Feb 22, 2010

Commercial Photography Checklist: On-location

I love flying airplanes.  In fact, long before I picked up a camera for the first time and well before my commercial photography days, I was intent on becoming a pilot.  Within six months after starting flight school I received my private pilots license and had a whopping 40 hours of flight experience under my belt. I was stoked!  6 short months later I was close to my instrument rating and half way through my commercial rating and was pushing 100 hours of flight time.  At every step in my short aviation career, this notion of using a "checklist" was pounded into my head.  After deciding I'd rather do barrel rolls than bus people around from point A to B, I left my pursuit of becoming a commercial pilot.  That was years ago, but to this day I can still recite from memory several of the checklists that were engrained in my head.  Checklists are a way of life in aviation.  Pre-flight, prior to take-off, emergencies, crossing different airspace, communicating, landing...the list goes on and on.  There's a checklist for EVERYthing you do in aviation and a pilot will have a short life if he ignores his checklists.  You are taught to never rely solely on your memory, but to reference your checklist, item by item, every time!

Have you ever forgotten an important item on a photo shoot (lens, CF cards, lights)?  I have and it's a sickening feeling (take my word for it if you haven't).  Granted we as Photographers don't get into life and death "situations" per se, but we do have a lot of stuff to remember and if you're like me your memory can only handle so much.  So pilots use checklists. Why not photographers?  (maybe you already do)  --  This past week I had a location based shoot and was scrambling around checking the 20 different places I keep my equipment (ughh).  I needed a checklist, just like in my flying days.  So I opened up a spreadsheet, listed my all my equipment in an order that makes sense to me, printed it and voila, was right back in the Pilots seat.  Here's what I came up with:  commercial photography checklist. If it's a helpful starting point for you, drop a comment below or email us and I'll make it available as a downloadable spreadsheet file (created in Apple Numbers) so you can customize it to your gear and working style.  I'll likely follow this up with a production checklist for self-produced shoots.

I've organized the checklist into categories and subcategories.  The lighting section for example, is organized around different lighting kits I use depending on the size and location of my shoot (Small, Medium and Large Kits).  The last thing I do before leaving on a shoot is confirm everything required for the shoot is in my vehicle ready to go.  Don't start checking stuff off before it's physically in the car. (I wouldn't start my landing checklist 50 miles out from the airport) You'll forget something!

I'd love to hear how you organize and keep track of what is needed when you go on a shoot.  Drop a comment with any thoughts or ways to improve this checklist.

-Kevin Winzeler
Utah professional photographer
Photography | Motion | Stock


John Sturr said...

This is great -- thanks for taking the time and sharing your creative experience. On another note -- can you recommend a flight school here in the SLC Valley of which you think highly of ??


Adam Coppola said...


Great post! I think I may create my own checklist. I once showed up to a photojournalist assignment without a CF card... one of the worst feelings ever. I was covering a relay for life walk that lasted from 10am sat to 10am sun. I wanted to catch the last hour. I arrived at 9 and realized I didn't have a CF card. Drove 20 min. to the nearest stores finally found one at a CVS and drove 20 min. back. I pulled in as they were taking their last lap around the track. they all finished and then I arrived. Thankfully they all got back on the track after 24 hours of walking and did another lap just for the photographer. The worst feeling ever. Luckily they were all amazing people in great spirits and the picture on the cover of the paper the following day looked great.... but "wow" did I feel like a horrible photographer.

Thanks again for the post, I enjoy following your blog.


Kevin Winzeler said...

@ John - I don't know of any flight schools in SLC unfortunately. It's been too long since I've involved. I flew out of the Provo airport through the UVSC program (which was really well put together).

@Adam - Great story! Thanks for sharing your mishap with us. We've all been there.

Frozen Forever Photography said...

I dont use a writen checklist because my wife has it in her head. I always lay out all of my gear before I load it to double check. As I start to get more and more toys its harder and harder to pick what goes and what stays. Besides just checking to make sure you have everything, its also a good idea to check that it still works and everything is charged:)

I would be interested in the electronic copy of your check list as well as the production check list.

Thanks again for posting,

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Commercial Photography Pittsburgh said...

I agree with you about the 'checklist' thing before setting up a shoot. familiarization of the venue is another one.