An Often-Overlooked Yet Very Important Aspect of a Photoshoot

An Often-Overlooked Yet Very Important Aspect of a Photoshoot

Shooting or being involved in a fashion or beauty shoot is a lot of fun. It’s a day where creative personalities, the photographer, stylist, hair and makeup and assistants as well as the client's creative team get together to produce a story, a body of work that they want to show the world. Everyone is focussed on bringing their best ideas to the party. 

I’ve assisted great photographers and produced some work for the local fashion scene. I’ve been responsible for lighting, digital capturing, second-shooting, and shooting. I’ve been the guy interacting with the team and the client, and have been on many far-out, completely different locations and studios with mixes of creative personalities. The photographer is the director for the day, and needs to make sure their team keeps the energy up. The more positive energy, the better the work will be. 

The one thing I noticed on most of these days is the music, the way it is played during the day, and if you play any music at all. Now you might be thinking that music is such a general concept, and that you will just have music play via your laptop or worse, your iPhone, but just think about it for a second. It’s a brilliant opportunity to create cohesion. The client, model, make-up artist, photographer, videographer, assistants, and catering are all in a room trying to setup for the day. How can you make this better and put a smile on their faces? It’s not an office, it’s a place where creative ideas are shared, and music can be the spark that sets it in motion.

Now I’m not suggesting you just click play. People have very specific tastes, and they might all be very different. The trick is to think like a DJ. On a shoot day, it’s not about you. It’s about the team. You can’t play your yoga playlist with the whole Cafe Del Mar on it; I've been there, and I can tell you your whole team will go to sleep within an hour. You need the right amount of energy, but also, not a whole day of Skrillex blasting away while you attempt discussing the mood-board with your client.

On the other hand, you need to build your brand. You need to show your client that you know what’s hot right now and that you are on-trend. You can partly do this through the music you play.

Now, you need to actually play the music. As mentioned above, the Smartphones today are great devices, but it’s not the device you should be playing music with if it’s a large studio with a group of people all discussing the various aspects of the shoot. You need a portable Bluetooth enabled player with a battery life that can play throughout the day. These are my top favorite brands that make Portable Bluetooth Players, and any of these will be winners, each for their own reason, whether it's quality of sound, physical design, ease of use, or the battery life:

Made in America, a brand of style and quality sound. These players show you have taste in what you surround yourself with and what you do. It’s an all-round winner, no matter which one you get. 

10 hours playtime with good sound. The larger one can even be used as a battery charger for your phone which is quite neat. It can stand upright or flat and is splash-proof with rubber on the edges for impact should the lanyard snap-off your assistant’s neck.

Bang n Olufsen
12 hours play time and the best Scandanavian design, similar to that of the Hasselblad product range. You can download the iPhone app and let seven others contribute to the playlist. This can make the shoot more interactive, where everyone contributes. Just don’t let too many chefs spoil the broth, keep on jamming the winning tracks, make the day fun.

Aimed at a younger market, they specialized in earphones at first and then moved onto the Bluetooth speaker market later.

It’s owned by Apple, so the price for one of these is considerably higher than that of SkullCandy, although I think they aim for the same market. They also have a unique design that draws some attention. It’s not a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be the central conversation piece no should it?


You want people to tap their feet, laugh and enjoy themselves. It’s the key to letting people do their best work. Music does this. You want to provide this in the best way possible. Let me know what you think of the playlist. We can do it a weekly post if it adds value to your photography and the work you do.

Once you have your player and you’re ready for your shoot, you can build your playlist for the day. What I’ve done is provide a starting-point playlist I’ve curated and made especially for a shoot day.  It’s done with iTunes and Apple Music. It's put together with the idea of starting up the morning and playing through the day. It can even play on repeat if need be. You can obviously add to these and delete if you don’t like a tune. See it as a starting point, and if you want more, let me know and we can start a weekly playlist post specifically for shoots. I’m an iTunes Music subscriber so the playlist is from there. But it shouldn’t be too difficult to find it all on Spotify.

P.S. The best would be to download the playlist to your laptop or phone, especially if it’s a location shoot. Streaming can be an issue and you don’t want the music to distract from the day. Let's get jamming.

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Tom Lew's picture

My bose soundlink mini stays permanently in my camera bag. That's it's home. It's single job is to play music during shoots.

Daris Fox's picture

Note in the UK you'll need a public licence to play music.

It's worth bearing in mind as it's policed and the fines are rather hefty. I use a JBL power up unit in the studio mainly because it charges the phone as well as you can connect Android/Windows phones via NFC simplifying the connection process. This said I prefer the Bose SoundLink II over the III as it comes with the charging cradle, charges the phone and also is smaller/lighter and I'll probably get for location work.

Eric Mazzone's picture

Same in the US, we are supposed to get license for playing music during shoots, because we are using the music to ultimately help with make a sale.

Scott Hussey's picture

But, naturally, no photographer would ever care to honor copyright restrictions...unless somebody violates our own, then we go ballistic. ;)

Wouter du Toit's picture

This is interesting. I'm going to try compare it to another creative job, like say, graphic design. So we're a bunch of designers in an office and someone is playing music. Are we now using the music to make the sale? No, we're just working, which is very much the same as when on a shoot don't you think? There is just way too many scenarios where this doesn't make sense. Can a coffee shop or a restaurant not play music without a license in the US or UK? I'm from South Africa, and if this is a law here it's not really enforced yet. #touchwood

Scott Hussey's picture

When music is purchased, you are actually only purchasing a license to play the music for your own enjoyment. No public use may be made without paying for a public use license. Any public place that has music playing "should" have paid a licensing fee to BMI or ASCAP (in the US). Those license fees end up getting distributed to the people who write, record and produce the music.

Eric Mazzone's picture


Florian Brand's picture

You could use music from Cretive Commons sources like
Not sure about the implications if you only provide the speaker and let the client/model play their own music.

Licenses aside (lets say for a private TFP shoot) themed music can help to get the team into the mood/setting.

Eric Mazzone's picture

Florian, for TFP that's different depending on if the use of the images. If intended for commercial publication, then it's iffy.

Plus even supplying the speaker system can run you into issues with licensing since the location and equipment is yours.

Scott, sadly too true, not always, but often enough.

Daris Fox's picture

TFP is seen as a business transaction for tax purposes as your are bartering and creating an contract. At least in the UK and some EU countries.
There's little wriggle room when it comes to doing a shoot with a model or otherwise and the fact you can cause you're self a whole lot more headaches it's not worth the grief.

Robert Raymer's picture

Love my JBL Charge 2. Works well indoors even in medium to large spaces and works well outdoors as well. fully charged it will last through a full day of shooting.

Ollie Grabowski's picture

Thanks Wouter for remind me about that , the last two times i forgot the music. I remember two times the music has changed completely the mood of the photo session in a great way. Michael Jackson works always :)

Brian Reed's picture

I have had more models tell me, "Brian! I WANT YOUR PLAYLIST!" To which I say, "Okay." They never get it, but I will give them the list of songs on my playlist. I have it printed out so if they say that at the end of the shoot I say, "Here ya go!" ;-)

I try to have a very wide selection of genres on my list just in case. :-) A lot of the "older" stuff just because all the new stuff is just so over-played these days on the radio. :-| Some of the songs bring back LOTS of memories for the models and they LOVE IT. They love to tell me about their memories when the songs start to play. I take a minute or two to listen to the stories. They are FUN.

A good playlist, I have found, helps the models relax before, during, and after the shoot as well. I love it.

Thank you for the suggestions on the Blue Tooth players too. I think I'm going to go with the BOSE Soundlink Mini. I like the price, and the fact that Tom Lew said it stays in his bag ... that's enough for me. :-)

Deleted Account's picture
I can recommend this. Very good sound, waterproofed(didn't test it) in good size. You can even stream to two of these at the same time.

Helmut Steiner's picture

I recently bought a portable Teufel Boomster system. Great, easy to use, with cristal clear sound and a long lasting battery. They even call it the ghettoblaster of the modern age. ;)

jon snow's picture

Whats wrong with radio..

Ernesto Quintero's picture

Commercials, no control of content.

Andrew Von Haden's picture

If I cared about developing my personal band in this respect, I mostly wouldn't want it to be tied to "top 40." I am not really in situations where I would really need music to drive things forward, but maaan, it would suck if I did as I honestly rather listening to nothing than the music that passes as popular.

Also, as an audiophile, I take great umbrage to recommending anything Bose. I admittedly have never listened to their portable speakers, but their other speakers are expensive garbage.

Anonymous's picture

I always play music for my guests and let them choose, even if it's a genre I personally despise. I always hope they don't ask for country. I loathe country.

Shamim Badrul Alam's picture

oh hoo! you've pointed out almost ignored issue, food for soul

Ralph Hightower's picture

Peoples' taste in music is subjective.
I imagine that when I'm in a nursing home, they won't be playing Bennie Goodman; instead, they'll be playing Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, etc. and the staff will say "What the heck is that?"
A roving "BOOM BOX" was behind me at a traffic light and with every BASS BOOM, my rearview mirror vibrated. Please, keep your music to yourself!

Ernesto Quintero's picture

I've actually spent several hundred dollars on easy to use DJ HW/SF specifically to make "mix tapes" to use in portrait sessions with different clients in mind. I'll make the experience so good that any prior portrait session will seem boring by comparison. My intentions in to make a memorable experience that will create new clients when old clients speak of the good time they had during my photo session with their friends and family. I'm not gonna blast the sound either, you got to understand that certain people get jittery with loud music too. I have a broad range of musical tastes and still listen to popular music even though I'm over 55 and buy best of albums to get most bang for the buck. I use Native Instrument HW/SW, PreSonus speakers and Apple products.

Stephen Kampff's picture

I love being able to play music when I'm setting up - because it get's the client a little bit more pumped for the shoot, and removes the possibility of awkwardness in the room.

Chris Ingram's picture

I'll put up another vote for the SoundLink Mini II. I bought one a little while back, and it's essentially the same size as a speedlight. I have a spot for it in my camera bag depending on the nature of the shoot I'm doing.

I had no idea about the license to play music in public. I'd say that most people would have no idea that such a thing is needed when they have music at private functions in public places and use portable speakers etc. I'll have to investigate the laws here in Australia I guess.

Wouter du Toit's picture

Hi Chris, I agree. These laws are very strange. I'm from South Africa, and if it is law it's hardly enforced. #touchwood

Wouter du Toit's picture

Hi Chris, I just found this for the UK, maybe you have something similar for Australia: