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We just had the best photo shoot of our lives. Here’s why.

Olivia Shelton

July 2017

Recently, we did a complete website redesign for Miraval Life in Balance Spa, a luxury spa in Southern California. Miraval is a one-of-a-kind experience, focusing not only on spa treatments, but on creating a powerful mindfulness and fitness practice for clients.

We developed the site structure, wrote new copy and designed a user experience that would convey the distinct experience at Miraval and, ultimately, drive more bookings. The final touch was to fill the site with photography that visually matched the feeling of elevated mindfulness that we had  established.

Senior art director Shelby Mathews flew out to California for a three-day photoshoot at the spa. When she returned, we were all a little surprised by how energized Shelby was, and even more shocked when she said, “That was the best photo shoot ever.”

What does it take to have the best photo shoot ever? We had Shelby break down some of the key parts of the shoot that made it an amazing week for both our team and the client.

We brought the brand to life visually.

We wanted this imagery to evoke the feelings of rejuvenation, relaxation and mindfulness: qualities the spa emphasized throughout every service and program. Typical, posed spa imagery often lacks authenticity and a sense of place. We wanted the photography to make the viewer feel like they were already experiencing this  a Southern California spa the feeling of sand between their toes during an early morning yoga class; the warmth of sea salt on their back.

Cohesive, distinct mood boards were created for the main types of shots needed. Each crew member had physical copies on hand throughout the shoot, so when it came time to prep a shot, everyone from the stylist to the photographer knew the look and feel we were working toward.

We thought of everything. Literally. Everything.

It’s hard to avoid surprises during a photo shoot, but we wanted to do our best to create a plan that would make the three days as productive as possible. We researched the grounds and planned every shot. Every factor was considered when building out the shot schedule: the hourly resort and spa schedule, exact timing of tides and sun, distance between shot locations – the list goes on. Each shot was scheduled into a detailed plan, down to what props were needed and where to get them at the proper time. Staying flexible with changes and revising the schedule as needed made sure everyone knew exactly where to be at any given time.

Thinking of everything really paid off: a crew member even told us this was her first shoot that actually stayed on schedule.

Teamwork – and trust.

Having a great crew is never guaranteed, but it makes all the difference. Each member of this particular crew was picked individually — no one having met the others. We hit the jackpot with incredibly talented, humble, and energetic rockstars. Shelby said she’d “never worked with a photographer who so seamlessly collaborated and owned the vision of the shoot concept like James.”

We worked together to avoid potential stress by clarifying goals and each team member’s role early on. We kicked off each day with briefings that laid out the day’s schedule. With less stress and more energy to focus on the shoot, our crew was able to collaborate and make the most of every shoot location. The models at the shoot thought we had worked together for years; little did they know that we had only known each other for 12 hours.

Our awesome client was the cherry on top of a great shoot — the process would not have gone as smoothly without them. They were ready and willing to assist and accommodate us at every moment, which helped us focus getting every shot right.

Final Shots by James Baigrie