Preparing for your fashion photoshoot

In reference to the fashion photography series I’d mentioned before, the bullet list I used to write this entry was provided by Mark Bonanno. Mark is the lead fashion photographer for QuadPhoto based in Miami, Florida. Thanks Mark!

OK, you found a photographer you like. You have a person to do hair and makeup, and maybe even a wardrobe stylist. Now you take all your garments to the studio and shoot as many shots as you can by the end of the day, right?

While this may seem like the easiest method, it is not the best way to execute a photo shoot. As a professional fashion photographer, I am often told by designers that they want to shoot photos for a particular line but when we get into the details, they say they have it all “in their heads”. In this fast paced and competitive industry, preparation is everything! I have put together a short checklist that will help you get the most out of your day at the studio.

  • Create a storyboard
  • Set the stage
  • Scheduling
  • Mind your models
  • Assign clothing to models
  • Include accessories
  • Use professional models
  • Basic necessities

Create a storyboard
Plan out your shoot and put your ideas on paper with a storyboard. You should prepare some rough sketches, drawings or better yet, a final layout that you can discuss with your photographer (sample one) and two). At the very least make a “shot list” of the items and maybe details you want the photographer to shoot.

Set the stage
Go over the concepts and the backgrounds with the photographer well before the shoot. Nothing is worse than not having the right backgrounds when you start working. Discuss how backdrops should be arranged to attain the desired result. A good photographer will advise you on how to frame the shoot appropriately.

Set a schedule and try to stick to it. You don’t need a model showing up at 8:00 AM if their shot is not scheduled until 1:00 PM. A well planned-out schedule will save you time, money and aggravation. Make sure you have each model’s cell number and they have yours.

Mind your models
Make sure your models are on time and well rested. This may mean asking colleagues or confidants to recommend models that are reliable and ready to work. Models serve as a canvas to help you promote your brand and need all their energy to come through during the photo shoot.

Assign clothing to models
Know what clothes fit on which models beforehand. While many of you have pre-fitted your models, a last minute check the day before will prevent any surprises (models are known to get pregnant and not say anything for fear of losing the job). This way you will be able to get more shots done during the actual photo shoot if the fitting happens in advance.

Include accessories
Know what accessories you want to use. This can make all the difference in the world. If you’re a clothing designer, you may want to find a jewelry designer with similar ambitions and split the cost of the shoot – and the results.

Use professional models
Try to use professional models. This is always a point of contention especially with low budget shoots. I can only speak from my own experiences but in the 24 years that I have been a fashion photographer, I consistently get more usable images with professional models over non-professionals or friends. Professional models can also provide great suggestions.

Basic necessities
Whether out of doors or under hot lights indoors, having beverages and snacks on hand can keep people cool or warm -and focused. It will be distracting if you have to send someone out later on. Photo shoots often run longer than anticipated. Select a location with bathroom facilities near by.

Finally, keep your expectations grounded and realistic. You can’t do a hundred different shots in a day and have things look good. Give the hair and makeup person, the wardrobe stylist, the models and photographer time and space to work their magic for you.

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  1. dosfashionistas says:

    Thanks to Mark! Many things there I would never have thought of. How many shots on average would it be realistic it be realistic to trry to get through in a day?

  2. Sara says:

    Fantastic! I was just thinking that I need to plan my photoshoot better than I did for my student collections…
    Any advice on approaching modeling agencies? Can I ask for a certain look? Is it risky to book a ‘new face’ model?
    Thanks for this Mark.

  3. Sonia Levesque says:

    No-nonsense and straight to the point; I love this FI article! I really appreciate the pointers given by a professional who has seen his share of good and bad.

    I’ll definitely use this info. Thanks!

  4. This was very helpful. I never thought of a storyboard, but now that I’ve followed your links I realize my last photo shoot would have been better with one. I wrote out the outfits/accessories, but then would ad-lib. A storyboard would have outlined exactly what I expected and made me more prepared.



  5. Max Schroder says:

    LOVE the idea of a storyboard. I do know how I want my next shoot to go, and I was going to make a list of the shots I wanted, but a storyboard is the best idea!!! Thanks so much!

  6. Camille says:

    Thank You Mark,
    All strategic and important points.
    Just to add; sometimes a shoot is ‘co-produced’ between a designer and a photographer, and most of the time all participants want shots that highlights their particular role in the shoot (hairstylists, makeup artists, etc.), each should also be prepared with a statement of their needs to be considered and factored into the overall events. I mention this, because of experiences with working on shoots through Model Mayhem members. I have found that even a seasoned person in their respective talents, can frequently not be prepared. Maybe because often times the shoot is free for time, some people operate in less professional manner in terms of preparation. All shoots are expected to serve all participants equally. The participant that receives the ‘most’ attention, is most likely the one who calls the shoot. This can be known in advance, while making the arrangements, or is understood, again based on who called the shoot.

    I have actually worked with several really good photographers from that site, and I tend to be pretty prepared and organized and will make it aware what should be available for the general comfort and flow of the shoot, especially if it appears that some elements may be overlooked.

    For all , particularly any up-and-comers in their respective areas, accurate credit listing is very important, and is the least in a show of respect for all who participate. Good communication is at the core of getting satisfying results.

    Best regards,

  7. Mark Bonanno says:

    To dosfashionistas

    Thanks for the post, there are so many variables that determine the time it takes for a shot. Some advertising photographers will take 10 or 12 hours to do one shot. This would be a shot for magazine ads were every detail has to be perfect. It may include multiple lights and large amounts of props. Editorial photographers may do 20 or 25 shots in a day. This could be a day at the beach where the photographer is just using available light and the styling is very “loose”. The best thing to do is to have a meeting with the photographer and work out the details before hand so you both know what the expectations will be before you start. Take a look at the photographers at and view their portfolios and you will see all the different styles and types of shots and you can see some shots are simple and others required a lot of time and thought.

  8. Lameka says:

    I was very excited this morning to see this topic covered!!! Very valuable information with great timing, I’ll definitely use this information.

  9. Hi Sara!

    I work with Mark Bonanno as his fashion stylist. I am the one who books the models for our fashion shoots. There are quite a few great modeling agencies on Miami Beach. If you are a paying client, the agencies will bend over backwards to find the exact look you need. For example, you could request to see composites on all blondes in the low 20’s and they will be e-mailed to you. You could then set up a casting or “go see” and see the ones that you are interested in and review their portfolios. This is the time to see their personalities come out too. That’s actually very important. New faces can be risky. We have had some amazing new models and some that were not comfortable in front of the camera yet. You take your chances. Look at their portfolio shots and see what you think about their body language, expressions, etc. Sometimes, agencies have very new models that don’t have a portfolio yet. They may be willing to do a test with an up and coming fashion photographer. It’s like a barter. The photographer takes the fashion shots and in return, the model gets pictures from it. That photographer cannot sell the pictures. It’s only for self promotion, to build the photographer and model’s portfolios. The agency has to really know the photographer, their work and reputation in order to agree to this. Hope this helps.

  10. Sara says:

    Hi Jacqui,

    Thank you so much for your reply.
    Hope you do not mind a few more questions in response to your answer?
    Do you normally have to pay a separate fee to have the models attend a casting/go-see?
    How far in advance would you book the casting/go-see, and contact the modeling agency?
    To clarify, if using a ‘new face’ for a free test shoot (as described by you above), is the client (designer/manufacturer) allowed to use these shots commercially, i.e. for their lookbook/website/promo material? What if press requests to use these pictures in their publications?

    As you can probably tell from my questions I have a limited budget to work with, but I do not want to cut corners just for the sake of it. I want to make sure that I end up with a professional set of photographs that I can use for promo and press, at a reasonable cost.
    Thanks again!

  11. Vesta says:

    Our version of a storyboard is that my marketing guy and I get together in advance (after we’ve shopped) and put together each outfit, including accessories (we’ve already chosen which model each outfit is intended for, based on size, coloring, age of baby, etc). Then we photograph the entire outfit as we want it to appear in the shot (on a hanger, or mannequin), and bring those photos with us on the day-of. It really makes things go faster for all of the stylists and models and photog to be able to reference the same image and see what we’re going for. And the models and stylists can look ahead in time and prepare for the next couple of shots without bothering me or my marketing guy, since we’re totally absorbed in the current shot. Having to stand around and wait for the model to get ready for the next shot is excruciating and expensive. We always schedule at least two models at one time, so we can switch back and forth. For us, we also schedule each model for only 1/2 day, bringing in fresh ones at mid-day. Since we work with babies, that has worked best for us. Lots of coffee, snacks, lunch, water all day.

  12. This is great – thank you! If it only I had read it three weeks ago, it would’ve definitely prepared us for our photo shoot better. Our situation was the result of naive unpreparedness: Models sitting around for hours getting annoyed and restless, last minute freak-outs about not having the right accessories on hand, disappointment that the shots weren’t turning out how we pictured them in our head. We’re still very happy with what we ended up with, but next time will undoubtedly be better with this advice.

  13. Hi again Sara,

    So sorry it took so long to get back to you. Ultimatley, the best way to do this is to pay the model and get a model release signed that states the usage of the photos. If an agency agrees to let a model test with you, you really are limited in what you can do with those photos. Agencies don’t agree to tests often, but when they do, it’s usually because a known reputable photographer wants to shoot some amazing shots that the model would benefit from( having the shot in their book or portfolio). Then, the photographer uses the shots to promote him/herself and so does the model. Not one can use the image for publication. As far as castings, there is no extra charge for casings. You can call the agency for a casting any time. If a model is already booked on a job, of course they won’t make the casting…whether you call a week or a day in advance. Paying jobs always take priority. Don’t be afraid to call and speak to the agency. Be honest with them and see what they can do:)

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