Benjamin “Von Wong” Montreal Based photographer here to write a quick article on what it’s like to put together a Mass Photoshoot with two week deadline.
[udi: Ben is leaving for a super awesome photography collaboration trip funded via indiegogo, if you like stuff like this, go and check it out]
First off, what is a mass photoshoot? Well I consider it a photoshoot that involves more than 10 people. In this instance, I successfully organized a massive medieval photoshoot with over 40 models, in a medieval village over one hour thirty minutes away from the city. Despite rain and a forecast of -3 degrees we still had a 90% turn-out rate. Quite amazing for a photoshoot in which nobody was paid!
Step 1: Concept building
It might sound kinda stupid but the most important thing is to have a good solid concept. This concept is what you’re going to use to SELL your photoshoot. This is the concept that you throw at people and get them all hyped and excited about. The first step, before even figuring out how you’re going to get all the elements together is to get the theme, the vibe, the set all sorted out in your mind. Once you see things clearly in your head, everything just becomes a problem that needs to be solving.
For example, in my shoot, the idea was to have a group of heroes (diablo style) battling a horde of warriors in an exciting medieval location.
Step 2: Collecting talent
Depending on what concept you build, focus on what you’ve got most readily available. Hypothetical situation: You want to have 25 ballerinas dancing in Macy’s while a lion calmly observes the scene in the centre of the image… you might want to focus on what you can get before being discouraged with the fact that the concept is absolutely impossible to pull together.
For example, you may have a friend or contact that has access to a dance school. Convincing a group of students to do a crazy shoot is usually not very tough. Students are enthusiastic and passionate (at least…in the arts) and finding a group of them isn’t very complicated. Lets say that you were unable to get 20 dancers and only 10… but if each one of them wore two sets of clothes they could probably look significantly different.
If you’re balzy, find out who’s in charge of security at Macy’s. Chances are, you probably won’t manage to convince anyone to let you shoot there… but flash mobs happen everywhere and the chances you actually get in trouble for it are almost non-existant. Take that same mentality and guerrilla a photoshoot. Have the poses pre-planned, scout the location in advance, plop your tripod down and have your models pose, change and then move. Composite the shot together.
For the lion, take the exam same angle that you shot the composited image with and shoot a lion in a zoo.
Photoshop the rest.
That’s just one scenario, hypothetically you could have access to a lion because you know a zookeeper. Convincing dancers to dance for you if you have access to a lion suddenly becomes that much easier…
Or perhaps you know somebody at macy’s… pitch that idea to any dance school and they’d totally be down to loaning you a couple dancers! Point being – a million and one possibilities. Leverage your strengths, figure out the rest. If you really have no idea, try facebook and twitter. You’d be surprised to find out the number of people that know someone that’s amazing.
In my case, I discovered an amazing workshop that actually manufactured the armours. Their amazing armour combined with my “epic fantasy” style of shooting gave us the leverage to convince the location to sponsor the space. From there, pitching to people “Yo come participate in this amazing photoshoot where you get to dress in badass armour in a medieval village” was quite a simple task. Once I had a reasonably decent number of people engaged in the photoshoot I then began hunting for gear sponsors like LL Lozeau which provided me with 40,000$ of profoto flashes. If people have excuses along the lines of “but I don’t have a lift”, let them know that you’ll take care of it…. and take care of it!
Step 3: Maintaining the Hype
People have short attention spans and although you may book them a week or two in advance, something always comes up whether it’s a cold, job, death of a pet puppy or some other equally believable reasons. What you really have to push, is updates. “Hey guys we’re at 25 people now!” , “Hey guys I’ll be bringing free coffee, it’ll be amazing!” “Hey guys, guess what, I found horses!!”, “Hey guys, anyone have an attack dog we can incorporate into the photoshoot?”, “Hey guys, who’s good at jumping from the second floor of the building?!”
Engaging your models makes them feel like they’re part of the photoshoot. People WANT to be part of the whole experience, no one wants to be just an extra. Answer their questions promptly, and be excited even when you start becoming stressed about how big the whole thing is getting. Things will work out, things always do. They can also always be better, but no one needs to know that.
Step 4: The day of
Be prepared and plan for contingencies. That being said, if and when things don’t turn out… be ready to take it in stride. Have expectations but be sure that they’re realistic. The moral of the ENTIRE photoshoot depends on you. If you’re stressed and worried, everyone will feel that and the shoot will literally collapse.
For me, we had hail, wind and snow the night before… we actually camped out on the site to get some preliminary scouting done and had no signal … so how many people were actually going to show up was going to be a complete surprise. For an outdoor shoot and a weather forecast of 3 degrees with rain… things weren’t looking quite so great. We made sure to have a couple alternatives such as an indoor alternative to prep, makeup and shoot.
If you did your first three steps well, people WILL show up. They’re not there just to take pictures, they’re there to share in an awesome experience that you will bring them. To do something they’ve never done before, or to be part of something unique and amazing. Be sure to have food on location… that’s something that I’ve discovered really cheers people up. It doesn’t cost very much to have muffins and coffee there when you see how big of a difference it makes to a group of people. When people arrive, greet them, talk to them, ask them what they expect of the shoot or explain what the plan is. Include them in the project!! They’re not just there to be an extra face!
When things just don’t work out, encourage them by saying how things can be turned to your advantage. Rain = mud = shitty walking conditions… but that could also equal amazing photo ops! It’s all a matter of perspective and that’s YOUR job as a photographer to pull the whole thing together!
So that’s it! A quick and dirty summary on how to organize a mass photoshoot. If you guys are interested to know more, check out the full day’s story on my blog (lots of lighting diagrams pron there).