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A Step-By-Step Guide to Your Next Photo Shoot

Eric Fluet with Ken Dupuis and Modern Filmworks
On-set shooting the Ghostbusters Experience in NYC (2016)

A picture says a thousand words, right? Whether you are launching a new product, a shiny new ride or just need to refresh your media library, new photos can make a big difference. Impactful photos that resonate with your prospective customers are easier to come by than you think. It doesn’t matter whether you have a big budget or only a shoe string, you can still get it right with prior planning. Get the most out of your next photo shoot with these eight tips and tricks.

1) The Brief

You, not the photographer or the agency, are ultimately responsible for your marketing. Before you do anything take the time to write a brief. It will consolidate your thoughts into a specific and achievable goal or set of goals according to the needs of the business. It will outline the project scope and break it down into bitesize pieces while aligning all relevant stakeholders, team members, internal departments, agencies, freelancers and even talent to the project’s deliverables. This is your opportunity to consolidate your thoughts into one comprehensive document outlining a framework for the project that will keep everyone involved aligned, on point, on time and on budget. Even if the photographer is familiar with your organization a brief will ensure you are aligned with a common goal.

Questions the Brief Should Answer:

  • Target demographic: What is your overarching marketing strategy and who is your target guest?

  • Talent: Your talent list should mirror your target demo. Be specific. If your target is “families with tween/young teen kids” then your talent family should be adults, male and female 25-35 and kids, male and female 10-15.

  • Project timeline: When do you need the photos? Work backwards to identify key dates. Be realistic and include everything from the date you’ll finalize this brief to the date your first photo is needed. Plan to run long.

  • Deliverables: Include examples of how they will be used. List any specific size requirements you may have, such as vertical and horizontal images for web and print collateral or high resolution for large scale, outdoor print.

  • Budget: Include a detailed budget with lines for talent, photographer, location and agency fees if they are relevant to this project.

  • Shot list: These are the specific photos/video you would like to capture. Be specific and prioritize. Manage expectations - it’s a long day to get a limited number of photos. I can’t stress how important a shot list is.

  • Sample photos: Search stock photography and competitive websites. Search the hashtags your customers are using for examples of images they find engaging and include samples in your brief.

When it’s complete, share the brief with your team and agency, if you have one. Do the goals you have set forth in the brief align with your overarching marketing plan and business goals. Before you get too far down the road is there anything else you need? It may be your vision but your team and the agency are likely closer to the tactical execution than you.

2) Paid Talent vs Employees and Fans

This is an area where people try to save a few dollars. Don’t skip out on this. I’ve seen some companies use Facebook fans and others who have used employees. Although you can save a lot of money this way, it’s rolling the dice with the outcome and you will likely end up needing new photos when it’s all done. Your talent needs to work with you, the camera and the photographer to ensure your future customer can see themselves at your attraction or with your product.

Today’s most effective ads are aspirational and emotionally engaging. Customers want to see and feel themselves engaging with your product. Actors and models are professionals. They are comfortable with the camera and take direction well.

Open ended Facebook posts are okay for background extras but don’t waste money on a photographer to chance talent on the day of the shoot. SPEND THE MONEY for professional talent… you’ll thank me later!

3) Source Talent

Use a talent agency to source potential actors or models and put together prospective “families” for you. Share your brief and let them help you find the right fit. If you have a smaller budget you can reach out to talent agents directly. This will require you and your team to comb through a lot of photos and manually assemble your talent but will save you the added commission paid to the agency.

When putting together your “family”, they should be reflective of your customer base in both age, make-up and ethnicity. Showcasing diversity in casting is important. Especially if you have a broad customer base. I am not saying you need multiple families. Simply consider how appealing the actors/models you choose reflect an inclusive cross-section of your target demographic.

Communicate your wardrobe expectations to the talent prior to the shoot date. You’ll want bright, solid colors and no logos or graphic t-shirts. If you’re shooting in the summer for a fall/winter event, ask them to wear pants and fall colors. People wearing shorts promoting an outdoor event in December will not resonate.

4) Retain the Rights to Your Photos

It is important to understand this point. You do not own the photos or have the right to use them whenever/wherever you want. This needs to be negotiated with the agent in advance. You want the rights to use these photos in all of your advertising and promotion of the business. Although not easy, it is preferable to secure the rights in perpetuity. If you purchase the standard 3-5 years, make sure you clearly identify these photos in your media library so you know when you need to stop using them or negotiate an extension. Using photos past the agreed period opens you to the risk of substantial fees and penalties.

The use period for your new photos should be clearly written into your talent contract. For your background extras, make sure they all fill-out a photo release, giving you rights to these photos without future issue.

5) Find the Right Photographer…

Just as important as finding the right talent, the right photographer is key. Do not do it yourself; hire a professional. Do your due diligence and hire the right photographer. Architectural, candid, documentary, fashion, food, landscape, action, sport - these are just a few of the different types of photography and they all require unique specialties. You do not want an architectural photographer shooting your water park.

Share the brief with your selected photographer. It is critical that you, the photographer and the talent are aligned with the same expectations.

6) Site Visit and Walk Through

Schedule a date a couple weeks before your planned shoot to walk the site with the photographer and other stakeholders. This is your final opportunity to show the team what you need and for the photographer to plan out the day. Manage your expectations - you will only fit in four or five unique set-ups in a standard 6-8 hour day. You will get hundreds of photos and a variety of angles from each but it is a slow, time-consuming process. At the end of the day you only need a handful of key photos to use across various customer touch-points. Don’t rush, do it right. Five quality, engaging, impactful photos are more valuable than 500 mediocre images. You want quality, not quantity.

7) Day of the Shoot

You’ll want to get there early on the day of your shoot. This is not the day you want to be a step behind. There will be a lot of hurry-up and wait so set up a hospitality area near the shoot location for the talent and others to relax during the day. Provide meals, snacks and beverages to keep everyone energized and ready to go.

Huddle with the photographer and talent one more time to review the brief and expectations. Make sure the photographer is clear on your needs (horizontal, vertical, thin and wide, square, etc.). In our increasingly digital world the traditional 8” x 10” will not suit all of your needs.

Have extra clothes on hand in case your talent brought the wrong wardrobe or your “sibling” pair are wearing the same shirt. (Don’t roll your eyes. It happens!)

8) Alternatives to a Paid Photo Shoot

If your photography needs are immediate or you don’t have a budget at all, consider stock photography or user-generated content. UGC, as it is also referred, are photos or videos created by unpaid contributors. This could be current customers, fans or other content related to your business. Stock photography is quick and easy but not a long-term replacement for an internal media library. UGC has its own pros and cons, but that is a topic for another day.

The same exercises above apply to video shoots for a TV commercial or other digital needs. The exception to that is the addition of story boards which you would request as a deliverable in the brief. Once you’ve briefed the creative team, internal or external, they will come back to you with these storyboards. They are an outline of what your commercial will look like. This gives the video production group guidance as to the specific shots they will need to tell your story.

In summary, start the project with a clear and detailed brief, hire professional talent and the right photographer. Take the time to plan ahead and you will save time and money in the long run.

For more on the do’s and don’ts of your photo shoot project, help with your brief or photo release form, visit to learn more or visit for additional marketing related articles.

About the Author:

Eric Fluet is the founder of Get It Done Marketing. With over 20 years of marketing experience with leading companies in the tourism industry, Get It Done Marketing provides marketing insight, strategy & execution for businesses of all sizes and budgets. Seamlessly integrating into your organization, Get It Done Marketing provides you a cost-effective solution to your marketing needs. Connect with him on LinkedIn and follow @GetItDoneMarketing on Facebook, @GetItDoneMkt on Instagram and Twitter for frequent #MarketingBits to keep your business moving forward.

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