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6 Tips for a More Productive Photo Shoot Every Time

On any given day I have a million things going on in my head and what seems like a million more on little post-it notes all over my house. I have long since let go of the unreal expectation that my life, like my desk, will ever be clean, clutter free and organized.

You see, I wear many different hats in my life. I am a mom to three kids with wildly different personalities and interests (yes, I am including my dog in this category). I am a photographer who is trying to run a photography business in an extremely competitive market by specializing in weddings, lifestyle family portraits, and small business visual branding. I am also a wife, sister, aunt, a niece and a granddaughter and they all come with different sets of responsibilities. I am a wanna-be-runner, a creative educator and somewhere in there a person who would like to get at least 8 hours of sleep a day.

But that’s not really going to happen any day soon so instead, I have learned to embrace the chaos of my life and make the most of my time doing what I do to the best of my abilities. There are a few strategies that really work for me, be it in my business or my day-to-day life. Now, none of this is really rocket science, but in order to keep it relevant to the Digital Photography School platform, I will link these tips to things we photographers can do while trying to enjoy photography and/or run a successful photography business.

#1 – Have a plan

Go into every photographic opportunity with a plan, even a loose one at that. I rarely photograph a subject without having an end goal in mind. Even if I am photographing something just for me, as in not client-related or paid, I have a plan as to what I am going to do with the images. Maybe it is testing new gear, experimenting in different lighting situations, or perhaps it is photographing my kids playing soccer in the backyard.

In order to keep things on track and achieve something at the end of each photographic exercise, I follow a 10:1 rule. For every 10 minutes of photography time, I want to create at least one stellar, portfolio-worthy image.

6 Tips for a More Productive Photoshoot Every Time

I was working on some still life images, playing with different props, angles and compositions – complete with the occasional pet photobomb as well!

6 Tips for a More Productive Photoshoot Every Time

I finally ended with a clean symmetric image where the focus was the dried florals and nothing else.

#2 – Know the end goal for your shoot

This is very closely tied to the first tip. Before any photo shoot, make sure you know exactly what the outcome is going to be. For my lifestyle family photo shoots, I like to have at least 15-25 editable images. For my personal projects, I want to make sure I have enough variety in terms of poses and angles so that I can tell a complete story. Once I know what I want to achieve, I can plan my photography time effectively so I get the results I want.

6 Tips for a More Productive Photoshoot Every Time

This client shoot was done on a very dark and gloomy day in Chicago with indoor overhead lighting. Going into the shoot, I knew I wanted to bring out the connection shared between this first time mom and her son. Given the young age of the child, I knew getting him to sit still would be next to impossible. So I chose tight crops that focus on emotion and connection between the two instead of wide environmental shots.

#3 – Know the light

On any given day, there are a variety of lighting situations that you might face. Soft morning light just before sunrise, warm afternoon sun especially when the sun is directly above you, orange evening glow when the sun is almost about to set, the blue hour when the sun has already set yet the light particles are in the atmosphere and indoor lighting with either white or tungsten lights contrast the evening sky. Every type of lighting (natural or artificial) brings forth different opportunities to photograph. Being able to read, analyze and understand what these types of lighting situation are and how to use them to your best advantage will really help you make educated choices when planning clients

Every type of lighting (natural or artificial) brings forth different opportunities to photograph. Being able to read, analyze, and understand what these types of lighting situations are and how to use them to your best advantage will really help you make educated choices. This will assist when planning clients photo shoots and/or creative excursions to help you with your photography.

6 Tips for a More Productive Photoshoot Every Time

The image on the left was taken in full midday sun. The light is strong and harsh on her face and body. For the image on the right, I had her put her back to the sun and I used the ground in front of her as a natural reflector. A slight adjustment in Lightroom of increasing the shadows, whites, and contrast resulted in the final image on the right.

#4 – Know your environment

Before getting to any photo shoot, I highly recommend scouting the location ahead of time. I have been in situations where I have gone to a location only to find out it was closed to the public or under renovation. I have even had one wedding client change her schedule because she found out late that the local marathon was scheduled for the exact time we were going to do bridal portraits.

A little research and preparation ahead of time go a long way to helping you achieve your photographic goals for a particular photo shoot. Another key tip is to plan for any weather-related mishaps. Here in Chicago, April and May are gorgeous with blooming trees everywhere, but most days have an 80% chance of rain and thunderstorms. So I always have a primary session date and a backup session date in mind when I schedule my photo shoots. In situations where a reschedule is not possible, improvise and always have a Plan B.

6 Tips for a More Productive Photoshoot Every Time

Gorgeous spring weather helped get some stunning headshots for a fellow photographer. We couldn’t have asked for a better day! And I quite like the lights in the background!

6 Tips for a More Productive Photoshoot Every Time

And yet the very next weekend, torrential rain and freezing temperatures would not let up for the whole day for this lovely couple’s wedding. Even the umbrella did not work because it was so windy and cold. So we moved indoors, found some really nice soft light by the window, and shot all the bridal portraits indoors.

#5 – Know your style

This is something that takes time and experience for most photographers. Early on in your photographic career, every genre and every gig seem attractive and exciting. Rightly so, because you are still trying to find your creative voice. I encourage you to photograph anything and everything you can think of so that you get the experience, confidence, and ability to understand your style.

I define photographic style as that which you gravitate most towards without even knowing it. My photography is authentic, documentary-style editorials. My editing style is fun, fresh, clean and organic. It has taken me seven years to be comfortable with my style and I rarely gravitate from it. Yes, I will still experiment every once in a while, but I always find myself coming back to that which satisfies my creativity. And because I know my style, I know how to structure my photo shoots to ensure that I create images according to my style.

6 Tips for a More Productive Photoshoot Every Time

I love images with emotion – either direct or indirect. I love experimenting with creative crops that tell the story in a slightly different way!

6 Tips for a More Productive Photoshoot Every Time

My style emulates my preferred color pallet – softer pastel colors and symmetric designs.

6 Tips for a More Productive Photoshoot Every Time

I like images that are relatively clean and devoid of too much clutter.

#6 – Know your market and know how to work it

This is a tough one to understand and even tougher to execute. The photographic market is a highly saturated industry especially for specific genres like family portraits, weddings, and fashion/commercial work. There are some incredibly talented photographers out there and on any given day, you can find yourself questioning whether or not you are going to make it in this competitive space.

The most successful photographers are not only good at the art of photography, they are also excellent at the business side of photography. They are constantly marketing their skills and their talents not only to their primary client market but also to other supplementary markets. With every photo shoot, outline the post-shoot activities like marketing, blogging and other business activities that can help spread the word about your talents in the most effective manner.

6 Tips for a More Productive Photoshoot Every Time

My shoots are client related, marketing related, as well as photography article related. Every time I photograph something, I mentally and physically (in Lightroom, post-session) categorize them as such. This helps me stay organized and efficient (for the most part!).


I hope these tips have helped you structure your photography assignments in a more effective manner. I recommend you try a few or all of them and then tweak them to fit your specific needs. Remember, the last thing you want to do is collect thousands and thousands of pictures with no real plan on how to market and monetize all that collateral, especially if you are in the business of photography.

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Karthika Gupta
Karthika Gupta

is a culture, people and travel photographer, based in the Chicago area. Her images are fun, fresh and natural, and her love for nature makes it way into most of her images. She also has a Free Travel Photography Demystified E-Course, a 5-Day video series to help you improve your travel photography.