Tips for Self-Producing Your Own Shoot

Tips for Self-Producing Your Own Shoot

I met a new contact on a job recently that encouraged me to delve deeper into the world of lifestyle imagery when thinking about my next shoot. She explained that over the years in between paid gigs, she would self-produce and fund her own micro shoots to use as portfolio material, but more importantly, as stock imagery to be sold. Over time, she has amassed an impressive collection of stock imagery that continually pays her royalties and is an excellent source of continuous revenue when work is slow.

This article is not meant to explain the world of stock imagery, but rather to provide motivation for getting out and creating content when it may seem like you’re in a rut or work is simply not booming. Being able to continuously produce new material is essential for many reasons, not the least of which is to stay fresh. I recently produced two lifestyle-centric shoots and wanted to share my experience for getting motivated to do your own.

Plan and Storyboard

To be perfectly honest, I had little idea of what the term lifestyle meant nor what photos of that genre resembled. Once you discover what it is you’ll start to notice it everywhere in ads, on TV, or on billboards. Think individuals, usually mid to late 20s, sharing a laugh as they watch videos on their phone in a coffee shop. People having a good time, in the moment, candid. Below is an example from one of my recent productions where the theme was a girl on a paddle board enjoying summer.

I am a planner when it comes to my photography so it helps to have reference guides on hand while I shoot. For this job, I went online and took several screenshots of people paddle boarding and having a good time on the water. I assembled the collection and put them together on a single sheet of paper as a quick reference during my shoot. Some may say this is copying others work, but in reality, it would be impossible to take the exact same photograph seen in any of these shots if for no other reason than the location is different. Furthermore, seeing as this was my first of this type of shoot I wanted a crutch so to speak; something to serve as a gentle reminder of what to look for in terms of compositions, light, and angles. Will I use a storyboard for everything? Absolutely not. But it can never hurt to have one. Filmmakers use this tool all the time and I would argue that as a professional, you should always have a plan written down.

Think about a style of shoot you would like to do and look for examples online. The theme doesn’t have to be lifestyle oriented. It could be dramatic, employ the use of a specific lighting technique, or even be a direct copy of something you’d seen before and loved. Put together a small collection of reference images for this theme and study them over a few days. Doing so will help you decide on a location to shoot at, which shots to go for first, as well as what people are used to seeing. Over time, you may not need the crutch but it can certainly never hurt.

Find and Pay a Model

Obviously, you will need someone to photograph. Finding models can be daunting at first especially if you are looking for something specific and have a hard time telling people they won’t work for your particular theme. People will oftentimes look for talent on ModelMayhem, a community website where models, as well as photographers and makeup artists, can create profiles and post casting calls for help. This is definitely a great place to start and I have had success here but it isn’t without its pitfalls.

Another great resource is Facebook groups for your area. For example, in Austin, Texas where I live there is a group titled “Austin Area Models and Photographers” with hundreds of members posting images and looking for someone to take their picture. Again, sometimes there are mixed results consisting of individuals who are not very professional, but between these two resources, you should have some luck getting started. Searching for specific hashtags via Instagram, such as #austinmodel or #modeltexas, can produce results as well. From there, you can direct message someone and see if they’d be interested in your concept.

My final point here may be a controversial one for some, but find a way to pay your model, even if it’s only $20 or a bottle of wine. Paying someone for their time and professionalism can go a long way in getting results. For one, it helps ensure they will even show up the day of by providing an incentive to do so. Secondly, it helps build confidence and trust as you are essentially saying, “I appreciate and value your talent.” Typically, this will be reciprocated back to you as an artist which creates a mutually respectful environment.

Think About Your Intended Audience

I have never considered myself a lifestyle photographer and still do not. If you were to look at my portfolio you won’t see much from the past that resembles this style. However, I understand the value of this type of imagery now and its potential in terms of business opportunities, not just in stock photography.

For example, small businesses and corporations alike desire photos of this kind for use in their marketing strategy; people at work, smiling, conversing happily with customers, using the latest technology. This type of content may seem mundane but it is exactly the thing businesses want their customers, and employees, to see. Not only that, but they are willing to pay for it especially if it is created with their employees, brand, or place of business as it is then unique for their purposes.

Think about this the next time you are planning a shoot. While it can be fun to photograph individuals standing next to a waterfall, what is your intended use for that type of photo? Is it meant to be impactful on social media or is it something you are creating as part of a portfolio for pitching to outdoor companies?

While we should always be having fun with our photography, separating the pleasure from business is without a doubt one of the hardest things to do. If you are looking to solicit business from corporations that are primarily indoors and business professional, then having a ton of landscapes on your website will not get you there. Conversely, shooting headshots will not land you in an outdoors magazine unless you simply get lucky.

This may seem like obvious advice but I have spent years photographing personal projects without even knowing it and only recently has it occurred to me that my efforts should be more focused on the type of business I would like to be getting. In this case, I was looking to build a portfolio of images that I can use to market to local businesses as someone who can create content for their marketing efforts on social media.


Staying motivated is something every artist struggles with at times. Similar to writer’s block, it comes and goes oftentimes without any notice and it can be detrimental to your business. So think about something you’ve been wanting to shoot lately and script it out. Find examples, seek out models, and just make it happen. When it’s done, I guarantee you’ll feel accomplished and ready to tackle your next project.

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Oscar Wilder: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” Every image created today shares a speck from something created within the past hundred plus years.

Clearly said by a smart guy. One who was even wilder than Wilde perhaps?! :D