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How to Upgrade Your Visual Storytelling by Planning Your Photo & Video Shoots Ahead of Time

Do you ever feel confident about your content right up until the moment you sit in front of a camera to record it or your computer edit it?
During my most recent commercial photo shoot, almost 60 individual photos needed to be captured.
In the weeks leading up to it, my team and our photographer’s team dedicated a lot of time to making sure we were all on the same page about everything including

  • the talent we’d be hiring,
  • the wardrobe they’d be wearing,
  • the locations they’d be shot in,
  • the props they’d use or be surrounded by,
  • and the brand tone we needed to convey.

While location scouting*, we even stopped to discuss why the photographer thought we should take an unconventional approach to get our “hero shots” so we’d end up with the highest quality images possible for our somewhat unique needs.

(In the end, it worked out extremely well and gave us a lot of flexibility!)

*Location or tech scouting refers to the process of finding real places to serve as the locations described in a script, storyboard, or shot list.

It allows the client or someone like me to have a conversation about how my vision will come to life. It allows the photographer or director’s team to plan how they’ll bring their client’s vision to life.

On a commercial shoot, dozens of people work together to plan for the photo or video shoot before it ever happens. When small business owners like you and me are shooting our content, it’s usually just us.

I’m here to tell you that no matter how big (or small) your team is, planning ahead will always be the key to a successful shoot.

Here’s everything you need to consider to have a smooth content shoot day and upgrade your visual storytelling too!

Your Shot List

If you’re on a photo shoot, a shot list is a detailed list of every photo you need to capture during the shoot.

The details may include camera angles, framing of each scene, model poses or positioning, time of day, location, props, wardrobe, and anything else you want to make sure no one forgets on the day of the shoot.
If you’re on a video shoot, the shot list is a detailed list of every individual scene you need to capture with most of the same details.

(Sometimes it can be helpful to include sketches or photo compositions for each scene so everyone involved can visualize how they work together.)

Although most of my photos and videos are shot in front of a dark green wall (or corner) in my living room, I still make a shot list for shooting my content.

On this shot list, I include outfit changes, props, poses, entrances, and alternate ideas to experiment with.

Why it’s important…

I’m on a tight schedule and I’m sure you are too. But I’m also a creative at heart who enjoys creating.

When you plan your shoot ahead of time, you free up energy to actually enjoy the process of creating content for your business. You also free up time to have fun after you’ve captured what you know you need!

Your Lighting

If you plan to use natural light, you’ll need to track the movement of the sun in your space throughout the day so you know what to expect when shooting your content. You’ll also want to consider the time of year.

If you plan to use a light kit, the time of day or year won’t matter as much but you will still need to experiment to figure out the right setup for your space and your shooting style.

I currently live in Michigan. During the summer, we get about 14 hours of daylight, but during winter, we get around 8 hours.
As someone who tends to record in the evening, I used to lose hours of filming time every winter!
For more consistent lighting, I decided to use a light kit instead of natural light for most of my content.

With that said, my lighting setup is pretty simple but it did take time to figure out.

In real life, my living room gets great natural light but it doesn’t give the look I wanted for my videos.

There are two windows in the room but neither highlights the dark green wall well on camera. When it’s sunny out, the room has a bit of a yellow tint, especially later in the day.

And even when it’s not a bright, sunny day, I tend to look a bit washed out. I’ve learned this is mostly because of the size of the room. (I can only get so far away from the windows!)

Also, I wear glasses. I don’t like when there’s light reflecting off my glasses and covering my eyes. I also don’t like staring into bright lights while looking at the camera.

For these reasons, my lights are positioned as high as possible and pointing down at me. They’re also off to my sides but not parallel with my body.

This setup properly highlights the dark green color as well as my face. It also allows me to make eye contact with the camera without my glasses acting as reflectors in the middle of my face!

Why It’s Important…
The more contrast between your environment, your skin tone, and the color of your clothing, the more you’ll need to adjust your lighting.
Although natural lighting is the cheapest and can be extremely flattering, it can also be extremely unpredictable.

No matter which you choose, give yourself time to experiment with the lighting in your environment and on your body (or your subject).

Your Location

If you have a dedicated shooting space, you may be able to save time by keeping everything set up in between shoots.

But if you’re anything like me and your primary shooting space happens to also be a space you frequently use in other ways, you’ll always need to budget time for cleaning and setting up whenever you need to shoot content.
The cabinet against the dark green wall you usually see behind me happens to also be where I drop things when I walk into my house.

No matter how hard I try, throughout the week it becomes cluttered so I always have to clean it before I can turn on the camera.
The other two spots you may have seen me in are in the same room. Although they don’t become as cluttered, they do get dusty throughout the week.

Again if you’re like me, you might also like the idea of switching up where you shoot your content. Unfortunately, doing that can really slow you down.

You’ll lose time (and energy) moving things around. You also might have to figure out a completely different setup for yourself and your lights.
I used to shoot in 3 areas of my living room so all of my Instagram posts for the month didn’t look the same.

This meant I had to clean the entire living room before I could even try to shoot any content.

When I finally decided to stay in one spot per shooting day, I managed to record 9 videos (of varying lengths) and countless photos in under two hours!

(I still switch between these 3 areas but only once a month so I don’t have to move the camera or my lights.)

Why it’s important…
It’s easy to “lose time” just preparing to shoot your content when unexpected issues come up.
Take the time to understand how you, your clothing, and your lighting look in your space through the lens of your camera.

Consider how you use your location when you’re not creating content.

And think about how you can reduce any distractions that can disrupt your attention or any noises you don’t want your microphone to pick up.

Your Props

If you’re considering using props to make your videos or photos more interesting, make sure you choose ones that help you visually share your personality and your brand story too.
When I planned to record this video about why marketing is really just one big science experiment, I remembered I have goggles I wear when painting and a clipboard so I included a note in my script and shot list.

Before I set up to shoot that day, that note reminded me I grabbed the goggles and clipboard ahead of time so I wasn’t scrambling to find them later!

Why it’s important…
Get all your props in one place before you hit record. The last thing you want to do is get all ready to shoot content only to realize you need something buried deep in another room.

(Actually, the real last thing you want is to sit down to edit your videos or photos only to realize you forgot something!)

Your Wardrobe

If you wear the same outfit in every video (like a branded shirt or hoodie), you may be able to save time by keeping it separate from the rest of your wardrobe so it’s always ready to wear.
If you prefer to mix it up a little, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind because what works well in your regular life may not look or feel the same on camera.

Some pieces of clothing fold, slide, or restrict when you’re seated versus when you’re standing so I always recommend choosing pieces that make you feel good and are physically comfortable to wear.

These should be pieces…
– that you aren’t constantly adjusting,
– that you can move freely in,
– and that allows you to maintain a comfortable body temperature.

I find bodysuits to be perfect for shooting because they don’t move as much as other shirts do when I move.

I learned certain bra styles and fabric combinations hold in place better so I don’t have to continuously check myself while filming.
And no matter what top I wear, I always wear shorts while shooting my content.
That’s because although using a lighting kit works best for my space, it’s hot sitting under those lights. I’ve had to re-record videos or re-shoot photos because I didn’t realize just how much I was sweating on camera!
(Also, I’m an oily girl whose lipstick loves to find its way to my teeth. Over the years, I’ve learned to keep my makeup simple so it stays where it’s supposed to and lasts as long as possible.)

Some pieces of clothing or accessories create visual or auditory noise you may not notice in your everyday life because they’re not being magnified by a camera or microphone.

Although bigger pieces of jewelry tend to show up better on camera, I stopped wearing them because they became too much of a hassle while filming.

I was constantly fixing my larger earrings as they turned or got stuck on my shoulders. And some of my favorite bracelets or necklaces made a distracting amount of noise that was picked up by my microphone.

Some fabrics have a sheen that is significantly more noticeable on camera than in real life. This sheen can affect everything around it, including your skin tone.

Some patterns can appear busy or seem to vibrate on camera.
And the more contrast between the color of your clothing, your environment, and your skin tone, the more you might find yourself wondering why your photos or videos don’t come out how you expected them to.
I only wear green, white, black, brown, leopard print, or yellow shirts in my videos and photos.

  • The first 4 are my brand colors.
  • I love leopard print and it happens to be a combination of some of those colors.
  • I love yellow and noticed people are really drawn to my content when I’m wearing it. (This is most likely because yellow is a very friendly and inviting color.)
  • Most of them pop really nicely off the dark green wall!

With that said…
When I wear white, I make sure the fabric has a more matte sheen to it. This prevents the shirt from looking overexposed. It also helps my skin tone appear more natural and true to life.

When I wear patterns, I make sure they’re more evenly spread out. The closer stripes, dots, or spots are to each other, the more busy the print will appear on camera.
And I don’t wear yellow as much as I’d like to because it makes all the colors around me appear more blue in videos. (It’s easier to reduce this tint in photos.)

Why it’s important…

So many people never post the content they’ve already shot either because

  • they felt uncomfortable creating it and it shows in the final product
  • or they noticed something they didn’t like about it while editing it.

Choose pieces that make you feel good and that are physically comfortable to wear so you can spend less time worrying about how you look and more time focusing on sharing yourself with your audience.

Your Schedule

If you notice you’re always anxious or exhausted when shooting your content, there’s a good chance

  • you’re underprepared for your shoot,
  • you’re overwhelmed by your to-do list,
  • or you have a need that hasn’t been addressed (like hunger)!

(And if you menstruate, you may not be lazy or overly sensitive. You might just be close to that phase of your cycle.)

Before your shoot…
I suggest trying to schedule it for a day or half-day when you know your energy levels will be high and you’re less likely to become frustrated or distracted.

Leading up to your shoot day…
make sure you have everything we already covered planned out so there’s less to do on that day.

On your shoot day…
make time to eat 30 minutes to 1 hour before you plan to start recording. So many problems can be averted if you just eat first!

After your shoot…
Take note of what went well, what didn’t, and what you can do differently next time.
Since I don’t have complete control of my schedule during the week, I tend to shoot all my content over the weekend.

In the past, I thought I was doing myself a favor by shooting a little each week so I didn’t overwhelm myself by doing it all in one day.

Some weeks were amazing!

On those days, I felt like I was on top of the world and like I could do it all. Other weeks were the exact opposite. On those days, I felt like I was being tortured and like I wanted to quit everything.

Every single time I decided to “just push through,” I ended up re-shooting every video and photo because I sounded frustrated or looked exhausted.

Now, I shoot my content once a month, usually on a Sunday afternoon or evening. This schedule

  • keeps my content current,
  • helps me avoid wearing myself out,
  • and means I have all the energy I need and like to have while shooting.

Why it’s important…
Planning and scheduling your content creation like you do your other business tasks means you’re more likely to get it done.

It means you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed by it. And it means you’ll be doing it consistently so you get better and faster at it as time passes.

Remember the more you do something, the more of a habit it’ll become. So be sure to give yourself time to find your rhythm.
Also, be kind to yourself.
Be flexible enough to try new things as you or your life changes.

And find comfort in knowing that if something isn’t working for you, you’re allowed to take a break to figure out why and what you can do to fix it!

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