Setting Expectations pt. 2 – Preparing For The Shoot

Preparing For The Shoot

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower
This could not be more true when it comes to producing a photo shoot. It’s one of my favorite parts about doing what I do. I like to coordinate the hair/makeup styling, the location, the theme, the location… Everything. Not only do I want to make sure all of the elements coincide to make my vision a reality, but I want to make sure every detail is covered.

I can confidently say that no matter how much preparation you put into a shoot, you always have to be prepared with a Plan B. Your client must also be aware of this. And like everything else, it’s up to you to make sure everyone is on the same page. You’re the professional.


What goes into planning a photo shoot?

Every shoot is a little different, and will require you to manage different elements. I can’t list everything that could ever happen on a shoot, but this is list of all the things I take care of for my clients.

The theme/concept

I have a consultation with every one of my clients, before any shoot. This is where I get to know them and I can get the creative juices flowing. I don’t like to use the same park or same backdrop for everyone who comes through my door. That’s what makes me unique. I also know photographers who shoot the same look for everyone and it’s their signature thing. Whatever it is that you do, you have to start with a an end result.

I find out my clients’ interests. Places they like to go. Activities they do together. Whatever makes them feel special. Building this rapport not only gives you ideas to work with, but getting to know you clients more personally will make the experience more memorable. And when they have more fun, they buy more photos. Everyone wins.

Where to shoot

There are as many options for locations as there are places on Earth. Literally. Once you have a concept in mind, you can find appropriate locations to explore. Here are some tips to make sure the location will be a good fit. You can find out all of these things by visiting the spot ahead of time.

  • How is traffic that time of day?
  • Where is the sun? Does it limit which way your clients can face?
  • How is parking?  Are you photographing elderly people who can’t walk far?
  • Do you need a permit to shoot there?
  • What time does the location close?
  • Do they have a private event going on that day?
  • Are there going to be a lot of people in the way?
  • Does it get windy in the afternoon? Do mosquitos come out at sunset?
  • Are there restrooms nearby? Places for your clients to change?
  • Do you need power?
  • On the beach, how are the tides that day? High tides can take away a large percentage of the beach.

Who is doing hair and makeup?

I include this in my portrait sessions for a few reasons. And once I started doing it, I’ve made it non-negotiable. They benefits are too great. Aside from the obvious aesthetics, this is also a great time to warm up your clients who are probably going to be nervous when they show up. I offer them a glass of wine or sparkling water and they get pampered for an hour before I ever take the camera out. It makes a huge difference in their comfort level. This won’t apply for wedding clients, as the brides choose their own stylists.

  • Working with the same stylists over and over again will ensure that you get consistent results. My stylists know what I expect and we know how to communicate well.
  • Does the stylist know how to do makeup specifically for photography?
  • Will they stick around for touchups during the shoot?
  • Did you plan for time to do hair/makeup? Are they showing up ready to go or getting their makeovers at your studio?
  • Do your clients know how to prepare their hair and skin the day before? If you’re not sure, ask your stylists what they prefer.

What is your client going to wear?

This is one of the biggest things you HAVE to cover with your clients. It can really make or break the shoot. Wardrobe will vary depending on the shoot, of course, but there are things you can go over with your clients to make sure they look their best. If you are not fashion savvy and need a little help with this, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

  • Do the outfits match? This does not mean that they’re identical. But everyone in the photo should look like they belong there. Make sure you don’t have 3 people in navy blue and 1 in white. Keep the colors on the same level.
  • Are the clothes wrinkle-free? You can not photoshop out wrinkles. Make sure your clients know to iron or steam their clothes and to use hangers.
  • Avoid busy fabrics. Busy patterns are distracting. Same goes with flashy jewelry. It should be an accent, unless of course you’re shooting for a designer and that item is the feature.
  • Avoid patterns that create moire in your photos. It usually happens with some men’s shirts or satin fabric. This can’t really be fixed in post, and it can totally ruin your photos.
  • If your client will be wearing heels, remind them to bring flats to wear when you’re not shooting

Refreshments and comfort

This is a big one that a lot of photographers overlook. I know that I’m willing to shoot in the heat or cold, however early I have to get up, or however far I have to drive to get the shot. We can’t expect our clients to always be as gung ho as us. We also have to consider that our clients can’t look like they made a long journey and got up early. Here are some ways I manage this.

  • Find parking as close to the shoot site as possible. You can also drop off your client and then go park the car.
  • Bring cold water and snacks if it’s going to be longer than a mini session
  • Avoid the heat so your client doesn’t get sweaty. And don’t let them carry anything.
  • I always take my clients/assistants out for coffee on the way to the shoot if we’re going early in the morning. We usually stop on the way back too.
  • Have a place to hang their extra clothes. I use an extra light stand when I’m out of the studio.
  • Remind them to bring comfortable shoes if they’ll be in heels for the shoot.
  • Remind them to bring a jacket or blanket to wear between shots if it’s cold.
  • You can buy a pop-up changing room on Amazon so your clients can change clothes in public.

Be flexible

The more experience you have, the easier this gets. The one way to make it easier from the beginning is to communicate with your client that sometimes things are out of your control, but you will make sure they still have a great shoot. Let me share some speed bumps I’ve had to deal with over the years.

The Situation: I showed up to a park once to find a high school cross country race going right through our shooting area. There were people, and barricades, and temporary garbage cans everywhere. I shot tight and used a shallow depth of field and managed to not get any extra people in our photos. It also forced me to explore some other areas of the park I had not previously been.

The Lesson: Thoroughly explore all areas of your location just in case. Check out the location’s website when scheduling your shoot to make sure there’s nothing going on.

The Situation: I got hired to do an urban fashion shoot for a dating profile. He wanted a wall covered in graffiti. I drove around downtown the day before the shoot and found 2 places for us. They both had plenty of room for us and the sun wasn’t shining directly on either wall. They were perfect. The next day we arrived and the entire wall had been painted black. They painted it the day of the shoot.

The Lesson: Always have a backup plan for your location. You NEVER KNOW what could happen.

The Situation: I had an engagement session planned for an orchard full of mustard flowers during the spring. It was a beautiful field of yellow flowers with old fruit trees growing out of the grass. I visited the site the evening before our shoot. When we arrive the next day, the entire field had been plowed. Not a single blade of grass remained. We shot around the old trees and got some cool sunset shots, but there wasn’t enough to work with. So we shifted gears and drove downtown and I did some epic portraits of this couple against the skyline and the lights of the city.

The Lesson: Tell your clients ahead of time that sometimes things change that are out of your control, so it’s not a total surprise if something happens. Have a backup plan. And be prepared to go above and beyond to make the experience the best it can be.

About the Author Mike Lloyd

Mike is the Tim Burton of photography. He tells powerful, imaginative stories with cinematic photography. He specializes in dramatic, film-noir style boudoir and epic cinematic portraits. He's also the creative force behind Photogs Unite! which focuses on learning from professionals outside the photography industry to learn marketing, sales, branding, and everything else you need to know to build a thriving photography business. And burritos are the key to his happiness.

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