How to Plan a Picture-Perfect Photoshoot: Advice That Will Turn You Into a Pro

Every professional photographer knows there’s more that goes into taking a great photo than the “point and shoot” approach. It involves finding the right location, natural lighting, and a lot of planning. We talked to Bay Area-based commercial photographer Jen Kay who shares her tips on how to plan a photoshoot where everyone, most importantly the client, leaves happy.

Jen has shot both print and online ad campaigns for companies like Sephora, Madewell, and Virgin Atlantic, which means she’s got the planning process down to a science. Read her pointers below, as well as her advice to aspiring photographers.  

The process:

When clients have a very specific idea in mind there is less pre-planning on my end, but a lot of the time, I help my clients plan every detail of the shoot.

The week before: I confirm location, models, any other moving pieces that are able to fall through or cancel. I make sure I have a few backup options in place.

The day before: I make sure my equipment is charged and ready for use, double-checking that I have backup equipment in case anything fails.

The day of: I show up well fed, happy, and ready to shoot!

Location scouting tips:

Before all other considerations, you must find the right location. Location scouting can be one of the most important aspects in order for a shoot to come together. It has to have the right aesthetic, lots of natural light, and be accessible for people, equipment, etc.

I select the location based on the needs of my clients. Some locations might be appropriate for one client but not for another. Variety is the key. I look for locations that are pretty minimal with plenty of natural light. I prefer not to shoot with artificial light so I’m always looking for very bright and airy spaces. I like to create images that are both aspirational and relatable so finding a place that speaks to both of these aspects is crucial.

Information to gather from your client:  

I need a general idea of what they are trying to capture and ideally a specific shot list (this is a detailed outline of each shot). I try to get as much information as possible about their goals for the shoot. I find it best to communicate through images. I will have a client show me images they love, as well as images that they don’t love, and why. We will create a mood board together and discuss location ideas, timing, models, budget, etc. I usually like to create PDFs with my inspirational images laid out in a clean format to present to clients.


How to scout models:

I have worked successfully with several agencies here in San Francisco. It’s very dependent on the shoot, but I have a few models that I love working with on a regular basis. My favorite model to shoot with in San Francisco is Nattie Rosendin with Scout Models. An experienced model will make all the difference in a shoot, they know the best angles and poses. They move quickly and intentionally from shot to shot and make the entire process much smoother. A less experienced model will need a lot more direction which can take up precious shooting time.

Where to find inspiration:

I find inspiration in so many places: nature, books, movies, destinations, especially travel. Color stories are all around you if you know how to look! I had a great teacher in art school who would ask me to call out colors in paintings. I’d reply with a pretty simple answers, like “reds, blues, yellows, etc.” He would always stop me and say, “but what kind of reds, what kind of blues,” and so on, trying to get me to recognize a feeling from the color instead of just looking at it. It seems basic, but if you practice that when you look at the world around you, you can find inspiration in almost anything.

IMG_9369 (1) Model photographed: Caroline Rooney

How to find natural lighting:

Natural, diffused light is the best. I bring giant reflectors, white boards, diffusers, and sometimes off-camera lighting to every shoot. Generally, I don’t have much of a problem harnessing natural light in one way or another.

Advice to aspiring photographers:

Stick to it. The longer you are in the game, the better you become. Try to put yourself out there as much as possible and take even small jobs. My favorite saying is, “You have to sell out to eat out”. Be humble but don’t let people take advantage of you. Never ever, work for free under any circumstances. Protect your copyrights. Plan time to shoot things for yourself to keep your passion alive.

IMG_7693-2 copy

Fun questions!

The first thing I do when I wake up is: Cook eggs. A day without eggs is like a day without sunshine.

My dream collaboration is: Aman Hotel Group

If I could shoot anywhere in the world, it’d be: It’s almost impossible to pick just one, but the first place that comes to mind would be the salt flats in Bolivia.  

When I’m not behind my camera, you can find me: Cooking. I love food — it’s a way to express myself creatively and show love to those around me.

Life motto: Everything you can imagine, is real.

Check out Jen’s personal blog and follow her visual journal on Instagram.

Explore creative venues for your photoshoot in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, and Austin.

For more advice from our experts, subscribe to our newsletter below!