How I learnt to NOT PANIC When Doing A Last Minute Photoshoot

Hi guys,

When it comes to my photography, I’m a big planner. When we first started doing the Aztec Photography Workshops, I would have the whole day choreographed days ahead. The location, time of day, compositions and light setups. Below is an example of the type of photos we make.

Aztec Workshop Photoshoot

But sometimes you don’t get the chance to plan ahead. Sometimes you totally misjudge the effort needed for a photoshoot.

Take for example last week. I had promised to take photos for a friends daughter’s ‘Quinceneria’. It’s a pretty big deal here in Mexico – but I had no idea, and had not done any research. I thought it was a simple birthday party. But it’s more like a cross between an MTV Sweet 16 celebration and a wedding! To say I was underprepared was an understatement.

“To say I was underprepared was an understatement.”

Not having a plan with only a few hours to go was a pretty daunting but, after a bit of a panic, I roped in my awesome girlfriend and headed off to the venue.

The whole experience was a great learning occasion in the end. I made a bunch of amateur mistakes under the time pressures but came away with 3 photos that the birthday girl loved. So mission accomplished.

Here are a few of the things I learned that I think are valuable lessons anyone should be aware of when shooting to a tight deadline.


If you have not had the time to test your concepts, it’s likely that they won’t all work out. This means it’s essential to have several additional ideas to fall back on.

We spent 30 mins walking around the venue grounds (with just a camera) testing ideas and mentally noting those that had potential. I had promised 3 photos, so we found 5 concepts we thought might work.


Once you are taking photos it’s vital to clock watch. If you have 3 concepts you need to deliver in 90 mins (like we did). You need to quickly decide if I a concept is not panning out as you had hoped. If it isn’t, pack up and move to the next location. We gave ourselves about 10 mins to make that call. The last thing you want to do is spend all your time on an idea that doesn’t work and then have no time left for your other concepts.

Quinceañera photo shoot


Getting caught up with the flow is great. Some amazing photos can happen. But remember your original concept before you move on. Our initial idea for the below photos was to have the model look over her shoulder as she was walking away. I then got distracted by the idea of twirling the dress and totally forgot about the original idea which is a shame because it would have resulted in a better shot.

Here is the shot we ended up with, which I like.
Quinceañera photo shoot

But this photo, with the model looking over here shoulder. was the original idea. And we totally forgot to do it!

Quinceañera photo shoot


Yep, I know. This one is so basic I’m still amazed I forgot to do it on some of these. But I did, Check your image is in perfect focus. In particular the eyes. Don’t get excited because you nailed a great composition of the facial expression is spot on. Whatever you are focussing on (eyes for me) needs to be in focus.


Seriously, these are so much fun once you work out how to use them (hint: consider the wind direction). You can use them to separate foreground from the background (by fanning the smoke into haze), to create light rays (by using them in front of the subject and light) or just to make things look pretty magical, Like in the below photos.

Quinceañera photo shoot

Thanks, guys, would love your feedback.

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