A Guest Post by Olivia Vitazkova from
Recently I’ve been asked more and more about how I go about organising a photo-shoot.
It was mainly asked by my new flatmates who were surprised at the constant influx of strange, good-looking people in our tiny kitchen. The place would get transformed into a showroom, with enough makeup and clothes to be suspected of robbing a department store. The flatmates would look at me with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity: „Where do you get these people? How do you organise a photo-shoot?“ So I explained and then I thought that some of my knowledge can be useful for new photographers, thinking of planning their first big fashion shoot.
One of the most important things you need to consider is the theme or the concept of your photo-shoot. This will determine all your other choices including makeup and location. Your theme can be anything. You can start with a simple idea say „romantic picnic in a park“ from which we can already decide that we want an innocent looking young girl with long blond hair and maybe a male model to keep her company. Styling – romantic pastel colours, skirts and dresses. Makeup – natural. Location- park. Nothing too complicated, you just come up with an idea and then organise everything else to fit your vision.
Despite this, I must confess that I rarely start organising a shoot with a precise theme or idea I have to execute. I usually start by getting into contact with a model I find interesting and think about what sort of concept would they suit best, essentially constructing the concept to fit the model. Either way you end up with some sort of a theme or idea, which is great for editorial work/fashion spreads as it will make the series of photographs look coherent and consistent.
But sometimes I don’t even bother with that. That is what I call an improvisation shoot, and these are usually the most fun ones. It usually happens when it’s a last minute casting call and I don’t have much time to think/prepare but want to shoot. I tell the model to bring a big bag full of clothes, and we’ll mix and match on the spot and do the makeup accordingly. This is fairly easy and fun as it doesn’t require much preparation beforehand. However, you need to think on your feet once the team assembles. This can result in either fun and inspired photos or some fairly boring safe ones. The good thing is that there is no one director and everyone can bounce ideas off each other and have an input. You could maybe do two looks wildly different from each other depending on what photos people need. It’s a good way to go about getting portfolio work done but probably not a coherent editorial.
Models can often either make or break the shoot. Depending on your theme you should decide on the look she or he should have. Think whether they should have any specific features (tattoos or no tattoos) or abilities (e.g. dancing) that would be useful for the shoot.
But first of all, how to find models? Professional photographers often go straight to modelling agencies which make the process of choosing models easier, and more reliable. Unfortunately it’s not very budget friendly (unless you already have an amazing portfolio) so let’s explore some free alternatives.
There’s a lot of websites for models and photographers, such as modelmayhem.com which enable you to search and connect with models, stylists and makeup artists in your area. The best thing is to offer a TFP (time for prints/photos) photo-shoot to models on your level of experience, this way you’ll both get something out of it and you’re less likely to be rejected. First make sure you already have some good photos of people uploaded on your profile. If you’re just starting out and have no pictures you can always find a lot of freelance models willing to work for a small fee. Hiring a model might cost you, but you should be getting a model who knows what she’s doing, and is highly motivated not to cancel on you, and with your new amazing photos more people will want to work with you.
Lately however Facebook became more dominant due to the ease of posting casting calls and getting replies instantly, there’s several Facebook groups for models and photographers so try to find and join one for your location, or create a new one.
Your friends and family are another option, even if they don’t look like supermodels, fashion is for people of all ages. You can even stop people on the street if you see someone absolutely incredible. I’ve done it once and had a photo-shoot with a lovely green-haired girl I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise.
Okay, now you’re in contact with your model. Great. It’s always best to get a feel for her experience before the shoot, so you know what to expect. Is she new to modelling as well? Then you’d better read something about posing (the DPS has a great series on posing) or maybe just do a beauty shoot where it’s less about the body and more about makeup (and expression). For the first few photo-shoots I’d recommend working with just one model as posing multiple models can be quite challenging, but nothing wrong with starting big.
3. Fashion Team Assembles – Make-up & styling
The other person you need the most is the makeup artist, or as we call them – MUA. I love these guys, not only they make the model look more beautiful than before (or crazy, depending on the look you’re going for), but they can often double as assistants. I often make them carry my bags and shine the reflector during the shoot, which is probably not what they thought they’ve signed up to do. Also it’s great to have another pair of eyes on set as they may notice little details that you’ve missed, like hair in the face or wardrobe malfunctions, while you were concentrating on exposure and composition. So yes, makeup artists are indispensable.
But how do you get hold of these wondrous people? Don’t worry, it’s pretty much like finding a model. A lot of people study makeup these days and need photos for their portfolios so are keen to help out on a TF basis. You can also ask your model about them if they’re more experienced, as they would often have a favourite MUA they can contact for you. Score.
Now it’s time to think about what sort of clothes the model will be wearing. Contact a stylist, local designer or a vintage shop to help you with sourcing clothes for your big photo-shoot. These people are generally quite difficult to reach so don’t get disappointed if you can’t find anyone. You should try and be proactive in the local fashion community, going to vintage fairs, fashion shows and socialising with people there, actually that’s a great way to meet models and MUA’s as well.
Okay, now you’ve gathered a team of people – model, MUA and a stylist, you may also need a hair stylist or an assistant, depending on what your shoot needs. The next step is to think of what makeup and clothes you need based on your idea. „The girl next door“ should not have the same makeup and clothes as „the biker chick“. Look for inspirational images for makeup and clothes in magazines or on the internet and send them to your team, so you know they’re on the right page regarding your idea. You can print these out and make a mood-board that you can use during preparation.
Nothing worse than telling the MUA to do whatever she wants, then deciding after she’s finished an elaborately creative look that you want something more natural. Or not telling the model what clothes she should bring and getting disappointed that nothing fits your vision. Or bringing clothes yourself but realising they won’t fit the model. Communication is key so make sure that everyone is on the same page.
4. Location & Logistics
Regarding communication, the most difficult thing will probably be deciding on the right date and time (unless you send out a casting call with exact time and date and got suitable replies, in which case I applaud you). Hopefully everyone in your team will be free on the same date.
You also need to pick where you’re going to shoot, is it a studio, indoor location or outdoors? Yet again, the location should fit your theme.
You also need to decide where you’ll do the makeup, I usually just gather everyone at my place as it’s convenient and easy to get to, but might not work for everyone. You can use someone else’s flat, studio or a public place – once we had to do the makeup in Starbucks, and we didn’t even order anything, now that’s shooting on a budget…
Anyway, try and keep in mind that the makeup will probably take about an hour and a half, the resulting time will depend on various factors such as model’s skin, intricacy of makeup and just how much fun you’re having while chatting away. Therefore make sure to factor in makeup time, and always give it more time than you think just so you wouldn’t accidentally miss the golden hour, or pay more than you expected if you’re hiring a studio.
5. The Shoot (Preparation & Action)
Stare at your mood-board obsessively. List in various magazines for inspiration for poses and lighting. If you have already not done so, scout your area for the locations you’re gonna shoot in. Make sure you’ve got your equipment ready, charged and sparkling clean.
Day before the shoot, message everyone to confirm the shoot. Make sure you’ve got everyone’s number and that everyone’s got your number and know where they’re going and when. In case it’s an outdoors shoot and the weather is supposed to be bad decide on a plan B (my plan B usually involves telling people to bring umbrellas, I live in Scotland so I’m more surprised when it’s not raining at my shoots).
On The Big Day
Be nice. If you’re hosting the event make sure to offer everyone at least a glass of water or a cup of tea. Sometimes things go wrong, trains are cancelled, things forgotten etc. Even if things are not going your way, it’s no use getting upset, and making everyone else in the team feel bad. Instead take it as a challenge.
Make sure to notice the little things, don’t get too trigger happy only to be disappointed by the photos because the model has the same pose on every photo or there’s a bra strap poking out. Your makeup artist or assistant might notice some of these things and fix them, but don’t get too caught up in the moment to forget directing when it’s needed. Expression is also extremely important so make sure you’re communicating with the model, making everyone feel relaxed and content. Your model might look stunning with her makeup and clothes in a gorgeous location, but if she looks awkward the picture won’t work, but don’t worry most people will get right into it after a few frames. Just remember that you’re creating images, not shooting wildlife, although with some models it might as well feel like it.
But most of all, don’t forget to have fun.
Then, what’s next? Edit your pictures and send the best ones to the team, you can then submit to magazines or slap them on to your website… and start planning your new photo-shoot.
Olivia Vitazkova is a fashion photographer based in Glasgow, UK. When she’s not running around with her camera or attempting to travel the world, Olivia can be found annoying her cat, reading books and consuming ungodly amounts of chocolate. You can find her work on blog.or her