Lessons From Pandemic: Staging A Photo Shoot (With Pets) From 3,000 Miles Away

Brands and agencies around the world are adjusting to social distancing and remote working. For example, we recently conducted a photo shoot for a pet-related company, with our team in New York City and cast and crew in San Diego.

A bowl of soup or the perfectly placed bottle doesn’t move, but humans and animals do. We needed to capture the bond between pets and the humans that take care of them. That meant not only an in-depth brief and shot list, but also constant FaceTiming while the photographer was on location, directing wardrobe/hair/makeup from afar, meeting our amazing animal talent through a screen, and reviewing second-by-second image captures with the client in real time. 

For those of you getting ready to try this on your own, here are four lessons we hope help:

Teamwork makes the dreamwork. Trying to manage a photo shoot from 3,000 miles away truly brings teamwork into focus. Remote locations and a skeleton crew—something social distancing mandates now and might impact in the future—meant even more reliance on each other. There was no passing the buck, because we didn’t have enough time or people for that. Everyone involved either on-site or remotely via WebEx and FaceTime (10+ hours a day) made a commitment to support each other. 



Trust is key. Trust is a fitting partner to teamwork, even though fully trusting others can be challenging when the stakes are high. We were in constant communication and needing to move quickly. That meant no time for sweet nothings and reliance on a communal agreement to bring quick thinking and resourcefulness.

We had to trust that our photographer had the best handle on the situation locally and would use good judgment in production decisions. Our client had to trust that we kept their best interests in mind, often allowing us to make big decisions unilaterally in the interest of time. Any second-guessing or a need for control had to be checked at the door. 

Roll with the punches. Even with intensive planning, things sometimes  just don’t break your way. Our original talent cancelled the morning of the shoot with  a sore throat (human, not pet). A public park permit failed to materialize, forcing us to book a private residence with a big backyard at the last minute. And our dog and cat owners changed plans on a dime, needing to pick up their daughter in Los Angeles before her personal circumstances got worse.

Life is often about how you react to challenges: The shoot succeeded because the team was able to move quickly to option B and make the most of it.

The camera doesn’t lie. There’s so much the public won’t see: the stress, the planning, the big scares, the small wins. What matters most is the emotion that’s conveyed, in this case across species.

In the end, the details fell away and what rose to the fore was the emotion. We’re combing through more than 4,000 shots to build an asset library to keep this global project on track. Though viewers and the public won’t see what went into the work, they’ll see what came out of it.

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