If it’s your first time organising a photo shoot it can be overwhelming knowing where to start – how much should you spend? How do you find the right model and photographer? A photo shoot is often a pretty big investment for your brand and the images you get in that one day will often need to last you for several months so it’s important you get it right. We’ve organised hundreds of shoots over the last ten years both big and small productions, and have pulled together this guide to help ensure you get the best results on the day, whatever your budget.

1. Create a moodboard
A moodboard is a really effective way of starting the process and also communicating to those involved in the shoot your vision and likes. Gather images from magazines and online sources that you love. Make sure the images are as relevant as possible – if you know you’ll be shooting in a studio, include images from studio shoots rather than locations. It’s also helpful to make notes about what you like about each image to help the photographer, stylist and hair/makeup artist – is it the clothes, the lighting, the makeup? Read our MoodBoard guide for more tips.

2. Find a photographer
This should always be your next step – the photographer is not only the artist who will create your images for you but also a great source for contacts and information – they will likely be able to recommend locations, stylists and hair and makeup artists that they’ve worked with previously and who will suit your brand. Make sure you meet with the photographer before the shoot and chat through the moodboard and your ideas for each shot, a good photographer will want to help you as much as possible achieve a great set of images so if they’re reluctant to meet you first it should be a warning sign that they might not be the best person for the job.

To find a photographer, the most reliable route is to contact a photographic agency and ask to see some books (portfolios). Be upfront about your budget from the start and ask for a full quote – the photographer’s day rate is usually only a small part of the final quote, be prepared to be billed for equipment hire, lighting, retouching and more and for the quote to be upwards of £3k. If you know you only have a set amount to spend be very clear about this from the start so the agency can work around that. They may even be able to omit certain things from the budget to help you.

If a photography agency is outside of your budget then your best bet is to find a freelance photographer – hunt websites like Behance, Elance and even LinkedIn to find photographers in your area. Make sure you are able to view their portfolio before you hire and don’t consider hiring a photographer who can’t show you work that you like or matches your brand but promises you they could do it on the day – it’s just not worth the risk. Again, make sure you get a full quote that includes equipment hire, retouching and any assistants needed for the day.


3. Find a model
By far one of the most important elements in pulling together a successful photoshoot is finding the right model. The model is the face that your customer will look at and connect with, the person that they aspire to be and will spend money to look like. Make sure you find the very best model you can for your budget and absolutely make sure you meet them before the shoot to see what they’re like in person. Take some test shots when you cast them – if they move well and make great poses it’s worth it if they cost a little more. A good model who can understand what you want and deliver it is always worth a little extra in fee – it’s a false economy to go for someone cheaper who will take five times as long to get a shot right. Read our full guide to finding the perfect model for your shoot.

4. Find a location
Locations can often be one of the biggest costs in a photoshoot. Find a photographer first and then ask them if they have any recommendations that match your budget – if you’re planning a studio shoot they will often have a long list of potential places. Otherwise, use a location agency like Amazing Spaces or Shoot Factory where you can find beautiful spaces from studios to incredible old houses – if you’re organising the photo shoot with little notice you may well be able to get a better deal by booking the location as close to the date as possible as the property would otherwise be empty. If you want to shoot in an indoors location like a bar, house or hotel, contact some venues well in advance of the shoot date and see if you can organise a reciprocal deal – for instance by including a link to their website on your photoshoot you can often negotiate a reduced cost or even a free arrangement.

For an outside shoot, just get on the streets or head to a park. Use Google Maps to view areas near you at street level and look for interesting buildings and features then get there with a camera and take some test shots. It’s amazing how the smallest touches set the whole image – a certain type of metal railing can make a shot look like a Parisian street, and a different type of brick can emulate a New York downtown scene. Always speak to the local council for the area to find out if there is any permit required to shoot (and do this well in advance in case of lengthy processing times) but you will often find that costs will be very minimal or non existent.


5. Styling, hair and makeup
Always start by asking the photographer if they have preferred people to work with – a photographer will often recommend a team that they’ve worked with before and if the rates are in your budget and you like their work, this is a great route as you know the team will hit the ground running and know exactly how to work together to make the best images.

If you need to source stylists and hair and makeup people yourself, you can either contact agencies or look for freelancers. Search on Google for freelancers in your area, and make sure they have examples of their work that match your preferred style.

Tip: Find someone who can do more than one job. Makeup artists can often style hair, Stylists can often source props. Get as much out of everyone as you can on the day, it may sometimes cost you a little more in their daily rate but it’s unlikely to match the cost of hiring someone else for the day.

Ten tips to get the most out of the day

You will often just have one day to create your images so you need to be as prepared as you can be so that you can use it to its full advantage and not waste time speculating on the day.

  1. Create a moodboard before the shoot with images you love and that match the style of the product you are shooting and the model and photographer you have chosen. Make sure everyone sees this in advance of the shoot so they can be as prepared as possible.
  2. Tell the model to come prepared – if you need nails a certain colour, hair to be washed, male models to come clean shaven, tell the agency before so you don’t have to rush out to the shops on the morning of the shoot to pick up shampoo.
  3. Whoever is organising the shoot will need to send a call sheet to everyone giving them the location address, call time and any other instructions for the day. It’s easy to find templates for call sheets online if you are the one needing to do this. Attach your moodboard to the call sheet too so that everyone involved has a clear sense of the direction in advance.
  4. Bring hair and makeup references that match the hair and makeup of the model so that you can clearly direct a hair stylist or makeup artist. Make sure that the looks will work with the model you have chosen – I’ve been on a shoot before where we curled hair and then straightened it because the curls didn’t work with the model we had chosen, I’ve also been on a shoot where the model had extensions in that the hair stylist couldn’t work with but that we weren’t aware of.
  5. Rather than paying hefty catering bills at a studio, go to the supermarket and bring sandwiches and salads, research affordable local food delivery services or prepare food at home to bring. Don’t be cheap though – it’s a long day and depending on hours, people will need to eat breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack so make sure you provide enough food for everyone. Make sure there is choice to satisfy a range of tastes and include healthy options too (a lot of models will not eat bread particularly on a shoot to avoid bloating).
  6. You will have a couple of hours at the start of the day where the photographer sets up his lights and the hair and makeup is done. Don’t spend this time sitting and eating croissants! Talk to everyone, make sure that the photographer knows what you want, that the stylist has everything they need and that the model and hair/makeup are happy. Take behind the scenes shots to use later on social media, look around the location for ideas and inspiration and make sure you are fully prepared for the first shot.
  7. The first shot of the day is often a nervewracking experience, waiting to see if it all comes together as you’d hoped, so it’s a good idea to start with an easy shot first, save the really tricky, complicated look until half way through the day and instead make sure everyone is feeling excited about how things are going and takes that enthusiasm through to the next shot.
  8. Work out a clear schedule for the day. It’s very easy to get carried away and spend too long perfecting one shot and then have to rush the last three. If you know you need to get 6 shots in the day, and the lighting/model preparation has taken 2 hours, after a lunch break you are left with an hour per shot in a standard 9 hour day. Set a timer and stick to it, you’ll be grateful when you get to the end of the day.
  9. Keep in control. You have a moodboard and a clear sense of your brand so keep this in mind throughout the day – if you feel like things are drifting off course, speak up! You are the person in that room who understands your brand the most and has to work with the images going forwards and everyone else is there to create a product that you will be happy with. Equally, keep the customer in mind – as beautiful as things might be looking, remember their purpose – can you see the dress’ details clearly? Do the trousers look flattering? Is the model’s hair covering a really important part of a coat? Would this shot make you want to buy the pieces in it?
  10. The end of a shoot is often a rushed affair – packing up items and trying to get the last shot done before everyone has to sign off – so be sure to mark the shots you like as you go along. The photographer will be able to mark them on the software (usually Capture One) so that he knows which ones are your favourite, which will ensure he is able to consider these when he sends you his edit after the shoot.



About Ruth Cozens:
Co-founder of Sitorial, Ruth has worked in fashion eCommerce for over ten years. She started her fashion career at Net-a-Porter and has since gone on to work for a host of big retail names including ASOS, Marks & Spencer, Arcadia and my-wardrobe.com where she ran the creative side of the business and held a place on the exec team.