Book your storybook team

Tip 23 for Better Shoots by Heidi Rondak

“The perfect plan to mount a production”

PART 1: Book your storybook team

With your concept in the shape of a mood board and as soon as you have a clear notion of the budget that you’d like to spend on your new campaign photos you can begin to book your professional team and everything you’ll need for the production additionally. Like it’s described in tip no. 4 there’s more to include in the calculation than just the main players (which are the models, the photographer, the hair & make-up artist, the fashion stylist, and possibly an external art director). After all, they could certainly all use assistants and some set runners who are there to help wherever they’re needed. In specific cases location supervisors or security guards are necessary, the latter especially when you shoot with valuable products like jewellery. And as we’re dealing with humans who have basic needs there’s no way around organising catering for the day. On top of all the fees for the people involved there possibly are equipment, location, and prop rents to be paid, or other things to be bought. Last but not least a fair part of your expenses are flowing into your license that allows you to actually use the resulting photos for your purpose.

Photo by Austrian National Library (Unsplash)

How to book a complete team

Managing all the bookings and the model castings can be a chunk of work and very time-consuming. After all, in the professional context it’s conventional to article each agreed-upon goods and services. The contracts then serve as another framework for the whole production. If you were working with an advertising agency from the start they’ve probably taken most of the work out of your hands in terms of finding your imagery and creating a couple of concepts from which you could choose the one you consider the best. Based on their large network of creative professionals they can also pitch you a suitable team and undertake the paperwork as well as the billing. Of course, for that work, they will charge you a fee too. 

Another way how to find a proper team is by inquiring representing agencies who list a selection of professionals and therefore charge an agency commission. Regarding the booking of models, like I said in tip no. 17, going through these kinds of agencies is usually the one and only way to find someone experienced and reliable. However, you can find real treasures when browsing the internet and social media for the rest of the team even if they’re not agency represented. If there’s no advertising agency involved but still you’d like to delegate the search to someone else you can pay an independent art buyer to do so. Art buyers have a great network of creatives and they can additionally clarify the licenses and copyrights with them for you. In fact, within an advertising agency, the job description for the person finding you a team and possibly booking your models would be ‘art buyer’ too. 

However, there’s a form of agency even more specialised in finding the perfect protagonists for your production: casting agencies. In the jungle of model agencies on the market they can pull strings to compile you a great selection of models. Especially when you’re seeking several faces, your shoot is taking place somewhere far or you want to see how the models are fulfilling a certain challenge that shows how compatible they would be for your project casting agencies can relieve the workload a lot. They’ll be in touch with various local or worldwide model agencies and gather a number of models from which you can easily pick your favourites. 

Another convenient player to have on set is a producer resp. a production agency. They can be hired by you, the art director, or the photographer in order to have the actual shooting day and everything the team would need on set organised flawlessly. Production agencies don’t only have numerous contacts to reach out to when it comes to location scouting, the catering, or any types of gear and logistics but they’re also there to keep everyone satisfied and served during the photo shoot. Naturally, working with producers, casting agencies, and art buyers raises your cost distinctly but with their experience in the field of photo productions they can give you the guarantee that the photo shoot will run smoothly and you’re having a good time on top of great results.

Pin them down with contracts

When it comes to your money it’s better to be safe than sorry. Having a contract is a form of documenting what you negotiated and agreed upon. Therefore, don’t be afraid of signing or co-signing papers that list the duties and conditions of each party. After all, you’re having good intentions and you trust that your counterpart has such too. This is precisely why it shouldn’t be any problem for none of you to pin your business relationship down. If they don’t offer you to sign their contracts turn the tables and let them sign yours. Eventually, it’s the last test to see if someone’s trustworthy. Be careful with anyone who would avoid or protest against having a contract with you. They could turn out to be difficult to collaborate with no matter how nice and professional they may seem at first. You’ll probably dodge the bullet by turning them down in the first place.

Having a contract can also help you to breakdown the working methods someone has and be sure what you’re going to be paying for exactly. The more detailed a written offer is at first the better you can see the complexity of the services provided and decide which items you really want to book and be invoiced afterward. Especially, when it comes to the usage rights – the so-called buyout – that usually represent the largest parts of the photographer’s and the model’s fees it’s important to be on the same page and have that in cold print. At long last, after a year or two, neither you nor the other party would remember exactly what you’ve discussed on the phone or in-person earlier but when in doubt the written agreement can jog everyone’s memory or prevent from lawsuits.

Last but not least a good contract also points out which kind of extra costs may be coming up during the whole production. Since it’s not always possible to predict e.g. the travel costs, out-of-pocket expenses, or last-minute procurements a hundred percent you can brace yourself for tolerating shifts of up to 10 %. However, bigger contrasts to the estimated sum should be announced and settled as they come up. If you’ve prepaid a certain percentage of the total sum already the extra cost will be taken into account on the final invoice. Anyway, if you’re kindly asked for upfront payment don’t be suspicious. By paying the first invoice you just seal the deal and put the suppliers at ease. Out of this mutual feeling of trust and the resulting gratitude you can be positive about being delivered what you’ve ordered.

Digital operators, set runners, supervisors, etc. – who are all these guys, and why do I need them on set?

That’s a good question and you have a point considering that the other chapter just treated the core team consisting of the model, the hair & make-up artist, the fashion stylist (and naturally the photographer) who can’t be missed on set by no means. However, depending on the size and workload of a photo shoot the team may kindly ask you to hire more manpower and experts some of which can be found on photo sets very usually. Others, again, are just needed in special cases. The following list shall help you understand the different roles and why they could be relevant to your shoot or not. 

You possibly need:

An art director…

… who either helps to create a concept in the first place or is getting briefed afterwards to be responsible for the whole team’s performance on set. The art director guards your vision and takes care of the golden thread in the images. Their visual understanding and sense for details are usually strong which capacitates them to keep sight of the big picture and coordinate the production. However, the art director doesn’t always have to be a separate job on set. In fact, it’s often the photographer managing the imagery and the team obviously because they’re experienced with the procedure and have their photographic style for which you probably chose them at first. In rarer cases the stylist or the make-up artist can function as art directors provided that they have been involved and had a saying in the planning. Last but not least you as the client can be in charge of directing the photo shoot yourself if you feel comfortable with it and you think that, to a certain degree, you’re able to stay impartial and keep an even keel.

Photo by Austrian National Library (Unsplash)
A video team… 

… to produce moving images with the same models for your multimedia campaign. In order to kill two birds with one stone photo and video productions are oftentimes taking place on the same day. However, what sounds like a great idea raises the expenditure and time-pressure enormously. If you’re looking for really professional footage you’ll definitely need an extra video team who brings the gear and manpower to act in opposite phase with the photographic team. Some photographers are directors too and if so they can take that role additionally in order to produce homogeneous stills and moving images for you. However, just because their cameras have a video function they don’t necessarily operate as DOPs (director of photography/cinematographer) themselves. If you want to make use of both the photographer’s photo and directing skills you should be willing to let them bring a digital operator, a couple of trustworthy light assistants, and at least one experienced person they can entrust to guide the camera according to their instructions. Please note that video footage needs to be cut and edited in post-production too so there will be one more essential work step to be paid.

A set designer…

… if you have more than one or two props on set. Set designers have a feel for rooms and relations between items and people. They are able to create atmospheres and integrate symbols, colours, textures, etc. encoded on different levels. For shooting with an opulent set it’s beyond debate that you’ll need a set designer. But even if you want to stay minimal the team could do with someone carrying the props into and out of the set, if nothing else, because nobody would feel responsible to do it. Moreover, it’s the set designer who’s got great contacts to funds, etc. where they obtain authentic pieces. Ultimately, they arrange transport to and from the shooting location autonomously.

In a wider sense of the word you can hire certain specialists for specific props. E.g. when your concept contains lots of flowers it could be clever to have a florist bringing and maintaining as well as arranging them wherever they belong in the photo (for example in the model’s arms). If you’re shooting with pets a trainer who’s familiar to the animal should accompany them the entire time. They can also help to keep them calm and make them look in the right direction or do little tricks. If you’re incorporating appliances that require professional handling for security reasons, like e.g. heavy gym equipment or kinetic elements where the model gets suspended on ropes a technician or someone who’s at home in the subject is an absolute must. As you can see there are endless possibilities but at all events safety comes first. 

Photo by Austrian National Library (Unsplash)
A digital operator…

… to release pressure from the photographer. Digital operators take part in most photo shoots as they’re responsible for the computer work and the data created. They are pros in handling the software that tethers the images from the camera onto the screen and they constantly verify if the light, the sharpness, and many other quality factors are keeping up. When anything unusual occurs or something in the photos doesn’t look ideal they are the ones alerting the photographer and thus preventing that the whole series of images contains that error. As the client you’re oftentimes sitting close to the digital operator which makes them your contact person to express satisfaction or points of critique regarding the images you get to see. They will then forward and translate your wishes for the photographer and photo assistants who then know whether to continue as before or eventually fix a technical issue. Last but not least the digital operator saves the files and backups them. Sometimes the DO is also taking the role of the light or photo assistant meaning that he does the following tasks in parallel.

Photo by Austrian National Library (Unsplash)

… to relieve the workload of your core team. It’s a common thing for photographers, make-up artists and fashion stylists to bring their assistants if it’s calculated in the budget. Photo or light assistants take care of the light setup and its changes throughout the day and they hand the camera, lenses, and filters to the photographer so he or she can hold their position. For the rest, photo assistants always stay close to their boss awaiting instructions. In worst cases when the photo gear breaks or something has gone missing they get send off to run errands, etc. 

Hair & make-up assistants can help to accelerate the make-up of the model by taking over e.g. the manicure. They’re very beneficial when you’re shooting with several models as the chief artist can only be in one place at once. While he or she’s making up other models their assistant stays close to those who are in front of the camera already or vice versa.

Styling assistants help the head stylist to carry loads of clothes in and out of the studio or location. Once the shoot is ongoing they can be a great relief for they steam the fashion pieces while the stylist takes care of the models or they watch over the dressed models to fix any shifts of clothes while the stylist composes the next outfits. Just like photo or hair & make-up assistants styling assistants are usually the next-generation-creatives and their work is a form of training. By having them on set you’re making sure that the industry continues working and that, in a couple of years, there are going to be further generations of creatives to choose from.

Photo by Austrian National Library (Unsplash)
An extra hairstylist, make-up artist, or a manicurist… 

… as opposed to booking a beginner as a hair & make-up assistant. When stakes are super-high, the schedule is tight, or there are several models in play having a separate hair & make-up artist for every model or dividing the tasks by different focuses can be of advantage. Thus you can have a specialist in hair do what they love and a make-up expert to take good care of the skin while a nail artist does the time-consuming manicure on both the models’ hands and feet. Another occasion to book an extra professional in the field of grooming is when you’re looking for even more particular services. It is certainly smarter to look for specialists instead of challenging an allrounder to do e.g. SFX make-up, henna tattoos, body paintings, etc.

Photo by Austrian National Library (Unsplash)
Set runners…

… as maids-of-all-work. Set runners are especially useful for video productions or bigger photo shoots and they often come with the production agency. They flexibly help with any type of task on the organisational level which eventually serves the whole team. Being a set runner isn’t affiliated to proper training, however, it’s a way of entering the film and photo industry in the first place.


… to offer the working team and yourself a couple of good meals during the day. With most catering companies you can choose whether you want to have any waitstaff on set for the whole production. It is likewise common to just have the food delivered and the dishware collected at the agreed times. As a deluxe version some photo studios may offer service packages with a live cook on board who’s keeping you entertained with their performance additionally. When on location another solution can be booking a food stand, booth, or truck. If you’re a passionate cook yourself or you know how to make nice lunch bags your team will equally appreciate that. If not there’s always the option of using regular delivery services but the disadvantage here is that you can’t clarify any dietary preferences (nor the exact cost of the food) beforehand which, incredible as it sounds, can cause real chaos and delay for the production. Imagine how one person is in charge of collecting each team member’s order and requests while everyone is running about. It can easily happen that someone’s left behind or orders get mixed up. So always beware of a “hangry” team. Instead, with proper catering you’ll make everyone’s day.

Security guards…

… to protect either the team or valuable products. Security guards are not standard for photo shoots but they can be necessary for specific situations. If you’re a supplier working with jewellery worth several hundreds of thousands of Euros or Dollars every day you’re probably familiar with the procedure of having more protection than just insurance. After all, no matter where the production takes place the whole team is at risk. When it comes to shooting in public, greater setups or scenes where the model gets exposed to some extent absolutely require security guards to keep away gazers and paparazzi. This becomes all the more important if the protagonists are celebrities.

A supervisor…

… when there’s someone or something that needs to be watched permanently. For example children and minor models on set require permanent supervision, usually by their own parents. Regarding the scheduling of the whole production their availability can be critical and if applicable they need to get paid for the day too. 

In other cases when you’re a guest somewhere on location it’s rather the whole team who’s under surveillance by those who are on duty. Starting with rental studios right through shooting in museums, castles, or on private properties – there are many places that can’t be accessed without explicit permission and accompaniment of a supervisor. However, if that’s the case you don’t need to employ them in person but their wage is already included in the rental fee of the whole place (– let’s say they’re inventory). Eventually, it can be comforting to have someone close who knows the location inside out and who could answer any upcoming questions.

Photo by Austrian National Library (Unsplash)


Making it through this list you might have realised why it can be a great relief to work with a couple of agencies throughout the process of planning a campaign shoot. It is, however, not impossible to manage everything internally, especially, if you have someone with organisational skills in the team. Regardless of whether you or someone external does it, in the next article we’ll go through an exemplary timetable so you can picture how a photo shoot is sequenced exactly.


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