6 Keys to Art Directing an Amazing Photo Shoot

Those jaw-dropping photos in your favorite magazines and catalogs make it all look so effortless. But as every art director knows, there’s a lot of hard labor that goes on behind the scenes to make those beautiful images happen.

So how exactly do you capture shots that woo clients and consumers? We’ve identified six keys to art directing an amazing photo shoot:

1. Have a vision. “I see myself as a director,” says Pum Lefebure, co-founder and chief creative officer, Design Army. “Like Steven Spielberg, I have to know who to cast. I need to know the right location to tell the story. The copywriting has to merge. We have to edit thousands and thousands of photos and work with a re-toucher.”

And on shoot day? She’s making sure the talent looks their absolute best on camera.

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They key to capturing magical shots like Design Army does? Planning out every single detail — from setting and makeup to wardrobe and props.

2. Earn client buy-in. “The creative is always better,” says Christina Hagopian, creative director and studio owner, Hagopian Ink. “They’re not surprised. We’ve discussed every detail down to the hair and make-up and every accessory.”

For this collaborative process, she prefers to share visuals — from sketches to inspiration photos—with the client. These might show everything from different make-up looks to hairstyles. Then she brings all the final picks together in a photography brief. Basically, it’s a highly visual creative brief that outlines the entire shoot.

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A behind-the-scenes look at a photo shoot Hagopian Ink directed for luxury brand Todd & Duncan.

3. Plan, plan and plan again. “You might spend one or two days at the shoot, but the planning might take weeks,” Lefebure says. “When we go in, we already know we’re going to shoot this girl in front of this tree. We know what shirt and makeup she’ll be wearing.”

For a typical Design Army shoot, the firm sketches out the concept for each and every shot. Often, they’ll take a scouting photo ahead of the final shoot day, too. This allows them to check out the best lighting. And on shoot day, all this advance planning means the team might capture twice as many shots.

AD opener_sketchThese sketches and scouting shots from Design Army turned into this gorgeous spread in the latest issue of Washingtonian Bride & Groom.

4. Expect the unexpected. Hagopian recently art directed a two-day e-commerce shoot for a new product line. “The second day of the shoot, the hairstylist from the first day got food poisoning,” she says. “We had to get a new person really fast.”

Luckily, she had a photography brief and visuals to quickly and clearly communicate the vision for the shoot to the new hairstylist.

5. Choose photographers wisely. “I only use photographers who listen to me,” Lefebure says. “Because there’s only one vision. The photographer needs to be behind us 100%.”

She’s been on shoots with talented photographers who were following their own visions, and shooting for their portfolios instead of editorial. The latter, for instance, requires leaving space for text and shooting in a vertical format.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Of course, you’ll be hiring folks like photographers, stylists and make-up artists. But don’t shy away from asking for advice from colleagues or even bringing in a consultant.

Hagopian, for instance, has a lot of experience with still shoots, but she’s new to fashion photography. So she hired a consultant to help with everything from booking models to helping out on shoot day.

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Hagopian Ink created a checklist for each and every image to help this fashion shoot go smoothly. 

What’s your best tip for art directing a photo shoot? Any war stories to share?

Photo credits
Washingtonian Bride & Groom Photography
Creative Direction: Design Army
Photography: Cade Martin
Text: Kate Bennett
Model: Kristine Zandmane, MC2 Model Management
Hair & Make-up: Dean Krapf for Lluminaire
Salon 
Stylist: Pascale Lemaire for T.H.E. Artist Agency
Shot on location at: Wooden Sanctuary, Audubon Naturalist Society
Special thank you: Amaryllis Floral + Event Design

Todd & Duncan Photography
Creative Direction: Christina Hagopian, Hagopian Ink
Photo studio and production: Sandbox Studio
Photographer: Justin Hollar
Photography Producer: Erika Repola
Stylist: Julie Ragolia
Client Representatives: Lisa D’Esposito, Joni Knight, Marissa Nesta

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3 thoughts on “6 Keys to Art Directing an Amazing Photo Shoot

  1. Clayton Rogers

    I would be very thankful if you continue with quality what you are serving right now with your articles…I really enjoyed it…and i really appreciate to you for this….its always pleasure to read so….Thanks for sharing!! galaxy s5 gold

  2. Sharry Dawson

    Great post, it’s helpful to all people. Chat with Peter Rodick, she has worked for clients big and small.

    I would almost argue that the last step (to really hit this one out of the park) would be to talk to someone 1-1 to really get the low down. My friend did this with Peter Rodick – she is Senior art director and Ten years of agency experience. You can contact with him here: https://www.wisewords.co/experiences/1223/

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