Photo Contest Insider Blog


The Ultimate Guide to Building the Best Team for Your Photo Shoots

September 24, 2017

When you’re just starting out as a photographer, it’s understandable that your photo shoots may simply consist of your camera, your vision, and a friend willing to play the role of subject.

As your photography portfolio develops, however, you’ll soon find yourself wanting to create photo shoots on a larger scale, while recognising the need for a collaborative team involving models, make-up artists, hair stylists, photography assistants, wardrobe stylists, set designers, etc.

One of the most nerve-wrecking things a photographer might face is how to actually build this team, but you can be assured that while it takes some time, it certainly isn’t impossible!

In fact, today we’re going to teach you exactly how to build the best team for your photo shoots, including how to begin, where to look, and even how to do all of this on a budget (or for free!).

Keep reading for our ultimate guide to this topic!

The Ultimate Guide to Building the Best Team for Your Photo Shoots

It All Starts with a Vision

If you’re someone who has always believed that a moodboard isn’t necessary for a photo shoot (or any photographic project for that matter), then you’ll need to change the mindset now. You see, your vision lies at the very heart of any photographic series or shoot you work on, and is one of the most necessary parts to further developing your idea and bringing it to life.

As professional photographer Anushila explains: “A mood board is a powerful tool to organize and direct your shoot. Mood boards consist of inspirational images collected from other sources (often fashion magazines) that will help the model and styling team understand the looks, poses, backgrounds or locations for your shoot.”

Your vision should guide the entire shoot and when it’s organized visually for everyone involved to constantly reference and gain inspiration from, you’re massively increasing your chances of success. So, in order to have a successful team who are completely on the same page as you for your photo shoot, you need to create a moodboard. The two certainly go hand-in-hand!

The first step to creating your moodboard is to sit down and brainstorm what you want your photo shoot to portray. It might be an atmosphere, an emotion, a particular style, or even a color palette – get creative! Then, using platforms such as Google Images or Pinterest, collect images (or even quotes) that represent these things. Simply collate them together and print out several copies to give to your team in the lead-up to your shoot. Too easy!

As a side note, we’ll constantly be referring back to this moodboard throughout the rest of the team-building steps, so it really is a vital part of planning a collaborative photo shoot.

The Ultimate Guide to Building the Best Team for Your Photo Shoots

Get Your Portfolio Up to Scratch

The next step (or should we say pre-requisite) to building a successful team for your photo shoot is to make sure your portfolio is up to scratch. By this, we simply mean that it looks its best and that the work you are most proud of is on display.

The reason for this is simple. If you’re going to be approaching other creatives in the hopes that they work with you on your next shoot (whether that’s on a paid basis or for free), you’ll want them to be impressed with your photography to increase their chances of saying yes.

If your portfolio is lack-luster, or simply doesn’t contain enough examples of your previous work, then it may be harder to build a team of other creatives who at least have some experience within their field. And remember, the more experience they have as a model, hair stylist, make-up artist, etc., the better your photo shoot results will be.

The Ultimate Guide to Building the Best Team for Your Photo Shoots

Finding the Perfect Model

There’s no doubt that the model you work with could make or break your photo shoot, especially if you’re wanting to portray a particular aesthetic or style in your series. This is why it’s important to begin searching for the perfect model straight away, as it’s also a lot easier to gain the partnership of a hair stylist or make-up artist once they know who they’ll be working with.

Some photographers avoid working with what they deem ‘professional’ models altogether, as they mistakenly think that they have to pay a lot of money for this type of collaboration. What if we told you that you could work with an experienced or even agency-represented model for free, while still providing them with a mutually-beneficial partnership?

Many emerging photographers look to sites such as ModelMayhem to find a model willing to work in exchange for images for their portfolio, however while the platform can be great for finding creative talent within your area, many photographers advise against going down this route.

Professional photographer Alexandra Cameron warns:

“Models on this site (and most that I have tried to arrange shoots with outside of an agency) have often been extremely flaky. You don’t want, the morning of your shoot, to find your model suddenly [missing in action] … Agency models is really where you want to be of course. They, on the whole, know what they’re doing and will turn up. You will probably have to shoot tests with friends and Model Mayhem girls first to build up a portfolio. This way when you send emails to the agencies, you can include the images to give them an idea of what you can do.”

But how can you work with an agency-represented model for free, you ask? The process is thankfully simple. Email your local modelling agencies, introduce your work to them, and share both your plans and moodboard for your upcoming photo shoot. These agencies are signing new models all the time, and will often need these girls to partake in unpaid ‘test shoots’ to gain images to add to their portfolios (which in turn, helps the model to get booked for paying work). If the agency loves your photo shoot vision and is impressed with your previous work, they’ll likely send you some images of the models that are available to work with you on this project without you having to pay a cent. You’ll just have to provide them with your high-quality images in return!

If you’re a more experienced photographer who has the budget to pay for a professional model’s services (your photo shoot will reach even greater heights because of it), then you’re in a pretty good position. Simply inquire with your local agencies about hourly rates and explain your photo shoot needs to them. They’re sure to have several experienced models in mind!

The Ultimate Guide to Building the Best Team for Your Photo Shoots

Working with MUAs and Hair Stylists

Once you’ve arranged a model for your photo shoot, the next step would to ensure you have a make-up artist (a.k.a MUA) and / or hair stylist on-board too. Your shoot may only require the services of one or the other, but keep in mind that the more creative professionals you collaborate with, the more impressive your series will often be.

Again, if you don’t have the budget to pay for an experienced make-up artist’s or hair stylist’s services, then you can still partner with ones for free – you just need to know how and where.

Just like models, the more inexperienced MUAs and hair stylists are also looking to collaborate with photographers on a voluntary basis in exchange for images to add to their portfolio. Word-of-mouth can be a powerful tool, so ask your friends and family if they know of any starting out in the industry hoping to collaborate for exposure. Someone is sure to know of one!

Alternatively, you can search on platforms such as ModelMayhem, but be sure to read their testimonials or reviews (and seek them out on Facebook, Instagram etc.) to ensure that they’re reliable and keep their word. You can also put a call-out on your own social media platforms to explain that you’re seeking a volunteer MUA and / or hair stylist to work with you on an upcoming photo shoot. Again, be sure to share that moodboard to give them a greater idea of the project.

Another effective way of finding these creatives is to approach your local community college and place an advertisement on their notice board asking for MUAs / hair stylists interested in gaining experience and images for their portfolio to get in-touch. Leave your contact information and wait for the responses to come rolling in!

The Ultimate Guide to Building the Best Team for Your Photo Shoots

Finding a Fashion Stylist

If you’re just starting to build a collaborative team for your own photo shoots, getting a fashion stylist on-board may not be completely necessary. Ultimately, they’re ideal for those projects where it’s all about showcasing the clothing designs, however if it’s just a personal photo shoot you’re working on in the hopes of building your portfolio or gaining exposure, then you may not be focusing on ‘selling’ these featured outfits. For example, perhaps the clothing you’re using is yours or the model’s own?

Generally, a photographer will have a rough idea of how they want the model(s) to look, but if you’re shooting an editorial with several looks and outfit changes, then this is where a fashion stylist will come in handy. Particularly if you don’t know much about styling in the first place!

The way to find a fashion stylist for your shoot is very similar to the steps mentioned in the section above. Try putting a call-out on social media, asking your own network for recommendations, or putting an advertisement at your local community college.

The Ultimate Guide to Building the Best Team for Your Photo Shoots

Seeking a Photography Assistant

When it comes to photo shoots on a larger scale, a photography assistant (or assistants) can be beneficial to helping you achieve your desired outcome. These might include a digital tech, retoucher, lighting assistant, and / or grip assistant.

As commercial fashion photographer Dixie Dixon explains: “When approaching big clients, they expect you to already have a go-to team of people whom you work with that can pull off the job and make the magic happen…The size of the team depends solely on the type of job and the photographer’s style of shooting.”

While photography assistants might not always be necessary for smaller-scale shoots, you may require their services in the future as your own experience and portfolio grows. Luckily, these won’t be too difficult to find, as you should already have some contacts within the photography industry to start your search.

If you don’t immediately know of a less-experienced photographer who would love to assist you with your upcoming photo shoot, then utilizing your social media following is the next step. You should already have some amateur photographers following your work on Facebook or Instagram, so be sure to put a call-out for anyone within your local area. Alternatively, you can also make use of your local community college or university again, this time approaching first or second-year photography students seeking practical experience within the field.

There you have it – our ultimate guide to building the best team for your photo shoots! By following the tips and steps above, you’re sure to discover local creatives who would love to work with you, helping you to create your best photo shoot yet! Remember, the collaborative process is a mutually-beneficial one, so if you’re not able to offer your team money for their time, then an exchange of the images for use in their portfolio is also appreciated. Best of luck!


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