We are building major muscle. I’m talking full-on, UFC-type training is happening right now across the industry.
Tasks that were once easy – or at least easy in the sense that you’d done it a million times and knew how to stave off potential challenges that might arise – now offer a whole new level of what-the-actual-hell.
But we can take heart in knowing that years of hard work and training have been preparing us to meet this moment because in our industry, if you can’t flex with a changing situation, find a solution or a way to maneuver around or through an issue, you’re toast. And here’s the thing…
Covid is forcing us to build our flex muscle like never before.
I learned this firsthand working in Nashville recently. The owner was finishing a major renovation and wanted new photography. Like some, I’ve chosen to try to stay as put as possible right now. So I took on the assignment assuring the owner that I could work with the photographer and the team onsite from a distance over here in Oregon to successfully complete the project, having never stepped foot on property.
It should be noted here that directing hotel photo shoots can be challenging when you’re not in the middle of a pandemic. “Successfully completing the project” took on new meaning to Craig Bromley Photography and me. And if anyone can learn from what we went through, well then, we thought it’s worth it to go ahead and get it all down for people.
Tell us about what you were trying to accomplish with the shoot.
Andressa: The hotel owners were finishing up a pretty large renovation project that started before Covid. They added new event space, a courtyard with pool, cabanas, fire pit, new food truck, and two suites with gaming rooms, wet bars and that kind of fun stuff. The new photography needed to not only show the spaces, but actual guest experiences in the spaces. Our budget wouldn’t allow for both facility and lifestyle shots, though. Given the constraints – and knowing that facility shots are faster to shoot than experiential (read: that we could get more images in the same amount of time) – we decided to work with Craig to get facility shots and then fill in lifestyle from local influencers. It’s not my preferred way to get lifestyle shots, but it had to work in a pinch, and we found some great local resources to get those for us.
Craig: No matter what the situation is surrounding any potential obstacles, the goal is always the same for me. To understand what my client’s goal is, and then find a creative solution that is on time, and on budget. I knew the goals were long term, so the photos would need to hold up for a length of time, and not just reflect the moment of the pandemic.
Who was onsite for the shoot?
Andressa: As the director/manager/coordinator, I’m usually onsite with the photographer for scouting the spaces, helping to find the best angles, observing and making prep notes for the operations teams, etc, and then I’m onsite day of helping to keep everyone on schedule, making sure the spaces are looking their best, making tweaks and last-minute decisions, signing off on the final shots as they’re being taken. All of this had to happen virtually for this shoot.
Craig: Quite often when shooting architecture, I will work without a crew, but in this Covid-world, I did not think twice about shooting this job solo. I knew Andressa and I could communicate by phone, text, and most importantly, images through email of early set-ups, as well as finals. Plus, I knew the staff would be helping with everything from housekeeping to heavy lifting. All in masks, of course.
How was your preparation for this shoot different from how you’d normally prepare?
Andressa: I’m big on thinking through sort of the run-of-show for the shoot days in advance: the pacing, what will be needed, what could potentially go wrong, and to try to plan for all of that ahead of time. Having done this for a while now, the most random things will happen to cause you to have to improvise on the spot – unexpected bad weather, talent that shows up with bags under his eyes, a child that’s discovered on shoot day he’s afraid of the ocean, a tarp that’s still over the sand bunker right when the light is perfect to shoot the green. (Yes, all of this has happened to me personally.) So I find the more I’m prepared in advance, the easier it is for me to maneuver around whatever’s thrown my way. For this shoot, because neither Craig nor I had been at the property before, because we’d never worked together before, and because I was going to be doing my part virtually, we took a few extra steps in the planning process.
- Virtual Scouts We asked the General Manager to set up Zoom calls with Craig and me so that we could see the spaces in relation to one another and find the best angles ahead of time so we didn’t waste time doing this during the shoot. He also sent us pics from his phone of specific rooms and areas, of different conference rooms set ups, etc. Doing this also allowed us to see where our areas of opportunity and challenge were going to be. So we were able to better plan the shot list order and know what equipment would be needed.
- Identify Your Onsite Team In Advance General Managers and operational teams are working 5-6 jobs at once right now and teams are extra lean. There needs to be a pre-identified core of team members who are going to be your go-to’s for help during the days of the shoot so a. the spaces can look their absolute best and b. keep the whole thing moving along. These will be the folks who turn the ballroom for the meetings and social events shots, make sure the beds are made perfectly, move plants and chairs and inch to the left or right….all the big and little things that make all the difference in each shot.
- Operational Check Lists I created check lists for each space for the onsite team for items to complete one week out from the shoot, one day out, and day of. Normally, I would go into each of the spaces and double check everything was in order beforehand – bulbs in the room are working and are the same brightness and warmth, signage is put up the day before the shoot to let guests know the pool is unavailable, making sure the photographer has the needed items like carts for equipment, knows how and where to get meals, etc, the brand new fire pit is operable the day of the shoot, that we have a contact from maintenance, housekeeping, F&B, etc if needed, etc. These types of checklist items are just a running list of things I know have to happen in advance to be successful, and they’re all in my head. So I had to get it all down on paper and review with the onsite team so they knew not only what to do, but when to do it to make sure the shoot ran as smoothly as possible.
- Be Accessible on Shoot Days I kept my work calendar as clear as if I was going to be onsite. I had to be even more accessible to Craig and the onsite team as I’d normally be to do things like review test shots, answer questions, give direction on what needed to change in the shots, call other departments for help if needed, and just help keep things moving efficiently.
Craig: As with any shoot, communication and pre-production are the keys to success. I certainly prefer to work with my art director and client rep on-site for both large and small details, but I actually found an odd extra confidence going into this shoot on day one. The countless meetings on goals and work-flow, through Zoom, emails, phone calls, and effective napkin sketches, made the actual shoot seamless. Well, almost. The weather can change a perfect schedule into a perfect storm.
Andressa: Napkin sketches! (laughs) Yeah, drawing is not my wheelhouse, but sometimes even really badly drawn sketches are helpful in getting a point across when you can’t be there in person. Super hi-tech over here.
Were there any Covid-related unforeseen challenges that may be helpful to others planning a shoot now?
Andressa: I didn’t anticipate that the General Manager – who’d been our main contact in the planning stages and who was going to be the primary contact during the shoot – would have to quarantine on day one. Thankfully, he tested negative, but we had no way of knowing that at the time. All we knew is that we’d lost him for the whole shoot. Not only was it an emotional blow to everyone, but because the onsite team was already so lean, we ended up having to do everything with one less person. If you have the luxury, it’s helpful to have back up team members on call in case you need them unexpectedly.
Also, I didn’t anticipate how much more time each shot would take. In keeping with social distancing standards, Craig didn’t have an assistant with him. While the team could be helpful in the larger spaces like the ballroom to do things like tweak the positioning of chairs or ensure the curtains hung perfectly, there was no one in the more confined spaces to help him. And those little extra minutes moving a chair a little to the left, making sure the bed pillows were laid evenly, moving a lamp a little to the right – doing all of that himself – really added up. On top of that, every time he snapped a test shot and sent it to me, we had to wait for me to get it and him to get my feedback versus me just being able to review it from the camera. It all ran as smoothly as it could have with technology, but all of those little moments added up. The thing I would say is to account for needing additional time for basically everything.
Finally, I think it’s also important to remember that if you’re the one working virtually, that is a luxury that no one else on the project has. Yes, you have to get everything done, but you also have to be patient and empathetic to what the rest of the team is dealing with at the property. Most of my projects now are virtual by the sheer nature of what I do, but much of my background is working onsite at hotels and resorts, so I have a sensitivity to what it’s like being on the ground. Everyone is under incredible strain right now. Knowing when to give people a break and when to say “I know this is hard and I know you’re tired, but doing this thing right now will make all the difference” and keeping them going and motivated to see it through is really important.
Craig: For me, I think what I would emphasize the most is being not only open to extra pre-production, but be excited about it. Since everyone is working even harder with smaller teams, anything you can do ahead the shoot will certainly make the production go more smoothly. And as Andressa stated, we all have to find and embrace a new kind of patience. Photo shoots on-location will always be challenging, but at the end of the day, you still want to deliver an amazing final product while having fun. It just takes a bit longer.
People talk of what will change for good vs. what will change “just for now” because of Covid. Do you think this is the new way of doing photo shoots?
Andressa: I certainly hope not. (laughs) Who’s to say we didn’t miss some really cool off-list, spur-of-the-moment shots or better angles on the rooms, or – with the extra set of hands – had more time and could’ve gotten extra shots. Everyone flexed beyond expectations to make it happen – and we are all stronger for having done it – but I do think it’s one of those things where you make do because you have to in the moment, not because there’s a better way of doing it that no one’s yet discovered.
Craig: I consider my best photographs to be those that solve the business issues for the client. Of course, having a clear understanding of a client’s business issues is easier anytime you can be face-to-face with the person communicating these challenges. I find this to be especially true if it’s the first time working with a new client, because you’re learning how each other work and communicate as you go. For me, one of the best things about working with someone in Andressa’s role is the in-person collaboration. It’s just easier to establish good communication when you’re able to see the entirety of the spaces together, to see and talk through potential areas of focus and brainstorm together. I think that, because we don’t have this luxury right now, extra pre-production and patience will become more of a norm in new photography assignments for the foreseeable future for both photographers and clients.