After recently completing a product and lifestyle shoot for our client, Mox Mind & Body, we had some tips and tricks on our mind for how to ensure a commercial shoot goes off without a hitch.
And while a full blown photoshoot can seem like a daunting endeavor, you don’t need a fancy studio or thousands worth in equipment to get a quality output. The essentials of every shoot are the same: a camera, a creative concept and a passionate team to help execute. Here’s a peek into some helpful tips for planning, producing and post-producing a successful commercial shoot:
The success of a photoshoot is measured by how well the end output—the photos—reflect and embody the heart, soul, and essence of the brand. They are visual manifestations of who the brand is, and iconic representations of how it presents itself in the world. Is your brand funky? Fierce? Refined? Elegant? Whatever it may be, the first—and arguably the most critical—step to a successful photoshoot lies in establishing the stylistic vision that’s aligned with your brand identity, and then ensure everything from the location, to the models, to the props and lighting deliver on that aesthetic. Ensuring the photographic output accurately portrays the brand behind it requires establishing a clear conceptual vision, followed by a crystalized plan of attack to achieve it. Which brings us to our next tip…
Planning through mood boards and shot lists is at the crux of all successful photo shoots. The mood board serves as the inspirational direction that emulates the aspirational output of the photos and should contain a range of imagery, colors and textures that visually represent the conceptual vision. With a mood board in place, you can create a more detailed guide of which particular shots are needed in order to achieve the desired output. Remember to be realistic with your shot list given time and budget constraints—try prioritizing your list by the most mission-critical shots, that way you know you’ll capture the “must-haves” and everything else is an added bonus.
What I’m about to say is going to sound like a contradiction, but hear me out: your timeline for the shoot should be somewhat loose, but also as detailed as possible. You need to be realistic with time between each vignette to allow for setup and teardown, and give yourself some wiggle room in case something goes wrong or a shot takes longer to set up than anticipated. Use the shot list to help guide the timeline, assigning an estimated amount of time for the set up, shooting, and take down of each shot to ensure you have milestones to keep you on track throughout the day.
Diligently putting together the timeline is so important. You’re controlling the day and the outcome of the final images and strategically thinking through every part of the shoot (before, during, after) to ensure your day runs as smoothly as possible.
There are a lot of factors to consider when selecting the location of the shoot. Outside of budget and convenience, the location selection should consider lighting, mood and aesthetic in a way that aligns with the shoot’s conceptual vision. Whether outdoors, in-office, or at a studio, be sure to scout the location in advance of the shoot. This is a critical step in the planning process, as it gives you a feel for the space, lighting conditions and provides the opportunity to spot any potential pitfalls prior to shoot day.
Don’t forget to look into securing permits for public locations—for example, a shoot we did in Evergreen required a specific permit and insurance that took over a week to secure, and could have had serious implications for our client’s timeline if we hadn’t planned accordingly. Additionally, be sure if you are using a private space such as an Airbnb or VRBO that you have a Location Release Form in place that covers all parties in the case of unexpected damages. These are certainly the less sexy parts of executing a shoot, but have the potential to upend the entire process if not planned for appropriately!
These are the subjects of your photo, and thus are critical to setting the scene and establishing the right aspirational environment you want your brand or product to exist in. When choosing props, err on the side of less is more–pick a couple of hero props that will work well in a variety of settings, as introducing too many elements into a photo or shoot will ultimately clutter the photos and distract from the main focus.
When selecting models, consider whether you want professional models or everyday people. As a “greener” photographer, working with professional models can be a major advantage, as they are experienced enough to place and pose themselves, without much guidance. If professional models are out of the question–or the budget–using connections with friends or family can go a long way in achieving an authentic and approachable feel. Just be sure they’re comfortable in front of the camera first.
Determining the right lighting for a commercial shoot can be intimidating. There are a lot of options when it comes to artificial lighting, natural lighting and determining how to ensure the two co-exist cohesively. The best way to approach your lighting setup is by treating lighting less like a technical element, and more like an emotional one. Lighting is a key tool in a photographer’s toolbox when it comes to creating the desired feelings, emotions and moods you’re going for. Just like brushes and paint are not what creates how a painting makes you feel—they are simply tools that used in one way or another will change the mood for the audience viewing it. Keep this in mind as you figure out your lighting setup, to be sure the lighting scenario you go for isn’t based on technical standards, but on the emotions you’re trying to elicit.
It’s ALWAYS a good idea to delegate designated roles to those on-set, so each person behind the scenes has a purpose. For instance, our recent shoot for Mox Mind & Body included the photographer whose role was (obviously) to ensure optimal scene and settings for photographing each shot; the art director, who worked in concert with the photographer to style each shot; the lighting expert, who collaborated with photographer and art director in adjusting and moving lights around to get the desired effect for each shot, holding reflectors and bouncers as needed; the shoot manager, who coordinated props, models and timeline behind the scenes; and lastly, the makeup artist and wardrobe stylist.
Phew—that’s a LOT of people on set, which is why it is so important to give each body a role—not just because there’s so much to do, but also so no one is just standing around, wandering aimlessly, or creating unnecessary distractions.
At this point, the shoot is complete and your memory card(s) are likely full of some great content you’re just itching to edit. Similar to lighting, there are endless options for post-production editing—from software, to color grading, to effects and beyond. The most important thing to keep in mind for editing is ensuring the final look/feel of the photos embodies the initial visual concept, and integrates seamlessly with the brand’s visual identity.
But before the editing process even begins, it’s crucial to have a workflow plan of attack in place. If you’re like me, you’ve likely taken an excessive number of photos—which is great, because you have a lot of angles and options to work with, but it also means you now have thousands of images to sift through before even beginning the editing process. At this point, the best thing you can do is turn on some tunes, grab a glass of wine (or two) and start the culling process. Be sure to be ruthless here—the more discerning you are at this step, the fewer, yet higher quality images you’ll have to edit on the backend (depending on how many photos I have, I usually do two to three rounds of culling before I start editing the “keepers”).
Well, there you have it! 8 tips that we’ve learned through experience make a world of difference in taking a shoot seamlessly through planning, production and post-production.