So instead of writing 20+ introductory emails, I only customize one email merge file and let Salesforce do the rest. Voila! Everyone gets their very own personal email from me.

In addition to that, Salesforce stores the email in this new contacts record, showing me when they’ve read it. It’s an easy way to keep all your data in one place. Accessible from everywhere. Easy peasy.

[Pro Tip: For this job, I have to create model releases for each individual I am photographing. As well a property releases for each location. Salesforce is a cloud-based electronic service. I need a paper copy for the individuals to sign, I’ve created a model release email merge template that I copy and paste into a text document on my computer that I can print out. The same goes for the property releases.]

Step three: Task Management

Salesforce allows me to keep a Kanban-style ToDo list that works in real-time. I can create a task right from my contacts page in Salesforce, say a “Confirm Time and Location” task. It begins its journey in the Not Started column. When I send the confirmation email, I can just move the task into the In Progress column.

Production strategies are not just for you and others. Sometimes you have to keep yourself in line.

Since dragging the tasks from one column to the next is live, when I pull up the record later, I can see where the task is without having to open the tasks menu. I have multiple tasks to handle for each contact (model and property release, intro email, confirmation email, follow-up email, and liability insurance certificate that needs to be pulled for each location), keeping tabs on tasks is vital and easy.

[Pro Tip: I talked about how I use branded link shortening to complete tasks in my blog article called Branded Links (How To Make Them Short, Sweet, And Pronounceable). I use this method for quickly accessing the web form I need to pull a liability insurance certificate or in this case over 20.]

Keeping track of the tasks you need to do is another vital one of my top production strategies, which will make your life a lot less stressful.

Final thoughts about Production Strategies: A Blissful Production and Happy Clients

These production strategies have nothing to do with the actual creation of the photographs. You’d be correct if you point that out. However, they have everything to do with customer service.

[You can read why I value customer service so highly in my post What I learned about service from a wise hotelier]

And good production strategies upfront makes the shoot go a lot smoother. The way you use them is really almost endless:

Anything can be the result of good production strategies - like this map.
  • I can make a quick map of the locations I have to shoot the next day by simply copying the address from my calendar in Salesforce. Quick copy into Google Maps, and there’s my hard copy.
  • On the day of the shoot, it’s easy to copy the location into my Waze app from Salesforce to get real-time driving directions.

At the end of the day, even a complicated job runs much smoother, when you stick to your production strategies to prepare and organize your printed documents, emails, phone calls, etc.

Oh, and after the shoot is done, I scan the signed documents with Scannable into Evernote (use this link to get a free month) and put a copy into my contact’s file in Salesforce. See? Production strategies don’t end just because you stopped shooting.

What production strategies do you use to make your clients love working with you?