Quite often, things don’t quite work out the way you want and you reach a point where you make a decision: Do I go for it, or do I just give up. Today I’d like to share with you a story on how I encountered one such situation. (To skip the story and go straight to the tips, just scroll down after the images/video.)

So how did the whole thing come together?

I am blessed (or cursed, depending on the situation), with an overwhelming amount of stubbornness when I set my mind to something. Last month, I found myself in Detroit after a workshop I did with Photo Studio Group with a couple extra days to kill. I had heard that Detroit was the capital of amazing abandoned buildings but much to my dismay, the local police had begun severely cracking down so getting a full team of people into anywhere that wasn’t graffiti-ridden was going to be an absolute impossibility.

Screen Shot 2013 06 25 at 1 00 32 PM

This was kinda what I had in mind when I think: Detroit – Images by Josh Walker, CC-2.0; Andrew Jameson, CC-SA-3.0; Rick Harris, CC-SA-2.0)

I spent 2-3 days desperately reaching out to my fans and the fellow photographers I had met from the workshop but no matter what venues I tried (official or otherwise) I was unable to secure anything remotely close to a safe abandoned location I could bring a crew into. To small a group, and you were in danger of being robbed, attacked or otherwise… To large a group, and you would bring the cops… and they wouldn’t just let you off with a warning, but actually drop a fine and possibly leave a criminal record – something I was not at all ready for.

2 Von Wong in Michigan 1 copy

In parallel, I was also reaching out to try and organize a proper team – Makeup, Hair, Models… was there anyone that was interested in pulling something together last minute… and potentially dangerous? The workshop attendees and local Facebook fans put out calls for talent and soon I was surrounded by possibilities – too many, and not necessarily the type I was looking for. I scoured profile after profile of possibilities trying to see which pieces could possibly work together.

In my mind I had a vision. I had tossed together this pinterest mood board of beautiful white movement/dresses in derelict location reminiscent of Tim Walker but nowhere could I seem to find any local designers that had the style/feel that I wanted. Not losing hope, I kept up the pressure on the fans and local contacts and I eventually stumbled on a local stylist by the name of Jamie Sturgill. Though her work was mainly classic fashion, there were a couple pieces of clothing in there that stood out to me and give my mind a little tingle.


Holding my breath, I sent her a quick shout out to see if she was available, had time to throw something together, interested or even in town. Her reply?

  • Available: No
  • Had Time: No
  • Interested: YES
  • In town: Yes

Drats. Now what?

Well, so far I still had none of the elements: Hair, Makeup, Model or Location ANYWHERE close to ready which meant that I didn’t have anything to convince Jamie to shuffle her schedule around and make time for me. I asked her if she could begin poking around to see if there was any possibility for her to shift her schedule around and make time for either an early morning or late afternoon shoot while I attempted to secure a location.

Despite my furious hunting, nothing was happening with the abandoned location I was hoping for. I gradually began expanding my search and one of my workshop attendees, Lesa, proposed something that sounded quite good: Her studio had a haunted house that we could possibly use. Without anything better in sight, and with the potential shoot deadline hitting 36 hours I had no choice but to settle. I asked if she would be so kind as to send me some shots of the location as I began assembling the troops.

  • Assistants? That would be easy. Workshop attendees were dying for a chance to come and watch an on location shoot. Perfect.
  • Video? One of my workshop attendees was a wedding videographer: Matthew Ryan Donahue. Perfect.
  • Gear? Since I was travelling, I only had my light travel kit with me so I asked anyone assisting to bring whatever they could.
  • Makeup? Hair? Model? Crumbs. Wait. I still didn’t have a look yet.I zipped back over to check in on Jamie and see how things were looking on her end.

“I’m on a shoot now but I really want to work with you and I’ve pushed things earlier for tomorrow so if there’s any way to shoot in the afternoon I’m all in!”

All I had to do was shift things around. I could do that!

With less than 24 hours before the shoot could take place I began frantically calling up everyone and using Facebook to synchronize the entire event.

I started frantically hunting for models. Lately I’ve been trying to scale up the quality of my models to get some stronger fashion based work in my portfolio so I was really hoping to find a stunning tall slender model to work with (or three if possible!)

Things were starting to get just a little tight on time (understandably) so I hit up Jamie once again asking her if there was anyone that she knew that would be available on such short notice.

She invited me to check out her book and see if there was anyone there that caught my eye. Cheyenne Scott was one of them.

Now I’m not quite sure how Jamie pulled it off but she managed to convince Cheyenne to come over at midnight to her place for a fitting session that lasted until 4 AM, as well as found makeup artist Taryn Scalise to come play for the day.

And the result of this insane fiasco?

VON 7264 Edit

Shot with a Nikon D800E | 24-70mm f/2.8 | ISO 200, 58mm, f/4.5, 1/60secDiagram1 by VonWong

Notes: Camera settings balanced for the ambient window light. Gridded Beauty Dish serves as a directional back light for the rear of the model’s head. The speed light in the rear helps to lighten up the smoke, and the speed light in the front with a snoot to simply lighten up the face of our model and bring in some light from camera right.

VON 7419 Edit

Shot with a Nikon D800E | Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G | ISO 50, 85mm, f/10, 1/250secDetroit2 by VonWong

Notes: Camera settings were set for the ambient sunlight. A soft box was on the opposite side of the sun to fill up the shadows. To add a bit of texture to the image, I used two of my assistants as mobile shadow casters as well as some flour to create texture/movement in the image.VON 7636 Edit

Shot with a Nikon D800E | Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G | ISO 200, 14mm, f/5.6, 1/200secDetroit3 by VonWong

Notes: For this final image, space was extremely tight so I used my 14-24mm to create the illusion that the space was a lot larger than it seemed. The main light was simply a gridded beauty dish coming down onto Cheyenne and a speed light lighting up the smoke in the background helped to give the image just a little bit of depth. The gridded strobe in the foreground was also critical to bring a bit of light into the foreground of the image and the final touch was to add bits of cloth in front of my lens to texturize it.-Beyond the technical, I think that there were a lot of other factors that made this photoshoot a successful one. Similar to the time that I had to conceptualize, shoot and edit a photo in only 4 hours there are some takeaways that I’d love to share with you.

How to succeed a full scale fashion shoot with only 24 hours of prep

1) Surround yourself with passionate & talented individuals

Surrounding yourself with the right people is absolutely critical. Not only will they help to make your project a success, they’re energy and positivity and belief that something is right, is worth it or will succeed will rub off on you too.

How to find people like this? Well, I think that the key is to simply not settle for somebody less than the best. Kinda like finding the perfect girl, there’s no point in settling it won’t work out in the end 😛

2) Come early, throw together a plan and be prepared to work twice as hard!

Whether you like it or not, people will be looking at you to throw things together so even if you’re not sure what you’re doing, you need to look like you’re confident. When you’re the leader of a project (or anything for that matter), you aren’t allowed to have any doubts whatsoever.

In this case, we got to the shoot a good 2 hours early to do all our scouting ahead of time so that by the time everyone arrived, we had our shot list all prepped up and ready to go.

3) Think on your toes

Always be ready to switch plans at a moments notice. The initial plan was to shoot in the haunted house. Turns out that it didn’t look all that great except when it was dark so I had to go around imagining potential shots and visualize how they could possibly go together.

Similarly, making use of the environment (the sun, create shadows!) and choosing the right tools for the job (wide angle lens, tight spaces!) makes all the difference.

4) Share and communicate your vision through imagery

Pinterest is a fabulous tool for creating moodboards. It’s so much easier to show people what your inspirations are as opposed to describing them in words.

Taking the 20 minutes to just scour the web for inspiration or looks is absolutely invaluable when communicating with your creative team… especially when time is short.

5) Don’t be scared to ask for help

When time is short, you can’t do everything on your own. Reaching out to others and explaining to them the situation and getting people involved will make a huge difference in your final production.

In my case, I wouldn’t have had anything – from location, to talent, to assistants if I hadn’t asked.

Alright that’s about it. If you liked these tips (or want to read some more that could be relevant) check out these 7 tips to succeed in an unplanned photoshoot.

Chances are, you won’t find yourself in this situation very often, so no excuses! Get up, get planning’ and get shooting’!

VON 7768

  • Produced by: Von Wong & Jamie Sturgill
  • Model: Cheyenne Scott
  • Stylist: Jamie Sturgill
  • Assistants : Jeff Krueger, Shawn Kuppe, Emery Bach, Meghan Good, Monique Montri, Kevin Logan, Brian menz, Marie Kidd, Elizabeth Yakovlina, Matthew Paquin, Vesy Valcheva
  • Video: Matthew Ryan Donahue
  • Studio: Lesa Photography


  • I’m hunting for an intern, are you interested? Read more here
  • Upcoming workshops in Vancouver, Dallas and Malaysia… stay updated here

Special Gear used:

  • SIRUI T-2205X
    with a K20x provided to us by Lovinpix
  • Nikon D800E: B&H | Amazon
  • Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G| B&H
  • Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G | B&H
  • Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 | B&H

See what else is in my camera bag when I travel!