I was having lunch with one of my favorite models the other day. I asked her what it was like working with other photographers. She explained how they are very casual in how they work, not paying much attention to their photography. They rely on the camera screen a lot. “You,” she said looking across her salad at me, “are tediously meticulous.”

Being “tediously meticulous”

She went on to say that when we worked together she knew she could count on me to be ready for the shoot. She said that I always took the time from the beginning to make certain that everything was right — from the background to the lighting to the wardrobe and makeup. “Your first setup always takes the longest. After that, it all just flows, quickly and easily.”

To steal a phrase from Lady Gaga, I was born this way, photographically speaking. I’ve been making pictures professionally for a while now, starting with capturing on film. Film required testing, proper filtration for correct and consistent color, shooting lots of Polaroids for testing lighting and assuring the composition was just right. Something left in a shot that didn’t belong required a reshoot. There was no retouching after the fact possible then. Being meticulous became a habit.

Cutting marble to specific shapes.
A carefully staged scene displaying all of the services a stone slab importing company offers in a single photo required meticulous planning and execution. 4×5 Sinar P, 90mm Rodenstock lens, 2 seconds, f/16 and Fujichrome ISO 100 film.

Digital is the road to sloppy technique

Photographing digitally seems to equate to shooting fast by today’s standards. Pull out the camera, frame the subject, take the photo and it’s all done and perfect.

This is emphatically not true!

Precision in exposure at the camera has been replaced with time in post-production fixing exposure errors. I have heard many of my fellow pros talking about projects they are capturing and when something isn’t right on set — maybe a shot looks a bit dark for example, they say “No problem. I’ll fix it in Photoshop.”

Anyone who has had to “FIIP” knows that nothing is more time consuming than sitting at the computer tweaking exposure, fixing color and removing an unwanted sign or trash can that could have been moved in less than two minutes during the shoot. The same is true for pulling unwanted folds out of clothing or moving hair from in front of a subject’s eyes or using a bit of hair spray to tame flyaways.

Believe me, the list goes on. If you are a photographer, you know that this is the truth.

Meticulousness pays

There is a wonderful freedom that comes from having everything working well during a shoot that only proper planning and execution can achieve. When a shoot moves from shot to shot seamlessly — seemingly effortlessly — there is not a better feeling to be had on a set.

Conversely, when the photographer has to stop the flow by chimping the camera screen to make sure that the photos are OK, it breaks the rhythm of the session. The model has to break the pose and headspace. Getting back into the mood of the shoot takes time. Time is the enemy of every photograph. Photographers are looking to capture that singular moment where everything comes together in perfection. Each time the photographer pulls away from the viewfinder and breaks contact with the model or the scene, the continuity suffers. As does the result.

Murphy

Another payoff is that when the unforeseen happens — Murphy’s Law of Photography: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong at the worst possible time causing the most effort to remedy if remedies are even possible. Planning and preparation are the prevention of Murphy showing up to reign chaos on the photo session.

The payoff

Being really nit-picky about exposure, lighting and the composition makes the post-production seriously easy. The hardest part is choosing the hero that goes to the client.

Six meticulous tips

  1. Write the story first. What story are the photographs being made to tell? Answer that question and you’re most of the way to a successful shoot.
  2. Prepare a detailed list of all of the gear and props needed for the shoot
    • Batteries are plentiful and charged
    • Plenty of memory cards pre-formatted
  3. Make a call sheet. Written instructions for everyone on your team where and when they are to show up. Give really good directions and map links to locations or the studio.
    • Phone numbers for everybody including the fire department
      • If you are using a smoke machine outside, notify the fire department where and when it will be in use.
  4. Snacks and hydration. Enough said.
  5. Use a tripod whenever possible. A handheld camera is never as stable as one on a tripod.
  6. Use a ColorChecker chart. This makes post so much easier both color and exposure wise.

Photography appears effortless

The reason so many people think they can become photographers is that those of us who are photographers make it look easy. Being a photographer is like playing a musical instrument or being a doctor or an airline pilot. It takes work. It takes dedication to the craft. It takes practice. Yes. It even takes being tediously meticulous.