What Makes Up a Professional Photo Shoot

Let's talk basics of a photo shoot. I think sometimes people think that there's a scene, someone snaps a pic of that scene and voila, a photo good enough for your website is born. How did the scene come to be? Where is the light coming from? If there are bottles in the scene, what is reflected in them? Will there be people in the scene? Did you ask to use their likeness? What kind of food is in the scene? Where did it come from? Did you make it? Did someone else? What if there's a rogue vegetable on the table? What if you can't see the label on the bottle? I could go on and on and on here. The point is, there is A LOT of thought and preparation that comes with doing a photo shoot. I'll touch on just a few of those things here.

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TYPE: LIFESTYLE

Lifestyle shoots come in all shapes & sizes. The scope can be small production with no assistants or professional models to full production, with photographer, model(s), assistants, hair & makeup, and stylists (food, prop, wardrobe.) 

Small production: 

  • Location: public spaces, places of business that will not charge a sitting fee, relatively empty locations so no other people are in the shots, limited spots
  • Assistant: A photographer's assistant may be hired for these shoots, but not too often.
  • Models: The photographer may know someone who would be willing to sign a model release, allowing them to use their likeness in perpetuity, with no royalties or time limits. Usually these models are friends of the business, locals, volunteers (paid in goods) or friends of the photographer. Someone who is not a professional model will not be able to do what models do. They will not always stand the correct way, their facial expressions will not always be "on" and they tend to be a little self-conscious, even though they volunteered! 
  • Hours: The shoot may need to be done outside of normal working hours due to the model's work schedule
  • Styling: All styling (food, product, clothing, hair/makeup) will need to be done by the photographer and/or the model and/or the client. 
  • Props: Usually collected at the place of business or from people you know. Few props are purchased.
  • Food: Will need to be purchased.

Mid-Level Production:

  • Location: public spaces, places of business that will not charge a sitting fee or charge a low fee, relatively empty locations so no other people are in the shots, limited spots
  • Assistant: Photographer's assistants are hired for these shoots but could be with limited hours.
  • Models: The photographer may know someone who would be willing to sign a model release, allowing them to use their likeness in perpetuity, with no royalties or time limits. Usually these models are friends of the business, locals, volunteers (paid in goods) or friends of the photographer. Someone who is not a professional model will not be able to do what models do. They will not always stand the correct way, their facial expressions will not always be "on" and they tend to be a little self-conscious, even though they volunteered! If there is room in the budget, professional models can be hired. 
  • Styling: All styling (food, product, clothing, hair/makeup) will need to be done by the photographer and/or the model and/or the client. 
  • Props: Most of the props are purchased to get the exact look you want. Choosing props in the very beginning is very important to creating the proposal & shot list.
  • Food: Will need to be purchased.

High Production:

  • Location: Anywhere that fits with the creative brief, fewer limitations because sitting fee is part of the quote.
  • Assistant: Photographer's assistants are hired for these shoots, at least one if not two.
  • Models: Professional models should be hired for these shoots. For 4 hours, model rates run from $1000-$3500+ plus an agency fee. There are also limitations on placement, usage terms and duration of use. For example, the low end of $1000 will get you a model, but you have to then pay royalties every time you use the photo, and you can only use the photo for a set amount of time, like 2 years.
  • Styling: Food/prop stylists should be hired, hair and makeup artists should be hired, wardrobe stylists should be hired. Rates for 4 hours for stylists run about $1000+ to start.
  • Props: The prop stylist will handle renting/purchasing all props.
  • Food: Will need to be purchased.

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

When you know you need to do a shoot, think about:

  • How many images do you want (do you just want one hero? 1000 for social media purposes?)
  • Where will the images be used (print ads, print editorials, signage, digital ads, social media, marketing brochures, sales presentations, website, mobile apps, etc.)
  • How long will you need to use the images (one time campaign for one month, forever, etc.)
  • What production level do you want (you want professional shots, yes. But think about what goes into making a Saver magazine, for example. They have chefs, food stylists, prop stylists, hired models, assistants for all of those people, studio space, rented space, plus the photographer of course.)
  • What's your budget and how can you get the most out of it realistically.

There are VERY powerful reasons to do this the right way. Your images will be spectacular, your shoot will run smoothly, everyone on set will be professional experts, and the relationship for future projects will be strong. If you need to cut options because of budgetary constraints, know that most of this then falls onto your photographer.  Be frank with your photographer - have a detailed conversation about what you want to happen on the shoot, how many images you want, and what it will take to get there. When a photography proposal comes back and you get the wind knocked out of you on pricing, it's probably because of all of the reasons above: location, images, usage rights, hired models, assistants, stylists, etc. It's fine with us if you need to keep costs down, but understand that the shoot will take longer as the photographer will need to do the styling which means coming out from behind the camera to move a tomato with tweezers. In the end, you'll get a gorgeous photo, but the road to get there will just be a little slower.