Setting up a photo shoot can be a daunting task. Not a shoot with friends as models, but “real” models you’re paying out of pocket.
A thousand things can go wrong – from gear malfunctions to basic, newbie mistakes like forgetting batteries or memory cards.
Michael Zelbel, a professional photographer based in Germany, has an answer: the Beijing Blueprint – his ebook on planning better photo shoots. The 97-page treatise gives Zelbel’s ideas on planning a successful photo shoot by planning all the details in advance.
Zelbel uses a recent shoot in Beijing as an example throughout the book. Traveling to China to shoot a fantasy nude series, he needed to plan costumes, make up, and locations, while “not on the ground.” To confound this planning, Zelbel doesn’t speak Chinese and the majority of his China-based team didn’t speak English.
When doing a photo shoot that involves a number of people … thorough planning is crucial,” said Zelbel in the book’s introduction. “The rewards you might reap a couple of very good photos. On the other hand, if your shooting is not well planned, if you leave things up to “creative confusion” then the odds are good you (will) experience a lot of friction, people might get frustrated and it will show in your photos.
Zelbel uses lists, many lists, for planning, check lists on everything from wardrobe and make up, to locations, planning and packing. The über successful Sir Richard Branson use a similar system of list-based tasks to get things done. Zelbel’s blueprint is based on his experiences working with other professional photographers. He took the best of their methods, combined them with his own ideas, and the Beijing Blueprint was born.
While the Beijing Blueprint focuses on planning it is also an interesting (and often humorous) look at the technical aspects of Zelbel’s shoots. Besides the checklists, he offers lighting diagrams, tips and tricks, and a tale of misfortune or two. What do you do if you want models standing barefoot comfortably on rocky terrain? How do you make a model portraying a goddess look taller? What do you do about a shepherd and his flock that keep wandering into the frame?
Interestingly, Zelbel encourages photographers to have a back story for the scenes they will shoot, as well as dialogue for the models – to help get them into character and encourage something more than static poses. This goes beyond most photographers vague communications with model like, “Look angry, look fierce.”
The Beijing Blueprint also come with extra files – a Word-editable template – a blueprint for your shoots, as well an overall planning diagram and bilingual model releases. The blueprint does contain nudity and is available in SFW and NSFW editions.
I recommend this program – both amateur and veteran photographers can take something away from Zelbel’s planning ideas. The author doesn’t claim to have all the answers, he uses what works for him. There’s a nugget or two of gold in the Beijing Blueprint that everyone can add to their bag of tricks.
Beijing Blueprint is available from Michael Zelbel Photography and is currently priced at 14.97. Watch the video introduction at: beijingblueprint.com Zelbel, who also posts great instructional “strobist” videos on smokingstrobes.com, is someone to keep your eye on.