Make A List, Check It Twice

Shot ListYou show up for an Interiors gig. You have a limited amount of time, and you’ve contracted to create a fixed number of shots. You walk in, and Whoa! Way cool place. Wasn’t expecting it to be so….big. And Snazzy.

You start your walk-through. “Living Room, nice, I’ll have to grab a shot with the window….but then I can’t get the fireplace, so that’ll be another shot. Oh, and then a third one to show the connection to the dining room.”

You walk into the dining room. “Cool, elevated Dining Area, I’ll get an angle that shows the steps. Plus, it’ll be a cinch to light it, I can use that high ceiling. Maybe I’ll grab a detail shot, too.”

Moving on — “Kitchen, check. Oh, right ON, you can see the pool through the window, maybe a shot across the center island that shows the window clearly. My client will wet her pants!”

Sweet! Nice staircase! I’ll do that, plus maybe some detail shots of the woodwork…nice banister, I could do some nifty depth-of-field stuff with that.”photo2

Upstairs: “Bedroom, bedroom, bedroom, (yawn) bathroom. Yep. Easy. Better remember to get a detail of the tile, I’m sure those were custom-made.”

Downstairs: “Oh crap, forgot the family room. Coupla shots here, too. Ok.”

Outside: “Nice. I’ll get the gazebo with the pool in the background. Oh, and then if I get low and put the hot tub in the foreground, I can show the chaise lounge and the rear elevation of the house, plus the redwood tree. But what about the whole outdoor kitchen thing over there? Ok, I’ll shoot that separately. Oh, and of course, a front elevation, too.”

All right, Class —  quick — how many shots was that? Don’t look — how many? What were the angles in the Living Room? Can you remember?

Yeah, I can’t either.

It’s easy to get carried away, especially if you’re really enjoying yourself, andphoto7 before you know it, you’ve overshot a property. And while I’m a big proponent of over-delivering and impressing clients, at some point you’ve got to draw some boundaries and stay within them, if only to protect your bottom line. That’s where the shot list comes in. I routinely pull out my iPhone and make Notes while I’m doing my walk-through. (I’ve also heard of an obscure technique involving something called “Pen” and “Paper”.  Whatever.)

At right are some actual shot lists I made on location this week. I rarely shoot the rooms in the order they’re listed; that’s determined by other factors. I put in just enough detail to help me remember angles and important compositional ideas, so that when I get back there with my gear, I have an idea of what I’m going to do. Sure, I might depart from the list if something presents itself, and that happens fairly often. But at least I’m not making 23 photos when I’m only going to be able to deliver 15, and more importantly, bill for 15.

If I don’t impose some discipline on myself, I tend to go crazy and shootphoto6 everything in sight. And while I have no problem with shooting an extra angle here or there, especially if you aren’t absolutely sure which one is going to post-process better, I still think that you need to have a solid game plan in place before you start making photos. Once you know you’ve got your deliverables covered, then, time permitting, you can shoot for the “wow” factor, or for your portfolio, or test out some new ideas. The list helps me keep my bases covered.

How do you stay organized in the field? Hit the comments.

2 responses to “Make A List, Check It Twice

  1. My assistant/stylist writes everything down for me then plans it then I’m his slave – without him I’d shoot everything and go nuts.
    Hey great blog – just discovered this!

  2. Great idea Scott. I picked up this idea from the course that I attended in January 2009 in Chicago with you and Thomas Grubba. My approach is decidedly a bit more low-tech than yours. I use a Moleskine notebook and plan each shot, as well as asking my REALTOR® client “What’s most important to you about this house?”. By making a note of what they tell me, I’m sure to remember whatever would make them most happy to get covered. An example of my shot list approach is at Thanks for the blog, good ideas.