A-Z of setting up a shoot

Setting up a shoot can take a lot of work, particularly if you are the lead creative. Here’s an A-Z list of the kind of things you need to think about…

ARTISTIC DIRECTION - If you are running the shoot, you are most likely responsible for artist direction. You may however have a client who decides how the shoot should look. This is all about envisioning what you want in the final image - the theme, tones, style, presentation, lighting, and choice of model all come under this umbrella.

BOOKING - Don’t leave everything to the last minute. Book your models, MUA, stylists, clothing, photographer, venue, or anything else you may need ahead of time. If you are looking at a week to go before the shoot and some of these elements are not in place, you will find it difficult to achieve your shoot in time.

CASTING - Running a casting call is the easiest way to attract people to your project if you don’t already have contacts in mind. You could use a site like ModelMayhem or StarNow, or even a Facebook group dedicated to photoshoots. You could also contact agencies to ask about booking their talent - give as many details as possible and offer pay in this case.

DECISIONS - Make your decisions early so you can plan accordingly. How long will the shoot be? Where? What is your creative brief? What sort of model do you need, and should they bring anything with them? Do you need props? Will you pay your team? What will you do with it afterwards?

EDITING - Plan time for editing and sorting the images out after you shoot. Post production is a very important part of the process, and if you tell people they will get their images on the same day as the shoot, you’re being unrealistic. Make sure that you have a good estimate of how long it will take, so that no one is disappointed by your schedule.

FINALISE - Be sure to finalise all of your details with a call sheet at least a week before the shoot. This lets the whole team know that you are serious and will also cement everything that you have agreed upon. With a call sheet in place you are less likely to have people who fail to show up or drop out at the last minute.

Choosing a theme can really bring a shoot together.

GREET - Be ready to meet your team at least half an hour before they are due to arrive. Be ready and set up with everything that you need before they arrive. Be a good host too - offer them refreshments and ensure that everyone is as comfortable as possible. Be ready to give directions over the phone to reach your location in case someone gets lost.

HANGERS - Think about how you will store the clothes that you are going to take with you, if you are doing so. A rack with some hangers ready to go is a really good idea if shooting with a designer!

INVENTORY - Make sure that you have a list of everything that you need to take to the shoot, and everything that the others are supplying. Make sure that everyone leaves with the same items. I currently have one glove, a scarf, some small pieces of cheap jewellery, and various other pieces that models have left behind with me and then never picked up.

JUMPERS - Take care of your models between shots. If it’s going to be cold, tell them to bring jumpers or coats to wear in off moments. If you’re walking a long way, tell them to bring flat shoes to change into. Thinking about details like this can really make a shoot much easier and more comfortable - and the images will show the results.

KEY INSPIRATION - Make sure that you have inspiration in mind - and if relevant, make a moodboard so that everyone else involved with the shoot knows where you are coming from. You can even use something like Pinterest for an online version.

LAUNCH - After your shoot, plan the launch of your images carefully. You should ideally supply differently sized versions of the images, include logos as watermarks where appropriate, and “tag” those involved where possible. This ensures as much impact as possible. Try to launch your images first but make sure everyone else gets their images very quickly too.

MODELS - Here’s one of the most important parts of the shoot - finding the right models. Working with one of the best make up artists in the UK and getting in fantastic wardrobe choices won’t help save the shoot if you have chosen the wrong model. You can either put out a casting call or look for your ideal model and get in touch directly, but don’t settle for the wrong look.

NOURISHMENT - Make sure that you have all the refreshments your models and team will need. Water is an essential at the very least. You could also think about providing hot drinks and a selection of snacks. During a day long shoot lunch should be provided.

ORGANISE - If you find it difficult to keep track of things, you need to work even hard on organisation. Keep everyone’s details and all important communication saved or written down in the same place so that you can refer back to it often.

PUBLISH - If your aim is to have the images published, think about this very carefully beforehand. Think about the restrictions and requirements that the kind of publications you are looking at enforce. If you have one in mind, look at their style, tone, and requirements very specifically.

QUESTIONS - Make sure that you get all of the relevant information before everyone leaves. If the models are wearing their own clothes or accessories, get the brand names. Make sure you have contact details of everyone, and try to find them on social networks too so that you can tag them later. Giving the right credits is really important when using images later.

REST - Get a good night’s sleep the night before the shoot, and don’t overstretch yourself or your team. If your shoot looks set to take four hours or more, you should probably make sure that everyone gets to take a break at some point.

SIGNATURES - Model release forms are hugely important. If you do not get them signed, you could wind up being legally challenged on your right to use their images, especially if you make a profit. Whether the model is paid or not, they must sign a release form.

TIMETABLE - Setting up a clear timetable is very important, and helps you to understand what you need to achieve during your day. Make sure that everyone knows when to arrive, how long is scheduled for hair and make up, when you will start shooting, and when you plan to finish.

UTENSILS - Make sure that you have all the right equipment that you need. This can include but is not limited to camera, lenses, lighting, backdrops, accessories, clothing, shoes, make up, props, reflectors, drapes to cover windows, chairs, tables, and so on.

VENUE - Your location can make or break a shoot, so choose it carefully. If you need to book, do so as far ahead of time as possible. You also need to include this in any budget forecasts that you may make.

WHAT TO DO - If something goes wrong, you need to know what to do to make it right. Location falls through? Have a back up in mind. Bad weather? Be ready to move it inside. Model doesn’t show up? Not a problem, you booked two. Clothing doesn’t arrive in time? Ask the models to bring their own.

X-RATED - Are you shooting something that involves nudity? Think about this carefully, especially when choosing a location. Make sure that your models have somewhere they can model for you, not for anyone who walks by, unless they are comfortable with this. Always make sure that you have toilets, covered windows and doors, or a changing room too, as you do not want a fully clothed shoot to turn x rated when your models change their outfits…

YOUR JAM - Setting the mood of a shoot can make it go a lot smoother, and you can do this easily with music. Fun shoots require pop songs, classical music might be best for period pieces, and slow ballads can help evoke looks of sadness or longing. Set the tone and you will see the results in the images.

ZEBRAPRINT - Alright, this letter was a bit of a stretch, but what you want to do is to make sure ahead of time that everything matches up - clothing, accessories, jewellery, make up, background, even down to whether the models have any tattoos that would be hard to remove and would look odd. Get a stylist to help you with this if you don’t have an eye for fashion or graphic design.


If you’d like me to set up a shoot on your behalf, be sure to check out my services and select the one that suits you best!

Using Format