The Shoot Must Go On: 5 Tips for a Successful Virtual Photo Shoot
Sonic Drive-In Behind-the-Scenes Photography

In the advertising world, there’s nothing more exciting than being on set. After all the hard work, pitching and planning, you get to be there to see the big idea finally come to life.

But what do you do when you can’t be on set? With social distancing now the norm, an in-person photo shoot is likely out of the question.

Can having a virtual shoot through something like Zoom still capture the same kind of magic that makes for remarkable work?

After a successful 5-day shoot with SONIC Drive-In and Bruton Stroube, the answer is a most-definite yes.

We not only came away with 30+ mouthwatering photos, but five tips to help you make your next virtual shoot a success.

1. How many times can we say “Pre-pro?”

Short for pre-production, a pre-pro meeting has never been more critical. During a pre-pro, we go over the finalized shot list to prepare all stakeholders for the shoot before anyone gets on set.

The shot list includes everything from food ingredients to how the products are made to how each and every shot will be styled, lit and executed.

Still, when it comes to minor details, there’s a tendency to say, “We’ll figure it out on shoot day.”


Account for every single detail ahead of time. Especially when you’re shooting remotely.

Even something as small as deciding the exact time the whipped topping will be pulled from the fridge. It may seem silly, but it’s crucial to executing remarkable food photography.

2. Speak your mind. Speak it often.

We all know how intimidating it can be to raise a concern when things seem to be going well. Or speak when, well, no one else is speaking. Constant dialogue will not only address any issues quickly, it will keep people focused.

Selecting Corndog Photos

It can be as simple as asking, “Is anyone else feeling this way?” You’re just looking to kick-start a conversation.

On the SONIC Drive-In shoot, we used the Zoom annotated feature that allows you to make markups to shots in real time for instant feedback and discussion.

We do recommend streamlining chat channels or assigning certain groups to certain shots. This will enable you to keep everyone focused without overwhelming the production team.

Side note: We discovered that team members were more comfortable giving quick feedback over Zoom than on an actual set. And that concludes the lesson in behavioral science.

3. Schedule breaks to reduce “Zoom fatigue.”

Zoom Break

Yep, it’s a real thing. Photo shoots are already exhausting, but the fact that you’re even more hyper-focused on your screen just exacerbates the problem.

We recommend taking a break every 50 minutes to step away from the computer for a snack, bathroom break or simply to stretch your legs.

And try not to use that time to multitask or check your email, OK?

4. Cameras aren’t just for shooting.

When you’re on set, you’re not just reacting to the photograph, but how the product is looking in real time. Ingredients can die very quickly, so it’s important to be able to make split-second decisions on what looks best.

That’s why our production team set up live cameras on the product that allowed us to be as close to the action as possible. They also had cameras in the prop room and on the food stylist so we could make real-time decisions on what was best for the food.

In one instance, we pivoted from shooting mustard to shooting an entire burger when we saw how the ingredients were holding up on camera.

5. Partnerships are key

We lucked out in having dozens of photo shoots under our belt with both SONIC and Bruton Stroube. At this point, the idea of “we’re all in this together” pretty much goes unsaid.

But if it’s your first time, there are a couple of things you can do to begin to build trust and forge a strong partnership.

A virtual happy hour or virtual team-building activities are great ways to get to know each other and build a level of comfort before shoot day.

In the end, we came away with 30+ shots of burgers, shakes and tots that we all, well, really wanted to eat.

Moreover, we gained the confidence and skill set to take on the next virtual photo shoot that comes our way.

So, what does this mean for the future of production?

Let’s be real. Travel is expensive. Leaving the family is not ideal. Nor is coordinating schedules between multiple partners and vendors.

Still, being on set helps to create strong partnerships that can only lead to better work in the long run.

There are pros and cons to both, but for the safety of our clients and vendors, we’re happy to continue to shoot virtually for both video and photo production.

Of course, we look forward to a time when we can get together, share a meal and raise a glass to the great work we achieved together.

If you are looking for more than tips, like an agency partner to help you execute your next virtual shoot, contact Signal Theory today.

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