Everything to Know When Setting Up Your First Professional Shoot

photo by justina brandt

The first time that you book a shoot with someone who isn’t your family, friend, or dog is undeniably a little intimidating . It’s far easier to talk to your friends and casually set something up than to engage yourself in the frightening world of Instagram DM. However, setting up your first shoot with a stranger is an exciting and important first step into professionalism, and in these 5 steps we are going to try and make it a little less intimidating so you can appreciate how exciting it truly is.

1. Talk professional, act approachable.

Even if communicating with a stranger is a little scary, do everything you can not to show it. Communicating with a stranger over the internet to set up a shoot is essentially discussing talking in a professional way of how you will provide a service to someone. So, act like it. Don’t be afraid to lay out what they can and can’t expect from you and what you will and won’t do. People like clarity, especially when they are expecting a service from you and are setting out time in their day to communicate with you. The better you deliver that sense of professionalism the more respect people will have for the effort you are going through for them.

That being said, this doesn’t mean you have to act cold and distant. Being approachable is equally important, because it makes people like you and want to work with you again. This does not mean you have to be a pushover for whatever they want, but you want to make it clear that you want to talk to them and work with them. What does this look like? Be responsive and reply as quickly as possible. Now is not the time to follow the unspoken rule of taking twice as long as it took them to text you for you to text them back. Be friendly and enthusiastic, however that may look to you. It’s a balance between the two that is important to establish when talking to a client.

2. Tell them what to expect.

Giving a quick summary of what your service will provide is the easiest way to establish whether or not they are a serious client. If the person you are talking to is satisfied with what you will provide, then you probably did not want to work with them in the first place. By setting up the expectations early on, you will avoid any later confusion and wasting anyone’s time.

So how do you go about doing this? Briefly outline what they can receive and what you expect from them. If you charge for your shoots, give your rates. How long does a shoot typically last? How many photos will you provide? For me, I copy-paste this message to any new client I have:

“hello! so glad you’re interested in shooting! i charge $15 for an hour long shoot, which will give you around 50+ edited photos. i’m based in orange county, ca and we can work to find a meeting place within that area and a date to shoot!”

Brief, friendly, and to-the-point. Some people may lose interest once they see the steps they have to go through in order to shoot with you and how serious this is. This is especially true if you charge for shoots. But, if that’s the case, you probably did not want to work with them in the first place.

3. Establish the DTL.

Gotta love a fun acronym. The DTL: date, time, location. Although this may seem obvious, it’s easy to get caught up in all the details or special requests of a client that you forget the basics. So, I made it into a fun acronym so it will be impossible to forget! Typically, this part is not too difficult, but by being ready to schedule something right away, it shows that you are responsive and professional and ready to work with them.

Also, don’t be afraid to book far in advance. Maybe you’re in school and for the next month you really don’t have any time to shoot. That doesn’t mean you should let it go. Set up a DTL as soon as you can, even if it’s not for a while, and don’t forget it! Chances are the person will cancel sometime before then, but don’t be afraid to go ahead and set something up. Once again, this shows that you are genuinely interested in working with someone and that you are making them a priority.

4. Know your rights.

At some point before the shoot, preferably after you have set up a DTL, make it clear the rights that you have and the rights that they have. I know the term “rights” sounds all legal and scary, but really it’s just what you are allowed to do and what they are allowed to do. This is arguably the most important part because it’s so easy to get screwed over. Even if people don’t have bad intentions, especially when money is exchanged, people feel entitled to ask for all kinds of things. So, let them know ahead of time what they are allowed to ask for. How are you going to provide the photos? What are the details of your rates? Do you have a cancellation policy (you should have a cancellation policy)? What are you and the client allowed to post on social media? By answering these questions and more now, and sending them to the client, if someone comes back and tries to argue otherwise, you have concrete evidence that you made it clear what they can ask from you.

Unfortunately, this part is best understood from trial and error. When someone doesn’t show up to a shoot, or asks for more than you would typically deliver, or finds a reason to pay you a reduced rate, and you don’t have anything to tell them otherwise, there isn’t much you can do in the situation. It happens to the best of us. But, by outlining everything ahead of time to your client, you can do your best to avoid loopholes and get what you deserve for your work.

5. Follow Through.

Now that you’ve gone to all this trouble to set their expectations high, meet them there. Don’t cancel or flake out. Don’t deliver less than they expect. Whatever you outlined in your policies, follow through with it. Once you have gone to the trouble to make sure that the person you’re working with sees you as a professional, now it’s your turn to act on it. Be confident in your abilities, because the person working with you chose you for a reason!

After going through all this trouble to set your expectations with a client, it’s easy to forget what those expectations were yourself, which can be an unnecessary stressor in the situation. A secret to solving this: it’s all written down! The beauty of Instagram DM is that nothing goes away (wouldn’t recommend doing this over Snapchat). So, if you forget something on your end, go back and check. Don’t be the one to confuse the dates or lose track of time. Be the professional that you are and grab ahold of the opportunities you have.

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