How To Set Up a Photoshoot

One of my Bucketlist Items has been to set up and run a photoshoot.  Admittedly I've done this a few times now; in fact I do it 4-5 times a year for my company.  In these photoshoots we set up the shoot, find the models, find the props, find the locations and then execute the shoot for both my company as well as others.  

Photoshoot I did with Feel Better Yoga in Costa Rica.  This was the first time doing a yoga photoshoot but I applied all of the principles I posted below and managed to get some great shots.  

Photoshoot I did with Feel Better Yoga in Costa Rica.  This was the first time doing a yoga photoshoot but I applied all of the principles I posted below and managed to get some great shots.  

One of our recent endeavors is multi-company photoshoots.  Under this model we have several companies buy into our photoshoot.  The photoshoot involves tactical gear so the companies that are involved all represent a different part of the tactical gear market such as ballistic helmets, eye wear, optics or flashlights.  Because these companies are non-competing brands they can all benefit from the shoot and can use the end photos for their own purposes.  Each company gets equal rights to the photos to use on their social media platforms and for other marketing needs.  At the end of the day they pay a small price compared to doing a unilateral photoshoot and they get some great exposure.  It's a win win for all. 

While I am no master when it comes to photoshoots I have found a few things that tend to work better than others.  I started out by putting together my own photoshoots and then hiring professional photographers like Ryan Yeandel and Josh Cast to come and capture the shoot.  I think I probably learned the most from my buddy Josh about how to actually run the shoot.  Josh is an extremely talented photographer and does a phenomenal job for any company that might be interested in hiring him.  After getting some general knowledge on how a photoshoot should run I just went out and did it.  The first few weren't great and I made a lot of mistakes, but luckily I learned from them.  Now we have them down to a bit of a science. Here are a few things that I recommend for anyone looking to do one...

I was able to get this shot through extensive planning.  I first had to look up spots in Colorado where the sky was very clear and void of any light pollution.  I then had to find a night when there would be no clouds or moon.  I then had to drag two motor bikes, models, equipment and everything else to Clear Lake, Colorado.  I had to plan where the stars were going to rotate to create the circular effect.  Through all of this set up I was able to get this shot.  To get this photo I took the first photo with the model and the starts and a small flash.   The model's back was facing the North Star.  I then had the model step out of the photo.  I then took a series 20 second photos with 5 seconds in between for the course of an hour.  I then stitched it all together in photoshop and was able to produce what you see above.  In the end, this was my favorite photo from the shoot. 

I was able to get this shot through extensive planning.  I first had to look up spots in Colorado where the sky was very clear and void of any light pollution.  I then had to find a night when there would be no clouds or moon.  I then had to drag two motor bikes, models, equipment and everything else to Clear Lake, Colorado.  I had to plan where the stars were going to rotate to create the circular effect.  Through all of this set up I was able to get this shot.  To get this photo I took the first photo with the model and the starts and a small flash.   The model's back was facing the North Star.  I then had the model step out of the photo.  I then took a series 20 second photos with 5 seconds in between for the course of an hour.  I then stitched it all together in photoshop and was able to produce what you see above.  In the end, this was my favorite photo from the shoot. 

 

1) Plan, Plan and Then Plan Some More- 

Planning is probably the biggest key to your success when it comes to a photoshoot.  If you simply show up and expect to do a good photoshoot, chances are you will be left short handed.  I am a huge advocate of putting together checklists and then checking them off as I go.  I tend to start my planning about two months out and I have several phases of the planning process that I go through.  I am sure this level of planning stems from my time in the military but it has been a huge success thus far.  When I am planning I start with my first checklist which looks something like this:

  • Find venue/s
  • Coordinate venue permissions for photoshoot
  • Get down payment from companies
  • Secure a signed photography agreement from each company
  • Find models 
  • Get model sizes
  • Secure props
  • Get plane tickets, hotels, rental cars (if needed)
  • Find additional photographers (if needed)
  • Discuss with each company what their desired shots would be (more below) 
  • Get product from companies participating in shoot (always try to get this at least 2 weeks out) 

When conducting a photoshoot I try to do at least one full day of prep.  This day is used for scouting locations, prepping models, getting gear ready and anything else needed to get the shoot to run smoothly.  I used to plan for a morning of prep but I always found that it was a race against time and I never ended up getting everything done in time.  The bottom line is, schedule yourself an entire admin day.  You will be glad that you did later.  

Me landing a helicopter during a photoshoot in Sept 2017.  Photo taken by Josh Cast.  This was one of the more difficult shoots we did because we had to coordinate two helicopters flying next to each other to get the shots we were after.  

Me landing a helicopter during a photoshoot in Sept 2017.  Photo taken by Josh Cast.  This was one of the more difficult shoots we did because we had to coordinate two helicopters flying next to each other to get the shots we were after.  

 

2) Choose the Right Photography Venue-

The right venue is crucial in getting together a great photoshoot.  Remember, this is your medium.  This is what themes your shoot and it's a crucial step in ensuring your photoshoot goes off without any issues.  I have always found that the two hardest things in a good photoshoot are getting a good venue and reliable models.  When choosing a venue make sure you get the following:

  1. Permission to use the venue
  2. Weather patterns of your venue during the time of the photoshoot (if shooting outside) 
  3. Sunrise/Sunset times at venue (if shooting outside)
  4. Back-up venue (in case your primary falls through, which has happened to me)
  5. EMS, if needed.  (this is important if working with helicopters, cars, guns etc.)

Another important part of your venue is to make it interesting.  Every time we go somewhere we try to select a place that is out of the ordinary.  So far we have done photoshoots on ice water falls, private jets, snow mobiles, motorbikes, abandoned drugs houses and more.  The theme here is there is always something interesting about the venue.  It's edgy or it helps play into what I am trying to achieve with the actual photoshoot.  If you're doing wedding photos find a beautiful location that helps with close up shots as well as big sweeping landscape shots.  The more beautiful the location, the more you can get away with in your photoshoot.  

3) Choose the Right Models for your Photoshoot- 

Your models are another huge part of your photoshoot.  In all honesty, finding good, reliable models is extremely difficult.  Also finding models who can work your shoot and plan to be there during that time is also very difficult.  Usually I like to try and get double the amount of models I need for the shoot.  Usually I end up with just the right amount because half of them will typically pull out of the shoot due to some other scheduling conflict.  You should always try to find people who can work long hours and who are eager to be in the shoot.  When someone doesn't want to be there it shows in the actual photos.  It's always good practice to try and incentivize your models with either payment or product.  This will help keep them interested in the shoot a little more. 

This is great example of choosing the right models.  For this photoshoot I hired some friends who were all current or former Special Operations guys.  I needed them to know how to how the weapons, enter the building properly and look the part.  In the end I didn't have to really tell them what to do, they instinctively knew it and it made my job a whole lot easier and made for some incredible photos.  

This is great example of choosing the right models.  For this photoshoot I hired some friends who were all current or former Special Operations guys.  I needed them to know how to how the weapons, enter the building properly and look the part.  In the end I didn't have to really tell them what to do, they instinctively knew it and it made my job a whole lot easier and made for some incredible photos.  

 

4) Create a Photoshoot Shot List-

Your shot list can be as complex or simple as you like but it's a great idea to have something that helps keep you on track.  I have found that once you start snapping away, it's very easy to lose track of the shots that you actually came to capture.  I set up my shots into three segments:

  1. Must Have- These are the shots that are must get to ensure I have a successful photoshoot.  I will talk to the companies I am representing and ask them what they would consider a successful photoshoot and start with that.  Typically I try to get these shots right off the bat to ensure I am on the right track from the start. 
  2. Important to Have- These are the shots that aren't 100% crucial but are still important to have for each company.  
  3. Nice to Have- These are shots that are great to get if there just so happens to be time left over. 

Once I have my required shot list I plan out each specific day in detail.  Typically I will plan out a scene and then figure what photos I want to get in that scene.  This works really well for tactical gear photoshoots.  For example, I will set up a scene where the guys are conducting an assault on a building.  In that scene I can get the big shots of them assaulting the building as well as close up shots of lights, helmets, clothing etc.  In the scene I will try and go from big to small.  So start with your nice wide open shots and then zoom in from there. 
***Helpful tip- Ryan, one of our photographers, is great at drawing out the photograph he wants to get with a pen and paper.  This can be very rudimentary but it's great for planning out where you want the models, props and everything else to be for a specific shot.  

5) Plan a Lot of Different Scenes-

I've found that planning a lot of different scenes will help with your success overall.  When I first started doing these photoshoots I found that a lot of time was wasted trying to get the perfect shot and most often the perfect shot I set out to get wasn't the best shot of the day.  Now, I typically try to set up multiple scenes and venue changes to ensure I get the best photo possible. 

6) Divide and Conquer with your Photographers-

 When I first started working with multiple photographers I found that we would all end up taking a lot of the same photographs.  These would obviously vary a little bit in style but in the end it was a lot of the same thing.  Recently I started tasking each photographer with something different.  For example, one would have the duty of getting all the wide open shots, the second would get all the close up shots and the third would focus on getting all those "nice to have" photos I talked about.  In the end, we ended up with a lot more usable photos than before and they all looked a lot different giving the final photo package some more variety.  In addition it makes it a lot easier for the photographers having to swap out lenses, filters and other equipment to get a different photo. 

7) In a Photoshoot, Lighting is Everything- 

Lighting will 100% make or break your photoshoot.  This should be the in forefront of your mind at all times and should dictate a huge part of the shoot itself.  If you are shooting outside make sure you are planning the shoot during the best times of the day.  I was recently down in TX for a photoshoot and we typically didn't get started until around 2 or 3 in the afternoon when light wasn't as harsh.  We then ran the cameras until right after the sun went down.  If you plan for the light first you will have a lot higher chance of success.  I've found the shoots where we are shooting outside, the shots in the morning or evening always net a lot better photos than ones done during the middle of the day.  If you plan on shooting indoors, plan for a time of the day where you're going to get the most natural light coming into your venue to help from having to rely on indoor/external lights alone.  

Photoshoot for Quantico Tactical near Marble Falls, TX

Photoshoot for Quantico Tactical near Marble Falls, TX

8) Create a Photoshoot Packing List-

Photoshoot prep

 

This one is huge!  I can't stress this one enough.  Sit down and put together a solid packing list of everything that needs to come with you for the photoshoot. While every photoshoot is different below are a few things that makes it into almost every photoshoot I have done so far and is kind of our ongoing list.  Ours are usually outside so they might vary from what you will find yourself doing but here is a general list of what you'd need to bring:

  • Cameras (obviously)
  • Lenses
  • Filters
  • Camera Batteries
  • AA, AAA, CR123, D Cell Batteries
  • Camera Bag
  • Battery Chargers
  • Note Book
  • Light Meter
  • Audio Devices (if needed/used)
  • Extended Outlet 
  • Extension Cord
  • Roto Light (this thing is clutch) 
  • SD Card (I always bring more than is needed) 
  • External Hard Drive
  • Tripod/s
  • Remote Switch
  • Intervalometer 
  • Computer
  • Drone
  • Drone Batteries
  • Extra Drone Poppellers
  • Flash
  • Reflectors
  • Sunscreen 
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Shade Tent
  • Folding Chairs
  • First Aid Kit
  • Model Release Forms

 

9) Get Model Release/Property Release Forms

I would strongly suggest not doing a photoshoot without a Model Release Form.  These forms essentially set the standard for what you and your models can and can't do with the photos.  I have always used these forms at the suggestion of my former photographers and I am really glad I did.  A model release form is typically used for any models you might be working with while a property release form is used in the event that you take a photo of someone's private property of venue.  If you are doing things that might be dangerous, I'd also suggest using a liability waiver form.  

 

10) Don't have your Photoshoot Go For Too Long

One thing that I keep finding is that the longer the shoot goes, the worst the photos get.  This is because the photographers, support staff and models all get tired and stop caring and this always shows in the final product.   You're better off having two four hour days of photography than you are having one eight hour day.  The bottom line is the longer you go the more you'll stop caring and the more your creativity goes out the window.  Photography is a fine balance of work and creativity and as soon as it starts to feel like work you're probably forcing it too much.  Even after 4-6 hours I am mentally drained and anything longer will start to test my patience.  Always give yourself the time needed to stay completely focused and interested in the actual photoshoot.  

This photo sums up the article...  This was taken by Ryan Yeandel during a photoshoot we did in Steamboat, Colorado.  As you can imagine this shoot took some incredible prep work since we were working with people climbing up an ice waterfall.  In this photo I was belayed onto the side of the mountain and controlling both a drone and my camera as guys climbed up the waterfall.  Here we had to have all the things I covered in place to include not going for too long because I was freezing my ass off.  

This photo sums up the article...  This was taken by Ryan Yeandel during a photoshoot we did in Steamboat, Colorado.  As you can imagine this shoot took some incredible prep work since we were working with people climbing up an ice waterfall.  In this photo I was belayed onto the side of the mountain and controlling both a drone and my camera as guys climbed up the waterfall.  Here we had to have all the things I covered in place to include not going for too long because I was freezing my ass off.  

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