The amazing pre-shoot logistics of a commercial photographer

The amazing pre-shoot logistics of a
commercial photographer


Ready Set Go!

I was recently asked by a global client if I had a template for a production brief.

We were about to embark on a complicated photo shoot across various countries and there were a lot of moving parts. The logistics of a production from my perspective are obsessively orderly. So this was an easy answer. However often it is the pre-production that can trip a project up.

If I know I have all the pre-production done I can concentrate 100% on the task at hand. So read on!

As a professional commercial photographer the client and what they need is the beginning, middle and end of our focus. The art director is the glue, communicating what the client needs / wants in a way that can be interpreted by me. (see shit graphic 0.1)

commercial photographer logistics graph
commercial photographer logistics graph
Shit Graphic 0.1

Now if there is a producer on board this whole conversation is moot because they will take over logistics and I will drink piña coladas and take walks in the rain until I am needed.

However for various reasons sometimes I don’t need a producer and that’s this flow.

Once I have landed a project, budgets are agreed, a rough brief has been seen and I know generally where this will go, I start a board on Milanote. I have no affiliation with this app I just think it is the business. I have looked at so many project management apps and this one fits.

The commercial photographer title covers a broad range of work and more simply defines the output rather than any style, so commercial pre-production needs to be flexible. And this is exactly that.

I start off by generating a new board from my commercial template.

London based commercial photographer

I have spent years making sure this template, no matter the platform, functions on a professional level so hopefully if this is something you either struggle with or don’t give much thought, it will help your work flow and make life easier.

I think each of these columns are pretty self explanatory. I pop a logo into the client line and add the shoot dates. The brief hot points are copied in with any note on conversations that happen via email added in the notes bit, a pdf of the agency/client brief is uploaded to the files. The reference photos are either mine, if there are similar shots they like, or theirs from mood boards.

“Productions are chaos, that’s just how the creative process works. For me work flow must be order – chaos – order.
This way the mayhem never starts to run the show and there is a system to bring even the most unruly shoot back under control”

The Logistics Board

This keeps me on track as to what days I am traveling, what days I am shooting, when I should actually have a weekend, if ever. It’s just a good visual of the project time line.

Location, pretty obvious. I add a google maps image of the exterior, a location directions map and W3W address. I share this board with the team I am working with so it is important to be accurate.

The schedule will outline where we are meeting (if traveling together) and travel times, call time and flow of the day. Flight/train info, accommodation etc. This will all seem obvious but having it in a single space and taking the time to get this filled in will make your life substantially less stressful.

London commercial photographer


This is a pretty important area to have a good grasp of, if you want to eat and pay your bills. The Money board is a great space to keep tabs on charges and expenses that can pile up in a messy collection of paper receipts and bad memory. I often add photos of receipts and notes of expenses so if I lose something its not forgotten, and that my substantial champagne charges are easily removed…

The only thing that I feel is missing from this app is a spread sheet. It would be great to have a spread sheet here so I can see that addition and subtractions as they happen. Doing that as you go is an ideal way to understand just how profitable (or not) a shoot is.

Photographer production budget

“If I can operate knowing that I have every detail in a single place it’s one less distraction. There are so many points a production can go astray and if that happens I can’t be scrolling through email trying to find a phone number.”

The brand and the brand image are the most important thing to the client.

As a commercial photographer the images that I generate have to work to support and sing the praises of the brand. They need to match the guidelines, shooting styles, colour, depth and vibe of the brand and the story we are telling with that campaign. I can do that.

Can I remember the clients PA’s name? No. No I can’t. Nor can I remember the name of the second AD or the guy that keeps giving me high-fives when we get a shot he loves. I can’t even remember his job title. Sorry dude.

I am not rude or arrogant and I certainly mean no disrespect, I am just focused on the task. But that doesn’t stop me looking like a tw@t. I keep tabs on the key people involved because I know this is a weakness.

I will take down as much info as an email signature will allow.

I will check LinkedIn for a photo and if I can’t find one there I will resort to a google search. This is not as creepy as it initially sounds and spending that 5-10 min with each person pre-shoot, pre-zoom etc solidifies that face and name in my mind.

This means I can speak to them as an actual person and they know, consciously or unconsciously, that I am paying attention to the details. That is comforting to a client.

Key roles in commercial photography production

“Don’t under estimate how important these details are.”

An important part of being a commercial photographer is running a professional operation.

Seems obvious but time and time again I head horror stories of badly behaved photographers or badly behaved clients. It just makes for a shitty experience for everyone and that has a knock effect on the industry here in the UK.

If you don’t take the backend of this job seriously you won’t last long. And once you get to the point that you can hire people to do this for you you can sit back and drink piña coladas and take walks in the rain. Until then I hope this is helpful. Let me know…

Contact Jo Hanley

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