Tips and Advice

Planning a photo shoot? Here’s how to put together a shot list

cincinnati wedding stylist blog

Photo: Annette Navarro

This may seem like a “duh” statement, but I’ll say it anyway:
In order to get what you want, you have to know what you want.

Right. Duh.

But you’d be surprised how often clients go into a photo shoot without a clear plan.

Most people have vague ideas about what they want out of a shoot, but until we can project thoughts into each others’ minds Star Trek-style, a shot list is the best way to communicate exactly what you need to your photographer and team.

So what is a shot list?

A shot list is just what it sounds like: a list of the photos you want to get from a shoot. It’s a a collection of images, ideas, and setups you want to work your way through.

For instance, on an e-commerce shoot, you may want to get silo shots (images of your products on a white background) for product pages, and photos in a variety of lifestyle settings for ads and social media.

Why is it important?

Shot lists are helpful because they force you to think about the images you need, and act as a checklist so you don’t forget anything. They also ensure that the entire team (photographer, stylist, hair & makeup, model, etc.) knows what to expect and how to prepare.

For instance, I recently styled a shoot that went from indoors to outdoors–in freezing temperatures. Had I known our (brave) models would be outside in the cold, I would have pulled coats for them to wear!

As with most other team projects, the more communication, the better.

Ready to get started? Let’s go!

1. Get everyone on the same page

Gather your creative team to discuss everyone’s needs and vision, taking into consideration:

– Image use

Think about the different types of media and how images will be used.

Are they for print? Most magazines and look books are in portrait orientation.
Are they for digital? Websites and social media headers are displayed in landscape orientation, but Pinterest favors vertical images, and Instagram is all about the square.

Be sure to get a variety of options that will work for all of your outlets.


Magazine images are often vertically oriented Photo: Anna Jones/OMS

– “Must haves” vs “nice to haves”

Once you know where the images will be used, determine your must-haves.

For example, a fashion designer’s must-haves might include photos of each garment on a white background for e-commerce and line sheets, necessary for online sales and retailers. Meanwhile, a tight shot of a model’s manicured hand zipping a dress is nice to have for Instagram, but won’t make or break a sale.

– Mood and lighting

Think about the mood you want to convey. Do you want the photos to be fun and colorful or should they be more muted and calming? Soft natural light with minimal contrast works well for a more organic look, while hard bright light with deep shadows plays up the drama.

Take a look at your brand guidelines and make sure everything fits with your overall aesthetic.

– Composition

Composition also affects the “feel” of your images. Do you want products to be organically arranged as if they landed that way by chance, or in a precise grid Things Organized Neatly-style? Will photos be cropped in unusual ways for a trendy attitude, or perfectly centered for a classic feel?

Again, this should reinforce your overall brand.

image composition organic

“Organically arranged” dishes feel fluid and relaxed
Photo: Aaron Conway

2. Make a list of shots

Create a list of your must-have and nice-to-have shots, then put them in order based on importance and general similarity. An ordered list of photos helps keep timing on track and cuts back on downtime.

For example, if you’re photographing product shots and on-figure images for an e-commerce site, you can get the product shots done first, while the models are in hair and makeup.

If you’re working with different sets and backdrops, you can photograph everything on set #1 before tearing down and moving to set #2. Planning the general order prevents having to rebuild.

3. Add visual inspiration

While a written list helps keep the day in order, visual examples help everyone can SEE the objective. You can draw sketches (stick figures count!) or find photos that embody what you want to create.

I like to spend some time gathering 1-2 inspiration images for each shot on the list so there’s a solid starting point for poses, composition and framing. Check out these resources for inspiration, and set up a private Pinterest board and invite your collaborators so everyone can share their thoughts.

[RELATED: 31 Resources for Visual Inspiration]

Compile the inspiration images for lighting, composition, and each shot, add brief descriptions where needed, and voila! Shot list complete!

A word about shoot day:

In reality, very few shoots go exactly the way you plan, and that’s okay! Weather, talent, locations, and collaborators all have a say in how the day turns out, and frankly, some of the most unexpected, unplanned moments are when the magic happens.

There’s nothing wrong with letting things take place organically, just make sure you get what you absolutely need, too. The more details you can work out beforehand, the more time and freedom you’ll have to experiment.

Questions? Need help? Ask away!

Interested in learning more about creating visuals for your brand? Join me for my “Think Like an Art Director” session at Midwest Craft Con on Saturday, February 11th. Register here!

31 Resources for Visual Inspiration

visual inspiration

A lot of creative types claim they don’t enjoy planning, but gathering inspiration is one of the best parts of the pre-production process, I promise.

When I’m producing photo shoots, putting together the creative direction is not only fun, but useful: it helps me hone in on a vision, acts as a trigger for new ideas, and provides examples of lighting and composition, which make it much easier to communicate with the client and crew. Thank goodness the Internet gods have made all of this visual inspiration so easy to find!

These are some of my favorite resources:


Artist representative agencies host the best images of their clients’ work, and are great places to see the portfolios of big names and up-and-comers alike.

fashion photo styling inspiration

Work by fashion stylist Claudia Engelmann (my favorite!) and prop stylist Rebecca Donnelly

Halley Resources
Bernstein & Andriulli
Giant Artists
Art + Commerce
Visual Artists Agency
Artist & Agency
2b Management
Creative Exchange Agency

Editorials featured in the best print and online publications in the world provide endless inspiration directly from the pros. These sites do the hard work of hunting and gathering for you!

fashion photo styling inspiration

Images from Vogue Portugal, Glamour

Fashion Gone Rogue
Visual Optimism
Fashion Model Directory
Steen Evald
The Fashionography

My current favorite social network is also one of the best sources of visual inspiration out there. Find one amazing account and let yourself fall down the Instagram rabbit hole, where all the pretty pictures live. I like to screenshot my favorite images and upload them to Pinterest.

fashion photo styling inspiration

Instagrams by streetetiquette, paridust


Speaking of Pinterest, it’s the easiest way to collect and sort images from all of the sources listed above. It’s also a super convenient way to search for specific looks, artists, and brands, and I especially love it when I’m putting together beauty direction, like when I know I want a burgundy lip but need to show the makeup artist exactly how burgundy it should be.

My “iwokeuplikedis” board is where I collect makeup inspo

What are your favorite sites for visual inspiration? Share in the comments!

How To // Planning for Magazine Editorial Coverage

cincinnati magazine media coverage timing

A few weeks ago, I was in a shop pulling wardrobe for a series of photo shoots, and the store owner asked me: “Is this for December?”

I was floored. “Oh no, that’s been finished. This is for January.” It took me a second to realize that shopping in mid-November totally made sense for holiday from a retail standpoint. But magazines require a longer lead time than web or newspapers, so getting exposure in a glossy print publication requires thinking ahead. WAY ahead. Here are a few tips for planning for editorial coverage:

1. Find out how often the magazine is published
Quarterly magazines will have a longer lead time than monthlies, obviously, but most publications work 2-4 months ahead. This means December is the time to pitch a March event, June is the time to pitch your fall collection for September, and so on.

2. Look for their editorial calendar
Most magazines will post their publication schedule online, along with a list of features or the cover story for each issue–this is often part of a media kit or on the Advertising page on their website. Established magazines usually have 2-3 “standing” topics each year; for instance, Vogue always does a “Shape” issue in April, Cincinnati Magazine always does “Best Restaurants” in March. Figure out where your business fits into the schedule and plan accordingly.

3. Plan YOUR calendar
It’s important to understand how customers–and by extension, publications– relate to your business. This is why Fitness gets the most coverage in January (New Year’s resolutions) and June (beach body time), but fashion businesses get a boost in March/April (Spring style) and September (Fall fashion). The December holiday shopping season benefits industries across the board, so by the time August rolls around your products and photography for holiday should be ready to go. Knowing when your story is most relevant is key!

4. Make contact!
Read the magazine to get a sense of the type of content they focus on, and contact the editor of the section that covers your type of product or business. Send an email introduction and press release that includes the who, what, when, where, and why of your story, as well as a link to 2-3 good photos that represent your product or service. Again, make sure you know what the magazine covers: I work for a city publication, so I’m looking for people and products that are significant locally, whereas a national magazine will cater to broader topics.

In the past few weeks, I’ve received pitches for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, even Earth Day–which is in April–so if you’re counting on media coverage in the first half of 2016, start planning now! And if you have specific questions, as always, feel free to ask…

Current Obsession // Podcast Madness

Ever since Serial blew up, there’s been a lot of talk about the explosion of the podcast. Not to sound all hipster-braggy, but I’ve been listening to podcasts since 2008, and while I still have some oldies-but-goodies (Pop Culture Happy Hour, Marketing Over Coffee, Star Talk Radio) in rotation, lately I’ve been exploring the world of entrepreneurship and lifestyle podcasts. Here are a few I’m currently obsessed with:


Being Boss

This is my favorite podcast right now, and not just because of the awesome title. Kathleen and Emily keep it real-real and share HOW they do things, from their step-by-step client onboarding process to the specific tools they use to organize their respective businesses. They’ve set up a Facebook group for creative entrepreneur types, and recently started hosting fun Twitter chats as a way for people to connect and support each other. Highly recommended.

The Lively Show

Jess Lively’s lifestyle podcast focuses on women entrepreneurs in the realm of style and design, and explores what makes them tick both personally and professionally. The current series is focused on finance and money management, including the very informative two-parter 27 Ways to Make Money

The Accidental Creative

I just started listening to The Accidental Creative, but Todd Henry’s podcast–much like the successful book of the same name–covers interesting topics like The Power of a Morning Ritual (ever noticed that people in power almost always have a morning meditation/workout routine?) and the importance of scheduling time for “deep work”.

Creative Start

While Creative Start hasn’t been updated in a few months, there are some interesting interviews with fashion designers, writers, and other makers talking about how they got their start, some of the lessons they learned, and how they nurture their creativity on a daily basis.

Hack the Entrepreneur

Jon Nastor is a lovable goofball who also happens to be a great interviewer. He asks all of his guests the same set of questions, yet still manages to dig deeper and find the unique “hack” that makes each of them successful as individuals. Hack the Entrepreneur is part of the Podcast Network, which has plenty of other shows worth checking out if you’re into digital marketing.

If I’m feeling really motivated, I listen to these at 1.5x speed and zip through 3-5 per day. It’s like having an encouraging internal voice dispensing insights and advice, which is helpful for getting in the necessary frame of mind to act like a boss.

Tips & Advice // 4 Reasons to Create A Look

I have this weird habit of editorializing my personal style–it comes with the job, I guess. Though I don’t go quite as far as wearing the same thing every day like this art director (which actually seems like a good idea), I like creating a look each season because it makes it easier for me to shop and edit my wardrobe. The benefits are small but meaningful: In addition to saving time getting dressed every day, I save money by trimming down my shopping list!

These editors have defined their look

These style influencers have defined their look

Here are four reasons that explain the logic behind the madness:

1. Creating a “look” is super fun

Vision boards! Editorials! Online window shopping! It’s like being a magazine editor in your own closet. You know those front-of-book product pages with inspiration photos and styling suggestions? This is like the real life DIY version of that.

2. Having a clear direction saves money

Focusing on what I really want versus what I kind of like keeps me from getting distracted by things I probably won’t wear. Sure I like those peach silk culottes, but if they don’t fit with the overall look, they go back on the rack. No wasted money, no buyer’s remorse.

3. It makes putting together outfits a breeze

When everything has been curated with an entire look in mind, it’s much easier to create outfits that work. Complementary silhouettes, a (mostly) predetermined color scheme, and a good foundation of basics means not having to think too much about what goes with what and takes the stress out of getting dressed.

4. It puts the emphasis on individuality

I’ve always seen fashion as a form of personal expression. Sure I get inspiration from runway and street style trends, but those things don’t necessarily dictate my style mood. Creating a look encourages me to poke around my own psyche for a bit and think about the best way to express what I’m feeling. Via shoes.

Am I the only one who does this or do you have a look in mind for each season, too?

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