The hallmark of good branding is how you express yourself visually, especially in today’s instagram-driven market. Good photography can make or break your business, but producing a photoshoot
PART 1.: ASSEMBLE A CREW
All crew members are important, but of course a photographer will make or break your vision.
You’ll want to choose a photographer who can produce professional looking photography with proper lighting. Make sure the photographer has shot thing similar to what you want before. For example, if you need product shots of jewelry, or other small, detailed, and/or highly reflected objects, make sure you book a product photographer, as opposed to having a fashion photographer shoot your products. People and objects are lit very differently, and usually require different lenses — this is something non-photographers generally aren’t aware of, and sometimes I’ve found that photographers won’t tell you that they don’t have the right macro-lenses to shoot jewelry until after the shoot. By that time the shoot is over, you end up with subpar photos and you’re out a significant chunk of change.
Similarly, outdoor photos (or any kind of photographs with significant depth in the background) is very different from shooting a model inside or on a backdrop. If you’re planning a shoot set outdoors, make sure the photographer has taken outdoor photos before and can get that nice blur in the back — outdoor shots with a blurred background look higher quality & more professional than the alternative, but often amatuer photographers don’t know how to get this effect. Also make sure you discuss the time of day you’ll shoot, as well as the weather conditions — direct sunlight can be too harsh at times and can ruin photos, make sure your photographer has the right equipment to diffuse the light. Also, golden hours (right after sunrise or right before sunset) are the ideal times to shoot…however, these times can be hard to catch if you’re in an area where the sun is obstructed (for example: near mountains or sky scrapers).
Where to find a photographer
Portrait and wedding photographers are easy to find, but finding fashion photographers usually takes a bit more digging, especially outside of major markets. Here’s where I recommend looking–
- Local photographers facebook groups
- Instagram – if you search “[your city name] photographer” or “[city name] photography” you’re sure to find some great options.
And to a lesser extent I reccommend looking in the following places:
- Airbnb Experiences – most big cities have “photo walks” and “photoshoots” you can book through Airbnb experiences. Sometimes you can find one that’s explicitely labelled as a “fashion photoshoot”. I hired a photographer here once for personal instagram/vacation photos and it was a good experience.
- Task Monkey – I would only recommend using task monkey to hire a photographer if your photographer cancelled at the last minute and you absolutely can not reschedule the shoot. Generally, it’s difficult to vet photographers via this service, but it is an option if needed.
- Photo Sesh App – basically, this is just an app that’s used to book photographers. I can’t vouch for it — I did attempt to use it once and the first photographer I contacted was inactive, and the second one was a no-show.
If you only need product shots…
If you only need product shots on a solid background, there are services that allow you to ship your product to the photographer, they’ll shoot it from multiple angles, and generally will charge you per product or per photo. To find these types of photographers, I recommend googling “product photographer” and/or “amazon photographer”. If you prefer not to ship, just add your city name to the keyword string.
Okay, but how much does it cost?!?
It varies. Greatly. I know this is not the answer you’re looking for, nor is it very helpful, but it’s the truth. Every photographer sets their own rates and I find that those rates differ wildly. The rate usually depends on the market, the location (indoor or outside), the photogs experience, type of shoot, and the length of the shoot.
This is just my assessment but I find the following range to be true…
- In smaller markets photographers tend to charge from $50 to $125 per hour
- In larger markets photographers tend to charge around $350 for a half day shoot, and $600+ for a full day shoot
This is for professional photographers, but not necessarily photographers who are shooting for vogue. Keep in mind that travel fees may apply depending on where your shoot is located.
What to ask your photographer before you book
- How many photos from the shoot will they edit for you– some photographers don’t edit photos at all for clients, some do but will only edit a set amount of photos from a session and then charge you extra for the rest.
- Not all photographers will release the entire batch of raw/unedited photos to you. If this is something you need, make sure to discuss it beforehand.
- If they have a studio you can shoot in, if it’s an indoor shoot.
- …and if they do have a studio, it’s good to find out if said studio has a table space to organize supplies, a rolling rack for clothing, and maybe a steamer so you don’t have to bring your own.
HAIR & MAKE UP
Next you’ll probably need hair and/or make up. When it comes to hair and make up, unlike with photographers, I find that it’s generally perfectly fine to use artists who primarily do bridal work. And in smaller markets, you’d be hard pressed to find many MUAs (that’s shorthand for make up artist) who don’t specialize in weddings.
Where to find make up artists
All of the places I mentioned above to find photographers can be used to find hair and make up artists as well. But I also recommend…
- Ask your photographer for recommendations
- If you’re fine with sending your model off site to have this done, don’t forget that Ulta (offers hair and make up), Sephora, the MAC store, and most make up counters at department stores will do.
- Some local salons and salon chains also offer make up services, and of course, hair styling. I’ve found this method to be the most hit or miss.
Okay, but how much does it cost?!?
Most make up artists charge “per face”, and hair stylists charge per person (which is essentially the same thing). In smaller markets, the going rate for make up tends to be $50-$85 per face. Hair tends to be around $85.
In big cities, expect to pay over $85 per face.
The artist may also charge a travel fee; make sure to discuss the location ahead of time and ask about this.
Also, keep in mind that these are not day rates. The hair/MUA will not stay on set to do touch ups, at least not at these rates. If you need an artist to stay on set with you the entire time, make sure you ask specifically for their day rates (which is usually up to 7 or 8 hours) and/or half day rates (which is usually around 4 hours), and expect to be quoted $300+ per day.
Your model will be the “face” of your brand, both literally and figuratively! You want to make sure to choose someone who looks like they would use your product and is relatable to your target market, or at least aspirational.
Generally, the more models on set the more hectic a shoot is, but there are perks to shooting more than one model at a time. When you book two models, your second model can get their hair and make up done while the first model is shooting. And then your second model can shoot while you dress the first model. On top of that, you can also get group shots, which are awesome for homepage banners and social media. You’ll also have back up just in case one is a no-show.
How to find models…
- Through a modelling agency is the most obvious choice, but probably not the best one for most small businesses
- NewBookModels.com is a website that lets you book agency repped models but skip the middle man. I haven’t used it myself; the rates tend to be a bit high and there aren’t options in smaller markets. But, a certain level of professionalism and dependability seems to come with this option.
- Social media, with a strong emphasis on instagram, is going to be your best bet. You’ll find a ton of girls on there interested in modelling, particularly influencers, aspiring influencers, and fashion bloggers. One of the best models Ive ever worked with was a fashion blogger; those girls know how to pose because they do it every day.
- When I did my throne chair stock photoshoot I put out a casting call on facebook. I posted it on my own feed and also a couple of local groups (and a lot of people reposted it too). I got a couple dozen applications, and plenty from girls who had experience as amatuer models. I loved the results.
- Ask the photographer; if they work with models regularly they probably have a few girls they know will be a good fit for the job.
- Just like with photographers, most cities & towns have active facebook groups for amatuer models.
About asking friends to models
You can always ask your friends, or even just random people who have never modeled before. This sometimes works out fine, although non-models (which is very different from amatuer models) generally need a lot more coaching when it comes to posing.
What to look for in a fashion model
Here are a few things I recommend considering when vetting models for your brand:
- Get recent pictures. Things like hair style/cut/length change, tattoos are added, weight fluctuates, etc.
- Get full body pictures. If you sell a lot of unforgiving fabrics and body conscious clothing, make sure you see how the model looks in bodycon clothing. The truth is, not all slim models have the figure to pull off these types of looks.
- Gage their level of comfort upfront. Ask the model beforehand what she’s comfortable wearing. Some models don’t do swimwear or lingerie. Some models won’t even wear “sexy” outfits like plunging necklines or bodysuits. Ive also had models state that they don’t wear crop tops, or off the shoulder tops. Make sure they’re aware of the wardrobe beforehand; these aren’t the kinds of surprises you’ll want on the day of the shoot
Things like height and body shape are a bit more brand subjective. Some brands may prefer to use models who are “agency quality” (meaning tall and slim), or close to it. When shooting clothing (straight sizes), most of my models in the past have been size 2-4, 5’7″ tall, with lean or slim hourglass figures. However, I’ve worked with good models who are shorter as well for fashion, and for things like hair shoots
Another important thing to know is…
Make sure your models sign a model release; this ensures that you’re legally allowed to use their image. If your model is underage, a parent will need to sign for them as well. Usually, your photographer will have these on-hand, just check with them first and make sure they do.
A few more things about working with models…
- Models are generally the least reliable members of your crew. Expect them to be late to set or give you the wrong information about their schedule; plan accordingly.
- You can (and should) ask models to bring certain things to set, such as shoes (nude and black heels are what I would recommend) as well as appropriate underwear (nude strapless bra and matching thong). However…models also tend to forget these things so I recommend having some of them on hand if possible.
- Models don’t always take the best care of your clothing. Expect clothing to be discarded on to the floor. If you’re using clothing that needs to be returned or will go on sale, I recommend helping the model get in and out of each garment to ensure they don’t end up soiled with make up. This will also help things move faster (and stop the model from taking selfies while everyone is waiting to shoot).
How much should models get paid??
That’s a good question, and the answer varies. Because there are so many girls who are excited to model for fun, some shops don’t pay their models at all, and just give them free clothes. Personally, I’ve always paid my models my flat fee that usually came out to about $20/hr. In bigger markets, I’ve been told that the going rate is about $25/hr. Some models have their own rates; most do not.
ABOUT “TEST SHOOTS”
There’s something in the fashion industry called a “test shoot”; this is also often called TFP (which can mean time for prints, trade for prints, test for prints).
Essentially a “test shoot” is usually a photoshoot where the entire crew (model, photographer, hair and make up artists) collaborate by “Trading” services as opposed to paying for services. In the end, all parties involved get professional photos for their portfolio.
So basically a test shoot or a “trade” is a way to get free photos for your store or business.
But…there are a few caveats.
Test shoots are technically for industry professionals to build their portfolio. There are some who might frown upon businesses getting involved or using such photos for profit. However, there are many photographers and wardrobe stylists who are happy to work with boutiques and even seek out boutiques, because it’s incredibly difficult to get clothing for a test shoot otherwise, as much most showrooms and fashion lines won’t allow pulls for test shoot (a pull is when a stylist borrows clothes for a shoot).
When I first started styling, I put pictures of outfits I created for my online boutique on Model Mayhem which resulted in a few photographers requesting that I style test shoots for them, and they were more than happy to allow me to use the photos commercially.
There are a few downsides to test shooting though, which include the following…
- Some photographers might
- Most of the time these shoots are not the photographers priority, so there is no “deadline”for the turn around time.
- It’s a collaboration so you won’t be calling all of the shots with regards to how the hair and make up looks, etc. Make sure everyone is on the same page before participating.
PART 2: PRE-SHOOT PLANNING
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
The next thing you’ll probably need to think about is where you’re going to shoot. Photoshoots can either take place in doors or outdoors; both have their pros and cons.
INDOOR SHOOT LOCATIONS
- You can control the lighting and the setting
- You can do some really cool tricks with lighting
- It’s usually less work getting wardrobe and props to set
- It can be expensive to rent a studio. However, many photographers already have their own studio, or a backdrop can easily be set up in your own home.
- Shooting against a solid colored backdrop can get a bit boring.
OUTDOOR SHOOT LOCATIONS
- The right location can look beautiful and enhance your shot. Outdoor shoots are ideal for lookbook photos.
- It can be free or much cheaper if your alternative is to rent a studio.
- Not all “public” locations are free to shoot in. Some require a permit. In most cases, a photographer with some experience will already know this and let you know, as they’re usually the ones who get fined if caught.
- Unpredictable weather
Lighting can be tricky outdoors; the best lighting tends to be at sunrise and sunset, but sometimes direct sunlight can be too harsh.
- It can be difficult to work outside; work space is limited. Foot travel might be required if the actual shooting spot is far from the main road. And it can be hard for models to change outside (but I have a great remedy for that below).
- Public locations tend to have people in them, which leads to potentially having randoms in the shot.
PROPS, THEMES & IDEAS
Your shoot may not have a theme
MOOD BOARDS & CALL SHEETS
I highly recommend creating both; here’s how and why:
A mood board is necessary for mapping out your visual ideas and sharing them easily with the rest of the crew. You can create a pinboard (which I highly recommend), or a photo collage of some sort. Make sure your mood board includes…
- Shots from other shoots with a similar theme, lighting, and/or execution
- Photos that exude the same “vibe”, “attitude”, or “aesthetic” you’re going for
- Pictures of hair and make up ideas
Meanwhile, your call sheet is more about information. Your call sheet is an outline of everything you want to do. Keep it short but informative by providing the following information…
- Your business name (ie. who/what the shoot is for)
- Shoot date
- Start & end times
- Location address (including directions if necessary)
- A list of everyone involved, their roles & contact info
- Social media info (so everyone can be properly tagged/credited on social media)
- What the models should bring
- What will be provided
- Any other important information or directions
PART 3: SHOOT DAY
The actual day of the shoot is when the real work begins. I’m just going to be real here — photoshoots can be insanely stressful. And the more people, props, products and wardrobe you have, the more overwhelming it is to keep track of everything and stick to a schedule. But photoshoots are also fun and rewarding. Here’s what to expect, and what you can do to make the day go as smoothly as possible–
KEEPING THE CREW HAPPY
If you’re planning a long shoot with many crew members/models, I recommend also providing water and food for them. I usually bring about a dozen waters, box of variety chips, and order a large pizza for everyone when it’s all day shoot.
If you have a lot of jewelry or smaller items I also recommend using some sort of organizers that you can easily pack and unfold, and see everything without taking each thing out. Travel organizers are great for this, as are bead organizers if you need something with a hard shell.
For clothing, I suggest investing in garment bags, particularly the clear kind. If you don’t want to invest in actual garment bags, you can usually find plastic ones for moving at UHaul or similar stores — this will keep the clothing protected and still easily visible.
I also recommend grouping each outfit together and marking each with the model’s name. This will help things go smoother if there’s a lot of outfits, or models, or both.
Another thing I like to do is jot down a general “flow” of the photoshoot. This is usually just a point to point list, listing each outfit and also noting where any backdrop, prop or lighting changes should happen. This is a good way to ensure you don’t forget to shoot something.
KEEP AN EYE ON WHAT’S BEING SHOT
Make sure you get a variety of different angles and orientations for every look you shoot; it gives you more to play with after the fact. For most clothing brands and hair extensions brands especially, I recommend making sure you get the following types of photos…
- PORTRAITS – these are vertically oriented images. This is the ideal orientation for thumbnails and photos that will go on your product pages.
- LANDSCAPES – landscapes are wide (horizontally oriented) and are awesome for things like web banners, facebook covers, and lookbooks.
- FULL BODY SHOTS
- FRONT, BACK, SIDE, 3/4 & BACK – imperative for fashion brands, as clients need to see how the garment hangs from all angles.
- CLOSE-UPS – as a graphic designer, I love incorporating close up shots of the model’s in the background of banners and buttons, even if the client is selling something like hair extensions.
- DETAIL SHOTS – don’t forget to show off things like the texture of the fabric or other details.
Cropping is another thing to keep a close eye on. Your most valuable photos will be shots where the model’s body is only cropped at the bottom (for example, the model is shot from the hip, waist, or mid thigh up, with her arms/elbows and the top of her head completely in the shot). This photos give your graphic designer the m. If part of the model’s body is out of the shot, the photo is much more difficult to work with in this capacity because it will look like she’s missing a limb.
So here’s a quick and dirty overview of how to plan and execute a photoshoot from start to finish (this also doubles as a tl;dr for those who don’t feel like reading an entire 3000+ word blog post):
- Contact potential crew members (photographer, make up artist, and possibly hair stylists). Find out how much they charge, create a budget, and ask them for model recommendations
- Choose a model or put out a casting call; decide how much you want to pay them.
- Start brainstorming shoot concepts
- Scout a location
- Send your ideas to your team and make a detailed call sheet for everyone involved.
- Create an even more detailed shoot day schedule for yourself, and/or a checklist of all the things you need to bring
- Collect any wardrobe, props, and supplies needed for shoot
- ACTUALLY SHOOT. Stay organized and hydrated, my friend.
- Receive the photos back from the photographer…this usually takes a week or two.