How to Plan and Execute a Photo Shoot

If you’re reading this you’re most likely a photographer and want to know how to plan and execute a photo shoot. It hurts, but it’s true when they say that a good idea is nothing if you can’t successfully implement it.

When I first started out as a photographer, one of my biggest struggles was finding the right models, the clothing to style, and locations to shoot.

This can be quite a challenge for one person to take on when you’re going for a theme with a lot of specifics involved.

After trial and error of putting together my own shoots, I’ve gathered enough information to help make this process easy for anyone who wants to bring their idea to life.

Create a mood board

The first step of any creative project should be to create a mood board that showcases the inspiration and direction of the shoot.

Mood boards are great because they can help other people you bring onto your team understand your vision.

Pinterest is the easiest tool to do this because it’s so easy to search for images and save them to a board. It’s really easy to share your curated board with others involved by email or by texting the link.

When it comes to choosing which images to include, they should portray examples of the kind of locations you’re envisioning, direction of the styling, posing ideas, and the angle of shots you want. Pretty much anything that’s going to help you tell the story.

I have quite a few boards on my Pinterest page to get you started, check out this board for general photo shoot inspiration.

If you want to take it one step further, then you can save the images and create a collage in Photoshop, which is what I like to do.

Editing, manipulating, and arranging the photos to fit your theme can really take it to the next level when you start trying to sell your idea to other people.

Here are some I’ve done for shoots!


Find a Model

Finding the right model is the most important step for any photo shoot, because everyone has a different vibe so it’s necessary to find someone who fits the look you’re going for.

Not trying to be dramatic, but it can honestly make or break your entire shoot.

The key things you want in a model is someone who is completely comfortable in front of the camera, knows their angles, and has a nice resting face.

I know this sounds obvious, but to give yourself the highest chance of getting a variety of images to choose from in post, you need someone whose not going to intimidated modeling where there might be people watching, can suggest different poses to try, and can look soft even when they’re caught off guard.

The easiest route to go is choosing people you know from your personal life, everyone has a friend who everyone tells should be a model.

A lot of the people I have model for me are friends or people I’ve reach out to that I went to high school with.

To broaden the search, You can use Instagram to search locations and find people in your area. This works really well if you live near a college town, because there will be lot of selfies and outfit posts.

More recently, I joined the The Hub which is an online community that connects creatives. You have to apply and get accepted, but once you’re in then you can search through a catalog of photographers, models and videographers based on location, type of photography, age and more.

Search for the location

The second most important thing that comes after the model is the location of your shoot.

If you want a mountain backdrop but you live in the South then you’re shit out of luck but it is possible to find locations in your area to fit your overall theme.

Typically, I start by doing a general Google search for what I’m looking for, such as “vintage diners in Houston” and see what comes up. If the search is dry then I will continue to search for variations of what I’m looking for until I get a lead.

You can also try searching by location on Instagram to find cool spots other people think are worthy enough for their feed.

Sites like ShotHotspot and Foursqaure are also a good place to start for more generic locations such as gardens, parks, and establishments.

If you’re on the hunt for a very specific spot then you need to dedicate a few hours to driving around and scouting for different aesthetically pleasing spots and locations.

Another awesome place to check is AirBnB and reach out to the hosts to see if they would let you rent the space for a photo shoot. This is awesome if you want a unusual or specific aesthetics such as boho, modern, or want to use a pool.

The Suburban Summer part 2 photoset was shot in the amazing backyard of an AirBnB that I rented for a few hours.

To make your life easier for future shoots, then make it a habit to take snaps of spots you come across in every day life and want to revisit later. Smartphones are great because they geographical stamp each photo you take.

Build your team

As a creator, I totally understand how anxious it can be to put your precious idea in the hands of someone else, but that’s why you pick people who have prior work to show and that you trust.

A typical team includes a photographer, stylist, model, creative director, assistant, videographer, and lighting if you’re doing studio work.

Don’t feel pressured to have a large team if you don’t need it for the type of shoot you’re planning. Honestly the smaller, the less people to keep track of.

The creative director helps guide everyone the day of the shoot to make sure it follows the theme. An assistant isn’t necessary but handy if there’s props involved or if you need someone to reflect light or fix the way the clothing drapes on the model and having a videographer is a nice addition if you want behind the scenes footage.

A good way to find people with a variety of creative skills is to look at the credits page from local zines or student-run publications at schools near you and reach out.

Another sure fire way is to just ask your photographer friends if they recommend anyone they’ve worked with before.

Instagram can be a good tool for this as well, because Instagram business accounts allow people to put their title in their bio and have a quick link to contact them.

Pull clothing and props

Typically your stylist should have a large wardrobe or showroom to pull from, but if you’re still having trouble trying to find clothing that fits your theme then reach out to local boutiques, vintage and consignment stores and ask if you can pull items from the store for your shoot.

After hearing your awesome idea, they’ll be more than likely glad to help, because it’s free publicity for them.

Vintage and consignment stores are a great place to find specific props without having to purchase them yourself. For the Vintage Resort Editorial, we borrowed the vintage suitcases from a consignment store.

Also, if you know people who have items you’re on the hunt for then don’t be afraid to reach out. Jetta, the Husky puppy, who was used for the same shoot was borrowed from a friend!

Send out a call sheet

Since you have other people involved, it’s important to make sure everyone’s on the same page and knows what to expect.

Sending out a call sheet is a must and should be sent out to everyone involved if you don’t want any confusion and for people to show up on time.

A typical call sheet states the name of the project, people involved, dates and times, locations, contact information and schedule of the shoot.

I also like to add the mood board so everyone can have a copy to refer to on the day of the shoot.

Host a fitting

To have the most efficient shoot, I highly recommend working with your stylist and creative director to pull the clothing and props for the shoot before hand and having a fitting with everyone who is modeling.

There’s no better way to waste time than to leave the styling to be done the day of the shoot. You never know how items are going to look pieced together and fit on your model, so it can take a few tries until you get a killer look.

This also makes the amount of items to transport on the day of the shoot a lot lighter since you’ve already decided on what you need while on set.

Go shoot!

There’s really no right or wrong way to plan a shoot, it’s all about doing what you need to do to make it happen.

Use my tips to guide you in planning a photo shoot that is executed successfully with no excuses. Let me know how they work out for you and send me a link to you work in the comments.

Thanks for reading and stay hungry to learn, create and grow! Happy shooting!

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