Your First Photoshoot: The 5 Things You Need to Nail It

Let’s get real for a second: taking on your first-ever photoshoot is scary. You haven’t built up a safety net of confidence yet, and as a result, you’re plagued by doubts: can I actually deliver images my client will like? Am I going to be chatty and encouraging, or will we both find it painfully awkward? And what – heaven forbid – do I do if my equipment malfunctions?

It’s so easy to let these doubts stop you before you’ve even begun. But here’s the thing – everyone feels them before their first photoshoot, and 99% of your fears are just in your head. Feeling nervous can be a really positive thing, too – if you harness it properly, you can use it to make sure you’re perfectly prepared and ready to perform.

Get Kitted Out

There are loads of little things you can do before a shoot to make sure everything runs smoothly on the day, and one of the most straightforward – and essential! – places to start is by checking your kit is all in working order. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I have everything I need?
  • Is everything working properly?
  • Have I formatted my memory cards?
  • Is everything clean?

Always make sure everything’s packed and ready to go the night before, to minimise stress in the morning. On a non-shoot day, put together a checklist of everything you need to have in your camera bag, and then refer back to it when you’re in prep mode.

If you’re going to be using a bit of kit that you’ve never used before or haven’t used in a while, schedule in some time for test shots a day or two before. They don’t have to be the sort of images you’ll produce in your photoshoot – you can snap anything you like, but preferably in natural light, so you can be confident that everything works properly.

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

Nobody benefits if you go into a shoot blind. Instead, ask your client some essential questions, preferably at the point of booking, but anytime before the shoot itself.

  • What sort of shoot do they want? Are they after a set of playful images with their menagerie? Or do they want to commemorate a special occasion – for example, with romantic, equestrian-themed engagement photos?
  • How many people will be involved with the shoot? How many animals? Find out a bit about them all – names, ages, relationship with the client. Animals have distinctive personalities and back-stories, too – learn about them and you can use them to your advantage.
  • Do they have any particular locations in mind for their shoot?
  • Get the admin sorted: make sure you have all the address, phone numbers, gate codes, and so on. Make note of the yard landline, too – it’s not much fun getting lost down a back road and realising you can’t get through to your client’s mobile!
  • Make a list of all the above and, Santa Claus-style, check it twice. Particularly if you’ve had the pre-shoot chat with your client way in advance!

Provide an Itinerary

It’s important to remember that your client might be nervous, too – after all, it can be intimidating being in front of the camera, and some people can feel quite vulnerable. To ease these concerns, make sure your client feels as prepared as you do.

Send them an email, ideally when you’ve confirmed the booking or a few days to a week before the shoot. This email should cover all bases: when you’ll arrive, how the shoot will be structured, and what they’re expected to provide for the shoot. How many outfits do they need? How can they ensure their horse is looking his best?

There’s a lot that might seem obvious to you as a photographer, but always remember that many people have never had any sort of photoshoot in their lives, so they need you to be a leader and guide them through the process.

On the Day: Location-Scouting

We like to carry little palm-sized notebooks and a pen in our camera cases – there are SO many moments when it’s crucial to jot down a piece of information or a stroke of inspiration as soon as it comes to you. But there’s another great use for this essential bit of kit: location scouting.

When you arrive at the client’s property, and after you’ve had a lovely chat and a cuppa with them, you’ll need to suss out the best spots to actually take the photos. You’ll be taking notes as you go – jot down the spots you find, make note of which way the sun is facing, and sketch out your posing ideas in that location as needed. It’ll be a godsend if you hit a creative roadblock during your shoot!

Fake it ‘til you Make It

And no, we don’t mean you should make promises you can’t keep or sell a product you’re not able to deliver on. This one comes down to confidence – that elusive quality that only comes with time and practice, but which you must always display to your clients. After all, they’re way more nervous than you are – so you need to be that beacon of calm and positivity for them.

Sound like a challenge? It needn’t be. Take a genuine interest in them, and in their horses – ask leading questions about their partnership, where they’re located, and their story. All of these things get the conversation flowing, and will also raise your client’s enthusiasm levels. We all love talking about our horses, after all!

While the shoot is underway, be vocal and be a leader – make sure your client always knows what’s going to happen next, and tell them if you’d like them to try a certain pose.

Keep it Professional

If you’ve booked a two-hour shoot, you need to make sure you stick to it – don’t short-change your client and stop after an hour, but equally, don’t drag the process out longer than scheduled. You want to leave your client feeling happy and excited, not hot, bothered, and wrestling with an impatient horse. Try setting a timer on your phone that will go off halfway through your session.

Some photographers are happy to show clients images from the back of their camera, but this is risky business. If your client is self-conscious, they might see something they dislike in the image – they might think their nose looks big, or their outfit is unflattering, and then their confidence will be shattered.

It’s always best to keep the surprise until the viewing. Or you can compromise – tell them you’ll send them two teaser images that evening, making sure they’re processed as final copies.

A Final Thought…

Above everything else, it’s so important to make the experience as fun as possible for everyone involved – and that includes you! Remember, this is your dream job, and for many of your clients, being photographed is a dream experience – so manage all the variables and you’ll have the mental space to enjoy yourself.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your shooting style, images, and business won’t be either. But if you can tick all the boxes, you’ll invest as much in the journey as you will in the destination – and that’s the key to standing out!