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5 Steps to a Successful Photoshoot

By Camille Leonard

5 Steps to a Successful Photoshoot

Shooting compelling portraits of your destination requires plenty of planning and preparation. Don’t shortchange yourself by skipping these 5 steps that we believe are vital to a successful photoshoot. Read time: 6 minutes

Much has been written about the importance of using beautiful, authentic and emotionally compelling visuals to tell the story of your destination. See our earlier post, Building Authentic Imagery Using the Four Cs for a few methods your DMO can use to build a photo library rich with a variety of images. Thorough planning of photoshoots to capture all that there is to see and do in your community will reap the most satisfying results, but can be challenging projects to execute.

The time and effort used to make sure the images created paint a compelling portrait of your destination will pay off.

Like most marketing efforts, planning and preparation are vital for success. Whether you hire a seasoned professional photographer or utilize a DMO staff member who’s good with a camera or somewhere in between, there are steps you can take before you begin the photoshoot process that will help you get the most from these efforts.

1) Make a shot list featuring the desired attractions, landmarks and/or activities to showcase your community. Be specific about how the images created will be used.

Communication between you and the photographer is key to capturing images that accomplish your marketing goals. When you compose the shot list, use detailed descriptions of what you hope to see in each shot. That description can be as broad as “general street scene to capture picturesque neighborhood” or as specific as “family at the train museum, 2-3 children, ages 2 to 8”. Keep in mind your photoshoot instructions do not need to describe the exact composition of the scene, those decisions are best left to the trained eye of the photographer.

Photoshoot of the Train Museum for the Tifton-Tift County Tourism Association
This photograph, taken for the Tifton-Tift County Tourism Association was used in print advertising and on the website. The photographer and agency staff worked with the Tourism Association to coordinate the “models” and the Train Museum staff to make this moment magic.


Knowing where and how photos will be used can affect their composition dramatically. For example, website carousel images and full-page magazine ads are totally different in shape and orientation. If you’re shooting photography to build a general library of images to promote your attractions and the community, make sure the images taken vary in composition—horizontal, vertical, wide and tight shots, too so you have options to choose from depending on future image needs/opportunities.

Pro Tip:

Ask the photographer to allow space around his ideal composition to accommodate these factors:

  • Cropping where changes to openings in layouts or responsive web design won’t cut out important parts of the image.
  • Room around an image that might be a full page in a print publication to allow for bleed.
  • If you have layouts or designs you are shooting to fill, share them with the photographer.

2) Use a written contract to define the budget and ownership of the photographic assets created during a photoshoot.

Having a signed contract is a good idea to outline the expectations of all parties involved. Most photographers operate on an hourly or day-rate schedule, but all other costs associated with hiring a photographer should be discussed. Don’t forget to address post production time (to process and edit images), travel time rate and optional equipment rental such as a boom, stabilizer, drone or special lenses. The contract should also address the legal aspects of licensing - most professional photographers own the rights to the images they produce unless you have an upfront agreement that states your organization is purchasing the rights to unlimited and exclusive use. High quality, professional photography is a valuable asset—that’s why setting expectations up front is so important!

Pro Tip:

Communicating the contract expectations (requiring full cost estimates in advance of the photoshoot and client image ownership) in advance of initial project discussions with potential photographers will make this important step the least painful. If a photographer is not willing to agree to both you should consider another option.

3) Set reasonable deadlines and discuss your expectations with the photographer well in advance of the photoshoot.

Consider the time it takes to pull all the pieces together—keeping in mind the schedule/availability of; the location, the photographer, time for post production image selection and image editing. And build in extra time/alternate dates for factors beyond your control (Hello, Mother Nature!).

Pro Tip:

Communicating the final photoshoot image delivery expectations (and including these expectations in the contract mentioned in Step 2 above) will help ensure this important step is accomplished.

4) Scout the photoshoot locations in advance with the photographer and marketing teams.

The photographer selected for this job as well as internal and/or external marketing teams will gain insight into the potential and requirements for optimizing the images captured including:

  • How much time the photoshoot will likely take to capture the desired image/s.
  • The best time of day to schedule the photoshoot based on lighting considerations.
  • Special needs including booms, ladders or lifts; lighting; power considerations; assistants; etc.

External marketing experts like advertising or PR firms can spearhead this important step but the DMO’s team members who are responsible for overseeing/approving marketing efforts should also be present during this photoshoot scouting process.

Pro Tip:

Coordinate the scouting trip with marketing/management staff at the location for the photoshoot. They will have insight into factors and logistics that can make your efforts more successful. This collaborative effort may result in access to parts of the location a walk-in visitor might miss. And most importantly, iron out permissions and expectations with the management well in advance of the day of the shoot.

Photoshoot of Mobile, Alabama
This photograph was taken in Mobile, Alabama from the roof of a 34-story building. Waiting on the perfect moment to capture the drama of the evening sky takes planning and patience. The Stamp creative team selected this location well in advance to ensure all the variables were in place. The photographer, Stamp creative and account service team members, the client representative and building management for the host location were on-site and, to maximize the impact of the tallest building in this photo, a specialty lighting technician was on call to change the color and intensity of the lights on the top of this building.


5) Make a list of any people or props needed to make the image more compelling. Determine the best way to acquire them.

Even though there is a trend toward imagery that appears to be a realistic capture of a moment-in-the-life-of a place or experience (as described in Building Authentic Imagery Using the Four Cs), making the most of your time on location (even when working to acquire these more "authentic" images) often still requires the ability to control some elements of the photoshoot setting, talent, props, lighting, etc. If the image you’re trying to capture is one that is busy and populated with people doing activities that are ongoing for a long period of time, then you’ll have the luxury of planning to capture a moment as it happens. However, what is almost always the reality is that the timing of a specific action you’re hoping to capture in a curated setting is much less frequent. In these cases multiple, directed takes need to happen to create the most compelling image, so setting up the shot is the best plan.

Pro Tips:

  • Acquire permissions to use images of people and, in some cases, things to help ensure the images you create can be used without fear of legal issues.
  • Be armed with blank Talent Release forms to be signed by anybody whose image is recognizable in the photo. Make sure to have releases signed by the parents of any minors in your shots. This applies to friends of the DMO who volunteered to be on camera, paid non-professional talent and random people met on location.
  • If you hire professional models for your photoshoots, carefully read their contracts to become familiar with their licensing restrictions and fees.
  • Be aware some licensed logos can be problematic on clothing or in the background of your images.

If you’ve followed the above steps then only a few more things to keep in mind are left on your list:

  • Plan to have a representative from either your DMO marketing team or external marketing partner present on location or available for approval of images in real time. Some photographers are equipped with the ability to get virtual approvals from the DMO and/or creative team if being on-site isn’t possible.
  • Have a list of contacts at each photoshoot location. Marketing/Management at each location should be informed in advance of the schedule and plan. Having the ability to (quickly) ask for their assistance during the shoot can be crucial.
  • Make sure to include some flexibility in your plan just in case weather or any other unforeseen factors should occur.
  • Pack a cooler of water and a variety of snacks.
  • Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes!

The time and effort to make sure the images created paint a compelling portrait of your destination will pay off. The return on your investment? Attractions and other stakeholders featured will appreciate their role in marketing your community. Your marketing team will have powerful assets to tell your unique story. And real success will come with each new visitor.