How to Plan a Photo Shoot

Have you ever had a great concept for a photo shoot but weren’t sure how to go about accomplishing it? Or perhaps you’ve come across a b...

Have you ever had a great concept for a photo shoot but weren’t sure how to go about accomplishing it? Or perhaps you’ve come across a bump in your workflow and can’t figure out why you keep failing. Maybe you’re missing a small step in your shoot. The goal of a shoot is to capture lifestyle in the moment and sometimes stock photos just won’t cut it.

Let’s start with planning the photo shoot. These are a list of 5 things I like to outline when planning a photo session of any kind whether it be portrait session, newborns, families, engagements, weddings and so on.

Design Your Dream Concept

The first step is deciding what you would like your concept to be. What story do you want to tell through your photos? Is this photo shoot just for fun? If that is the case, the shy is the limit. However, if it is to come up with something new or something to stretch your comfort zone. Try asking yourself these questions:

  • Is there a location that you are drawn to?
  • Is there a model or fellow photographer that inspires you?
  • Is there a story you would like to tell the world through your photographs?
If this photo shoot is for a client then you need to make sure you understand the story that they would like to tell. Be sure to ask them questions such as these:

  • Who or what will you be photographing?
  • How are the images going to be used? Are they for print or the web?
  • What type of location are they wanting? A studio setting or an environmental setting?
  • Are they more partial to color or black and white photographs?
  • After looking over your social media and website, which images did they like the most/least?
It’s important to ask questions. It makes you look like you know what you are doing and they will love you for it.

Location Location Location and Time

Now that you have picked a concept for your photo shoot, you now have to pick the right location. For many companies I have just done the photo shoot at their place of business. However, this is not alway the case. Be sure to ask yourself some questions before selecting a location.

  • Does it fit with the story I’m trying to tell?
  • Do you need to pay to take photos at this location and if so can your clients pay for this?
  • How is the weather?
  • How is the lighting? Will you need to bring anything to enhance the light?
  • Can this location be found easily by your clients or should you meet up somewhere first?
No matter where you shoot be sure to research the area. Even if you have done a shoot there before. The worst thing is to have a client show up and that old barn that has been a focal point in all your photos has been torn down.

Inspire Yourself

No matter how many shoots you do you can always learn something new. Don’t ever think you know it all. “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” -Colin Powell.

One of the best ways to understand what your client wants or what you might want to include in your shoot is by creating an inspiration board. I use these all the time. When I do little shots for myself and with my clients. I set up a board on Pinterest showing all my ideas and possible intentions for the upcoming shoot. Once I have got the board started and have added many ideas I’ll invite them to be a contributor to the board and ask them to add any photos or concepts they’ve seen and want in their shoot. I also ask them to explain what it is they like about the photo. Was it the lighting, the styling of the products, the general concept?

One point to think about with these Pinterest boards is to be clear. You could have them only tag images that you have done. Having them pick a style from another photographer that you don’t know how to do or don’t want to have anything to do with. I have found that many photographers will have boards set up with location, style, lighting and then allow their clients to make a mood board based on what they have on their boards. This can give you a better understanding on what they would like in their shoot.

Model Call

If you are working on a commercial shoot or a concept calls for a particular model you may need a certain type of model to bring your concept to life. One of the biggest question I have heard asked is where do I find models? You have a couple options while you are looking for talent.

  • If there is a need for an experienced model or talent look to an agency. Understand however, there can be restrictions for their models, some could be even restricting the photos you will be taking. The best thing I can say is, do your research well before you even plan on a photo shoot. Go to the agency, make calls, browse their catalogs. The good thing about hiring a model through an agency, you are guaranteed to have a model for your shoot because you will be paying for their time.
  • There are many meetup groups for photographers and models. Photographers often will be models or there will be new models trying to build up their portfolio.
  • For your personal shoots, I would call your friends for models. Just make sure they understand the terms of the shoot. Are they okay with their likeness being posted online or printed. And be sure to let them know if they are getting anything out of the photo shoot.
  • One that has worked really well for me is sending out a model call to your client base and friends list. Again make sure they understand the terms of the photo shoot.
Depending on the concept there are many models and talent out there that can be reached. You just have to know where to look for them and don’t be afraid to ask. Just understand that when people aren’t getting paid they need a few more reminders.
If you are just starting out and need to grow your portfolio try to establish a working/good relationship with local agencies. You can offer to photograph their upcoming/new models for free. You can use the photos for your portfolio and the models can use them for their own.

Always get a model release signed!


Styling in an important step that many often overlook. If you are designing your dream shoot, styling is important. Even if the shoot isn’t something outrageous and I'm not designing a fairy tale shoot. I still take some time to talk over the styling during the pre-shoot consultation. I give suggestions on what to wear, what not to wear, how to clean up any area to be camera ready and suggest they have their hair and makeup professionally done.

Having a stylist to work with on a concept whether it be, glamour, fashion, portfolio and even a regular portrait session can really elevate the quality of your images. If you haven’t worked with hair, makeup, or a wardrobe or prop stylist, try it! Here are some small tips on ideas of how to find these people.

  • Look at those you admire and call that stylist and see if they are for hire.
  • Ask that lovely stylist you use to do your hair and makeup. See if they are willing to trade serviced for incredible imagery they can use for advertising.
  • Reach out to a local boutique or small shop who has the style you are looking for in your shoot and offer a trade.
  • Colleges are best. You can see if any students would like to collaborate and need to work on a real world project. There are many beauty schools, fashion programs and they all need experience. Make sure everything is clearly stated. Check with the specific school to make sure you abide by all the rules associated with it.

So, in Conclusion

  • What went well? What went bad? What can you do better next time?
  • Just remember that you can manage with any “homemade” equipment. “The best tool is the one you have.”
  • Always remember contracts for the models and forms for your clients

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