The Anatomy of a Photoshoot - Part 1

The Anatomy of a Photoshoot – Part 1

You see the published images, you like the look of the model, maybe the clothes, maybe even the location – you wonder how it was shot, what gear was used, how the shot was lit.

Well, here’s the anatomy of a typical photoshoot, from concept to delivery.

(Click on any image for a larger version)

The Concept

In this case, the idea came from a local location – the ranch of an old movie star, Leo Carrillo (Pancho in the The Cisco Kid)

It’s an old Western style place, so a Western theme would seem to be appropriate.

I’m thinking cowboy hats, denim, plaid shirts, ‘Daisy Dukes’ – now we have the genesis of a nicely themed shoot.


Scouting the Location

Scouting starts online – you can use Google Maps, or for a more photo centric view of a potential location, I use TPE (The Photographers Ephemeris).

TPE helps you plan outdoor photography shoots. It’s a map-centric sun and moon calculator.

You can see how the light will fall on the location, day or night, for any point on earth, on any given day, at any given time.

And it’s FREE! (Desktop version)

Using TPE, I search for my location, then zoom in so I can see the buildings.

I select the day of the shoot on the right, then move the time slider to the time of the shoot, and TPE shows me the sun’s position in relation to my shooting location.




I can see the sun will be off to the left of the barn (Thinner orange line) and hence backlighting my subject during the shoot (3-5pm) – plus there will be  nice area of shadow to the East of the building.

TPE is a superb tool, and a real timesaver – you should go download yourself a copy!

Next step is a physical site visit.

I go to site – preferably at a similar time of day to the proposed shoot, and walk the location, looking for shooting positions, backdrops, rest-room for changing areas, ease of access, etc.

I document everything with a camera, so I can show the model the location as part of the shoot design process.


Leo Carrillo Main Barn

Barn Gate Location

Dovecote Building Location

I take specific shots at shooting locations to scope which lenses to use on the day of the shoot – this saves a lot of time, and also helps plan the shot list.

I collate the images from the location on an ideas board, using Pinterest.


Shoot Concept Board / Shooting List – Pinterest

Pinterest replaces the old idea of physically cutting out magazine images, and pasting them onto a sheet of board to create a mood/ideas board.

Not only can you collect images, with links to their original location on the Web, you can also annotate each image with ideas and notes for the shoot.

The concept board can be viewed by the model, make up artist, stylist etc, allowing them to get the idea of the shoot before the big day – and you can also include key team members into the board’s design, allowing them to pin their ideas to the board to build a collaborative theme.

Leo C Pinterest

You can build the concept for the location, look, theme, clothes, hair, poses, etc – all on a free Pinterest board. It’s powerful stuff!

The Pinterest board will then become the shot list for the day – I print it out, and/or bring it on an iPad – I can then reference the shots and poses we’re looking to shoot, and use it to demonstrate to models what we’re trying to achieve for any given shot.

A huge time saver – but also a security blanket, preventing the pressure of the day from making you forget a key shot, or go blank about a pose.

It also helps me plan the sequence of shots – how we’ll move around the shooting location, when we’ll break to change up the looks, etc.


Model Selection

You may already know someone, or have someone in mind for your shoot – but if not, the Web provides you with sites to review and contact models in a professional environment.

The largest site (certainly in the US) is Model Mayhem (MM) – which is the LinkedIn of the photography/modeling industry.

MM allows you to search by location, gender, age, height, you name it – and then review portfolio images of the models to see if they are what you’re looking for.

Each model has his/her own bio page, where they detail their experience, the type of work they’re prepared to do, etc – this is then linked to a portfolio page where you can see images that they have selected as representing how they look, and what they shoot.




You can contact the model via an in-built Email feature, and what I’d typically do is send a link to the Pinterest board for the proposed shoot, so that they can get a good feel for the theme and scope.

Once you get a positive response, it’s worth asking for recent images of the model, to ensure they still look the same as their portfolio shots – people do change over time!


The Big Day

I make sure everyone has everyone’s mobile numbers, so any last minute issues with location and parking etc can be easily handled.

The models are asked to come camera-ready for their first set, so this will save time getting started, and also ensue they look their best from the get-go.

I send everyone a google map with the parking marked, and the first shooting location marked – again, this saves time and confusion on the day.

I pack the shot list and model release forms with a clip board, make sure all my batteries are charged, and that I have spares. I clear down all my memory cards, and again make sure I have spares. I clean the camera gear, and set the camera to it’s starting settings for the shoot.

I aim to get to site one hour early, so that I can lug all the hardware to the first location, set up the lighting, and get everything ready to shoot.

I use Pelican hard cases with built-in wheels – but also use a folding hand cart to make transportation as easy as possible.

Light stands are loaded into a bag of their own, along with boom arms and other mechanicals.

The whole kit can be carried/wheeled by one person, in one trip.

Shoot Kit


  • Fuji X-T1 + Fuji X-Pro1
  • Fuji 14mm, 18mm, 23mm, 27mm, 35mm, 56mm, 10-24mm, 55-200mm Lenses
  • Various filters, including essential ND filters for daylight flash work with Fuji X Series



That’s a lot of stuff – but it’s a flexible set-up that can cover most eventualities. In the end, it’s a trade off between capability and portability.

I unpack, starting with the lighting – setting-up the first location, and then testing the flash with the meter and remote triggers.

I’ll detail the location lighting set-ups in Part 2.