How to Plan and Execute a Successful Photoshoot
So, here you are. Sitting at your computer. It’s 10:30 PM and you’re about to head off to bed tired and out of steam when all of a sudden… *Ping!* An email arrives in your inbox. “Hey! I just saw your work on Instagram and on your photography website. Love your work! I’d like for you to take photos of my wife and kids two weeks from now. Are you available then?” GLO-RI-US DAY! You’ve got another client for your new photography business. You quickly reply and set up the appointment. However, this is only your third photoshoot for a paid client in 3 weeks and the last couple shoots didn’t go as smoothly as planned.
So, what do you do? Consider this thought from Theodore Roosevelt: “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.” Well, there you have it, my friend. Consider yourself one big successful mistake because you’re already on the right track by moving forward. But in case you are still wondering what exactly you should do to avoid those previous mistakes, here are 7 simple tips to plan and execute a successful photoshoot:
01. Take a posing course
It’s time to go back to basics. It may be humbling at first, but realizing that you don’t know everything there is to know about photography is always the first step. Even if you’ve taken a course or scoured YouTube tutorials for hours, taking a course from another person’s point of view can be a game changer. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to look for local courses, you can always find online photography classes that suit your needs. I can’t tell you how many times I myself have jumped on YouTube and watched three to four different videos about the same topic. Each person brings a new point of view, realization, or epiphany that may spark genius inside of you.
At first, doing this may seem redundant… And yes, it may feel like some classes are beating a dead horse. However, all of that overlap in learning will help cement those concepts in your mind and, who knows, maybe there will be one idea in a course that wasn’t shown in the others. And that one tip may end up changing the entire way you run your photoshoots and your business.
02. Get to know your clients
If there is one thing that can lead to a successful photoshoot, it’s this. Photography is a service business, so if people don’t like the service you provide, your business simply won’t make it. The type of photography you plan to do (weddings, family, business, etc.) will determine how you go about familiarizing yourself with your client.
For example, if you are doing a wedding, you could set up a specific time to meet to go over your previous work so you get a feel for the types of shots your client expects. If you are doing a simple 30-minute family portrait session, you could send the client a quick “pre-photoshoot” survey where you ask for the style they like, how many people will be in the photoshoot, or even ask them for a Pinterest board with the family portrait ideas they’re looking for.
However you go about it, I recommend collecting as much information as you can. Knowing the size of the group, or even their age range, can make a big difference. If you know that your client has a family of five people and that two of the kids are under four years old, you can plan to have a friend or partner with you to distract the kids or to call their attention to the camera, because each shot counts.
03. Scout the photoshoot location
This may also seem like a no-brainer, but I’m very serious about this one. I can’t tell you how awkward it is to show up to a location and just start winging it on the spot when you’re new to portraiture. One of the easiest ways to put off a client is showing them that you don’t have a plan, making it obvious you don’t really know what you are doing.
In order to avoid this, visit the planned location a few days ahead of the shoot around the same time you will be photographing your client. Being there at the right time is crucial to check the lighting you’ll be working in. Once there, look around at the scenery for inspiration. Ask yourself the following questions:
Are there too many shadows?
Are there bad reflections I should avoid?
What places look best in this lighting?
What backdrops would look great for the family I will be photographing?
How many people are in the family?
Will they all fit in this location? Etc…
By thoroughly examining your choice of location, you will be able to get the wheels of inspiration moving so that you can efficiently take your client from spot to spot for the shots you need. This will help you plan your 30 minute photoshoot to the max so that no time is wasted and so that your client feels like they are getting the shots they want.
04. Organize your equipment
Once you have knowledge about posing techniques, information about your client, and have planned your timing and location, it’s time to get your gear ready. Failing to do so beforehand can be a big waste of time for you and your client. Plus, it’s quite unprofessional.
Let’s look at an example. If you are shooting a wedding or doing a family portrait session where there may be six, ten, or even twenty or more people, you will probably want to have at least a 16-35mm wide angle lens on hand. I couldn’t imaging trying to capture that many people on a 70-200mm telephoto no matter how much money you spent on it.
On the other hand, a 70-200mm lens would be great for couples portraits where you want to give the subject some space, or for a wedding during the ceremony when you want to be as out of the way as possible. If you’re not sure where to start, a 24-70mm lens is a great focal length for both wide shots and zoomed-in shots.
Aside from having the right focal length for your shoot, you might also need different camera accessories such as a tripod, ND Filters, or even something as simple as extra batteries or SD cards. A tripod will come in handy in moments when you least expect a need for extra stabilization. ND filters are great when you have the unfortunate pleasure of shooting a wedding at midday and can’t drop your F-stop anymore. And, of course, extra batteries or SD cards goes without saying.
05. Be yourself
This is my favorite part of the process. The part when you get to shine like the star you are so DON’T HOLD BACK. Having your picture taken is super… How should I put this? Awkward. But I believe that it is the photographer’s responsibility to own the photoshoot and make sure that your client has fun while getting their moments captured. It’s like Drew Barrymore said: “Everyone is like a butterfly, they start out ugly and awkward and then morph into beautiful graceful butterflies that everyone loves.”
How do I make my client turn into that beautiful butterfly, you ask? Have fun while taking their photos. Tell jokes, be weird, run around, get crazy. I’m a dad, so naturally I pull a few puns out of the bag to get everyone warmed up. Other people, I’ve heard, might pose their client and then start making cat and dog noises to pull out a goofy smile or two. Whatever fits your mold, simply be yourself and make your client that butterfly.
06. Have a smooth review and delivery process
So here we are. You’ve planned and then executed your photoshoot. Things are looking good. Now what? Well, hopefully you’ve given your client a reasonable timeframe for when they should expect their photos (the shorter the better from the client’s perspective, obviously). Make sure that you have given yourself enough time to upload, curate, and edit the photos.
If you were photographing a family with young kids you may need more time since you will most likely be swapping faces in post production. If you were shooting a wedding, give yourself enough time to put together photo albums, CD’s, etc. Be professional, but also reasonable with your timeframe.
Then comes the best part. The cherry on top. The crème de la crème of photography. You get to showcase your artwork to the client.
There are various ways you can do this. Sharing photos with clients online is definitely one of the best options. You can use Wix Photo Albums and share the final results within your website to easily do so. You could also buy software that automatically puts the finished photos into a slideshow. Or even meet with them in person and run them through a folder of photos on your computer. Whatever you feel best applies to the experience and quality of work you’ve done, do that. But don’t be afraid to switch up this process from time to time to see what gives you the best “wow” factor for your client.
07. Over deliver on the client experience
This final piece of advice is simple: Offer good customer service. That’s really all there is to it.
From a photography business standpoint that could mean any of the following:
Respond quickly to questions, concerns, and inquiries.
Show the client how prepared you are by executing on the plan you had for the photoshoot.
Be transparent about your process from the beginning so there are no surprises.
Be personable and have fun with your client during the photoshoot. You’re in the people business, so getting along well with people is crucial.
Be flexible but reasonable. Life happens, you may need to cancel a photoshoot or move appointments, so protect yourself in your photoshoot contract for larger events with deposits where necessary.
That’s it! It’s pretty simple. To even sweeten the deal, it never hurts to test the waters of the customer experience with ideas like adding an extra five free photos or by giving them a thumbdrive with their photos for free (with your logo on it of course). Little gestures and a great customer experience will create your own raving fans that will continue to refer you business for years to come.
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All photos by the author. Andrew McFarlane is a landscape and family portrait photographer based in Salt Lake City, Utah. See more of his work on his website.
By Andrew McFarlane
Landscape and family portrait photographer