I’ve been setting up photoshoots ever since I was 16 years old and studying photography at 6th form. With an entry-level DSLR in hand and a Model Mayhem account, I started contacting local models and meeting up with them (usually with a friend by my side) to take photographs. I’ll be honest: most of those initial shoots did not result in the best images. But the models were usually only just starting out, and were happy for a few mediocre images to start off their portfolio – just like me.
(One of my earliest photoshoots, 2010. Model: Lorna Willington)
Since then, I’ve organised countless photoshoots with local models. In 2011 I started university, where we had access to a studio and much better camera gear than I personally owned. And in 2014 I founded my own magazine, which meant getting in touch with bands and feminist activists to take their portraits. Below is my guide for setting up a successful photoshoot.
You might already know what you want to shoot; you might not. Either way, you should do some brainstorming. Look online at similar photoshoots, or go on Pinterest and make a mood board. It will help you decide what type of model you want, what sort of clothing you’re going for, what makeup and hair you need to figure out, where to shoot, and what equipment to use.
2. Find a model
You’re going to want to find your model first, because everything else – makeup, clothing, location – is going to be based around their aesthetic. Finding a model is sometimes really easy, and sometimes, especially if you have something specific in mind, really difficult. Most cities or counties will have a local “models and photographers” page on Facebook, so join that: it’s much more comprehensive than a site like Model Mayhem would be.
Make sure you’re accurate with your casting call. Are you looking for someone with dark hair, blonde hair, or dyed hair? Do you want somebody short or tall? Young or old? Fat or thin? And, most importantly, are you going to pay them or is this on a TFP (Time for Photos) photoshoot, where it is mutually beneficial for all parties involved?
(From a TFP shoot. Model: Charlotte Earney)
If you really enjoy shooting with a certain model, make sure you keep their contact details. There are multiple local models that I have used for several different shoots for my magazine or professional shoots, after having used them initially for a low-key, TFP shoot.
If you can afford topay for a model (i.e. if this is a commercial shoot, or you happen to have some spare money), I'd recommend going through a modeling agency. The models on their books have a lot of experience and know exactly how to respond to your instructions whilst on set/on location.
3. Makeup and hair
Ok, so once you have your model sorted, depending on what type of shoot you’re organising, you’re might want a makeup artist and hair stylist. You can always ask your model to do their own makeup, or attempt to do it yourself, if you have little to no budget. Otherwise, similar to the above, there will probably be a Facebook page for local makeup artists and hair stylists – it might even be the same page as the models and photographers one. Makeup artist is usually abbreviated to MUA or HMUA for a hair and makeup artist. It’s generally rarer for a HMUA to work for free, unless they are just starting out, so if you want hair and makeup you will generally have to pay for it. Most of the time it’s not expensive, (it has usually cost me between £20-£50) and they will stay around for the whole shoot so they can make sure the hair and makeup stays in place.
(2015. Model: Harriet Howard. Makeup: Clare Alexandra)
4. Clothes, Jewellery, and Accessories
If you’re just starting out, I would recommend asking the model if they have clothes and accessories that suit the style of the photos you want to get. Alternatively, if you have a small budget, you can find out their size and scour the local charity shops and sales to find something suitable. You can even be cheeky and purchase something nice, keep the tags on and make sure it doesn’t get filthy or too creased, and return it within 14 days for a full refund. Just maybe don’t flaunt the company’s name too much when you’re posting the photos online or they might catch wind.
(2015, clothes from Rokit Vintage. Model: Harriet Howard)
If you have a good portfolio already, you will probably be able to find a brand that will collaborate with you for your outfit. Contacting local, independent clothing stores or fashion designers will be more likely to result in a positive reaction, because they’ll have the opportunity to exhibit their garments. If you have an amazing, huge portfolio and a blog with lots of views and brilliant statistics, you might stand a chance with collaborating with a well-known brand.
The other option is teaming up with a local stylist. Stylists will usually have access to clothes and accessories that you wouldn’t be able to get your hands on, so it’s good to make connections. Quite often, you will have to pay for a stylist’s services, unless they really like the sound of the shoot and trust you to get images good enough to exhibit the garments they’re going to supply.
(2016. Models: Harnaam Kaur & Nik Hampshire. Stylist: Roxanne Chanel Murray)
Generally, there are two options. You can either shoot on location or in a studio. If you have a large empty space in your house or flat, you can convert it very easily into a studio. Studio lights are pretty expensive, but reflectors aren’t – and they can be your best friend if you have a great source of natural light. Just set up the “studio” opposite the window, set up reflectors to divert the light to wherever it needs to be, and you’re good to go!
Shooting in an actual studio will cost you – every time. In Norwich there is a great studio that only costs £30 for a half day or £50 for a full day, but they don’t provide lights. A studio with lighting and a background included will be a lot more expensive. If you’re at an arts university, you will most likely have access to a free studio, and I highly recommend taking advantage of it. Some of my favourite studio images were taken whilst at university, because the resources were absolutely amazing.
(2015, taken at Studio 20 Norwich. Model: Annabel Allum)
Photographing on location is a totally different can of worms. You need to work out what kind of environment you want, such as a beach, woodlands, a field, some nice architecture, or an urban environment.
Then you need to make sure you’re setting up the shoot on a day where the weather is going to suit you. That can be a nightmare. There have been so many shoots I’ve had to rearrange because the weather has decided to have a mood swing. Regardless of that, I love shooting on location. It makes the whole experience a lot more natural, because you can walk around, find nice areas to use as a backdrop, chat, and have a laugh. If you’re using a makeup artist and hair stylist, and have multiple outfit changes, you’re going to want to make sure that there’s somewhere the model can use to get ready.
(2016, shot on location. Model: Charlotte Lipscombe)
You can also choose to shoot within a specific building or house that is available for hire. It's easy enough to set up - just send a few emails and pay the hire fee - and there are some amazing houses, listed buildings, halls, churches, and other such locations that can be used.
6. Model Release
This is something that I literally always forget to do. Get your models to sign a model release, otherwise it could come and bite you in the ass. Whilst you, as a photographer, will always have copyright ownership, a model could complain about your image usage. For example, if you submit an image to a magazine or newspaper and get paid for it, the model could complain that they did not agree to their images being used for commercial reasons, and you could end up with a lawsuit on your hands. So try to remember to get your models to sign model releases. I’m kind of adding this part for myself so that I remember in future.
It’s generally not important if you are just using the images for your portfolio or website, especially if that’s what the model is using the images for themselves. But you never know.
7. Remember your Equipment
Pack your memory cards. Charge your batteries. Put all the lenses you’re planning on using into your bag. Sort your bag out the day before you go. There’s nothing worse than getting to a shoot and realising you’ve forgotten something that is literally VITAL for getting everything going.
8. Have Fun!
If you’re like me, you’ll find organising a photoshoot pretty fun. I love organising things, making lists, sending emails, and arranging events. And that’s what a photoshoot is: an event. They can be stressful to sort out, but once you’re there, you should step back and look at what you’ve organised, and enjoy yourself. If you have fun, your images will reflect that, because you’ll be able to get everyone involved. If you’ve managed to get yourself so stressed out that you’re tense and frazzled throughout, your mood will affect the behaviour of everyone else.
(2015. Model: Marcia X)
That's how I've gone about organising most of my photoshoots in the past. Of course, there are other things you might want to take into account, such as using props (similar to clothing, you may find a company willing to collaborate with you for free: alternatively, you will just have to pay for the goods) or purchasing/renting very specific equipment to get the style or aesthetic that you're looking for. And I'm sure that other photographers have different ways of arranging things. But for me, organising a photoshoot generally just consists of sending emails. Lots and lots of emails.
If you have anything you think should be added, or any questions, feel free to comment below!
Thanks for reading!