Fashion Photography by Stuart Smith

How to Produce a Beautiful Successful Fashion Photoshoot Part 1

Fashion photoshoot from pre-production to production & post-production. This post is for those planning or commissioning a fashion photoshoot part 1 of 3.

Part 1 – Pre-production

Fashion Photoshoot Agnes B by Stuart Smith

The Client

Who is commissioning the photoshoot?

It is important to know who is paying for the fashion photoshoot. Many photoshoots might be employing a myriad of team members and everyone involved on a day-to-day basis might be a freelancer of some kind. Somewhere in the chain, though, will be the person responsible for paying for everything. That’s the Client.

What do they need?

Identify the Clients needs. You might be being brought on to the team for your particular creative vision but it is important that you understand what the Client actually needs from the end product of the photoshoot. Find out what the Client is trying to achieve in their business and how they want to do it. For example is the Client seeking to attract a new market segment and are they going to do this through a Social Media campaign. Perhaps they want to give existing customers exclusive sneak peeks at their new range through a secret online Lookbook. Where the photographs end up and their usage will make a big difference to the approach taken to the photoshoot itself.

The Idea

Broad Concept of the Fashion Photoshoot

Develop the creative vision to match the Client needs in a concept document. At this stage, it just needs to convey the idea you want to shoot. When I was working with London designer Jed Phoenix my concept centred on the idea of bringing her clothing into a Dark Faerie world. Each of the clothes in her range had a character associated with it. So I took those characters and transplanted them into a situation where the clothes could be shown off but that also allowed the development of a story. This was the broad concept I presented to Jed. It reflects my response to her brand and also my own motivations as a visual storyteller. With the photoshoot for Jed I was Lead Photographer as well as Creative Director, so I was heavily involved in producing the concept. If a shoot has a clear split in the creative team between Art / Creative Director and Photographer the Art Director may take the lead on the concept development but other team members will, generally, have involvement as well.

Fashion Photography by Stuart Smith - Jed Phoenix Clothing

The Core Roles of Fashion Photoshoot

With a concept in place, it is time to move into some real planning and preparation! 

Fashion photoshoots vary tremendously in team size. From 2 or 3 people through to tens and possibly even hundreds depending on ambitions and of course budgets!

Irrespective of the actual size of the team, there will be certain roles that have to be fulfilled. 

Even if they aren’t directly named. On smaller photoshoots, it is almost certain that everyone will be doubling or tripling up on some of these roles.

Key Roles

  • The Client – The person who will be primarily using the photographs and paying everyone involved.
  • Creative / Art Director – The driving force keeping everyone focused on the vision. 
  • Photographers – The person setting up the photographs and directing the physical photoshoot.
  • Photographer Assistants – The team members who help the photographer get everything into place e.g. setting up lighting.
  • Hair and Makeup Artists.
  • Stylists – Make sure that clothes are available and the right ‘look’ is achieved.
  • Models.
  • Retouching post-production editing.

Additional Roles

Many fashion photoshoots are run with small teams. The roles listed below will often be enacted without being acknowledged by other team members. So, for example, the Photographer or Photographers Assistant may act as Production but the title is ever used. The bigger the photoshoot though, the more likely that these additional roles need to be specifically addressed.

  • Modelling Agency contact.
  • Fashion Houses or Fashion Agencies supply the clothing to the Stylist.
  • Set Designer – Team member designing the set.
  • Production Manager – Deals with the practical’s, such as:
    • Where are we shooting?
    • The gear needed?
    • Who needs to be where and when?
    • What’s the budget?
  • Shooting Venue Manager

A photoshoot requires some roles to be active later than others. Models will generally go through a casting. This will either be through agencies for a large budget shoot or via independent websites like Purpleport or Model Mayhem for smaller photoshoots. With the Jed Phoenix of London fashion photoshoot a conscious decision was made, very early on, not to use the agency route for sourcing models. Instead, the focus was on finding people who actually really wear the clothing and had a close affiliation to the brand values. For this, photoshoot we ended up with an interesting mix of people;

  • Some professional models
  • Actors
  • Students
  • DJs
  • Designers
  • even a horror magician

Fashion Photoshoot Agnes B by Stuart SmithSharing Documents

Those involved in the bulk of the planning and management of the photoshoot e.g Art Director, Photographer, Production Manager etc. may need to share and refer to planning documents. Depending on the complexity of the shoot then email might be sufficient. A small shoot may not have much documentation beyond the initial concept and a Moodboard (more on that later).

Larger shoots though will generate more documentation;

  • Contact lists
  • Briefs for team members
  • Schedules
  • Location details
  • Moodboards

These need to be held somewhere and shared with relevant team members. There are lots of systems, that are either free or very low cost for doing this. I’ve found Google Drive with its office features (Spreadsheet, Docs etc) especially useful for this. However, it does require adoption by the relevant team members. So if someone is not happy using it, it may cause more problems than it solves. There are other alternatives.

  • Dropbox
  • Facebook Groups. It can be fairly easy and quick to set up secret groups in Facebook but you need to check that the policies of Facebook don’t cause issues with the clients business objectives.
  • Evernote

Everyone needs to agree to use the chosen system.

Fashion Photography by Stuart Smith - Jed Phoenix Clothing

Building the Idea for the Fashion Photoshoot

With acceptance, of the basic concept, the idea needs developing. Moodboards are one of the most common ways of doing this. A Moodboard for a fashion photoshoot is essentially a set of images that fit the theme of an idea.

The board might be about:

  • Colours
  • Styling
  • Posing
  • Photographic Styling
  • Make-up
  • Hair
fashion photoshoot moodboard
Example of Fashion Photoshoot Moodboard

Or it might contain elements of all these and other things.

It will depend on the complexity of the shoot and how much depth you want to go into.

There are lots of ways of building and sharing Moodboards. Pinterest is one of the most common. It’s easy to search for a theme and pin relevant images to a board. The link to the board is available to share with others who can collaborate on it. Here is a link to an early Pinterest board I used for the Jed Phoenix fashion photoshoot to gather some ideas.

Alternatives to Pinterest

  • Evernote notebook
  • Powerpoint / Keynote slides
  • Photoshop templates
  • Canva boards
  • Also specialist tools
    • Go Moodboard
    • Niice

Remember though Moodboards are about inspiring rather than dictating what you should be aiming for. It is important to create a unique visual look to your own fashion photoshoot.

Communications for a Fashion Photoshoot

It is vital to find an agreed way of communicating with everyone. At the very least the Creative / Art Director, the Production Manager and the Photographer will want to be able to communicate with all the team members efficiently and quickly. Social Media plays an ever-increasing role in day-to-day communication. Whilst that can be fine for small shoots with 2 – 4 people and everyone is using the same platform the larger the shoot the more problematic it can be.

So on larger fashion photoshoots Email tends to be the best for all essential communication. Ironically, not the most fashionable way to communicate but pretty much everyone still has an email address. It also means that central email lists can be set up to keep communications efficient and tracked. There can also be problems with some forms of Social Media and commercial privacy and sensitivity.

It is also realistic to expect all team members to have an available Mobile Phone number. On the day of the photoshoot, you might be working in a remote area with no Wifi or limited Mobile Internet and a mobile phone should be able to get through to all but the most difficult of locations.

Fashion Photoshoot Agnes B by Stuart Smith

Where to hold a Fashion Photoshoot?

Where you actually hold a fashion photoshoot depends on a lot of different factors. A lot will depend on the intended outcome, the budgets and timescales and even the weather patterns.

Studio or Location

Essentially there are two choices, Studio or Location.


If a photographer has their own studio then they will already have some lights and backdrops etc. to run a photoshoot. Or if they don’t, most cities and larger towns will have studios with some kit for rental.

Photography Studios tend to provide a blank canvas and predictability. This can be particularly ideal for catalogue and ecommerce shoots. With appropriate set-dressing studios can also be made to look like a variety of places. However, the larger the set the more expensive it will be to dress it and sometimes a location lends its own ambiance to a fashion photoshoot.


Outdoor location fashion photoshoots offer a lot of creative options but they are highly susceptible to the weather! They are also often considerable cheaper than indoor locations and in many cases free!

If you do shoot outside it is important to consider what you are shooting. Lingerie, nude and semi-nude shoots might not be acceptable in some public places or at the very least might draw an over interested crowd!

There are a huge variety of indoor locations, offering ready-made and often affordable sets for imaginative fashion photoshoots:

  • Abandoned buildings
  • Stately homes
  • Private apartments
  • Industrial sites
  • Junk shops

These places and others can offer a cornucopia of ready-made sets to fire the imagination of a fashion photoshoot. However, it is rare to get them for free (unless you are sneaking into an abandoned building, which carries its own risks) and costs, particularly in city areas, can be very high.

Fashion Photoshoot Agnes B by Stuart SmithThe other option is also to borrow a location. This is how I dealt with the fashion photoshoot for an Agnes B project. One of the team had access to a central London apartment with a rooftop garden. So we had a designer living room, bedroom and city rooftop to shoot from. All for free! So remember to ask around.

The Jed Phoenix fashion photoshoot however, was considerably larger and had a very tight schedule. 14 models on two different sets shot in 7 pairs over the course of one day. The concept also required a Gothic environment to add to the storytelling. For this, we used a specifically themed location based around alternative lifestyles called Murder Mile Studios in London. As well as offering ready-made sets it also had a large blank space ideal for an ecommerce catalogue shoot. Essentially having a specialist location meant I could design a photoshoot schedule which took the models from Hair, Makeup and styling through to the fashion photoshoot on set and then on to an ecommerce shoot. All in one location across the course of a day.

Location Scouting

In an ideal world we would be traveling around visiting and soaking up the atmospheres of potential locations. It would be fabulous. Visiting a location before booking is still the ideal. However, the Internet allows for plenty of preparatory research of almost any location.

Tools such as Google Earth allow location scouting from an armchair. Even indoor venues for rent will usually have a website with photos. Flickr and Instagram can also give a really good idea of what a place looks like, often from a variety of angles with the advantage that the images are not necessarily always created to promote somewhere.

A downside though is the more popular a place is with lots of User Generated photos the harder it will be to find the right time to shoot there or if it is private the cost will often be higher.

Location and Personnel Permissions

Generally, you will need various permissions to make the photoshoot work.

Models (or their agency) should sign releases agreeing to their likeness being used and in what context.

The Photographers and Client need to agree licenses on the images for their usage.

Locations may need particular legal permits for photoshoots at, as well as rental fees paid.

Lawyers may need to advise you on specifics. There are a lot of advice and agreement templates on the Internet. Use at your own risk.

The Photoshoot Plan

Even a very simple fashion photoshoot with a photographer and model doing their own hair and makeup needs some planning. At a minimum a date, time and location and how long you will be shooting for.

As the photoshoot grows then the complexity grows.

The Production Manager (or whoever has adopted that role) should liaise with the team to know how long Hair, Makeup and Styling will take.

They will also need to know when can they get into or arrive at a location to set-up and when they need to leave by.

If a Photoshoot is spread over several days, or even weeks then travel and hotel itineraries need to be kept and coordinated.

The Production Manager needs to know everyone’s schedule and keep everyone moving and deal with any issues that disrupt the plan.

Tools like Google Docs and Spreadsheets can help keep track of everything. Most document sharing systems have mobile versions and many allow you to store documents offline incase you have no Internet connection. However, it can be useful to also make print copies of certain key documents and to make sure that everyone has a copy of the photoshoot schedule as they arrive.


This brings us to the end of Part 1. If you have found it useful please do share For notification when Part 2 is out please sign up to the Mail List, or follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page. Part 2 will be looking at the Production Process and considering how to make a fashion photoshoot happen ‘on the day’. Part 3 will consider the post-production processes and the delivery of the final images.

Need a Fashion Photographer or Art Director with Production Management skills for your next project? Please get in-touch.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.