Planning Makes Perfect: Planning a Successful Destination Shoot

Planning Makes Perfect with Casey Dittmer

Planning Makes Perfect with Casey Dittmer

So, you are ready to take things up a notch. Travel the world. Get those high-impact shots. Set yourself apart. I’m excited for you! Nothing feeds the creative soul like new locations and exciting concepts. But not all destinations are the same. The best places to shoot are difficult to access, loaded with tourists or bring unexpected curve balls. Planning is the only way to make sure your photographic travel adventure is a success. Here are some things you need to do no matter your destination.

You can’t wing it. Don’t even try.

Getting all your details in order for a destination shoot is much more involved than your regular local spots. I use planning boards. These boards have color swatches, drawings of concepts and gowns, model/client info, fees, printed images of possible shoot spots and anything else pertaining to each shoot. This is extremely helpful when you are doing multiple shoots in one trip. Keeping things organized is key. It is easy to get overwhelmed when trying to organize things from afar.

We put everything for one shoot into a designated bag. Each bag was like a session kit containing accessories, info, attire and anything else we may need, all in one place. It’s easy to pack, and we know we have all the elements needed. We also have a “shoot kit,” which is like a travel tacklebox. We use a plastic storage box for crafting that has dividers. In it you will find: needle, thread, bobby pins, safety pins, super glue, scissors, lotion, Chapstick, wipes, hairspray and a comb. Depending on where we are going and what we are shooting, we add things. This kit is so handy. It fits in a backpack and is easy to grab. It keeps us prepared for anything that may come up in a quick and efficient way.

Research where you are going to shoot. Check regulations, permit requirements and fees. Most can be found online. The last thing you want to do is get jailed in a foreign country for trespassing. Never underestimate the power of using nontraditional sources for your planning. Official websites and guides are always good as a starting point, but travel blogs, Instagram and Reddit can provide more diverse details like secret locations with less tourist traffic, best times of day for certain light or access, and even up-to-date info regarding access. It’s crazy how large locations can be closed for construction or unexpected work, and it’s never mentioned on official sites. Planning a shoot around a location you can’t access can be devastating. Be respectful of posted signs. I know it’s hard when you see the perfect place just outside of where you are allowed to be, but if we don’t respect boundaries and guidelines, more places will stop allowing photographers altogether, and we don’t want that.

Know if you are going to need help.

When we went to Europe to do five shoots, we knew that a few of the spots were going to be trickier and require a few extra hands. Brief your team. Make sure everyone knows the plan ahead of time. A great team can help make the seemingly impossible possible. Planning ahead told us how to divide gear, plan our attack to shoot and be the least intrusive we could be to the other visitors. If a location requires more help, gear and planning than what you have done, visit it as just a guest, do recon work and save it for next time. Half-assing does you no good.

With even the best-laid plans, things can go wrong. It’s just the way the universe works. When I started planning a shoot in London, I had one shot with Big Ben that was at the top of my priority list. We researched, hired models, created a gown and knew exactly what we had to do to get it. It was going to be one of the cornerstone images from my Europe trip. The day before, we did a dry run to check access of the shoot spot before we had a paid model on the clock. So we jumped in a taxi and headed down toward the Parliament Building. As our taxi came closer, we noticed scaffolding and cranes near Big Ben. My heart started pounding, and as we arrived, we saw that Big Ben was completely covered in scaffolding for a multi-year renovation. All the planning, all the research, and we hadn’t a clue that our shot was not possible.

After giving myself a minute to mourn the plan we had made, we started walking. We quickly landed at a park near Parliament that gave us amazing views with a stunning gazebo. The end result was a stellar shot. Sometimes plan B can be even better than plan A. Don’t get so focused on what you thought was going to happen that you can’t see all the wonderful possibilities around you.

Have a game plan.

Reserved location or not, you need to know what you are going to do. When working around crowded areas, you need to get in and get out. The more time you spend disrupting the peace, the more likely you will be asked to leave. Again, I don’t advocate breaking rules or being disrespectful, but take advantage of gray areas. No rules posted? Fair game. What’s the worst they can do? Ask you to stop or leave?

While in Ireland, we relished in the excitement of spontaneous shoots. Our van was like a mini session closet. All the gowns we brought were in the back. Accessories, bumps and gear ready to go at all times. Some of the most insane spots were places we just happened upon. It became a game for our crew. Castles were our favorites. I wore a backpack at all times. In it was a gown, a bump and one light. My husband wore a backpack that carried my camera and other goodies. We would go on the normal tours, get ideas for where we wanted to shoot and then it was game time. In a matter of minutes, we would slip one of our travel partners into a bump and gown, add a wig to make sure we had a maximum variety of looks and then shoot as quickly, efficiently and quietly as we could.

We had specific shots that were our goals. We would get what we needed and then either leave or change her back and continue being regular tourists. We had at least one person who was in charge of interference. If someone started asking what we were doing or asked us to stop, someone in our group (usually my hubby since he is a smooth talker) would intercept and speak with them. We never argued. Never put up a fight. The whole purpose of this person was to simply buy me a few minutes. Westminster Abby Courtyard was the only place we had to implement this plan. Holy cow, they were on us fast. They started coming over as soon as we started setting up. We didn’t even know photography wasn’t allowed in this area. It looked like an alley to us. I managed to get two shots before we were sternly escorted out of the area. But I got what I needed and a fun story too. (Keep in mind we also towed a 10-year-old, 12-year-old and 3-month-old to all of these shoots. The older boys got really good at carrying gear, watching the baby and being lookouts.)

Keep it simple.

There are already so many factors outside your control. Do not make things harder on yourself. Keep gear simple. Think about what can be carried on your person, what can be assembled and then stowed quickly. Know how everything works. Don’t try to figure out new systems as you go. Overcomplicating it causes added stress and then you won’t even enjoy yourself.

What’s the point of all of this if you can’t have a good time? Roll with it. Breathe. Enjoy the ride and make some memories.

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the April 2019 magazine.

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