How to Successfully Pre-Produce a Photoshoot

Looking on photography groups and forums, you'll quickly find a reoccurring problem among photographers. No Call, No Shows. It’s going to happen regardless of your location and the seriousness of the industry, and security deposits sometimes scare clients away all together. So how do you counteract this and ensure that your talent and team are timely, and even show up?

I'm proud to say, only while I'm knocking on wood at the same time, that I haven't had a no call no show in over a year. I've grown comfortable and confident that my subject will arrive on time, and that my entire team consisting of a hair stylist, makeup artist, wardrobe stylist, and sometimes, a video production team do as well. However, this wasn't always the case, and I saw a sudden shift on when it all changed. It changed after I read a couple books on leadership and mastering your craft, and they helped me develop three key components needed for a successful pre production of photo shoots, or anything really.

The Three Components


Taking a leadership role during a photoshoot is the most important part of pre producing a high scale photoshoot. Don't get me wrong, I want input from others. I look at everyone as a key component of a team, so I certainly what their creative sides to come out during the shoot as well. However, like most creative outlets, people often need to be fenced in a little bit to really get the urge to explore.

I think of it like a band. If anyone has ever been in a band before, you know the dynamic of having the band leader. They're the one that gets things done, schedules practices, and often, gets the most gigs for the band. Certainly, the songwriting portion is a collective effort, but the band leader is the one who puts forth more than any other member. You have to be the band leader of your own photo team.

In my most recent shoot, in which I plan to show you a comprehensive behind the scenes to in a couple days, I was able to get a model, makeup artist, hair stylist, wardrobe stylist (and sponsoring boutique), classic car, and a video production team, both on the ground and aerial. This wasn't done through a promise of fortune, through weeks of planning (It was all done in the course of a week and a half), or with any other secret techniques. It was done because I was distinct on what I was looking for, vocalized it well, and showed the utmost amount of professionalism and dedication to the project.


One example of this is my formatted paperwork I send out to each of my shoots. I have branded my work accordingly, and made it so all of my paperwork is clean, stylish, matching, and to the point. If I'm putting together a concept, I will send what I want from every part of the team in text format, as well as a concept board to follow it. This is all built in photoshop, and packaged as a PDF for their viewing. It looks so much nicer and far more serious than if I was to just copy and paste some text to them in email. It takes a little extra time, but if you want to produce a high quality shoot, that level of quality must be present in every single step. That brings me to the next component.

[To download the PDF Concept Board/Info for reference, click here]
[To download my Model Release Forms for branding reference, click here]


This one is paramount. You have to have the drive to get all the steps done for the photoshoot prior to it even happening. If that means finding a hair stylist, makeup artist and wardrobe stylist, then it still must be done. You cannot be lazy on any step of the way, as you don't want to be left embarrassed on location when you get caught without a permit.

Perhaps the best part of motivation all is that it’s contagious. When you work hard on a group collaborative, all it does is encourage others to work hard as well. Stay highly ambitious, and watch how ambitious others can become as well.

For this recent shoot for example, I contacted different publications prior to even shooting it. I just sent them an email with a concept board attached, and a link to my portfolio. None of them got back to be, but I sent them an email again with some examples of the final product after I had shot it and had a edited a couple photos from the session. During all of this, I let the team know what I was doing, which only encouraged them to reach out to publications as well.

"Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard." -- Kevin Durant


You absolutely have to make yourself available, and be sure others in your team are as well. When I'm working with a big team, I look to meet with them a few days before the shoot and chat. Often, we'll meet for coffee or a beer, and talk about anything other than the shoot itself. I'm not meeting with them to talk shop, I'm meeting with them to build a relationship with them. Not only will it help provide me with some insight on how they work if I haven't worked with them already, but it'll provide them with insight on how I work as well. My paperwork is usually very authoritative in nature, though I work best in a very casual setting. Its important for my team to know that.

For this recent shoot, I met with the stylist at Toad Road, the boutique sponsoring the shoot a few days before the shoot. I had the model come along, so that she could meet myself, and Solve Maxwell, the stylist for the shoot. Not only was this a comfortable environment to get to know each other, but we were also able to do fittings and wardrobe selection at the same time. The next day, I met with the owner of the '69 Camaro we were using for the shoot. Certainly I knew it was going to be beautiful, as I saw plenty of photos of it beforehand. I didn't really want to see the car for myself, I was much more interested in talking to Curt, the owner, and getting to know who he is. Each person I met with before the shoot got my business card, and was told to call or text if they have any questions or need anything. Building these relationships will help insure that you don't get a cancellation 15 minutes before showtime.


Producing a photoshoot with a large team is a lot of work. When done correctly, and with the right team, it can yield some really great results. But there are no shortcuts; if you want to have a high caliber of work, you need to plan accordingly and work diligently before the shoot even begins.  I will have an entire breakdown of the session this weekend here on Fstoppers, with lighting diagrams, retouching tips, and a behind the scenes video. Until that point, enjoy this teaser video put together by my video team from the session.

UPDATE - An entire breakdown of the photoshoot has been posted. Be sure to check it out by clicking here.

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It's probably worth spell-checking your production paperwork: "vechile"

Zach Sutton's picture

One spelling error on 2500+ words isn't too bad, right?

I'll update it when I get home later this afternoon.

Great article, loved it. I'm just a pedant ;)

Brandon Luckain's picture

I've found a few more than one, lol.

I like this though, definitely gives me ideas on how to improve my ethic.

-Brandon L

Not for the internet. ;) Everyone here is prefect.

I had a hard time hearing the voice on the first video, turn the audio track down next time.. ;)

Zach Sutton's picture

I know. We're hoping to have an updated version of the video this afternoon....deadlines got the best of us and we had to show it as is. Thanks for watching though :-)

Spencer Lefevre's picture

Where would you initially send the requests/idea to get the people necessary for the job. For instance finding the classic car?

Zach Sutton's picture

I posted it publicly on my Facebook, and sent it out to a couple different automotive photographers in town.

Zach Sutton's picture

Local markets will also often have car forums for the area, depending on the size of the city you live in. Other options would be sending it to car restoration places, race tracks and different companies that run car shows. When people spend that much time and money to restore a car, they often also want to show it off....

I see articles constantly from photographers on how they shouldn't ever work for free, so I was wondering if you compensated the owner of the prop (car) that you were using, or not??

I have only done one shoot like this. In that particular case the car owner just wanted a few pictures of his car, which I gladly obliged him.

The best portfolio material I've done so far has been as contributions (make-up, model agencies, styling) with the goal of getting it published. Sometimes, we get work afterwards because we worked well as a team.

Having faith in your team to get their job done. It also involves providing assistance or guidance when they ask questions.
A great leader not only motivates his people, but he also listens to them and considers their suggestions.
In this brief video, I think you nailed it!

Great info Zach! Thanks for sharing.

Zach great post my friend. Its much easier for people to appreciate your work when they see how much work actually goes into it.

Erin B.'s picture

I have a question about the model release. In the Whereby section it says the model agrees that you have ownership of the images for 2 years. What happens after 2 years?

great article, music way too loud as it drowns out your voice in a lot of parts.

Zack, this is exactly what I needed. Thanks so much for this post. Off to Photoshop when I get home to get some .pdf's crankin'.

What kind of budget did you have for this?

This is all great advice but I think the common problem that most photographers have is that they don't have a budget to pay a hairdresser/makeup artist/stylist/2 PAs/a video team/catering/transportation. Im not sure if I need to ask for people to volunteer or do I need to ask the client for more money?

Zach Sutton's picture

What if I was to tell you that my budget was zero?

If you produce a high quality product through and through, you can find people who will help with that experience

I've come to the point where I tell myself, "ask and Facebook will answer." Doesn't work every time, but people usually help directly or point the right way.
Great work man, I have to get my ass to do storyboards. You use PS for them?

Zach Sutton's picture

Yeah, only cause I've always used photoshop. Illustrator would probably make it a whole lot easier, but that program has always confused me.

It would probably help to have the background audio considerably lower in volume. I could make out maybe 30% of what you said.

That is an inspiring and fantastic post/ how to Zach. I agree totally that a high level of enthusiasm whilst remaining professional is key to having a great shoot. Thanks for posting it.

One of the most useful 'apps' you can have in your tool kit is Pocket Call Sheet It lets you put together all the details of a shoot, and email everyone who needs to be. It also lets certain peoples info be shown to all or hidden ( very important )
Covers way more details than what you have gone over here.. and is something Id recommend everyone peeping this post look into. Its truly an excellent tool. ( I am NOT affiliated with them at all) Ive simply been using it for a few years and love it.
There are others too here is a list:

One thing you want is a bit better typography. That all-caps look of the first document looks overproduced to me and pain for eyes. (Text — as a bunch of shapes — is an image, too, so we do not want it look heavily busy witout a reason.) Would rather make bold and obvious what you want and marketing reasons "well, your car will appear here and there" a bit less outstanding. Maybe include bullet list of characteristics. And, I do not see why car owner bothers to respond, what's in it for him? Eg I got an expencive cool car, why I suddently respond? I would state the compensation, being some money or Facebook avatar made by you.

Otherwise, adore your articles!

this was really helpful and inspiring! Thanks for sharing :)