Indochine's Top Shelf

Photography - The Conundrum of Shooting Outdoors

In 2011 and much of 2010, the biggest problem I've faced in setting up photo shoots is locking down suitable outdoor locations. Production in Los Angeles, or any other major metropolitan area, is not as simple as it may look. First, let's address guerilla shoots with no permits. I used to do them all the time and still do them on occasion. If you watch the behind-the-scenes on "The Social Network," you will hear the producers talking about how they hired a mime to distract people from their use of a location without permits. A major motion picture and they still had to cut corners to get the shots they wanted! That's because, when a guerilla shoot goes wrong, it can go really wrong. You can get fined, locked up, harassed - it can kill the mood for a shoot for the day. If you're shooting a model with a commercial look in a turtle neck sweater and jeans, most people won't bother you. But if you're shooting curvy models in skimpy clothes that can stop traffic, trust me it will not be long before you get stopped in a public place. So the guerilla shoot is really not practical for glamour photography.

For years, photographers have used hotel rooms to get around this. The problem is, hotel room look like...well, hotel rooms. Studio photography is a nice option, but studio photos tend to have a staid look and are overused right now in glamour photography.

So that leaves the legitimate route of shooting outdoors, which a lot of photographers are not even familiar with. Let's use a beach as an example. To secure a public beach for a shoot, first you have to have insurance. That's right - the city is not going to give you a permit to shoot a model on some rocks she could fall off of and drown without liability insurance. I currently have photography insurance through Thomas Pickard. It is $700 a year - as much as some people's car insurance. Next, you will need to get a permit to shoot. What you will find is that they will be very concerned about whether you are shooting stills or video (video permits are more expensive and may require a local officer at a fee of $65 per hour from the moment you set up). Also, how late are you shooting and where on the beach. Some areas are off limits. The permit will usually cost about $50 - $100, but the time in coordinating it is worth another $150 in sweat equity. Give yourself at least a week in advance to do it. The wheels of government agencies turn slowly. And don't be surprised if you run into a desk jockey who treats these beaches as their own private domain and are on considerable power trips.

Finally, make sure you watch the weather carefully. If you're shooting at the beach, even if sunny, it could be very misty and humid. Humidity and hair do not mix well. So where are hair and make-up gonna set up where the wind is not blowing constantly and the elements are not undoing their hard work? You may need to rent a production RV. A friend of mine who produces these type of outdoor shoots told me that on average, done legitimately (e.g., by companies like Neutrogena, J Crew), they cost upward of $10,000 per day. See a photo below from one such set up.

Bottom line is that outdoor shoots done correctly are a major pain. Done guerilla style there is a considerable risk of things going wrong. There is no easy answer to this dilemma the photographer faces, but it helps to at least know the parameters.


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