‘How do photoshoots work?’ Here’s my process

Everyone has their own way of putting together a photoshoot, but this is my preferred method and approach to create the great photoshoot and ensure it all runs smoothly.

Part.1: Research & Preparation / Lets talk … It all starts with conversation

No matter whether via email, skype or phone. It’s the little elements that can really take off during this stage and we try to hone in on what you are wanting to convey during your photoshoot … This is the same whether for a private commission or commercial project.

Just some of my initial questions include:

  • What are you wanting to communicate

  • Is there a theme?

  • What you are expecting in regards deadlines / finished ‘look’?

  • Who is it for?

  • Why are we shooting?

  • Do we need a stylist / makeup artist / hairstylist?

  • Where will it happen? Studio, location, abroad?

  • When will it take place?

  • How do you need final images? RAW? Edited?

  • How much intensive photoshop (if any at all) is required

Whether its for a fashion, beauty or personal project / commission, this process is integral to any shoot.

Clothing & Styling / What are you going to wear?

In the shoot above, I wanted a moody vibe, achieved through one light and lots of black. It was clear we needed to shoot the product and not the model.

If the topic of your shoot is fashion / beauty – clothing is obviously the key. Once we have an idea of clothing style / vibe, we can build ideas of the shoot around this. I have a varied prop and clothing and can source certain elements for shoots.

Make up / Hair / Stylist

Make up and hair was a crucial element to allowing us to create this homepage image for burningred.

cervena makeup

One of our final homepage images after the design stage with our chosen model, Cervena Fox.

This is something to seriously consider. Using professionals who know their trade will give you the best results. Normal hair / makeup will make a normal (average) photograph. we would never shoot fashion or beauty shoots without ensuring the makeup will be done well and that the outfits are carefully considered!

It is amazing where time can go when you include additional dynamic elements to a shoot. Makeup, hair and styling all add necessary time. This is precisely why you may be doing a full-days shoot for literally one image.


[Image above – the above shot for burningred included: studio rental, model, make-up artist plus hair assistant, 1 photographic assistant plus 1 ‘behind the scenes camera person. Image right: Charlotte Church with heavy makeup application under similar circumstances]

Location Location Location

Outdoor shooting requires extra preparation

Next, we look at location.

This can involve quite a few hours on google maps, physical recces for larger shoots and research. Otherwise studio shoots are organised. You may have access to your own studio location or suitable space, but for larger shoots you really should look to rent a suitable space.

miss erised

[Image above the photoshoot above included: van acquisition, model, makeup artist, styling, assistant, location. Shooting in these conditions means extra preparation, read more tips about preparation for shoots in the wind rain and snow here.]

The image above was shot on location in Swansea. Rain, wind, sand and mud. Exactly what you need on a photoshoot!

The image above was shot on location in Swansea. Rain, wind, sand and mud. Exactly what you need on a photoshoot!

Part 2: The Shoot

Failure to prepare, prepare to fail.

Once you have the styling, makeup artists and models booked, props sourced and ready, itineraries and storyboards given to client  (and approval for concepts signed off) then we are pretty much ready for your photoshoot.

Shoot time - time to bring all those elements together.

As you may appreciate, compared to the preparation, the photoshoot itself is pretty much straight forward. Keep them light, friendly and informal … this not only gets the best out of people but also makes for a better product and experience for everyone involved. This is especially true if you are shooting people not used to the camera.

The photoshoot itself will usually comprise of the photographer and an artistic director. Sometimes this role is one person, other times it will involve the photographer and the client who may be assuming the role. Either way, you should expect to give your models and people direction and clear explanation on what and how you want them to do things.

Sometimes you are looking for that one shot. Sometimes you are needing a suite of complimentary images. Other times you are shooting for compositing in the design stage.

Every shoot really is different.

Part 3: Darkroom stage

Quality not quantity
Photographers can take alot of pictures. This does not mean you will get them all. Typically, if you are shooting for an hour for a heavily stylised shoot, you could expect to receive just one or two images per scene/outfit. This is typical of advertising/commercial shoots.

You will always get a contact sheet / lo res export of all the images from the shoot within 2 working days (sooner if required).

Sometimes the process will end here. You will receive all the agreed images digitally which will have had basic adjustments. Typically these adjustments will include: light balance, sharpening, colour correction, minor spot removal.

It is common for people to say ‘can you just photoshop this out‘ and yes, this is true. However, it should be considered an additional cost to any shoot. If there are elements that are going to require ‘photoshopping‘, this should be agreed prior the shoot or make allowance for design-adjustments after the shoot.

Part 4: The design stage

Some images are ready out of the camera. Some need photoshop. This is what we call the ‘design stage’. This is where composite images are crafted and heavy retouching is implemented. The beauty is that we shoot with design in mind. It is essential to convey how your images are to be used to any photographer. This will affect composition, focus and your finished product.

This image above was shot, manipulated (cigar, smoke and gunfire added) plus then worked into a final designed image.

This image above was shot, manipulated (cigar, smoke and gunfire added) plus then worked into a final designed image.

 As a rule, heavy photoshopping of an image should not be considered ‘included’.

For example with the image above, this was a day’s photoshoot to actually get the core images. It took about an hour to set up the lighting and do light tests to ensure we had the right vibe. We shot each person in half hour slots throughout the day. We shortlisted the best selection, then cut them out from their backgrounds and then composited all the people together before applying final effects and finishing touches. It was at this point that the image could then be sent to the external designers to finish off.

In case you are wondering what constitutes ‘photoshopping’ we have a list below:

Photoshop retouching can include:

  • skin smoothing

  • eye whitening

  • product enhancement

  • logo de-badging

  • background replacement

  • special fx (ooooooh)

  • preparation for large format printing

  • filmic styling

  • limb adjustment / replacement

  • composite images (made from 2 or 3 images)

  • design elements / branding application

And finally

Last but by no means least, you get the edited / final  images. These are usually sent electronically via dropbox or something similar. If you do want your images on CD/DVD then do expect to pay extra per copy.

RAW images are seldom provided, unless explicitly agreed before the photoshoot (or during conversation stage). FYI, we only give out RAW files when dealing with agencies who handle their own internal retouching.

Final thoughts / Avoiding nasty surprises

Avoid bad surprises. This shot captured the moment the client realised that the leaves they had been throwing around the shoot had an unwanted smelly addition!

Avoid bad surprises. This shot captured the moment the client realised that the leaves they had been throwing around the shoot had an unwanted smelly addition!

The process is by no means set in stone. Make sure you have those initial discussions and work out exactly what you want, what you expect and when you need them by.

Whatever you do, be clear. Whether you are the client, creative agency or photographer, outline what to expect and what to not expect so everyone is clear and happy and divide up roles and jobs as appropriate.

Get model releases. This essentially crosses the t’s and dots the lower case j’s with how and where you can use the image legally.

Prepare everything before your photoshoot takes place: location, clothing, styling, vibe, props, vehicles, space etc.

 ‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail‘.

Be clear on usage rights. All photographs retain the copyright of the photographer unless explicitly given. Usually, a higher price will be commanded for purchase of the rights to an image. Images for press expect to be printed. However images commissioned by a magazine fall under different conditions and can be licenced per use.