The 10 essential steps for planning your very first fashion photo shoot

There is a common misconception that when it comes to fashion photography, the only key ingredients to a successful shoot are showcasing the latest trends and booking the hottest models. In reality, there is so much more that goes into a successful photo shoot—and photography skills are only one part of that equation.

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From conceptualization to budgeting to talent and location scouting, the work of a fashion photographer is no easy feat. But if you’re up to the challenge and are seriously considering getting into the glamorous, fast-paced world of fashion and beauty, here are ten essential steps to help you get started.

01. Find your inspiration

You get to make your own rules in fashion photography—virtually anything can be shot and infused with the artistic elements of portraiture, fine art, still life, or even street photography. The myriad of possibilities can be overwhelming, so if you are new to the world of fashion, it’s always a good idea to start by doing your research.

Photo by Charisse Kenion

Pick up a magazine or go online and look up the work of high-end photographers who are based in any of the world’s top fashion capitals—London, Paris, Milan, and New York. Each of the big-name photographers have mastered their craft and developed their own particular aesthetic, so pay attention to the details in each of their individual portfolios (lighting, composition, styling, etc.) to learn from the very best.

Be sure to also check out the work of up-and-coming photographers in your area, because these photographers will be your peers in the industry. Find newcomers who are taking creative risks or using new technology in interesting ways to make a name for themselves

Photo by Flaunter

Take note of which types of fashion shots really make you go ‘Wow!’ so that you can start thinking about the kind of direction that you want to go in.

02. Create a mood board

Once you have a good grasp of the creative possibilities in fashion photography, develop a concept for your own shoot. A great place to start is a mood board. Mood boards are a very useful resource to bring all of your ideas into one place and to pitch your idea to other creatives.

A mood board can be created online, or you can go old school and cut and paste a physical copy. Include images and ideas for every element of your intended shoot—lighting, styling, hair and makeup, location, models and even poses.

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Your mood board should communicate a clear visual theme so that anyone looking at it will understand instantly what you want to achieve. When coming up with your mood board, remember to bear in mind the kind of equipment you have access to, and focus on images that are achievable for your team and skill level.

03. Discover talents  

Fashion shoots are a team effort. Most photographers will work with a model, stylist, hair stylist and makeup artist to bring their ideas to life. On bigger shoots, there may even be set stylists and assistants involved. Identify what kind of talents you will need in your crew to take your shoot from concept to reality.

Once you have an idea of the backbone of your team, you need to scout for and then reach out to creatives in your area. Flick through local publications and pay attention to photo credits to find out who the team was behind a particular image. Also, search through social media and look for relevant hashtags to find people you would like to work with.

Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi

Some cities have Facebook pages for amateur photographers, models, hair stylists, and makeup artists to organize shoots on a time-for-proof (TFP) basis. This means that everyone works on the shoot for free and gets to use the photos for their portfolios.

If your city doesn’t have a Facebook page like this, start one! You can be guaranteed that other burgeoning creatives will appreciate the opportunity to connect with and learn from each other, simply on the understanding that you are all just starting out.

It’s also a worthwhile idea to post ads at local beauty colleges to find hair stylists and makeup artists who are willing to test out their new skills in exchange for photos.

04. Build your dream team

Once you’ve made a shortlist of prospective talents, check their portfolios to get a firm idea of their skills and style. It’s a good idea to collaborate with people who are at a similar level of experience as you, so you can build a strong, loyal network and develop together.

Photo by Flaunter

Talk to them about your concept and be prepared to incorporate some of their ideas to finalize the final hair, makeup, styling and set.

Photo by Charisse Kenion

Each team member will be able to provide valuable insight when it comes to their individual fields of expertise.

Once you have your team ready, it’s time to plan the details of your shoot.

05. Develop a storyboard

Shoot day can be a logistical challenge. Make sure you have a clear idea of exactly how the day will run, so you can get the most out of your time.

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Start by creating a storyboard, so you know what looks you are going to capture. This will ensure you get the images you need to bolster your portfolio or meet your client’s brief.

In creating your storyboard, be specific—figure out the number of outfit changes and hair and makeup touch-ups you will need and the sequence of shots you plan to take. If you are working outdoors, bear in mind that you may need to modify your sequence to get consistent lighting.

06. Scout for locations

There are a myriad choices for the location of your fashion shoot. You can choose anywhere from urban streetscapes to natural landscape to studio set-ups and other indoor locations. Think about what type of location suits the look you are going for and start scouting for suitable spots.

There are a few important practical considerations when you settle on your final location. Is there a suitable place for the model to change? Can you achieve all of your layouts at one location, or will you need to move? Will everyone be able to access the location, or do you need to arrange transportation?

Photo by Sydney Altschuler

Find out whether you will need to pay for studio access or apply for permits or releases to shoot on public land such as in parks or on city streets. A lot of people will be committing their time to your shoot, so it is critical that you tick all the boxes when it comes to these administrative steps. You don’t want to be let down by a technical oversight.

07. Prepare a call sheet

After you have finalized your crew, location, and storyboard, it is time to create a call sheet. A call sheet sets out all of the information that your crew needs to know on shoot day. The call sheet should include the following:

  • Shoot date and time
  • Shoot concept
  • Location ( including any instructions on access or parking if it is not straightforward)
  • Responsibilities of each person
  • Contact details of everyone involved
  • Detailed schedule for the day
  • Any special instructions or notes

Photo by STIL

You can also attach your mood board to the call sheet, so everyone can access it easily, and all relevant information is in one place.

Try to send the call sheet out a couple of days in advance so that people have time to raise any issues.

08. Mind the details

The most creative ideas for stunning fashion photography can unravel if you find yourself with an unhappy crew or faulty equipment. Pay attention to the details to ensure the shoot runs smoothly.

If you are planning on shooting for more than a few hours, make sure there is adequate food and drinks for everyone. Also, give people a chance to take a break every now and again—being creative and staying on top of your game is difficult when you’re hungry and tired.

You may also find yourself in trouble if you and your crew don’t have adequate access to electrical outlets. Strobes, batteries, and hair styling equipment may all need to be plugged in. Think ahead to avoid getting caught short.

Photo by STIL

It is a good idea to keep a budget for miscellaneous costs, too. If a piece of equipment breaks last minute or an extra person unexpectedly turns up to help out the makeup artist, then it is good to know you can cover it.

09. Have a back-up plan

So you’ve planned, planned, and planned some more, your crew is fully briefed, your equipment is prepared, and you’re ready to go—but what happens if you get that dreaded text that your model has suddenly come down with the flu and won’t be able to make it? Or if it starts raining and those golden hour shots you were banking on are now impossible?

Remember: life happens, and sometimes even the best laid plans go awry.

To avoid the stress and confusion of these situations, make sure you have contingency plans in place. If you’re planning an outdoor shoot, check the weather frequently beforehand, and if there is a chance of rain, be prepared to adjust the mood of your shoot or even go with a second location.

Similarly, keep contact details of different creatives and models on hand, so you can call in a back up if someone pulls out at the last minute.

It is also a great idea to keep a photographer’s first aid kit with you. Include things like electrical tape, clamps, and pegs so that you can make last minute adjustments to equipment, and even the models’ clothes, if necessary.

10. Keep on shooting

Coordinate as many shoots as possible to experiment with different techniques and concepts. Over time, you will be able to harness the skills to start taking your own creative risks and develop a personal style.

In the meantime, keep practicing on friends, family and yourself as well. Although you may not get the full experience of shooting with a model and crew, you will be able to refine your lighting skills and learn the ins and outs of all of your equipment. Your output might look like high-end fashion photographs (at first!), but you get a valuable chance to make mistakes and push yourself while growing one shoot at a time.

Photo by Ian Dooley

Experiment with as many different styles as possible while you are learning the ropes and honing your skills. This will not only give you a greater opportunity to identify your strengths, it will also help you broaden your photographic skill set. When you do start developing your own personal style, you will be more prepared to handle any photo shoot situation that comes your way.

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