Portfolio photo shoot for emerging artists/models; what to expect?

Jennifer Pitoscia

So you are a young artist or model, ready get started in the business world and you need pictures for your portfolio. You don’t know how a photo shoot works, what it costs and how to approach a photographer about your art. Well then this article is for you.

For the simplicity of this article, artist or model will be used interchangeably unless otherwise mentioned.

Demystifying the role of the photographer

In 2018, the photographer has many more roles than just taking the photo. On smaller scale projects like portfolio pictures for emerging artists, the photographer will accompany the client from the early stages of the conception to the post-production (more details on that later). A photo shoot typically divides into three main parts, namely the pre-production, the production and the post-production.


The pre-production is the elaborating phase. As the name suggests, it happens before the photo session, with the help of the photographer. In itself, the pre-production consists of multiple steps. The first one is the concept identification and research, the second one is and the evaluation of feasibility, costs, and budget, and the final step of the pre-production is the organization and logistics.

Concept Identification and Research

Group meeting

The artist comes with an idea or a concept (finished or not). The photographer will act as an art director, using his experience to guide the freelancer towards a complete, well thought-out concept that is ready for production. Together, the artist and photographer will define the target audience, the trends of that audience and the artist’s objective.

During this step, the artist and the photographer will storyboard the photo shoot, settle on a genre/style of photography and create a brief. This step is crucial to the smooth running of the photo shoot.

Feasibility, Costs and Budget Planning

Budget Planning

The photographer will look at the budget that the artist has set, and evaluate if the project is feasible as well as give an estimate of the total costs. The photographer and the artist will also talk about payment terms and draft the contract for the photo shoot.

Organization and Logistics

This stage of pre-production is pretty straightforward: the photographer will organize the logistics of the shoot, assembling the team needed, make sure to rent or prepare the material need for the shoot, rent the studio, and coordinate the schedule based on the client’s needs.

Those steps conclude the pre-production phase of the project, moving forward the production.


Photography GearWhile many people see the production (or the photo shoot) as the main job of the photographer, it is, in reality, the shortest process of the whole creative process. If you’ve read the article so far, I’m sure that by now you realize why. So what does a photo shoot entail?

Anatomy of a Photo Shoot

So you’ve seen in the pre-production that the scenes are carefully prepared in advance. A photo shoot is by no means improvised, although onset adaptations happen all the time especially for portrait photography since they sometimes provide for the best pictures due to their candid character.

A photo shoot is easy to understand: the scenes are agreed on prior to the shoot and the photographer will determine the best order depending on the lighting diagrams, the props needed, and other factors. For portrait photography, models will arrive a bit prior to get prepared by stylists and makeup artists. The client will review the on set pictures and quick changes can be made.

Some photographers will also do on set retouches and adjustments to give the client a better idea of what the final picture will look like.


The post-production is, naturally, after the photo shoot. It is mostly a part the photographer does on his own and send deliverables to the client for approvals or changes. The photographer will use his skills in photo editing to enhance the pictures, organize them in catalogues and optimize the pictures for the different mediums which they are intended for (i.e. web, print, etc.).

How much does all of this cost?

While it is impossible to give a fixed price since the cost of a photo shoot is very dependent on the result expected, a few guidelines can still be drawn.

• A simple headshot photo shoot for a model, with minimal make-up or hair styling (the model will do his/her own makeup/hairstyling): expect between 500$-1000$.

• A commercial (object, food, etc) photo shoot: is generally charged at a per photo tariff, with a minimum agreed on. Expect between 250$ to 1000$ per photo, possibly even more if more complex, and a minimum of 1500$ for a shoot.

• A fashion shoot generally includes multiple people working on the set. There is the photographer, an assistant (with the possibility of a second assistant), a make-up artist, a hair stylist, a stylist, and depending on the needs a set carpenter. These shoots are often complex and therefore command higher prices. Expect anything above 5000$ for a fashion shoot.

What about a free shoot for exposure?

Although the concept of “give and take” is nice in theory, a photographer cannot pay his bills with exposure. A photography session incurs many expenses other than the photographer alone (renting the studio, the equipment, other professionals working on the set, etc.) and the photographer must be paid as well.

Remember: a successful photography campaign will rapidly offset its production costs, and hiring a professional photographer is the best way to make sure to achieve one. Photography is a powerful marketing tool and is more relevant than ever 2018.

A final word

I hope that this article helped demystify how a photographer works and what to expect from a photo shoot. There is a saying that, as an artist, if you don’t exist on the internet you don’t exist at all. That is still true, but with millions of pictures shared every day, professionally made pictures is a must in 2018 if you want to stand out. As artists and freelancer themselves, photographers are best suited to understand your needs. What will your next project be?

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