PHOTOSHOOT PLANNING TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL SHOOTS
"“Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution; this gives you a 1,000 percent return on energy!”
― Brian Tracy
Planning a photo shoot can be a daunting task because there is so much to do, coordinate, and keep track of. But you can make planning your shoot simpler and more streamlined if you break planning down into simple steps you can follow every time.
Whether you shoot fashion photography or newborns, having tried and tested approach to planning a shoot can be a lifesaver.
This list isn’t exhaustive and there will always be things you can add to account for differences in approach or subject matter, but the steps will give you a solid outline you can use as a roadmap to make your job easier. And remember, these steps can be shuffled depending on your timeline and circumstances, so feel free to take these steps and shift them around to suit your needs.
FIND THE IDEA OR CONCEPT
Photoshoot ideas can come from almost anywhere. Sometimes the idea is based on a client’s needs, other times it’s a vision that came to you while watching a movie, reading, or listening to music. Wherever your idea comes from, the first step in planning a photoshoot is ideation.
Once you have an idea, you have to cultivate that idea and flesh it out in your mind. Take time to visualize your idea, break it down, and consider it from every angle. This way when it’s time for the other planning steps you have a good idea of what you need.
CREATE A MOOD BOARD FOR COLLABORATION
Creating a mood board is an important step in actualizing your idea because it gives you a visual representation of what you want to make, that you can then share with your client or your team to keep everyone working on the same page.
Mood boards can be created physically, by finding reference material in magazines, books, or sketching your ideas on paper and adding color, texture, and other elements that represent your ideas.
They can also be created digitally using programs like Pureref or Pinterest. Try not to be tied only to photography, but find images across a wide range of disciplines from painting to sculpture and graphic design. This will help round out your concept and introduce new perspectives you may not have considered.
SCHEDULE OUT EVERY DETAIL
Booking the right talent is a key part of realizing your vision for the photo shoot. Keep your intention in mind and make sure you find talent to work with who not only suits your subject matter and purpose but who can be counted on to be professional.
This is why many photographers prefer to work with represented models and actors, but however you find your talent, be certain to set expectations with them from the outset.
FIND AND TAKE CARE OF YOUR CREW
The right crew can make or break a photo shoot. From hair and makeup artists who not only create your vision but make your subject feel amazing, to digital techs and grips who make a shoot run smoothly, choosing the right crew will have an enormous impact on the final product and the shooting experience.
Make sure you take the time to consider who needs to be added to the crew, show them your mood board, share your vision, and set expectations with them just as you would with any other member of the team.
If it is a trade shoot, also remember you have obligations to capture photographs your team can use for their portfolio, so be certain you find out what they need from the shoot so you can give them what they need, too.
FIND THE LOCATION AND THINK OF VARIABLES
Where is your shoot taking place? Are you working in a studio, heading to the park, or do you need to get a permit? While you look for the perfect location for your shoot, don’t forget to learn the important details that will affect your ability to work there.
If the location is outdoors, where will the sun be while you’re shooting? What happens if it rains? Will there be bathrooms, outlets, or water available?
If you’re renting a space make sure to find out if it’s large enough for your crew, whether they have enough outlets available for your gear, and if bathroom facilities are available.
ACQUIRE YOUR WARDROBE
What is your talent wearing and are there any props required to bring your vision to life? If you’re hiring a stylist as part of your crew, make sure you’re communicating clearly and have a list of what is needed. If this step is purely up to you, keep in mind there are resources out there such as Theatre Companies that may rent out costumes and props.
You can also purchase or fabricate props for a shoot, but whatever you do, don’t forget them!
ENSURE YOU HAVE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
When you visualized the final photograph, what did it look like? What lights, modifiers, and lenses will you need to create your vision? Are there location-specific restrictions you need to keep in mind when selecting gear? Do you have backups?
Be sure you take the time to consider not only what gear will help you capture your vision but what will be effective in the circumstances you’ll be shooting in.
The last thing you want to happen is to be missing key gear on the day of a shoot, so make yourself a packing list, and never forget to have backups.
PLAN YOUR SETS WITH LIGHTING DIAGRAMS
Lighting diagrams can help you move easily from one setup to another, and also gives your crew a plan to work off of so they can switch setups efficiently. This doesn’t mean you can’t change things or be creative during your photo session, but if you have several looks to cover, drawing up diagrams can help you move through looks or sets with minimal fuss.
It also helps you pre-visualize what the final images may look like.
PREP AND SEND CALL SHEETS
If you’ve never used a call sheet before, I can’t recommend them enough. A call sheet is a simple piece of paper that tells everyone on the team, from the set director to the talent, the who, what, when, where, and why of the shoot.
Call sheets assign responsibilities to each member of the crew, tells them when to show up on set, what to bring, and records their contact information so you can get ahold of people when you need to.
They also list the address of locations you’ll be working at, emergency contacts such as where the closest hospital is, and gives a timeline breakdown of what each day looks like.
A call sheet is both reference material and a roadmap for a smooth photo shoot.
Almost every photoshoot will have several of these steps involved, if not all of them. Even landscape photographers have to consider where the sun will be on shoot day, what gear they’ll need, and where the closest hospital is.
But whether you need every step in this article, or only a few, building a system for how you approach photoshoots wil