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  • Writer's pictureGeoff Nichols


Updated: Feb 11

Many people new to the fashion industry think they can organise a fashion shoot by 'winging it' but they soon find out that doing so normally ends in failure.

A fashion photoshoot with a photographer should be fun and exciting for all involved but in order for it to be successful, it needs careful planning and preparation beforehand. Whether it's an editorial or campaign shoot, you're working with a new photographer or a seasoned professional, the basics of the planning process are still the same.

This guide is designed to assist you in planning and preparing for a photoshoot, providing you with useful tips as well as how to avoid the pitfalls. We will be looking at a wide range of topics all of which need to be followed if your shoot is to be a success. So let's take a look at what they are

  • Developing a Creative Vision

  • Creating a mood board

  • Budgeting and financing the shoot

  • Model Selection

  • Wardrobe and styling

  • Location

  • Props

  • Lighting

  • Hair and Makeup

  • Final Preparations & Shooting

  • Post-production


This is the bedrock of any fashion photography shoot. Think of the whole shoot like a building project. The first stage of any building project is to lay the foundations. Then you can build the structure, the floors, and the roof. It's the same with a shoot – it needs a solid foundation if it is to have any chance of achieving its objectives.

A solid creative vision is one developed which incorporates a concept or theme, a style, and a specific mood. This alone dictates how the hair will look, what makeup looks your MUA will use, the styling, accessories, and props your stylist will incorporate, and the lenses, lighting, angles, and post-production techniques used by the photographer. Know exactly what you want in this respect as everyone else depends on this to create and develop their ideas.


The mood board serves as a visual representation of your creative vision. It should include things like colours, textures, and images to convey your vision to others involved in the shoot. Quite often the photographer may, if they are the creative director for the shoot, be the one to create the mood board. Normally it's a good idea to include images of the makeup looks and hairstyles that are similar to what you have in mind.

An example of an editorial-style mood board for a surf brand shoot

It can also be a good idea to allow the mua, hairstylist, and wardrobe stylist to collaborate on the mood board as they are likely to be able to expand on looks that would enhance your creative vision. Often photographers will include images that illustrate the lighting and colour tone in keeping with the shoot concept and theme. A good mood board will cover all aspects of your vision so that everyone involved knows what the overall aim of the shoot is.


Once you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve with the shoot, you need to be realistic about the cost. There are the photographer's costs – day rates as well as image licensing need to be considered. MUA, hair stylist, and wardrobe stylist will also have rates that need to be covered.

Additionally, you will need to consider the cost of hiring the models – how many and their level of experience as well as if they are represented by an agency will determine their fees for the shoot. Add into this location hire or shoot permit fees and any props that may also be needed and the costs can soon mount up. Now there are ways to keep costs down which we will cover in a future blog but for now, all of these aspects need to be factored into your budget plan.


The biggest determining factor in model selection is the creative vision of the shoot. What message is your brand trying to convey, what are the overall objectives of the shoot and what type of aesthetics represent your brand? These are all questions that you need to answer before selecting any models. If you're shooting a fashion editorial, then what story are you telling, where is it set and who are the characters involved? Once you have answered these questions, then you can begin the search for your models.

Depending on the size of your production and the budget involved you may want to consider approaching agencies. Aside from the major agencies like IMG, Next Model Management, Storm and Milk, there are hundreds of other smaller agencies to look at. Wherever you live, search your nearest city for boutique model agency and Google will return a wide selection. If you choose not to use an agency, there are a lot of good websites and Facebook groups where you can find experienced freelance fashion models.

As well as practical considerations for the shoot such as the model's height, body type and skin tone, one major factor that you should keep in mind is the experience of the model. If you choose models who are on the 'new faces' board of an agency, they will be less experienced or in some cases brand new models. If the photographer you are working with is also inexperienced then sometimes this may not be a good combination. An experienced fashion photographer will know how to get the best from a novice model and will be in a position to direct them correctly, whereas, an inexperienced photographer may feel a lot of pressure ensuring they're getting good shots and having to juggle all the other aspects of the shoot as well as directing a novice model which they likely will not have had to do very often, if at all.


The wardrobe for a fashion photography photoshoot falls largely into two categories. Commercial shoots will generally be a designer or brand's new collection and could consist of a large volume of different looks based around a theme. A fashion editorial for a publication on the other hand is normally a smaller selection of looks and could be sourced from a number of different labels.

An example of a 70s inspired boho style editorial shoot

The commercial shoot will generally follow a specific theme centred around the collection and therefore will determine what type of styling is required. The fashion editorial on the other hand is different in that the creative vision is established and the wardrobe is then selected to match this with particular styling to compliment both.

Whichever shoot you are planning, one thing is common to both – consistency. Always be consistent right the way through the shoot in terms of aesthetics and styling as this keeps the creative vision on track.

If you are shooting with multiple models then ensure that you match the look to the model before the shoot – by planning this in advance you will prevent a lot of wasted time and uncertainty on the day.

The use of props within a shoot can also add to the look and theme of the shoot. Use them sparingly and strategically within the shoot as overuse of props will only detract from the image you're trying to create.


One of the major choices which can make or break a shoot is the location. Consider first of all your creative vision and then ask yourself if the location you are looking at fits in with it. Aspects when selecting your location choice include natural and available light, the backdrop, access (including whether permits are needed), distance to your base location if outdoors (you don't want models walking through muddy ground for half a mile in a £2000 dress) and if the location offers a variety of different shooting options or is it a single look location.

You also need to consider transport – especially important if it is a particularly rural location with no public transport links.

Finally you also need to carry out a risk assessment - are there any known hazards in the area? What are they and what can you do to minimise or negate those risks? One such example could be if you decide to shoot on a beach beneath a cliff – have you checked the tide times and exit routes should the tide come in quickly? Is the cliff known to be unsafe from coastal erosion and increase the risk of a landslip onto the beach below? Finally, what insurance policies have you and your team got in place for shooting on location – public liability insurance is a must to protect yourself.


As well as the location, lighting is a huge factor in the success or failure of a shoot. Your photographer will be able to advise and support you in this aspect. Studio lighting is very easy to control and a good photographer will have no problem achieving the right lighting for your vision.

Lighting on location is entirely another story. To effectively light a fashion shoot on location to match the shoot concept, requires an experienced photographer with the right equipment. If you are shooting in bright sunlight as an example, you don't want the model facing directly into the sun. So you can either find shade or have the model stand with their back to the sun. In either situation, in order to light the model correctly portable studio flash will need to be used that has the capacity to overpower the direct sunlight and remove shadow from the model and clothes. If you are also trying to create a dramatic look with a lot of mood and punchy contrast, again an experienced photographer is worth their weight in gold in achieving this. These are only two examples as there are multiple lighting scenarios which can be encountered on location, some of which you may not have expected. When this happens, the experienced photographer will know exactly what to do and how to achieve great results that are in keeping with your creative vision.

You need to be confident that your photographer knows how to effectively light the models on location to achieve the look that you're after. It's pointless having everything else on point, only to discover when the finished images are produced that the lighting is completely off target.


Hair and makeup are vital to ensure cohesion throughout the shoot. Make sure that you choose experienced MUAs and hair stylists who are capable of delivering on the brief that they are given.

Careful selection of both by looking at their past work should avoid any issues on the day. Don't be tempted to select either because they are cheap – this generally indicates that they may lack experience and if you are dealing with multiple looks, there is the possibility that they will not cope with the pace the shoot demands and you may run out of time or go into overtime which will cost you more money paying the other creatives.

Some MUAs and hair stylists will produce their own mood boards for the shoot and is a good indication that they have understood your creative vision.


Before the shoot make sure that you have everything you need – wardrobe, props and accessories. Transport if needed should be confirmed and if outside check the weather forecast !

It can help to create a full checklist as part of the planning process which you can then go through the day before to make sure you haven't forgotten anything.

On the day of the shoot, be guided by your photographer. They may encounter something that hadn't been thought of beforehand and will likely find a 'fix' quite quickly. They might also find something which works better - this is often the case with many shoots where the original ideas don't quite work. The main thing here is to be flexible and trust their experience and expertise. So long as the change doesn't detract from your creative vision but strengthens it, you won't need to worry.

Most photographers will allow you to see the images they are shooting either on the back of the camera or on an external tethered display which will give you the confidence that things are heading in the right direction.

Make sure that someone is keeping a check on timings – if you are shooting multiple looks then you will only have a certain amount of time to shoot each look and move on to the next. Setting an alarm for each look change is normally the best way of keeping things moving


This is where you see your creative vision finally take shape. Your photographer will be able to advise on final retouches such as colour grading, toning and contrast adjustment to achieve the desired look. Many photographers work collaboratively with the designer or in the case of large productions, the brand's art director on the final edit. Don't be afraid to speak up if things don't quite look like you wanted them to. It is your creative vision after all.

This image has a distinct French look. However it was shot in London and in post production, it was colour graded to give a more continental chic.

The main thing is to enjoy the experience and if you follow the tips in this guide then you won't be too far off from achieving success in you shoot.

So what are you waiting for? Go and get planning !

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