Getting yourself into the situation, facility, game or company of your subject(s) is the starting point. Whether commissioned or as a personal project, getting to the point to start shooting is a long process in itself, and can take weeks, months or even years of careful planning and effort.
Research and familiarity is really important. Knowing what you can about the people you are photographing is wise. Background information helps to build a story, and makes you feel better prepared. Also knowing all you can about locations, timings, weather, agendas, etc. It's always best to be prepared, and a US Army saying comes to mind, “Prior planning prevents piss poor performance.”
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR
If you are working on a commission, you will be given a brief, and guidelines you have to follow. But within this there will be elements really high-up on the list to capture. This could be the freezing of elaborate and precise movements for example, or for me, keeping a picture as honest as possible, and retaining as much of the subject’s character as I can is always top of the list. I feel that resonates more powerfully than anything else.
THE TOOLS FOR THE JOB
Making sure you have the right camera, lenses, rigs, people, lighting and production, it goes without saying, are crucial. Everything I shoot is now digital, and it is your responsibility not only to capture the imagery, but also it’s transfer, storage, safe-keeping and delivery too. I am including people in this “tools” point, as they are as, if not more, important than the equipment! Efficiency, reliability, effectiveness and team dynamics all hinge on people, and not the model of your camera. I would pick a cracking team over glitzy equipment any day.