Why no commercial photo shoot will work out without a proper schedule

Tip 24 for Better Shoots by Heidi Rondak

“The perfect plan to mount a production”


PART 2: Why no commercial photo shoot will work out without a proper schedule 


As you’ve probably read my last tip on the booking of the ideal team constellations you might now have a sketchy idea of how many people there are going to be on set of your campaign shoot. Thus, you can possibly imagine that all these people will need guidance throughout the day in order to avoid some sort of chaos taking place – especially when you don’t like to answer questions all the time. It might not be news to you that briefing your team is essential. But it can turn out that informing them about what is going to be done isn’t enough of a plan. Likewise, shall it be important to communicate the how and when because they enhance the logic and logistics of the whole production. It’s, therefore, smart to give all tasks and scenes definite time frames in advance by which everyone can repeatedly check if they’re able to accomplish the workload in time.

Whether you have troubles deciding how long every step should take or you’re – on the contrary – experienced with the procedure of photo shoots don’t hesitate to consult the professionals how long they would need, for example, to photograph a set number of outfits or the duration of the make-up artist’s work in the morning. As they work in this environment regularly they most certainly have developed individual flows and styles of working – some of which are faster or slower (careful: this doesn’t equal good or bad work). In fact, it’s not the worst idea to create a timetable together as this guarantees that your plans are realistic.

Why you need to disclose the number of products openly and precisely


Photo productions can be very intense days for everyone on set. A high workload can be uplifting and motivating on one hand but also causing necessity-driven sloopiness on the other. It’s important to understand that during every photo shoot technical issues or human needs can cause delays whatsoever and you cannot always blame someone for that. If there’s time to fix a tech problem it will be fixed neatly. If you give the model time to have lunch or a coffee break they will look healthy and awake on the pictures. Whereas, a tight schedule is not flexible enough for these things and so you can just cross your fingers and hope for a happy end. 

However, it doesn’t have to be like that if you consider having a realistic schedule. But how do we define the density of a production day? It’s great you ask! There’s a simple solution – we need to know the number of products respectively the number of photos you require. Given that you are planning to have your look book shot in which the setting is comparably similar if not the same for every photo we can easily shoot up to 20 or 30 outfits per day including some close-ups etc. Nevertheless, it’s a load of work that requires to be clocked by having in mind that we’ll just have 10 to 20 minutes per look. That is to say, the model needs to get dressed, the clothes need to be styled, the hair needs to be fixed and the photos need to be taken along the way. It also means that the mission should be crystal clear to each player in the team as there will be no time for questions or discussions. It’s a different scenario when we talk about campaign because here, you probably have other demands. A campaign shoot isn’t as much about quantity as it is about quality. Therefore, we need more to shoot it: more creativity, more settings, more performance by the model, more refinement, more variety – and therefore more time for every shot. Or more shooting days and respectively fewer outfits per day.

We all appreciate working days that are productive yet enjoyable because, ultimately, we’re team players and it’s essential for us to connect on a human basis too. Thus, when the photographer stops to talk to the model this is not manifesting laziness but the will to bond with them so they will open up for the photos. When they’re talking to you they want to see how you feel on set and make sure you’re happy with what’s happening. It is remarkable how a pleasant atmosphere can stimulate people to work effectively whilst doing it at pace. In this ideal case, please don’t be surprised when the to-dos are checked off earlier against expectation. You can be proud to have done a good job scheduling the day with a buffer of time. Plus you have proved that you’ve booked a team that did a great job in no time. The idea might come up that you’re paying for a certain amount of hours and that, as there’s time left, you could spontaneously shoot a couple of other pictures with further products. I’m sorry to disappoint you when I say that this is a wrong assumption. Remember that you’ve (hopefully) signed contracts over the exact services you expect from your team. You can sure use the spare time to double-check if these services are fulfilled. And if they are then, for the sake of fairness and a respectful business relationship between you and the team, call it a wrap! It’s in no one’s favour to opportunistically add more workload to the day because, finally, it will show on your invoice too. Instead, you could enjoy a nice conversation and a drink or dinner to celebrate a successful production day with everyone. It will certainly also enhance your good reputation as a client and make everyone want to give their best the next time too.

Create a shot list


A shot list is like a to-do list for your photo production. In fact, it can be skipped if you happen to want all products shot in the very same way because then your number of products is your actual shot list like it is established for many e-commerce productions. Such a list isn’t absolutely necessary either when there are just very few settings to be handled of which someone in charge is briefed exactly. However, even with a little workload, things can be forgotten as soon as there’s no one clocking the time. As I’ve explained in tip no. 20 the conceptual work shall be done before the production in order to stay in control and get what you want exactly. The same applies to planning.

As soon as a photo production is getting complex in terms of having a variety of models and different acting, several props, light settings, or set designs you’re definitely on the safe side when you write down which scenes you’ll need to have done, with whom, and with what, or how. Just like when shooting a film this helps the team to create a logical chronology around the shot list which spares them stressful and time-consuming modifications or moving too much back and forth. With the help of a shot list, they can also reassure themselves that the crucial shots of the current setup are all photographed before they rebuild it or restyle the models.

What are call time, lunchtime, and overtime?


I’m sure you know what lunchtime is (: Nevertheless, it’s important to mention it when we talk about scheduling commercial photo shoots. You can look at the lunch break as the key to people’s hearts. They will appreciate you caring for their human needs when you make it part of the plan. By allowing space for lunch you’ll also see a positive effect on the work ethic during both halves of the day. Knowing that lunch is in an hour or two can be the biggest motivator to have a definite amount of work accomplished priorly. A team that you care for is also more likely to show self-initiative and responsibility for the flawless execution of your production. Therefore, they will most certainly not waste any time and even use a part of the break to work if some more things need to be done before the second half of the day starts. 

The call time is pointing out when people need to show up to get started with the day and it can be different times for different players. For example, it’s often the make-up artist coming in first shortly followed by the model. If there are several models but only one make-up artist it can be reasonable to book them at different times so no one will have to sit around for the first hours until it’s their turn to get their make-up and hairstyling done. This can namely cause fatigue and influence the photos’ look in a bad way. As the client, you can allow yourself to arrive later if everyone’s well-briefed and confident of what you want to have prepared in the first place. That is to say that when the actual photography starts you may have an active role for which the team might need your supervision on set at the latest. This isn’t cut in stone but a usual procedure especially when you work with someone for the first time. As you can see, people don’t always arrive at the shoot simultaneously and we, therefore, use a document listing all the important information which is named “call sheet”. This paper doesn’t only contain the times of beginning but also all the names, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, locations, or meeting points, and sometimes the whole schedule including possible overtime. 

If the workload is a lot and overtime is required this doesn’t only have to be discussed during the booking procedure among with negotiations about its compensation but also formulated in the call sheet and/or timetable. This then allows you to properly estimate the total amount of time and divide the day into rational portions for different tasks. 

Another aspect to consider on the call sheet it whether someone’s traveling a long distance or needs to check-in or -out a hotel, catch a flight or train. This can be decisive information for the whole day’s structure. 

Concluding all information in the making of a timetable


Having bothered yourself and consulted the team about all the above-mentioned benchmark data you will probably have a rough plan on how to clock the day already. Write it down. This helps to see whether your reflections are complete and truly manageable or if there are any gaps to be filled or further aspects to be considered in the plan. The method of committing this to paper correlates to the way how creating a mood board works: it visualises what was in your head at first and manifests its degree of consistency which again enables you to correct or improve the plan where needed.
With that said we’re getting closer to the day of your amazing photo production. The next article is just going to round out the whole great preparation that you’ve done with talking about talking. Yes, you heard that right. The next article is addressing communication and its importance on all levels (of realising photo shoots – to stick to the point).



If you enjoyed reading this article, or you found it helpful in one way or the other, I would love to know (reach out)! You are also welcome to support my work and writing by donating whichever amount this is worth to you. I will thank you with lots of telepathic love and more interesting journal entries. Cheers!


How useful was this article?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating / 5. Vote count:

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this article.

As you found this useful...

Follow me!

I'm sorry this article wasn't useful for you!

Help me to improve it!

Any suggestions?