Lesson: 03

Turning your Idea into a Photoshoot

This lesson is all about gathering inspiration and turning your ideas into an actionable plan for your photoshoot.

Why plan you might ask, won't it limit me? Having a plan doesn’t mean you can’t deviate and will actually help with creativity and getting into the zone quicker. One of my very first planned shoots had a narrative behind it that my friend and I came up with which helped guide and keep the shoot moving. If photoshoots stress you out (they did me and I've only recently become self aware enough to notice it) a well thought out plan will relieve that stress and allow you to focus your energy on creating great work.

Lets talk about inspiration, what is it exactly? Inspiration is taking everything you see, hear and feel then using that lens on life to create your work. What inspires you is a question I hear often but I want to turn it around and ask what inspires you because its your lens on life that will make your pictures unique.

The creative work flow when working through an agency vs. working with a friend and capturing raw emotional images is very different for me. The latter is almost entirely documenting something happening where the former is gathering inspiration and coming up with a shareable plan so that others can see your vision as well.

We're going to focus on creating a shareable plan when working with a model and agency for this lesson.


01: Initial Idea

This often comes to me unexpected inspired by things I saw or heard. I write all my ideas down or record quick voice snippets as the inspiration comes. 



Jot down all the photoshoot ideas you can think of. Then pick one to expand on.

My Ideas:

  • 70's Cabana motor home. Morning routines, waking up, taking a shower, getting breakfast.
  • Photoshoot based on the song "I Hung My Head" by Johnny Cash
  • Photoshoot portraying my feelings about growning up in a strict christian household making use of religious symbols.
  • Shoot inspired by Michigan summers and the song "All Summer Long" by Kid Rock. Find a Blue 80's Camaro?


02: Creative Direction

Here's where your shoot begins to take shape and you can flesh out those ideas. Lets expand on the last one. How can we take that idea and turn it into a photoshoot loosely inspired by the song. The first thing that came to mind was a blue 80's Camaro. Come to find out they actually used one in the music video for the song. Another plus, I live in Michigan so I can easily incorporate things that point to that.

I checked with my insurance guy because he has tons of connections when it comes to vehicles, he put a post out on Facebook in search of an 80's Camaro and we had a response from someone in minutes. It's all about asking and talking to people. As you make connections you’ll find people who are willing to let you use their spaces, homes, boats etc for shoots.

One of the biggest challenges when doing test shoots is many people aren't that dedicated, people will need to cancel and things will fall through. This happened with my 80's Camaro so I found a red Porsche and shifted the direction and style of the shoot to match.

Obviously we have to shoot near a lake since its all about summer and lake Michigan is a huge attraction. I start pulling as many ideas that support my initial concept. I'm styling this shoot myself so I'll think about wardrobe and set. What do people do at the lake, they swim, tan, play games, bring coolers full of drinks. Write ideas down: A blue towel? A cooler? blue bikini? different shades of blue? red and blue? How can that build on what we have. The first things that come to mind are sunscreen and drinks so I look for brands that fit the style. A quick search on eBay did the trick. I found that Tommy Hilfiger uses red, blue, and white as does Pepsi. I'll bring those two things into the shoot.

This all helps me decide on location and what to look for in a stylist and makeup artist if needed. Its important to pick a location and people with a style that match that of the shoot.

I also wanted a second location to add to the story, after a quick scout I found a local TV store and was going to bring that into the shoot as a place she was stopping by on her way home.

Remember how I said things change and people cancel? That kept happening with this shoot and I had to keep adjusting it accordingly. I tried scheduling with several different models and it kept falling through last minute. We'll talk about finding models in the next lesson.

Finally I arranged the shoot with a model named Marah, and made final adjustments so the shoot would work with her. We ditched the whole beach section of the shoot (after I bought a bunch of props) because we weren't going to have the time and instead decided to focus only on the TV store part.


03: Finding a Location

Great I have an idea and my plan is coming together but where am I going to shoot these photos and how will I find a location I’ll be able to attain permission to take photos at with a team?

This is something you need to know well before your photo shoot. If you’re shooting close to home jump in your car and go scout locations, if not start on Google. A recent shoot I was planning worked well with a historic building so thats exactly what I searched for "Historic buildings in Seattle" brought up a perfect building. I made a call and got a quote.

It sounds straight forward but if you don't have tons of connections this is a good place to start. Once again location is something an agency will need to know ahead of time, letting them know the day of your shoot likely won’t fly.

For this lessons shoot it'll be local. I'd found an old TV store that fit perfectly by driving around scouting & checking in with the owner to see if its something he'd be okay with.

Here are some resources I make use of when looking for an affordable location.

  • Google.com The most well known search engine out there. Use Google to research the area you’d like to shoot in, look up possible studios and find public places that best fit your needs. A good place to start are Bed and Breakfasts if you’re looking for a unique indoor location to photograph. (Note: some places have rules, when working with an entire team it may be important to check on these details)
  • Airbnb.com is where people rent out a room in their home or entire villa to whomever so desires to rent the space. This is a great way to find suitable locations. Be sure to ask the homeowner if its okay to do a photo shoot there, though.
  • Peerspace.com I’ve only used Peerspace a handful of times but this is directly catered to events, meetings, and productions. Peerspace is similar to Airbnb in the sense that private parties are renting out their space through the website which offers a wide range of locations.
  • Turo.com Much like the other places I listed Turo is a car rental company that allows you to rent cars from private owners. I use Turo to rent cars for both daily driving and photo shoot purposes. You can search the city, date, and specifics of what car you’d like to rent.


    04: Putting together a Team

    Though not always necessary your shoot will be much more polished with a team. A team can include a makeup artist, hair stylist and wardrobe stylist. If you don't know anyone take to Instagram and find photographers in the area you'll be shooting who work with teams and reach out to the people they work with via DM or email. On this shoot I'll be working with Leanna Ernest for hair and makeup, she is signed with Factor Chosen Chicago.

     I'll be styling the shoot myself. Since I'm the stylist I'll need to figure out everything as far as clothes and set go. Once again I hop online and start searching.

    Almost all the clothes I purchase I can return after the shoot if I leave the tags on and am very careful while shooting. If you don't need to return the items after your shoot vintage stores are a great option and have a large range of clothes.



    From here its all communication. Share your ideas and vision via a mood board, get input from your team, adjust, and figure out the details. I'll share with my team any notes I have along with the mood board and some general direction.


    Brainstorming Notes

    • Red Porsche in front of TV store.
    • What supports that? What's was the story? (Making up a story often helps me think on new shots and gives the model something "to do".)
    • We can't do the beach, should she be coming from the beach?
    • Maybe she should be putting on makeup before going into the store.
    • Shots of her browsing the TV selection.


      What I'll Share with the Team

      Late 70's/80's themed shoot at the beach and a TV store.

      Location 1

      A run to the TV store.

      Colors will be: Red, blue, white, with tan, green, and orange.

      First look: Wardrobe will be jeans and handkerchief. Several variations of this, some with button down shirt. Perhaps putting shirt on outside of the car to go into the TV store.

      Second look: Jeans, black boots with blue blouse and hoop earrings.

      Makeup should be a bit darker around the eyes, maybe a mild smokey eye.



      • Shots of her in car putting on makeup with the mirror.
      • Shot of her putting shirt on outside of the car with the door open before going into the TV store.
      • Candids of her browsing the TV store using flash.
      • Car parked facing TV store with trunk open and her standing holding the TV with car to the left of entrance.
      • Shot from drivers side through both windows of car of her carrying TV.
      • Shots of her from inside the car looking at her outside the car with TV.


      My Mood Board

      This one is all over the place but I wanted to capture elements I had in my mind, if necessary I'll create another mood board for the makeup artist. On the flip side I like to let them have their creative freedom in their respective field so I may let her make the calls based on what she sees here.




      • Inspiration: write down all your ideas immediately and expand on them later.
      • Expand on your inspiration take those initial ideas and start thinking of supporting elements. Often times my photoshoots have a narrative.
      • While shooting rather than relying on other photographers photos in a mood board for inspiration you can reference your own notes - this will keep you from searching your Pinterest for "that one pose" while shooting and your shots will be more original.
      • Having a plan will keep things moving and counter to popular belief, let you be more creative.
      • Finding cool locations doesn't have to be hard don't be afraid to approach people and explain who you are and what you'd like to do.


      Todays Assignment:

      Take your inspiration and begin "fleshing it out" start thinking about how to build on it and what elements will support your initial idea. Write everything down. If you're styling it yourself like I am then start researching clothing online.

      A few good places to start are Poshmark, Zara, and Depop. If you have plenty to spend by all means go for designer clothes!