On organizing photo shoots – Part 1

May 10, 2013

I’ve gotten quite a few questions about the creative process of my photo shoots. I’ve slowed down with my photography a bit since I’m focusing on my studies at SCAD at the moment. But I do like to squeeze in a shoot or two when I’m on a school break to keep the creative juices flowing. Since I’m still a student, most of my shoots are unpaid and everyone works together as a trade, meaning that they trade their services for some rockin’ solid photos (taken by me) for their portfolio πŸ˜‰

This is by no means the end-all-be-all of the way all photo shoots work, but hopefully it’ll briefly outline the steps of putting together a photo shoot.

on organizing photo shoots - part 1 - drifter and the gypsy blog

Step One: Concept

Before I delve into organizing a photo shoot, I have to ask myself, what is the general mood I’m trying to achieve? and what story do I want to tell? This step comes relatively easy to me, since I usually stumble across inspiration by happenstance. Sometimes it’s a song lyric, a photograph, a book, or a movie that inspires me in some way. From there, I create a mood board of images I feel speaks to the aesthetic I am trying to achieve. In my most recent shoot (which was Brigitte Bardot-themed), I made a PinboardΒ instead.

Step Two: Scouting a Location

Sometimes this step comes easy, sometimes this step is more difficult. For a woodland/fairy/forest shoot, all you need is essentially a wooded area, which is pretty easy to find. You don’t need to ask for permission to shoot there. You just show up, take pictures, and leave.Β Simple. It gets more difficult when your concept requires a specific venue, such as a ’30s style Tudor house or something. In these cases, I usually post a status on Facebook, asking people if they know where I can find a venue like this. Sometimes people respond, and sometimes I’m looking for something so specific, no one responds. In this case, I have to resort to a Plan B.

Another way finding a location can get difficult is if you need to ask permission to shoot there. For instance, my most recent shoot was Brigitte Bardot-themed and we shot at the Claremont Hotel. I had to get in touch with the general manager and ask permission to shoot there. Sometimes the staff is nice and accommodating – like this past time was a cinch! – and sometimes they are not kind to photographers at all.Β (note: sometimes if the team is small enough and won’t attract a lot of attention, I shoot guerilla-style, meaning I don’t ask permission to shoot there and pretty much we go to the location and shoot until a. we’re done or b. someone finds us and kicks us out; definitely a last resort and I do not recommend doing this!).

Step Three: Rounding up a Team

After I come up with a concept and location for the shoot, I have to think about who would be a good fit for my team. My team includes a makeup artist, a hairstylist (sometimes the makeup artist does both hair and makeup which makes my life easier!), a wardrobe stylist, and a model. My mom is usually my assistant and does all the nitty gritty stuff, like lugging around my equipment and holding my cameras while I shoot πŸ˜‰

The more advanced you get, the larger your team can get. For instance, it may include more specialized artists like a manicurist, art director, and assistant wardrobe stylist, etc. I have a few go-to people I’ve worked with numerous times and feel comfortable working with that I contact about the shoot. I can usually find a person for each styling job who is both interested and available on the specified date and time.

Step Four: Picking a Model

This step is pretty fun! I usually take a browse through the models of my local modeling agencies (I work with Stars Model Management the most) and make a list of conceivable models who could pull off the look I want. I could look at pictures of models all day, dreaming up ideas for shoots based on their features, but that’s another story! From there, I email the modeling agent inquiring about the models I’m interested in with a brief proposal/synopsis of the shoot (this includes my concept, date, time, location, and mood board). Usually at least one of the models is available and I pick my favorite from there. If the model is not available, it’s back to square one and I have to come up with some secondary choices.

I hope this gives you a little insight on the creative process behind my photo shoots.Β Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!

(photo from drifter & the gypsy instagram feed)

Leave a Comment

  • Thanks for the insight! It can be handy for my upcoming photoshoots…

  • Oh, thank you so much! This helps me a lot πŸ™‚

  • I loved reading your tips! Can’t wait for Part Two.

  • really interesting and useful, thanks! hope all keeps going well with SCAD πŸ™‚

    -Emma from little motley (international giveaway going for 24 more hours!)

  • Thank you, this is so useful! Usually I get to step two before I give up, I’m sure this will help me get further!

  • Do you ever need to pay the model a little bit of money?
    I do test shots for a couple of modelling agencies where I live, but they give me the models and I never have much choice in the matter. I also know that if I wanted to use one specifically, I’d have to pay them.

    • Read the first paragraph πŸ™‚

      Of course you have more clout if you pay the agency to use their model and can get access to more models, but if you develop a good relationship with the agency and they know/trust your style and work, then you can get away with using models for trade. Usually the only models available for trade are new faces who need images of themselves. I usually photograph the new faces, but I’m very choosy with who I photograph as I do research on the model to see if they are self-aware, not self-conscious (you’d be surprised about how many new faces are just a pretty face and don’t know how to pose in front of a camera).

  • How to you approach agencies/develop a good relationship with them? Do you show them a portfolio, who should you speak to?

    • I usually start off with an email (I’ll find the director of new faces or women in the agency as I shoot primarily with new faces/women) and link to my online portfolio, then ask if they would like to schedule an appointment with me to view my portfolio in person to talk about testing with their models. It’s all about portfolio, man! I haven’t approached many agencies lately as I have a few that I like to work with, but when I first started out a few years ago, I was super casual and friendly with my approach/not super formal and I found that most agencies (in San Francisco that is; it’s probably different in more fashion capitals!) are very laid back and down-to-earth. I felt really at ease when I met with them at the agency and showed them my portfolio. I hope this helps!

      • Yeah that is super helpful! And when you started, did you portfolio have largely people pictures, or did you also have a couple non-people pictures?

        • Awesome. Yes, it largely had people pictures because you want to show the agency the type of pictures you would take with their models πŸ™‚

  • Hi Micaela! This is really helpful and interesting. I’ve been doing shoots myself, trying to build up my portfolio too. But I’m having problems when it comes to location though. Most of the pretty hotels that I want to shoot in either won’t let us shoot or asks for payment.

    I have a question: have you experienced paying the venue for your shoots?

    Happy Holidays! πŸ™‚

    • Hi Pearl! That’s awesome. I’m glad the post was of help to you! Usually when I approach venues to shoot at, I’ll say I’m a student and the project is a student project. Usually they’ll let you use the venue for free if the photo shoot is for a student project. I’ve had my fair share of rejections too, or else places that want to charge for the use of their facility, in which case, I find a plan B! Feel free to email me with any more questions. πŸ™‚

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