Photography, Checklists, and Insomnia – Thoughts While Packing

Allen Mowery
October 16, 2017

My day is closing in, the night is upon me, my to-do list is long, and I need sleep…which sounds like a very odd thing coming from me.  For some time, I have danced a vicious tango with insomnia, caught up in the throes of a love-hate passion.  We have shared many experiences together, covered many miles, and made many memories, but the toll it has taken on our relationship has led us to the brink.

Sometimes, our relationship has been a blessing, providing the strength to pull back-to-back all-nighters when necessary, or being able to keep going on minimal sleep.  But, there have been times when our interactions have been less than cordial, resulting in unexplained sleeplessness for 24, 36 hours at a time…which can really screw with a person.  Over time, I have come to loath this dark partner, wishing to break free of her, yet all too frequently I have found myself back again in the clutches of her icy grasp.

I have turned to slowly poisoning her, sucking the life out of her existence, and I think I may be succeeding.  But, when the work is longer than the day, I begin to feel the effects of my efforts, and sleep lifts its nodding head to beckon me to premature slumber.

Checklists and Me

I’m heading out tomorrow on a magazine shoot, so I am scrambling to finish last minute tasks before catching a few hours of sleep.  Fortunately, for as seemingly disorganized as I often feel, when it comes to prepping for a shoot or photography-related travel, I like to think I’ve nearly mastered the art of getting everything in order.  I function best in life with lists, a commonality I share with my son who seems to love lists almost as much as ice cream.  My mind is constantly jetting off in a thousand directions at any given time, so having things laid out in an orderly fashion helps me to stay focused and ensure I don’t forget something (though, there’s typically always something that finds its way through the cracks).

There’s a variety of tools available, from ye ol’ fashioned pen and paper to spreadsheets to mobile apps.  While I’ve utilized quite a number of different methods over the years from simple paper to various configurations of Google Drive/Docs, the one I’ve settled on (for right now) is a combination of the Notes and Reminders apps for iOS and Mac.  I love the cross-syncing between devices which allows me to start a list on my computer and add to it on the go, marking things off as I move along.  I even have my Echo set up to add to my lists when I tell it to using applets from IFTTT.  (There’s just something so satisfying about being able to yell, “Add ‘hemorrhoid ointment’ to my shopping list,” and having it show up right between “butter” and “rifle ammo” as I’m strolling through Walmart.)  There are many options out there with similar features, and I don’t advocate one over the other…it’s simply a matter of each individual finding out what works best for them and then using it.

Photography Checklists and the Photo Shoot Pre-Production Packet

Checklists are an essential part of the photographer’s life, from equipment checklists to be sure you don’t leave anything behind (at home or at a shoot) to shot lists to lists of crew members and their info for larger productions.  Frankly, I can’t imagine life without them, especially on major projects.

For larger shoots, I use the Photo Shoot Pre-Production Packet.  This three-sheet spreadsheet is not original with me, though I have modified it over time to suit my needs.  I want to say this particular version originated with Aaron Nace of PHLEARN, but I can’t remember or seem to find the original post.  (If someone can point me in the right direction, I’ll be happy to give proper credit where credit is due.)

One sheet is the “Launch Packet” which includes all the pertinent details of the shoot, objectives, deliverables, etc.  The second sheet is the “Shot List,” which is pretty self-explanatory.  The third and final sheet is the “Call Sheet,” which includes all of the names and contact details for the people involved in the shoot, from assistants to stylists to models, and more.  This is also the sheet where you can include concept details, notes, inspiration ideas, and more.

Overall, it’s a very comprehensive document and one that I find incredibly helpful, especially when there are many working parts to the operation.  You can download this for FREE and adapt it to your own personal needs.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Photo Shoot Pre-Production Packet

Putting It All Together

When heading out on a shoot like this, I fill up a three-ring binder with all the paperwork and documentation I may need to get the job done in an efficient and organized manner.  I slide the individual sheets into clear plastic holders, which not only protects them but allows me to easily switch things around in my binder to have the most relevant content at the front for whatever stage of the process we may be in.  For the shoot I’m prepping for currently, my binder has:

  • Printed directions to the shoot (in case technology and my GPS fail)
  • Each page of the pre-production packet, including the call sheet
  • Several copies of the shot list
  • Floor plans and layouts for the shoot
  • Multiple copies of blank model release forms
  • Multiple copies of blank property release forms
  • A signed copy of the project agreement
  • Miscellaneous info about the shoot
  • Directions to the hotel
  • Vehicle mileage log
  • Backups of various above-mentioned documents (just in case)

Is it a foolproof method?  Probably not.  Is it the only method.  Umm…no.  But, it works for me, and if it can help some other photographer along the way, I can sleep in peace.

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