What Goes Into Planning a Photo Shoot?

The pre-shoot consultation can be the main difference between a mediocre set of photos and something extraordinary. It’s the difference between just showing up and winging it versus preparing to do something specific (which usually means getting more great looks for the time spent there). While it is possible to get something great spontaneously, I prefer to be a planner.

What type of Photo Shoot is wanted? Business portrait? A modeling portfolio shoot? A commercial product shoot? A boudoir shoot?

Is there a preferred location for the photo shoot? Indoor or outdoor?

Woman in debutante dress in front of antebellum mansion
This is an example of an outfit and a location coming together beautifully. It started with the pre-shoot consultation.

If a studio is unavailable or not desired, some universal options include outdoor scenes like public parks, waterfalls, urban alleyways, stairwells, car garages, playgrounds, farms or ranches, parking decks, wooded areas, fields of flowers, suburban streets, amusement parks, etc.

Private options include nice homes or apartments, a pool, bathroom tubs, inside or outside vehicles (cars, limos, RV, boats, motorcycles, etc.).

You might be able to get permission to shoot in some unique places during non-peak hours like nightclubs with fun furnishings and neon signage, dive bars, restaurants with unique themes, gyms, classrooms, a laundromat, graveyard, junkyard, construction site, vineyard, train station or platforms, barns, cornfields, churches, etc.

I personally like to shoot in old buildings with a cool, urban look of warehouse decay, but safety is critical, as well as not breaking any trespassing laws.

Swimwear photo shoot
The model, Jocelyn Binder, had a bikini that matched the colors on this airplane during a photo shoot in Las Vegas.

It is generally best to ask first for permission when dealing with locations you don’t own so we can shoot without distraction and get the best looks, but sometimes you can shoot a quick look in challenging places as long as we do not make a big production out of it. Depending on the usage of the images, a property release may be required.

Some considerations when talking about locations are the additional cost of gas to drive there, tickets or product purchases in exchange for access, things like that. The exact location depends on the desired look. For example, is a luxury hotel better than a seedy old hotel? I look for places with variety of options. If shooting at a gym, can we shoot in the locker room or a boxing ring in addition to the exercise machines?

OUTFITS can decide the theme. Some great ones for photos shoots might include polka-dot bikinis, daisy duke shorts, a uniform, hoodies, hipster graphic t-shirts, biker jackets, sweaters, trench coats, a wedding dress, leather jacket, sports jersey, trucker or cowboy hats, heels… The options are only limited by your budget, imagination and what you can borrow from someone.

Sometimes a photo shoot can be built around PROPS. Some great ones include food or drinks, ice cream, sunglasses, jukeboxes, candy, skateboards, surfboards, guitars, stuffed animals, real animals, mirrors, balloons, masks, candles, fireworks, jewelry, cameras, water hose, handcuffs, or iconic sculptures or symbols.

Pretty girl on headphones

If the portrait is intended to have an editorial feeling (rather than a straightforward look-in-the-camera-and-smile shot), ACTIONS may be in order. You can add motion and power and story to a setup by doing things like eating, walking down the street, exercising, playing a video game, driving a car, dancing, doing yoga, painting toenails, playing a musical instrument, reacting to something off-camera, sunbathing, dressing up in a costume, trying on a new outfit, collecting flowers, watching a ballgame, listening to an iPod, shaving legs, tinkering under the hood of a car, singing with a hairbrush microphone, grocery shopping, getting a pretend tattoo, fighting/laughing, etc.

If there’s more than one person or model posing, it can also impact the theme. A male and female can portray a couple or several models together can resemble friends at a party.

Let me know any ideas you have. I sometimes will send clients example photos I find online that illustrate a theme/outfit/mood that I want to recreate. They can also send me their inspiration.