How to Plan a Portrait Photo Shoot: Tips & Tricks

Photo of a portrait photography shoot

It’s one thing to just go out and take some pictures, it’s another thing to actually plan a photo shoot, particularly when it involves shooting portraits of models. Not only is setting up a portrait photo shoot logistically challenging – it can be like herding cats – it might also be intimidating to photograph someone you don’t know.

Have no fear though, professional portrait photographer and educator Mitch Lally has an excellent tutorial video below where he explains how he plans his photo shoot so they are a success. Watch and learn his process so you can adapt it to your own the next time you photograph portraits of a model.

“Planning for a photo shoot is super important, especially if it’s a portrait photo shoot where there’s more than one person, it’s not just you, the photographer,” Lally explains. “So, I want to share with you some tips today on how I plan photo shoots.”

Tip #1: Have a Central Hub for Photo Shoot Planning

“You want to make sure your plan isn’t scattered through all different apps like Pinterest boards, iMessage groups, through your camera roll and this is where an app called  Millinote comes in,” Lally explains. “Millinote was introduced to me by two of my freelancer friends. They both reached out; they don’t even each other. I’ve been using it religiously ever since.”

Tip #2: Have a Concept

“I will never go into a photo shoot without at least a rough idea of what I want my images to look like. I’m either inspired by a certain location and then I’ll plan the photo shoot around that backdrop, or a certain kind of outfit or styling for the model.”

Tip #3: How to Reach Out to Models

“My first tip when you’re sending that first initial message to the model is to make sure they’re really clear on what they’re going to get from the photo shoot. Be clear about whether it’s a paid opportunity or for portfolio. If it’s for portfolio, I’ve found one of the best approaches is to frame the photo shoot like it’s an opportunity. I also think it’s really important that you emphasize why you’re reaching out to this person and not somebody else.”

Tip #4: How NOT to Reach Out to Models

“Don’t be vague or withhold information about the photo shoot. Also, don’t expect them to say yes. Don’t come in with an entitled attitude. Don’t be disheartened if someone you really wanted to work with says no.”

Tip #5: Wardrobe/Outfits

“In terms of wardrobe, I think it’s a really good idea to check in with the model and see if they have any pieces that fit the brief. In not, you can consider collaborating with a stylist to source outfits for you. If you do have a little more budget, you can also consider buying an outfit for your model.”

Tip #6: How to Find a Location

“It’s really important that the location that you choose fits that high level concept of your shoot and also that it’s available on the day and time you want to shoot. If it’s not a public place, make sure that you also have permission to shoot there.”

Tip #7: Location Scouting

“If possible, I will try to go to the location at the exact same time that I plan to shoot. But if that’s not possible, I will use an app on my phone called Lumos. It will give you an augmented reality vision of where the sun’s going to be at a certain time of day, and you can even change the date to a date in the future.”  

Tip #8: Communicating with Your Team Before the Shoot

“Bad communication can mean having any one member of the team going to the wrong place at the wrong time and you want to minimize that as much as possible by checking in with everyone the night before the shoot.”

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