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Planning the Perfect Photoshoot

A Practical Guide to Planning Photoshoots

Planning the Perfect Photoshoot

Over the past 6 years I’ve probably planned over a thousand photoshoots. Some have gone alright, some good, and some truly great. During this time I’ve also followed many other photographers along on their photoshoots to see how they do things as well. The system I now follow is the culmination of everything I’ve learned. It’s what I use whether I’m shooting with a business client, an influencer, or just with friends. Here is my guide.

Step One: Subject

I always begin with the subject in mind first. For me, it’s almost always a person. Who they are, their personality, and what they look like, are all factors that contribute to where we can shoot, what we can shoot, and the overall timing/pace of the shoot.

For instance: Someone with dark skin and dark hair, could work in a forest environment but would need to follow a more monochromatic color scheme. Since the forest might be darker, you might have a hard time having the subject stand out in this situation so everything will have to be of similar tone to not create too much conflict. On the opposite end, if you want to glorify your subject and they are of darker complexion, then a brighter environment with blue skies would contrast against their tone and cause them to be the prominent subject of the frame.

Since all other aspects of the shoot will be determined by this step: knowing your subject, mainly who you are taking photos of, for these reasons, will be the first thing to figure out when setting up the shoot.

Step Two: Pace

The next step, once you know who you’re shooting, is to figure out the pace of the shoot. What this means is:

What date and time will you be shooting?

What obligations might the subject have on that day that you should be aware of that could cut the shoot short?

Will this be a sunrise, daytime, sunset, or nighttime shoot?

These questions will lend a lot of value to the next step.

Step Three: Outfits

Whenever I am in the midst of planning a shoot, this part is the biggest make or break in the whole operation. Their outfits can really change the entire direction of the shoot because, if you’re savvy, you know that color coordination and fitting attire is crucial to the next step. I always ask the model to send photos of the outfits they plan to bring early on. If they ask for suggestions, you can answer based on what time of day you’ll be shooting and if you’re leaning more toward an indoor or outdoor photoshoot. Those ideas will help you organize some thoughts on the matter. For instance: if you’re choosing to shoot at the beach, then jeans are probably not a good fit. It doesn’t match the vibe of what it means to be at the beach. Or if you see they have a beautiful red dress, then you might choose a green environment since those two colors are complementary to one another. Familiarize yourself a bit with color theory and the color wheel, it will help with the next step you must make in planning the shoot.

Step Four: Climate

Climate will be the finishing touch on all the information you have gathered so far. The subject, the time of day, the outfits, all of these parts are necessary to keep in mind when putting the final decision on a location. The questions to ask yourself are:

Will this photoshoot be indoors or outdoors?

If indoors: What sort of indoor decor would compliment the subject and where can you put this together? Do I need to check Air B&B, Breather, or Peerspace? Or do I have a place in mind already?

What vibe does their outfit symbolize and what props, objects, or ideas, can I bring to the table that can immerse the viewer in this idea.

If outdoors: based on the information you have, where would look best with the subject, outfits, and timing in mind?

How I might think about this is:

Tan Complexion + Mid Day = Indoors or against harsh light in an open environment (ex. Beach, mountains, etc.)

The harsh light in this situation might look good in this situation only because if the subject is tan, they won’t get washed out by the bright light. Someone with very pale complexion, however, probably wouldn’t look as good in this situation. And based on the outfits they have and the weather, those will be the deciding factor of which one I go with.

Outfits always decide climate. I've had entire shoots planned out where the model shows up and brings new outfits that can very quickly change where we are going. For better, or worse.

Step Five: Concept

This part is dealers choice. For me personally, sometimes I will have ideas in mind beforehand. But typically if I have planned everything else accordingly, then everything will come together harmoniously. If you are a heavy user of photoshop and enjoy a good storyline in your shoot, then planning the details here would behoove you. If you are more about capturing a “vibe” than you can pass on this. The planning could include brainstorming for an hour or so as well as scrolling endlessly through Instagram and Pintrest for inspo. Keep in mind, however, that you should never copy someone. Emulate, don't imitate.

Step Six: Execute

The day of the shoot, I’ve learned to play it smart. If you’d like to ensure your own success, I’d do so as well. Another person has put time and energy into making this happen. They could have been looking forward to this shoot for a long time. Don’t let them down!

This means:

Aside from the obvious of double checking your card and battery. Making sure you have space and that you’re charged up and ready. Stick to your normal routine the day before and day of! Don’t eat anything unfamiliar, don’t do anything out of the ordinary, play with only safe bets. The worst thing that could happen is the person drives an hour to shoot with you but you have to cancel because you decided to try the new chinese place the night before. Don’t show up hungover, high, still drunk, sick, be professional and play is safe!

When you go on the shoot, always err on the side of caution. Especially if they are unfamiliar. You don’t know their fears, anxieties, worries, pet peeves, or much of anything about them. Quickest way to ruin the shoot is to do something that freaks them out. Which can be something very subtle, like wearing too much cologne or saying something terrifying like "I could totally murder you right now and no one would know it." This is an obvious joke, but it's weird how many times I've heard people say this when we are out in a place with no service. If they are like most people, they are nervous to meet you. This nervousness always can lead to other issues like upset stomachs and headaches. If you’re driving, drive kindly, bring calm energy, play upbeat or chill music, talk about lighthearted subjects, set the tone of general positivity. And as a general rule of thumb, don't pressure someone to do something they don't want to do. It is always okay to ask, but respect their answers. If they don't want to stand by the cliff, get in the water, or pose in a certain way, let it go. Holding onto it will only make them resent you and waste time.

When it comes to finally shooting here is my guiding rule: I’d rather have a one dollar bill than a hundred pennies. Take your time. Take deep breaths, don’t jump straight into it, think! Think, think, think! Most photographers are afraid of looking uncertain. But all the best photographers know that taking your time to sit in the location, observe the surroundings, walking around it and the subject, looking from high and low, this thoroughness is the way to find the hidden dollar bill in the space. Ask anyone I’ve shot with and they will tell you the same thing: When we get to the spot, I take forever to start shooting.

Because I’m being sure of myself, not full of myself.

One exception: You should have a timer. If you’ve been walking around for over 20 minutes and are stumped, then move on. At this point you’re wasting valuable time and it has gone to being thorough to being clueless. When you begin shooting, I would also recommend not sticking with the same pose or angle for longer than 3 minutes. By then, you have exhausted what’s available and have gotten the shot or not. I typically like to keep the subject moving every 10 seconds or so until I find something that grabs my attention. Continuing to have that diversity will really help you find something that works!

After the shoot, we find ourselves at the last step.

Step Seven: Delivery

I personally am very laid back. If the model wants all the unedited files, I give it to them. They can do whatever they want with them, typically it is no problem. Even if they post 100 with terrible photos. Because hey, at least they posted 100! And all of their followers will see my work and know it wasn't edited by me. And in contrast, the more professional edits will make you look even better at that point. I also do this because I know that if I am kind and hook them up, they will always tell their normal friends, business friends, or famous friends about me. Knowing I am a sure thing and will deliver something of value, even if they don’t like how I chose to edit the photos. As long as you do this than you are good.

When you enter the editing process, selecting the photos you want to edit, please keep this in mind. This is SO import:


When you are choosing which photo to edit, I don’t care if one has a cool feeling, or energy, make sure that the model looks good in the end result. Every model feels differently about retouching and reconfiguration, so make sure you clarify with them on how much they are okay with you cleaning up, but all in all, make sure they look good. It will go a long way. If you can make someone look incredible, even perfect, that is what will make it the perfect photoshoot for them.

And that is, from my personal experience, how to plan and execute, the perfect photoshoot.

If you have any questions, always feel free to reach out:

Insta: @NathanielGerdes

Email: [email protected]



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Nathaniel Dylan Gerdes
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