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Assignments,  Diary of a Storyteller

Shooting Assignments As A Photographer

By Sheri Oneal

The process of shooting assignments as a photographer involves a lot of pre-thinking potential details, research, client communication, and preparation before showing up on the day of the shoot. As a professional commercial photographer, these are crucial steps to ensure that I am able to capture their brand, meet their goals, and ensure that they will be happy with my services.

Assignment Photography Vs Stock Photography

Before I share how I go about working with my clients, let me offer some insight into the two types of professional photography classifications. Stock photographers shoot self-assigned work with their own initiative whenever they want personally covering any production costs and expenses. They can then sell the rights to any of their imagery as a stock image for commercial use or they may produce their own fine-art photography for re-sell.

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Assignment photographers charge for their time and usage while their client pays for any production costs or expenses.

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My career has been based on assignment photography over the years although at times I do sell stock and fine-art imagery. Here are the details of what I provide through my professional services shooting assignments as a photographer in Nashville.

Client Communication

Before shooting assignments, I must be sure that my client has clearly outlined what they are expecting from my services so that I can provide the best professional photographs for their needs. Communication generally begins by email, text, or phone unless I need to look at a specific location which might be the case with larger budgeted jobs. It is vital that I have a clear understanding of what my client is trying to achieve with the photographs as well as any specific details that might be brand or preference-related. I often ask them to send photo examples that they like so that I have a little insight into what their vision may be. The budget is also an important aspect of any assignment and that includes a clear understanding of the time involved, the final number of retouched images, and the way a client is planning to use the image. Once these elements are understood, outlined, and agreed upon in a contract, the photoshoot can be scheduled.

Pre Preparation

The night before a photo shoot I often look through image samples, Googling ideas or exploring photos on Pinterest. I try to visualize ideas that incorporate lighting and composition that will accomplish the goal my client is trying to achieve. This preparation helps get my creative juices flowing before the assignment and helps me to determine what gear I might need to include for the job.

Sometimes research can be a difficult process because there is no real knowledge of what a location will offer, what the subject will look like, or what wardrobe choices a client might bring to a shoot. In my mind, I try to visualize what kind of lighting I want to use, how I might pose my subject, and what items I might be able to incorporate into a shot to make it more appealing.

Shooting In A Studio Vs Shooting On Location

As a photographer, shooting in a studio is a fairly easy task because it allows more control of the photoshoot. Planning is easier because I can generally arrive early before the client or do some pre-prep the night before. This also allows more control and time to experiment with lighting ideas before a client shows up. Being in full control of the light is what makes shooting in a studio optimal with certain kinds of assignments, especially when shooting headshots and product photos.

corporate headshot of executive Alex Arnet in a blue suit and vest photographed on a gray backdrop

Personally, I find the challenge of shooting on location more exciting from a creative perspective because it allows me a different level of creative control. Not knowing what the light will be like, the weather, or any other details of an actual location shoot requires me to be spontaneous and in the moment. Every aspect of a shoot shot on location can be different and often parts of it are out of my control. From lighting obstacles, weather issues, technical issues, or other unplanned details, location assignments almost never go as planned. All of these challenges are why I love them most because they force me outside of my comfort zone pushing the limits of my creativity. Often the outcome can be more satisfying than I could have ever imagined. 

Shooting Assignments As A Photographer

The process of actually shooting assignments as a photographer always begins with a flutter of nervousness. If photographing a person, I wonder how they will react in front of the camera and how well can calm their nerves to relax in front of the camera. Trust is a big factor when photographing people and it is something you have to earn as a photographer. Connecting and discussing things to keep their mind busy helps relieve the discomfort they may feel in front of the camera. Relaxed body language is an important factor in capturing someone’s personality in a photograph and is something I have had more than 25 years to perfect. Hating being photographed myself, I understand how uncomfortable it can be so I try and communicate that while I am working with someone in front of my camera. Silence can really create discomfort and that is why I have a dialog going at all times.

Before a shoot, I generally arrive thirty minutes early to get my lights ready and think about the placement and lighting style I want. When the client arrives things begin to get busy quickly. If there is a set stylist, hair, makeup, or wardrobe it can take a bit longer. Many times the client will rely on my creativity to generate ideas and they trust my ability to come up with something unique. Other times a client knows exactly what they want and I have the ability to generate their vision. It is important for me to interact with the subject as much as possible to gain their trust in my ability to produce their vision.

Behind the scenes studio shot in Sheri Oneal Photography studio.

Once I have studied the details of the location I can begin to create the lighting and composition for the story I am trying to reveal through my work. If photographing a person this would include knowing how the elements of the backdrop will mix with their wardrobe, and how they look with the lighting I choose. Products or other details of a layout play a similar role primarily with lighting, composition, and intricate details of the set.

Sheri Oneal working with mattress client

In the beginning stage of shooting, I offer ideas and share test shots as I shoot them to be clear in the direction the photo will go. If shooting a product or room design I study the lighting, color, and staged elements making sure there is nothing conflicting with the overall composition. If photographing a person I study the background environment, their skin color, hair, and wardrobe, while posing them correctly. As I am focusing on all of these elements I am also thinking about my light ratios, aperture settings, white balance, angles, and composition through the viewfinder of the camera.

Photography is not just taking a photo, it is a process of creating an image that portrays a subject while conveying some kind of visual story that generates a sense of internal emotion within the viewer. The beauty of photographing people is that their personality has the ability to make the shot while a product or location relies more on the composition of the elements. In a single photograph, these elements are what make or break a great image.

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As a seasoned pro shooting assignments as a photographer, I know internally when “it” happens, it is a feeling that comes over me that is difficult to explain. A photoshoot is the process of creation, it is spontaneous, mystical, and often unclear in the beginning but as the puzzle pieces slowly come together an unknown story of its own unfolds. While in the moment I am constantly thinking, moving, changing, talking, and tweaking. With heightened adrenalin, slowly my nerves begin to relax, and excitement builds as I get closer to capturing the best shot of the shoot.

With every year of photographing new people, places, and products the process becomes easier and more exciting. I know how to push myself and the subject to get where I know the image needs to go. I know when it happens, the feeling overwhelms me and I know when I am done. In the end, it is a combination of experience, visual realization, and internal emotion. It speaks to me when I know I have taken the hero shot.

editorial, lifestyle, and advertising photography collage

Over the years I have grown more and more grateful for this creative path that allows me to generate a library of images unique to my style. I love knowing that my imagery becomes a timeless part of history in a moment that can never again happen.

I am not just a photographer, I am a storyteller and I love the opportunity to share that with others. Every single click of my shutter stops a moment in time that will never again happen. The true gift is the story that evolves and the reflection of life in a time that once was. It is not just the act of shooting an assignment as a photographer…it is so much more to me!

behind the scens shooting assignments as a photographer

*NOTE All Sheri Oneal blog posts are ©2013 by Sheri Oneal. Any use of photos or content must be agreed upon in writing.