How To Plan A Great Photo Shoot – Part 1.

 If you’d asked me three years ago what goes into a photo shoot I wouldn’t have had a clue. Now, after working really hard to build my website and my instagram account, I’ve been afforded many opportunities to work with brands and publications. I’ve learned new skills to be able to make a shoot a success and I’m very fortunate to often be paid to do so. If you’re starting out, maybe you’ve just signed your first brand collaboration and want to know more about making a shoot a success, or maybe you’re just intrigued as to what goes on. Either way, this blog post will be a good starting point.

Two Tone Parasol and the Indoor Outdoor Acacia Lounger and Footstool with Velvet & Linen Rectangular Cushions by Cox & Cox. On the table is the Fluted Wine glasses and Whitewashed Vase. In front is the Round Standing Water Feature and the herbs are in the Standing Striped Planters. The Outdoor Rug is in a blue and white stripe. All by Cox and Cox.
The Spring/Summer shoot for Cox & Cox.

First of all I must point out that I’m not a professional photographer, in fact I only use my iPhone 12 Pro. This blog isn’t about how to take a great photo, that’s a whole other enormous topic. What I want to talk about is the different types of shoots that I’m often part of and how to be super organised!

First of all I’ve broken the different types down into four categories:

  • Brand Collaboration Shoots.
  • Location Shoots
  • Magazine Shoots.
  • Instagram Shoots just for fun ( These are my favourite and often the most extravagant – remember the pumpkins?)

Brand Collaboration Shoots

You worked your way up. You’ve played the game and now you have enough followers for brands to start to notice you. This is the kind of shoot that you are going to have to get to grips with rather quickly as it will be your main bread and butter and you’ll be doing everything yourself.

The pumpkin shoot.

Some Instagram accounts go so far as to literally design their home to suite a brand, such as Neptune Home, or The White Company. For me, my style is my own and it’s constantly changing. There are a few brands I have always felt aligned with though, such as Cox and Cox and I am lucky enough to work with them on a regular basis. However, I don’t really change my style to suit them. It’s more a case of what do they offer that suits my style.

Collaborations

Collaborations can either be on a gifted basis (don’t be fooled by that term, nothing is free and they don’t “kindly send” you anything), or as a paid partnership. Sometimes, there’s a mix of the two. I generally only do paid partnerships now, unless it’s a big ticket item that I actually need and want and even then I try to negotiate a fee as there is a lot of work involved. Nearly every brand wants a lot of bang for their buck these days.

“Influencers” – (I hate that term) often get criticised for only showing the reveal of a room. Followers get annoyed with “gifted” this and “paid” for that. What a lot of people don’t know though is the amount of hard work that goes into the room before brands even get to showcase their products. For a shoot I’m about to do soon I have had to completely renovate two of the rooms in our new home before I can even begin with the campaign. So, the idea that something is free just isn’t true. That’s even before you even begin to add up the amount of time it takes to think of an idea/storyline, create a campaign, make a reel, style and take photos, write the blog post, etc! Brands have deadlines too, which can make for a very panicky renovation of a room to get everything ready in time.

A Spring/Summer Shoot

Back in late February 2021 I did a shoot at our holiday home @theharbourdeckhouse for the spring/summer range from Cox & Cox. We started talking about it even before Christmas of the previous year. We were about to start the huge renovations at the deckhouse. In fact, the scaffold went up a few days after the shoot. The house was a complete mess, but the shoot would be outside on the deck, so we were praying for sun.

The first stage of the process is agreeing the scope of the campaign with the brand, learning what their requirements are and coming up with an idea, or story to showcase the products. For me, it’s extremely important to make sure that the whole thing feels natural. It should sit very comfortably within my persona and my life so that the campaign is believable and relatable. If ever something jars with me then I always say no. It’ll only come back to haunt you otherwise.

Once the campaign’s scope has been agreed and the ideas have been formalised, it’s usually a case of making a list of the products required to set the scene. For Cox & Cox it was all about creating a stylish outdoor area, regardless of how small your space was. So, we came up with a two-pronged approach. I would style up the full deck and I would also style up just the last 1.5 metres of it to simulate a balcony (we now have a balcony, but that had not been built yet).

This idea meant that a huge amount of products (most of which were returned to the company after the shoot) were going to be sent to the deckhouse and just organising for me to be there for all the deliveries was a task in itself. The entire open-plan living area inside the deckhouse was crammed full of boxes.

Storyboards

The idea that I came up with for the campaign required me to produce an IGTV video to showcase the products as well as a full blog post and still shots. My starting point is usually to storyboard the whole thing, just like they would if creating a TV advert or a movie. I create a number of drawings, showing each scene and what I want to discuss and the message I want to get across. In this way, I can see the full advert/video in still drawn images with text below. It acts as a reminder to me, a kind of “to do” list.

Once I’ve got my storyboard I have a fair idea of exactly what I need to do to turn it into a reality. Now, it’s a case of which tools I use to get my story across. I chose to do some filming of me talking about the products themselves. Then I did a stop-motion video for part of it, a time-lapse video and plenty of still shots. I would then set about editing all of that together seamlessly to create the advert.

Before the day of the shoot I had also spent time sourcing certain props that would help to elevate the story and set the scene such as plants, which of course, all need to be planted and flowers for the vase, napkins and such like.

Outside Shoots

Doing an outside shoot is fraught with problems. Will it rain? Will the yacht harbour decide that it’s the day they are moving a lot of boats, so all you can hear is the reversing siren? Luckily, it was the most perfect sunny day, which is rare in February. However, a man on a boat not far from the deckhouse had decided that it was the perfect day to sand his boat. Oh the joys of spring! Every time I set the camera and started to talk he began sanding away without a care in the world, he even started whistling! It’s funny now, but at the time I actually wanted to dispose of him with a quick, sharp elbow shove and send him overboard!

Continuity

The shoot took all day, but at the end of it I realised that some of the noise on camera was just not going to be useable. This meant that I had to set up again the next morning, hoping desperately for sunshine. It also required me to make sure that everything was in exactly the same place. This is called “continuity”.

I took photos of exact positions of everything and made notes. It’s imperative that you get this right, otherwise when you come to edit the newly filmed sequence into the video, everything is slightly in a different place and people can tell. This is so important when doing “transition” shots for Reels too, you know, the ones where people click their fingers and all of a sudden a plant appears in their hand or they’ve changed outfit.

This meant that day two took a long time to get right. Luckily, sanding man wasn’t around, so at least the sound levels would be right. At the end of the day I managed to get everything I needed. Then the biggest job started, which was the editing. I use FilMic Pro for my video shooting, which takes a lot of time to get used to, but it has amazing features, much like what would be used in a movie. Often, I then tend to take everything to InShot as I find it the easiest to work with. I have the professional version. The editing was at least another two days of work as I had hours of footage that needed to be reduced to around four minutes.

There were about 300 still shots that I needed to reduce dramatically and then edit the chosen ones. I try to keep the ones I’ve chosen to around 20. I use Snapseed and VSCO to edit my photographs. A lot of people use LightRoom.

Christmas Shoot

In September of the year before we were just about to move house, yet I was right in the middle of a Christmas shoot. It involved ten Christmas trees from between seven to ten feet high, faux snow, fake presents (which I had to wrap myself – all 54 of them), light-up reindeer and even children, real live children! Day time shots were required as well as nighttime, so it was going to be a very long day!

The delivery of all of the stock was a nightmare, mainly because we were moving at the same time, so I kept mixing up boxes that were ours with boxes for the shoot! We were right in the middle of Covid hell too, so stock levels were running low. The shoot required everything to be symmetrical as we were using our wide front steps as the main backdrop. Unfortunately, not every pair of items arrived, so I had to think on my feet and create a beautiful asymmetric look that once photographed from the right angle, would look like it was perfectly symmetrical. That’s harder to do than it sounds!

Christmas light display

For this shoot there would be many still shots as well as a face to camera video about the day, a full blog post with shopping links for every product and a full-blown mini movie, which included my lovely goddaughters. For the mini movie I used the storyboard technique again. It required me to shoot the same sequence from many angles and luckily their wonderful mum stepped in to tell them exactly where they needed to be for the shots.

It was a long old day and when you think you’ve finished, of course, you haven’t as you need to pack everything away again. I believe I went to bed at just passed 2am the next morning.

So, you see, for all these people that say that all we do is get sent free stuff and chat about it for a bit, you are “So wrong!” It takes an enormous amount of effort to realise a brands vision and even more hard work to actually get paid for it.

Next week I’ll discuss the other forms of photo shoot I’ve had dealings with. There’s actually a professional photo shoot at our deckhouse this week and I can’t wait!

If you liked this then why not read: Making An Entrance.

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