How to Plan a Portrait or Fashion Photoshoot

How to Plan a Portrait or Fashion Photoshoot

So you have a great photoshoot idea that's been burning a hole in the back of your brain. As amazing as it sounds to you, you continue to push it back. Finding the task of planning and executing said shoot has been daunting to say the least. I'm someone who as a beginner found this to be a problem that held me back more times than once. However, I'm here to say that by developing a process of sorts, this obstacle can become a thing of the past.


No matter what you shoot, be it fashion, portraiture, landscapes, or fine art, everything begins with an idea. It may come to you from a song you've heard on the radio or a vivid memory that continues to play itself out in your head. With that being said, I believe keeping a journal of sorts such as notes on your phone or an actual book of inspiration. As it comes along it helps you piece together your thoughts and begin to flesh them out.

Mood Boards

A site I frequent to create my mood boards is Pinterest. There I create boards effectively either by ideas or themes that I've decided I would like to execute. Sometimes when I have a model in mind it is built around them. Other times I simply create themes that I can go back to at a later date when the right person or setting comes along.

Not only do they serve as a means of gathering your thoughts, they are also a way of allowing your team and modeling agencies to help see your vision and assist as they can. Often what I will do is create a collaborative Pinterest board so that those I am working with have access to also pour in inspiration as it comes to them. The example here was named "Bohemian Chic." Within it we added ideas for several things such as makeup, clothing, tonality and color choice, hair, model expressions, and mood.

Sample of a mood board: "Dark Bohemian Chic"

Shoot executed in Joshua Tree, California. Inspiration for it was "Dark Bohemian Chic."

This is also a good way of ensuring that one project does not bleed into another due to them having very similar concepts. After creating it and sending it to all collaborative persons involved, I would go ahead and see what everyone's thoughts and critiques were before sending it to a model or an agency.


Writing down sudden forms of inspiration has also been a huge help for me. Apps such as Evernote or even just notes on your phone help you keep together concise ideas as they happen on the go. I understand that carrying around an actual book can be impractical at times, but I can hardly think of a time that we, in this day in age go without our phones. I'd write down adjectives like "moody," "rain," "black and white," or "nostalgic"; terms that I can come back to at a later time and develop into a mood board.

Drawing From Other Art Forms

A visit to a local museum, watching a favorite movie and figuring out what makes you love it, or even music are also a great way to strike up great ideas. The late Helmut Newton frequented midday siesta's in which he'd listen to music and conceptualize ideas.

Finding the Right Model

Starting off I found majority of my models through sites such as Model MayhemInstagram, or friends for that matter. With these come a list of of cautions.

Model Mayhem

Model Mayhem works by allowing different creatives the ability to upload an online portfolio along with a quick bit of information about what their work consist of, what they're willing to do and not do, as well as whether they work for free or commission. Compensation is known to differ depending on the size of a project and the person requesting it. I'd forewarn that when utilizing this website be aware that it is in good practice to filter through and create a link of communication with any you choose to work with, ensuring that you are on the same page in regards to pay as well as the work being created. This is to help keep hiccups to a minimum when it comes to projects and proper compensation, as mishaps can always come about on a forum where anyone can create, display, and execute projects rather easily.


Instagram is a great means of connecting with those interested in collaborating. Cautions in regards to Instagram would be making sure that the model is not already apart of an agency, which in such a case you'd need to go through the agents via email and call, requesting to work with their model. Going about this improperly by skipping through loopholes can ultimately end up with you blackballed by an agency, barring you from working with any more of their models. For the most part, agencies are rather good at letting you know if their models are not free, would require compensation, or are currently not needing any test work for their portfolios.

Date, Time, Location

You've now thought out your idea and found your model of choice. What's next? Setting up a date, time, and location for your photoshoot to now be executed. With this I'd keep in mind the weather and if it's fitting to the mood of your shoot, as well as a date and time that works for all those involved. Models tend to be rather busy during local fashion weeks, in which they can be unavailable. Also make sure that everyone has transportation to the location and necessary permits have been gathered so that these obstacles do not come about the day of.

After figuring these things out it is in good practice to formulate a call sheet that collects the date, time, location, model and agency, team members (MUA, stylist, assistant, hair), mood board, and miscellaneous notes that need to be known. Disseminating this is a way to make sure that everyone has approved of all previous information and is well informed for the shoot. 

Time to Shoot

This brief rundown of things to do for preparing a shoot is a means of organizing thoughts, ideas, and people so that you can get the most out of your shoot day. This is not to say that you might not run into mishaps or obstacles when it is time to bring everything together. In truth, a lot of what we do as photographers is problem solving and improvising to get the best result. You also hold responsibility for controlling your set and the mood of those on it. No pressure, right? Just know with each passing shoot and obstacle cleared you gain a resilience to those that may arise in the future.

Brandon Laurent's picture

Brandon Laurent is a 25-year-old self-taught photographer specializing in fashion photography and portraiture.

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About the section regarding the finding models on Instagram. If a model posts upon their Insta stories stating their availability to do test shoots do you have to still go and contact the model agencies (if model belongs to more then one) to let them know that you are doing a test with their model?

It's in good practice to do so or at least bring it up to the model. "Are your booking agents aware and okay with this." Or ask for their contact information so you can directly email them. This is good for two reasons. One being, you are covering yourself and ensuring that they are in the loop, for who their model is working with and where they will be in case a gig comes along. Also it is a foot in the door, to working more closely with the agency and future models that they may want you to test with after.

Thank you, Brandon, for this insight!

Yes, If a model is with an agency its strongly definitely recommended to contact them via mail with all the details to your shoot. If you are pulling from the agency for the first time its always good to show them your portfolio so they can see your work!

Thank you, David, for the information!

No worries! :)

Bravo...bravo!!! I agree! I recently had 3 shoots back to back. One was using MM models and they were great. However, the 2nd shoot, I went through an agency and all of my communication was through the agency. I inadvertently sent the photos to one of the models and the agency quickly reminded me that all communication goes through them. They were nice about it, but just reiterated the rule. With both shoots, I created the call sheets with all the information, etc. and things went smooth. However, on the 3rd shoot, I did not do the planning. On this shoot, the designer did the planning and it was somewhat disjointed and all over the place. The scheduling of the models was awful! The initial shoot locations were not complimentary at all and overall he had not sized the models out from MM. I took over the shoot because it was going down hill due of poor communication/planning, but it finally came together and I took some great shots!

1. Conceptualize
2. Find the Right team and models
3.Communicate the vision/mood
4. Create a call sheet and email it with contact info
5. Text the team/talent one day before if possible to reconfirm
6. Send call sheet AGAIN.. 1 day before.
7. Arrive early!
8. Have a great shoot....

Am I leaving out anything?