THE A-TEAM: location shoot realities –

1st rule: you’re only as good as your team, 2nd rule: your team is only as good as you allow them to be.

Behind the scenes is where the quality of whatever appears up front is decided, there is no question. We photogs spend a fair amount of time hunting for good personnel to work with us, whether we are photojournalists with heavy loads of editing or commercial photographers who need assistants, art directors, stylists, imaging geeks, you name it. And lord knows we all need help with admin.

As I do both solitary trips documenting people in a more journalistic way as well as commercial work, I really need more of a flexi-time location team with a reasonably solid office anchor. While I doubt anything I write here is new or perhaps not available from more sophisticated sources, I am writing this from a personal perspective of a small operation which has to face up to big demands.

I have had a number of assistants in my time – some big strong guys, some smart techs, others plain useless. Now I don’t mean to be sexist, but the best assistant I have ever had is a woman, and when she came to work with me she had no previous location or studio experience. She showed up out of the blue – I hadn’t advertised at all.

Edwine is definitely a bright and lovely spark, but what got her hired was her love and understanding of the power of images. She fronted up unsolicited because she saw my images online and felt she wanted to be involved – she had studied print making at university. The first time I “showed her how to use photoshop” she sat there quietly. Then when she took the wheel as I sat there dumbfounded while she whizzed through a batch of photoshop commands shortcuts I never even knew existed! LOL now I know.

Edwine does her thing
Edwine does her thing

But the real test was yet to come – our first location shoot. Pre shoot, my provincial, male chauvinist office driver mostly sniggered. Location work for a small crew like mine is back breaking and sweaty stuff. But then he got a shock (he’d never heard of hatha yoga), and I got a pleasant surprise. Not only was she strong, she actually ran to fix the lights! And over time she inadvertently showed him up for the lazy bones he was (in the end he basically fired himself)! That driving enthusiasm, though now more paced by experience, has never left her. Her flexibility and alertness served to let her learn the ropes much faster than some of the macho guys I had employed. And finally she always really looked at the take with an eye for detail and composition. It isn’t just a job for her. I have made sure she knows she is allowed to voice her opinion.

Then my daughter Soma came on the scene. She had done a Multi Media degree at Griffith, then worked for a couple of years designing websites for multinationals. A several months long stint of traveling through Mediterranean Europe was followed by near slave labor at a Jakarta production house Then finally she decided advertising was her gig. She fronted up to JWT with a novel presentation of her work, got in as junior graphic designer, and shot thru to Art Director in a couple of years. Working the TVC scene was a big buzz for her as she loves getting synergy going on set. After 4 years of Jakarta burn out (with a few freelance jobs for me and others on the side) she finally decided it was either her sanity or death by smog – smog lost.

Soma checks an angle at Four Season's in Bali
Soma checks an angle at Four Season's in Bali

Since then we have done a number of shoots together, and it has been pretty fruitful. Soma is good with talent, and has a sharp eye for nuance. I’d like to think that there is a genetic creative streak, but her sisters don’t really have it so I guess it’s just her! The well rounded degree she did at Griffith also gave her some exposure to client relations, so indeed we have a multi-talented addition to our team. Recently someone asked me if we have any ‘family’ tensions come into work, and I have to say it hasn’t even blipped on to the radar. (Soma of course has her own blog, so maybe check there!!!). And if you are thinking nepotism, have another think. I am pretty demanding on set, no room for slackers.

An important aspect that has grown into the formula is that each of us has respect for the others abilities yet are able to suggest and interact creatively. And we actually all have fun together (when I’m not busy barking at everyone). That is important especially when there is a lot of travel involved or when we end up staying on location for days on end away from loved ones. Getting along in close quarters does require more subtlety! Also important is the ability of these two smart thirty yr olds to keep this crabby old photog in line! For it is a lot easier for clients to work and interact with a happy crew!

the crew on a flight for a job in Milan
the crew on a flight for a job in Milan
Me making sure everyone knows who is Boss
Me in Bulgari Milan bathtub making sure everyone knows who is Boss

And finally, let’s not forget that doing a location shoot (or to some extent a studio shoot for that matter) can get quite complex. You end up relying on a lot of different factors and people who are not entirely within your control. It can get frustrating, so having a tight crew who understand each other and have a strong sense of a common goal is essential.

checking as we go (e.g. is this frame straight?)
checking as we go (e.g. is this frame straight?)

We actually work together from the origination (location shot) right through to the final imaging. It guarantees continuity, and mental notes from the shoot
don’t go AWOL. Again, in post production we do discuss and make decisions as a team (well ok, they do gang up on me sometimes!). It is a fact that a photographer can get too subjective when looking at his work, so it is an advantage to have a team you can trust to help edit. Many people think that DI stands for digital imaging,
actually it means ‘dotting the ‘i’s (yeah I’m kidding).

the crew doing final imaging
the crew doing final imaging

Meanwhile back at the ranch you need some solid people too. No shrinking violets please. When Yuli was away for a couple of months looking after her very sick husband we really felt the loss. She is officially office manager but in reality is admin/accounting girl friday cum all round production fixer. It is a good feeling to know your back is covered by someone who knows what the stakes are. Welcome back Yuli!

Of course human dynamics are unpredictable, and there are many factors of impermanence at play. But for as long as it lasts, I am banking on this team by investing in giving people a chance to prove themselves.

2 Responses to “THE A-TEAM: location shoot realities –”

  1. gabybali

    I could feel the craziness & the excitement of The A-Team actions on site by only reading this post!!
    Well, what could I say…all my previous bosses (male/female) had also admitted the same thing : they could really count on a girl’s assistance than having a smart tech male one…Girls power dong…! 🙂


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