If your brand is ready to elevate its marketing game, investing in an original photo shoot is the way to go. It can boost your site’s ranking on search engines, affirm your brand’s credibility, and build trust with your audience.
But where do you start? Things to consider include hiring photographers, models, and hair and makeup professionals; finding locations; and post-shoot production. While you can have an agency plan all these elements if you have the budget for it, it is entirely possible to do it yourself. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of each step for putting together a photo shoot.
- Creating a Budget
- Hiring a Photographer
- Finding a Location
- Hiring Models
- Hiring Hair and Makeup
- Image Copyrights and Licensing for Talent
- Writing a Creative Brief
- Finding Props
- Create a Shot List
- Creating Your Schedule
- What to Expect on Set
- Tips on Communication
Photo shoots have a lot of moving parts. Here are some elements to consider when putting together your budget:
- A photographer
- The number of days you’ll need to complete the photo shoot
- A location (Keep in mind that if you decide to shoot outdoors, you may have to apply for permits.)
- Models and/or products to photograph
- Photo editing and retouching
- Lighting and photography equipment, such as backdrops and tripods (if the photographer does not provide them)
- Additional fees for expenses like COVID-19 testing
- Hair and makeup, if you’re using models
- Catering, if your days will be long
- Transportation for your team
Before enlisting a photographer, think about what sort of specialist you’re looking for, depending on your needs. Specialities can include events, product, branding, nature, and lifestyle photography. While someone with branding experience is ideal, if you’re looking to capture something a bit more niche, consider photographers with another area of focus. For photos of a model using your product in a crowd full of people, for example, you might want to find a live event photographer; whereas if you’d like to focus your shoot on close-ups of branded materials, a still life photographer might work best.
Once you’ve perused a prospective photographer’s portfolio and decided if their experience aligns with your goal and aesthetic, it’s time to set some expectations. Here are some important questions to ask:
- Do they charge per product, or do they charge a flat hourly or day rate?
- Are there any other additional fees or deposits you’ll need to pay in addition to their quoted rate?
- What will you need to provide for them in order for the shoot to be successful?
- Do they have all the equipment you require (a camera, lighting equipment, a camera tether, a laptop for onsite photo review, seamless backdrops, etc.)?
- Do they need an assistant? If so, is the assistant included in their rate?
- What COVID-19 testing protocols do they require?
- Can they provide optimized edited images after the shoot? Will that cost extra, or will it be included in their quote?
- Within what time frame can you expect to see your photos? (Unretouched photos will be delivered faster than ones the photographer needs to edit.)
- What types of releases and contracts will you need to ensure that you’re able to use the photos as needed? Drafting a contract stating that there are no limitations on photo usage—whether online, in print, or on social media—is your best bet.
Keep in mind that when you’re considering your photo shoot budget, it will likely be an investment—“and there’s a reason for that,” says branding photographer Maddie Peschong. “With brand photography, you’re paying for more than just time and the photos created; you’re paying for value.
“I’ve had a client who had [their] revenue increase by 700% while we were working together when a photo went viral; another who says on days she posts a photo of a certain product, they sell more of them; and others who have increased their overall visibility and connections with potential clients and customers,” she continues. “Brand photography creates connection and improves recognition. These things are valuable in the world of sales and marketing, and the price will reflect that.”
To get the most bang for your buck, it’s important to make sure that your vision aligns with the photographer’s—and that you go over specific details of the shoot with them. For example, discuss lighting: A good photographer will know what kind is necessary based on the location, the goals of your shoot, your desired aesthetic, and your product. Verify that the photographer will be able to provide the necessary equipment and knowledge.
A location can be a blank slate that gives you plenty of options for customizing your shoot with backdrops and lighting. Alternatively, you can find a location that has an aesthetic you want to showcase and that aligns with your brand.
“Locations can be really key in telling a brand story,” Peschong explains. “I have a photography studio that serves as a great blank slate that we can design however we want. But honestly, I love shooting brand photography on location. Brand photography helps establish trust, and we’re more likely to trust something that seems real and believable, not staged. For a lot of the brands I work with, that’s usually not done in a studio, which I think is really fun.”
Other questions you should ask yourself when scouting the spot for your shoot include:
- Do you want your photos to be taken outdoors or indoors?
- Do you want an urban, suburban, or rural feel?
- Is a big warehouse or office space better suited to your needs?
- Is natural lighting or curated lighting more appropriate?
Elements like the size of your crew, the equipment needed, and timing will all be affected by your location choice. For example, your photographer’s requirements will vary depending on where the shoot is.
In order to make sure you get the results you want, know whether you’re seeking to capture closeups of your product or looking to shoot models interacting with it. Do you want a vibe that feels approachable or exclusive? Knowing this information will help you figure out what you need to get the most out of your location.
Gucci campaigns – Photographed by Colin Dodgson/Julia Hetta/Ari Marcopoulos
Once you have a general idea in mind, a number of websites are available to assist in your location search, such as Flickr, which can provide you with photos of thousands of spaces, and the Photographer’s Ephemeris. A quick Google search for “where to do a photo shoot near me” is another option. If you can, get quotes from multiple locations in order to get the best price.
Consider local spots such as unique buildings, botanical gardens, parks, beaches, bridges, offices, or restaurants. A studio is also an option; this may add a generic “stock feel,” which can be a good option if you’re looking to take simple shots of your product. Take a walk around, and see what sparks your interest. Get creative.
Be sure to share all your ideas with the photographer ahead of time so that they’re able to flag any concerns or needed materials, or even contribute their own ideas.
Now that you’ve locked down a location, you can start thinking about who needs to be there. (If you don’t need models, you can skip the next two sections; but if you do, keep reading.)
There are many different types of models with various specialties, from hand to runway modeling. As you’re looking through portfolios, think about what kind of model will fit the energy you want for your shoot and how you want your audience to perceive your brand.
To find a model, you can either go through an agency or search on platforms like Backstage. Some models are considered “new faces,” meaning they don’t have an extensive portfolio yet; this could be a good way to go if you are looking to reduce costs.
Here are some questions to ask potential models:
- What brands have they worked with in the past?
- What is their availability?
- Do their rates align with your budget? (This will depend on your location, the size of your campaign, and the duration of your shoot.)
- What are their measurements? (This information will be important if you’re providing a wardrobe. If you aren’t, ask if they own clothing that fits the aesthetic you’re looking for.)
- What are their COVID-19 testing expectations?
- Do they have any limitations when it comes to photo shoots?
- How do they handle feedback?
If the answers are to your satisfaction, it’s time to make the hire.
If you’re working with models, making sure they fit your vision is essential, and hair and makeup is a major part of that. To pick the best person for the job, have a look at campaigns that your potential hair and/or makeup people have done in the past and the fields they usually work in. For example, some stylists work primarily on wedding parties, so they may not be the best fit for a branded photo shoot.
In terms of payment, many makeup artists charge daily rates to account for touch-ups over the course of the shoot, but some may offer an hourly rate. Amounts will vary depending on the length of the shoot, location, and general makeup and hair requirements.
Once you’ve confirmed that they’re within your budget, determine your visual parameters: Do you want a barely-there makeup look, or full glam? Do you want your models to have a fresh-faced appearance, or something more colorful? Be sure that you clearly communicate your expectations. Reference photos are always helpful to include in a brief.
Finally, be sure that everyone has the same expectations when it comes to the desired outcome, timing, payment, safety measures, and creative direction prior to the day.
Talent like photographers, models, and hair and makeup artists have varying rules pertaining to the usage of their work. It is important to carefully draft your contracts to communicate expectations. For example, some talent might offer unlimited usage, but with credit. Others may only agree to have their images used in print or on the web for a finite period of time on specific, pre-negotiated campaigns. The resulting agreement will depend on your budgetary restrictions and how long you expect to use the photos. These stipulations can apply to behind-the-scenes footage rights as well.
Now that you have all the crucial elements of your brand’s shoot planned, it’s time to gather it all into a comprehensive packet for your team. Here are some elements to include:
- The product: What is your brand featuring in this shoot? What’s the purpose of putting the shoot together?
- The goal: What do you want your audience to feel when looking at your images? Is there a specific concept you want to communicate? Outline what, exactly, you want the photos to capture.
- The target audience: Who are your images speaking to? Gen Z customers? Mothers-to-be? Fitness junkies? This should be top of mind.
- The inspiration: What images did you look at when pulling together the concept for this shoot? What’s the color palette? Include this information in your brief. Providing solid reference points will set your team up for success.
- The deliverables: What should your team expect to have once the shoot is wrapped? How many images are you looking for, and where are they going? Photos for a subway ad campaign will feel different than those meant for social media, for example, so you should clearly communicate their intended marketing destination.
Props can introduce character and an element of surprise to a shoot, but they can be a distraction if they’re not used properly. Be deliberate with your choices. Props can include everything from a daiquiri glass to a fully set dinner table to a flower arrangement to tap shoes.
One of the best—and cheapest—ways to find items is to source them from people you know. You can also look on Etsy, Amazon, or at a dollar store. Facebook Marketplace is a great place to source houseware, mirrors, chairs, and stools. Just make sure the props you choose add to the story you want your images to tell rather than overtaking it.
People need to eat! If you are trying to stick to a tight budget, you can opt to order a few boxes of pizza. But if you want to really impress your crew, there are likely local restaurants in your area that would be happy to cater a photo shoot. Once you know your headcount, call around to compare prices.
A fajita, pasta, sandwich, or salad bar is an easily customizable option. Try to stick with a menu that is flexible and will satisfy as many people as possible, while also being mindful of dietary restrictions and allergies. Most importantly, always have water on hand.
A document detailing each shot including a brief description of the photo, which model you are using, the shot type, the camera angle, the framing, the location, and setup times will be invaluable when keeping on track and on goal. This information can all be organized in a spreadsheet.
Draft an hour-by-hour schedule and share it with your team beforehand to make sure the shoot stays on track. If you’re arranging transportation, include arrival and departure times for all talent. Be sure to factor in travel time if your shoot requires multiple locations, and send the schedule to everyone involved. You can also print out your schedule and post it in a conspicuous place during the shoot.
Talk to your photographer so you can accurately factor in time for lighting setups, wardrobe changes, and breaks. Set aside space and time for the talent to take a breather. This can be as simple as establishing a place where they can charge their phones, eat snacks, and chat, or as robust as a separate room complete with drinks, catering, and a TV. If your shoot is outside, be sure to take sun exposure into consideration.
You can also create a post-shoot schedule that outlines when your photographer should have their deliverables ready, how long your team will need to build your brand assets, and when you expect you’ll be able to launch. See below for a sample from one of Backstage’s own shoots.
The shoot will go by quickly. Anticipate that things will go awry so that you can be ready to tackle the unexpected. Have alternatives in place for key elements like models, lighting equipment, power sources, products, and so forth. Make sure everyone is aware of their responsibilities.
Here are some best practices to consider when it comes to relaying information to your team during the shoot:
- First impressions: Prioritize greeting your talent as they arrive. This will set the tone for a great working environment and show that you value their time and efforts. Address any questions they might have as soon as you’re able.
- Updates: Share any impactful changes for the day in a prompt and clear manner. Let your team know how it will affect them and what is being done to ensure a smooth transition into the new game plan.
- Progress check-ins: Touch base with your production team throughout the day. Are you running on schedule? Are there any hiccups to address or necessary pivots to make? Do the models feel comfortable in their environment?
- Feedback: Be prepared to give feedback where necessary—whether it be on a model’s pose, the product setup, or the photographer’s framing. Having a creative brief on hand to reference will help keep your team on track. Be sure to review your photographer’s images on an external monitor as the shoot progresses.
- Post-shoot debrief: Now, it’s your turn to get some feedback. Touch base with your core production team, and get their thoughts on what went well and what could be improved. This information will be valuable if and when you’re ready to tackle your next photo shoot.
Retouching is an essential part of the process. Prior to the shoot, speak with the photographer to see if they can take on photo editing responsibilities or if you will need to allocate additional resources.
Once the shots are retouched and ready, store your images in a place where you can easily access them and where they will not get lost in years to come. Organization is key. You’ve invested money in this shoot, and it would be a shame to lose all the photos that came out of it. Be sure you title and organize files in a way that makes it easy for you to find them again.