How to Shoot Big Productions on a Low Budget

How to Shoot Big Productions on a Low Budget

Dreaming big is never a bad thing for a photographer. The more imaginative your ideas, the easier it is to stand out amongst your peers. Yet there is often a very real, and very high price tag associated with grand productions. Producing personal projects that you’re passionate about is vital for many photographers in the fashion industry. However, it can be frustrating to lack the funds necessary to bring your vision to life for more ambitious projects. Fortunately, there are many options available to photographers to help them bring that production to life, without breaking the bank in the process.


Previously, I discussed the importance of building a creative team, because they are the backbone of your work as a fashion or commercial photographer. Surrounding yourself with creative individuals who possess similar goals to your own can truly help to pave your way on that path. You never know what opportunities your team members could unlock for you.

One such example of this is the photoshoot pictured in this article. My wardrobe stylist and I had wanted to do a menswear story about a secret agent, with luxury and lifestyle aspects to the editorial. One day while she was jogging, she knocked on the door of a mansion that was on her route, and simply asked the owner if she could take photographs in their front courtyard. They agreed to do so, and a meeting was requested with myself, the stylist, and the owner to confirm the details of the shoot.


You will often hear about doing work "for trade," and often these instances can carry with them negative connotations. In the world of photography, bartering can often be an incredible tool for achieving your goals without having to forfeit tangible funds. I do believe that one should only barter when there is something to be gained on both sides, so ensure that your time and effort is well-spent.

In the case of this editorial, the owner ran a luxury car detailing and lifestyle company, and wanted to use the model we had cast for the story in a commercial for their company. While normally bartering tends to be with means that are personally provided by you, as the photographer, I still reached out to the model regarding the opportunity. It was decided to be a good opportunity for him as a model, and he agreed to be in it.

Because of my team’s contributions to this production, we were not only able to shoot in the front of the house, but within all of it. Not only this, but the owner graciously allowed for us to photograph the model inside and in front of their newly customized Rolls Royce Ghost, which elevated the production to a whole new level.

Budget Accordingly

Whenever you set out to shoot a new editorial or a personal project, put together a simple spreadsheet that breaks down the cost of the production. Certain line items should be travel costs, equipment costs, props, retouching costs, catering costs, and any other items that will come out of your pocket for the production.

Setting a budget for yourself, and then comparing what the actual costs are in comparison to that number, is vital to the success of your personal projects and marketing efforts. The wardrobe stylist had taken on the role of creative director for the story, and had a few props that were needed for the editorial. Knowing that my budget for props was minimal, I partnered with my stylist and reached out to friends and family for the three necessary items: a replica gun, binoculars, and martini glasses. My father had a replica gun available for our use, the stylist provided the binoculars, and we were able to find martini glasses at a local thrift store for fifty cents each.

Because I was able to save on the props and wardrobe, I was able to invest more into having the images retouched, as well as cater food for my team.

Maintain the Relationship

The most important thing to do when leveraging connections, and the wonderful opportunities they provide, is maintaining a healthy relationship with them. Ensure that whatever expectations were set are adhered to. No one ever wants to feel like they were taken advantage of, especially when it comes to bartering. Follow up with those involved and thank them for everything they contributed, as well as deliver on every promise you made with them. Doing so will not only improve your own reputation, but make it that much easier to leverage those resources again for future endeavors.

When you're planning your next big production, sit down and consider what resources may be at your disposal. From contacts you have already made, to those that you could reach out to personally. There are a lot of options out there to help make your vision a reality. Consider local businesses that could provide you with necessary items or services for your shoot, and what you can offer them in return. Making the conscious decision to step outside of your comfort zone with confidence and professionalism can unlock many doors, you just have to try it.

Team Credits - Photographer: Kendra Paige | Creative Director & Stylist: Alyssa Blanco | Location & Rolls Royce: Prominent Status | Watch: IWC Schaffhausen | Model: Marcos Mejia of Elite Miami | Grooming: Madeline Rouge | Retoucher: Svetlana Pasechnik | Assistants: Chris Brodsky & Monica C Baker

Kendra Paige's picture

Kendra Paige is a fashion and beauty photographer based in South Florida, with a passion for whimsical and colorful imagery. She discovered her love of photography while developing film in a middle-school darkroom, and has strived to be a positive influence in the photographic community ever since through education and mentorship.

Log in or register to post comments

Good job Kendra.

Thank you, Alice!

I've actually got two properties I was planning on pitching to. I will post pics of both, if I get time to go shoot some.

Oh this was a lovely read!

Thank you, Andre!

This was very helpful to me thanks Kendra again! Few questions if you don't mind...

Have you ever had some new creatives just over step and ask "too much" from you and you think it is taking advantage of you, how do you handle those if you ever got those? For example if you're unsure, models asking for all shots, unedited, "RAW", I've had this much more common by agency models, which I'd assume its them and their agency's needs to reuse unedited images for clientele can see the costs to retouching in advance... (just an assumption). Another with creatives you pay for their time/talent, etc. and demand X amount of images at X amount of time like they hired you?

Thank you, Chris! I'll do my best to answer your questions.

A lot of what you're mentioning is something that I handle prior to shooting. Before the shutter clicks, all parties are made aware of exactly what they're going to get. From the amount of images, to no RAWs going out, etc. It's much better to set the right expectations immediately, and perhaps lose someone along the way, rather than to deal with the assumed disappointments of someone after you've had to reset those expectations.

I've had newer models, makeup artists, etc, who ask for a lot of images, and I just explain to them that I believe in quality over quantity, and not releasing an unfinished product.

When it comes to the agency, I send the agent the proofs (only the best images, not all), and then send lightly retouched images after final selections have been made. Most agencies have their own uniform way of getting digitals, as in those snapshots that show the model without makeup or retouching, so they shouldn't be requiring the same of the photographer.

In terms of creative team members making demands, I spell it out very early on that they may not see images for anywhere from 1-6 months, due to the time is takes for the editorial to be published, and the embargo on the content prior to. I'll usually send them outtakes to reward them for their patience, but it goes back to setting expectations clearly before working together.

When I explain to people my process for images and the amount of time that goes into retouching, they are usually understanding of why it's limited to only a select few images. There are other photographers who provide a lot of images, but that's just not how I operate. So long as you put it in text or in writing before the day of shooting, there shouldn't be any issues afterward. Hope that helps!

Yea. I used to have it in text before they come to me, or when I go to them I give them a whole wall of text but I generally never hear from them or anyone as I'd assume overwhelmed them or scared them. Which was both good but also bad as I already have a talent pool sooo tiny in my local area. Would you recommend having some kind of pre-shoot contract even for TF collaboration shoots, as we the photographer may be investing some money even for TF shoots?

I stopped the whole wall of text since my talent pool just got too small and just said, X, Y and Z, made it super simple, fast, and give the feeling I am easy to work with. I got bite pretty hard when I worked with an NYC model literally just about putting on the dress told me she needed all images unedited, so I had to give in or call off the shoot, I did compromise though and offered I'll do it with an NDA contract, and that same shoot the MUA (whom I paid) demanded I give X, Y, and Z images to help promote her days or weeks after the shoot.

I will say that introductions shouldn't include all of the details, but after they've shown interest in working with you. Even then, simplifying the content will be important so you don't scare them off. Just the need-to-know information presented in a positive and confident manner.

There are a few situations that come up, but I'm surprised an agency model would want unedited images. I would have politely informed her that I will send her low-resolution proofs that she can save for her own personal use, but that the only high-resolution images are the final shots that have been properly processed. If they buck me further, I'll explain that my photography is a 50/50 mix of in-camera and post-processing, and that if they want my work to be the quality they've seen, then it will only be in the final images.

As for the MUA, this still sounds like terms that needed to be set prior to shooting. Anytime I have a client or someone I've paid for a shoot request something outside of what was agreed upon, I offer them a rush rate. I would need to move resources around, and spend my time that would have gone elsewhere in order to accommodate what they're asking for. So I politely explain I can do it for a specified fee, or that they can wait until the timeline I specified otherwise. The same goes for additional images. They're welcome to more, but there would be a fee involved as they're images I'd have no use for.

There are exceptions, and sometimes I'll go above and beyond depending on the relationship, but I make it a point not to set a poor precedent for myself. People who take advantage are not people I care to work for or with.

Step 1. Find Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist and gain access to his property.

Iron Man?

Really great article, Kendra! Using barter to get a high production value on the cheap is such a great skill to have. Especially if you can avoid getting burned in the process

Thank you, Hans! Bartering and negotiation are two really key pieces to managing ambitious projects on a tight budget. The key is looking outside of the usual production houses / studios. And even in those instances, some well-placed connections and friends can go a long way!

Thanks for sharing, Kendra. It's given me some inspiring ideas for my shoots.