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Design & Style

How To Plan A Photoshoot In 7 Steps: Step-by-Step Guide to Developing a Concept, Choosing a Location, and Getting the Best Equipment for Every Type of Photoshoot

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 5 min read

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Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography

Conducting a photoshoot can often feel daunting for photographers. There are endless decisions to make, from picking a concept, to choosing the best location and equipment.

Breaking these decisions down to a series of simple steps can help provide order and clarity to your decision-making process. Whether you’re an amateur conducting your first photoshoot or a seasoned pro, these steps can help you conduct a successful photoshoot.

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Annie Leibovitz Teaches PhotographyAnnie Leibovitz Teaches Photography

Annie brings you into her studio and onto her shoots to teach you everything she knows about portraiture and telling stories through images.

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Step 1: Develop a Good Concept

The first step of conducting a photoshoot is coming up with a concept. Whether it’s fashion photography, portrait photography, or just a personal photo session with a family member, the concept should ideally drive all other creative and practical decisions.

  1. Start with a stylistic or thematic jumping point. Is there a movie, TV show, or book that you would like to emulate? A certain or mood or feeling you’d like to evoke? Do you want to shoot in color or black-and-white?
  2. Search for images that relate to your jumping-off point.
  3. Set up a mood board or create a Pinterest page with images that relate to your concept. These images will help inform the look, styling, and mood of your photography session.

Step 2: Pick the Right Location

Once you’ve gathered a bunch of great photos to use as a reference, it’s time to figure out where you want your photo shooting to occur. Determining where to conduct a professional photoshoot can be tricky. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What type of set best compliments your concept? Is it a set that already exists, or a custom set that you need to create yourself?
  2. If you are renting a location, how much does it cost? Will the cost of your location eat into other items in your budget, such as paying a stylist or a makeup artist?
  3. What type of light source will there be on the day of the shoot? Is there natural lighting, or will you need to use artificial light?
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Step 3: Pick the Best Equipment for Your Photoshoot

Now that you have your concept and your location, it’s important that you have the right type of equipment on your shoot day. Though you should feel free to experiment with different equipment to achieve distinct looks, here are some helpful tips for conducting specific types of photoshoots:

  • Portrait photography. In portraiture, the focus is generally on the subject’s face. A portrait photographer should make sure they have a camera that can capture a person’s facial expressions clearly, especially if they’re shooting a headshot or family portraits. Film, mirrorless, and DSLR cameras allow creative flexibility while also providing high-resolution image quality. Learn more about portrait photography in our complete guide here.
  • Wedding photography. Wedding photography requires a professional photographer to know how to capture a variety of different moments without a lot of time for set-up. Wedding photographers, for instance, should be sure to pack a variety of lenses that be used for different parts of the wedding. A wide-angle lens is useful for group and landscape shots, whereas a prime or macro lens might be needed for specific high-drama moments, such as cutting the cake or the first dance.
  • Food photography. In addition to having a camera that can capture the mouth-watering details of the food, you’ll want to make sure you have a background that will make the colors of the food pop. Something textured but monochromatic, like a rustic wood or grey stone, will make the food stand out. Boosting the color hues in the post-production photo editing process can make the food look even more eyecatching against your background. When taking food or product photos, it’s also helpful to bring a lightbox so that the object is illuminated from all angles so as not to produce harsh shadows. Learn more about food photography here.
  • Sports or concert photography. These types of fast-moving events require a lot of high-speed shooting and a willingness to jump from location to location to get the perfect shot. If you’re shooting a concert or sporting event for the first time, make sure you have a camera that allows you to shoot at a fast shutter speed without having your image be underexposed as a result of strobes or other lighting effects.

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Step 4: Select the Right Models

If you’re a commercial photographer or working in portraiture, selecting the right model to place in front of the camera is one of the most important decisions you can make. Here are some suggestions to help you select the best model for your shoot:

  1. Do you have any friends or family members who might be a fit for your shoot? If so, be sure to be upfront with them about the usage, terms, and time requirements of the shoot.
  2. If your shoot requires a model with experience, try reaching out to talent or modeling agencies.
  3. Always get a signed model release form from your model, whether they’re friends, family, or professionals. This allows you to use their image and likeness, protecting you from any issues that may arise if you decide to publish or sell your photographs.

Step 5: Make Sure Your Subjects Feel Comfortable

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Annie brings you into her studio and onto her shoots to teach you everything she knows about portraiture and telling stories through images.

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Once your photoshoot is underway, you need to make sure your subjects feel comfortable in front of the camera and with you behind the camera.
How you conduct yourself is going to affect the shoot. Talking alone with the subject before things start is the best way to establish a fruitful rapport.

Communicate with them throughout the shoot. Follow-up with them to make sure they are comfortable, and take plenty of breaks so that everyone feels refreshed and energized.

Step 6: Create the Right Atmosphere

Creating an atmosphere that matches the desired mood of your photographs can help achieve the best possible results. One great way to do this is to play music during the photoshoot, which can help put your models and crew in the right state of mind and relax them.

Step 7: Try Different Things to See What Works

Try different poses, outfits, expressions, and compositions throughout the shoot. Even if you’ve already gotten your “Plan A” shot, try something different. Sometimes the best photographs come from spontaneous, unguarded moments.

Want to Become a Better Photographer?

Editors Pick

Whether you’re just starting out or have dreams of going professional, photography requires plenty of practice and a healthy dose of patience. No one knows this better than legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz, who has spent decades mastering her craft. In her first online class, Annie reveals how she works to tell a story through her images. She also provides insight into how photographers should develop concepts, work with subjects, shoot with natural light, and bring images to life in post-production.

Want to become a better photographer? The MasterClass Annual Membership provides exclusive video lessons from master photographers, including Annie Leibovitz and Jimmy Chin.

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