Planning & Preparing for a Photoshoot: A PRO Photographer Guide

Planning & Preparing for a Photoshoot: A PRO Photographer Guide

There's a lot that goes into planning a professional photoshoot, but once you understand the process, it's really not very difficult. There are a few key concepts that are important to grasp, and once you figure those things out, it's often a matter of just repeating the process every time. So, in this guide, we will go over everything you need to know about planning and preparing for a professional photoshoot.
Keep reading to learn:

  • How to create a mood board
  • How to plan a shot list
  • How to prepare your gear
  • How to engage with clients
  • How to handle contracts
  • And much more

A Step-By-Step Guide On How to Plan a Photoshoot

Photoshoots aren't just a one-day event, there is a lot of planning and preparation that goes into them, and in order for everything to go smoothly, it's important to ensure that you have a well-defined workflow. So, let's look at how to plan and prepare for an upcoming photoshoot so that you'll know exactly what you're doing when photo day arrives.

Step One – Create A Detailed Mood Board

Mood boards, sometimes called vision boards, are one of the best ways to conceptualize a design project. Being able to visualize an outcome allows you to plan and prepare everything so that you can deliver when the day arrives. But what exactly is a mood board? What are they used for? And how can you create one?

What is a mood board?

A mood board is essentially a collage with different images and ideas. It's a way to compile all of your thoughts about the project visually so that you can get a sense of the tone and mood you'd like to achieve during the shoot. Having a mood board can help you focus and derive a concept which you can then plan for and execute.

How to create a mood board

Creating a mood board isn't difficult. You can make a physical mood board or do it on your computer. It doesn't really matter. Basically, you want to search for images online that express the tone, mood, emotion, and style that you would like to emulate during the photoshoot. So, look around for photos that you like and then drag and drop them over into a document so that you can see them all on one page. Then you just allow yourself to look at the mood board and see what comes to mind.


How to Create a mood board


Step Two – Develop An In-Depth Shot List

Once you know what style and mood you’re going for with the photoshoot, you can move on to actually planning out your shots, and this is probably the most important step in the whole planning process. Without having a shot list, you'll have no idea what to actually do on the day of the photoshoot, so make sure you know every shot you plan to capture in advance, and you'll be able to execute your plan like a professional when the day arrives.
So, let's say that you specialize in wedding photography; in that case, you might create a shot list that includes things like:

  • A shot of the bride and groom together
  • A shot of the wedding party
  • A shot of the couple exchanging their rings
  • Some improv shots of guests having fun
  • Different angles of the ceremony itself
  • A shot of the priest or wedding official

These might seem like common sense things, but they are actually well planned, and most importantly, because you have a shot list, you won’t forget anything that could potentially be important to the couple. You don’t need to know every single angle you’ll shoot from in advance, but by knowing exactly what shots you need to capture, you can get those out of the way and move on to capturing the fun impromptu shots knowing that the most important work is already done.

Step Three – Pack All of Your Gear in Advance

You would be surprised by how often photographers forget a piece of gear on the day of the photoshoot. Not only can this cause delays while you retrieve the equipment, but it also looks incredibly unprofessional. You always want to have everything you need to do your job to the best of your ability, and the best way to ensure that you have all of your gear is to pack it all up in advance.
One great tip is to prepare a checklist of everything you will need for the shoot and then check things off as you pack your equipment. Try to do this the night before the photoshoot so that on the day of the shoot itself, you can just load everything into your vehicle without having to run around looking for things, as this can cause you to be late and leave you feeling stressed out before the shoot even begins.


Pack all of your gear in advance


Step Four – Consult With Team Members and Clients

Now, if you are working with a team, then you'll want to speak with everybody the day before to make sure everyone knows their job, has their equipment and has all of the important details such as when to show up, where they're going, what to bring, how long the day will be and so on. Miscommunications can happen, but by having this meeting the day before the photoshoot, you can avoid most problems that arise from confusion.
Likewise, you'll also want to re-confirm everything with the client to make sure they are aware of the process. This is a great time to manage their expectations, let them know how the day will go, and answer any last-minute questions they might have about you, the process, or the photoshoot itself. It's not uncommon for clients to change their minds about what they want at short notice, so it's important to go over everything with them again before you finalize the contract; otherwise, you could end up disappointing the client or not getting compensated correctly.

Step Five – Prepare and Send Over the Contract

Once you've confirmed all the details with your client, you'll want to send over a copy of the contract or agreement for them to sign. This is of the utmost importance, and failing to do this can result in you not getting paid at all for your time and service. Generally speaking, you'll want to draft a master contract that includes all of the important details, and then you just customize it for each new client.
There are a few things you'll want to include with every contract, such as:

  • The date of the photoshoot
  • The location of the photoshoot
  • How many photos will be included
  • How long it will take for the client to receive the photos
  • How many hours the photoshoot will last for
  • And how much money you are charging for your services

You may want to add other information into your agreement, but at a very minimum, your contract must contain the items listed above, or you could end up in a bad situation with little legal recourse.


Prepare and send over the contract


Step Six – Finalize All of the Details

The last thing you need to do is finalize all of the details and send out a detailed brief to the client and any team members who you’ll be working with on the day of the shoot. Look at the weather forecast, confirm everything with the venue, organize food and drinks, if need be, and triple-check that you've taken care of all the important points listed above.
Assuming everything looks good and everybody knows what to expect and what's going on, you should be able to show up to the venue and execute the photoshoot professionally according to your well thought out plan.


The best photographers always plan out and prepare for their photoshoots. By having a detailed plan, you can execute your ideas like a professional rather than winging it like an amateur. It all starts with having a mood board which will allow you to generate ideas and determine a concept for the shoot. Once you know what mood you're going for, you can create a shot list that will inform your work on the day of the shoot, which is the hallmark of professional photography.
Remember to always pack your gear up at least a day in advance and check everything off your list so that you don't forget anything important that you'll need during the shoot. Speak with your team members and clients so that everyone is on the same page, and make sure that you send over a detailed contract that outlines exactly what you'll do and deliver during the shoot. By doing these things, you can always arrive prepared and conduct your photoshoots like a professional photographer.
Once your photoshoot is complete and you’re ready to present printing options to your clients, take a look at our Canvas Groupings and Acrylic Groupings where you can download mock-ups for client presentations.

Is this your first photoshoot you’re preparing for? Check out our blog article on 10 Things You Need to Start as a Pro Photographer