Photographer John Mangelsdorf

Photo shoots are expensive – even if you hire us, with our lower rates (more info on why we charge less and our marketing photo portfolio.) So you want to get it right, right?

Many times over the years we’ve been doing this, we’ve been paid for photos never used because our client was not prepared. For example, un-ironed-clothing. Yes, we can Photoshop out wrinkles, but why pay us $$$ when you can be prepared with perfect fabric with just a run of an iron? Pretty much everything listed below comes from an actual experience with a client.

Please run through this checklist to avoid costly mistakes in your up-coming shoot:


• Stage for photos, not your usual display. As you set up, look through the lens on a camera (cell phone is fine), instead of with your naked eye. Things look different through a frame, so your usual set-up might not photograph well.

• Be sure everyone involved is aware and prepared.

• It pays to spend a week looking at the light at various times of day at the place of the shoot. Then schedule the shoot for the best time of day. Absolute best is with plenty of sunlight, but without strong shadows or harsh light, like on an overcast day.

• To keep costs down, have a shot plan made in advance. It’s a way to make sure you get all the shots you need and to provide a checklist so no shot is forgotten. Can be a collection of photos on your cell phone, written notes, or a Pinterest board. Look at previous photos of your business – what worked and looked good? Make a note to duplicate the shot. What’s needed – models, props, lighting – to get the shots on your shot list? Here’s a very rough shot list so you can see how little effort is needed – just grab a collection of photos you want to duplicate:
Shot List Sample

• Remember this is marketing and branding. Be sure all props, staging, attire is a direct reflection of your brand. It’s not about what you might like, it’s about what will make potential clients interested as well as what consistently supports and promotes your brand. If your brand color palette is calm, be sure no one wears red, if your brand is very professional, hide the ceramic kitten vase – that type of thing.

• Essentially, be prepared. Everything staged and clean before we get there. The better prepared you are, the more you will like the results. And you’ll save money by shortening the time we spend shooting and/or Photoshopping.


Tell your staff well in advance there will be a shoot. Be sure they are very clear on your business’ brand and how you wish your staff to be presented.

• Is there a uniform? Make sure they have enough advanced notice to have it cleaned and pressed.
• Do you require name-tags? Be sure they are clean and pinned on evenly.
• Hair – have a clearly defined outline of what’s acceptable. (We once had a client tell us our shots were no good, but when we dug further, it was because their staff member’s bangs were too long. This type of directive must come from you, the boss.)
• Lab coats – we’ve learned from photographing our medical clients that wrinkles pop from lab coats. Iron them!
• Iron or steamer onsite. This has saved many-a-shoot. Consider it, especially if clothing or fabrics are key to your brand.
• Don’t wear clothing with writing, logos, or reflective elements, like on jogging gear.
• Easy on jewelry and printed fabrics.
• Let us know in advance if you want candid shots, head-shots, client interaction.


It pays to spend a week looking at the light at various times of day on your building exterior. Note when there are no deep shadows. Then schedule the shoot for the best time of day. Absolute best is with plenty of light on your building, but without shadows or strong light, like on an overcast day.

• If you have street parking in front of your building, fill the spots with your staff’s cars – then roll out right as we start shooting so there’s no parked cars blocking the view of your building.
• Don’t schedule a photoshoot of your building exterior on trash pickup day!
• Remove all posters, clutter from windows.
• Clean windows.
• If it’s an evening shoot, be sure all light bulbs are working.
• Tell your neighbors, if relevant, that you are paying for a shoot and ask them not to put trash outside.
• Take out all seasonal decor (unless this is a seasonal shoot) – for example, if there’s a Christmas tree in your window, you won’t be able to use the shot for marketing in summer. Non-seasonal, non-dated decor is the best for general marketing shots.
• If this is a seasonal shoot, be sure all decor is perfect before we arrive.
• Also before we arrive, look at your building exterior with the shot in mind – often what looks better in general, does not work for a photo. Stand in the place you want the shot(s) done and make sure all looks great.
• Do you have permission? Occasionally, we’ve run into problems with an HOA or building management not allowing commercial photography. Be sure all permissions have been organized before the shoot.
• If the photographer will need to stand in a street to get the shots, be sure there’s someone to look out for traffic.


Clean, stage, organize! It costs $$$ for us to Photoshop out dirt on walls, messy areas, monitors with ugly screen savers, wires, etc.

• Plan on computer monitors being off.
• As with the exterior shoot planning, check the light at various times of day – schedule the shoot during good, strong light.
• Make sure all product displays are perfect.
• Take time, well before we arrive, to scan the location for any clutter, any items that do not reflect your brand, or speak well of your business.
• Hide or tidy wiring – if possible, unplug electronics and remove.
• Make sure all wall art is hung evenly.
• Review the areas you want shot – any bright colours or high-contrast will draw the eye, so make sure that anything along these lines is hidden away unless they are part of the brand – or you wish them to be featured. For example, we took a long time Photoshopping out neon flyers for a local farmers’ market from one client’s photos.
• Trim dead flowers from displays.
• Will we have easy access? Do we need name badges? Security codes? A guide? There’s been times we’ve traveled to a site to shoot and not been able to access the building!

Food PhotographyPRODUCT SHOTS

The best product shots are done with our light box at our offices – see photo to left. Especially if you want white backgrounds. But that means transporting/shipping products which can be costly.

If we shoot at your location:

• Clean, neat display that will look best photographed

• Clutter-free background

• If you have props to use, please have them ready to go – be sure they are clean and to your brand.

• If possible, have us set up our equipment away from clients, so we do not disrupt your business.

• Price tags and stickers – your call! Sometimes they can be Photoshopped out, but that’s $$$ (see below).

Photoshop Price Tags


Having people in your shots can really make them.

• Be sure you have written permission from the model – before the shoot – to use them in marketing.
• Confirm and reconfirm time and location with models (Emphasis)– any delay means you are paying us with no work being done.
• Be clear with models on clothing. No patterns, logos, text, reflective or glow-in-the-dark material.
• Be sure you are all on the same page with model styling – are they doing their own hair and makeup? Be sure to plan ahead.

Hiring professional models is usually not an option. Client models make for great marketing, if you have clients who are willing to trade product/services for use of their image for marketing. Staff members in plain clothes or family and friends have worked in the past.


These can be candid or staged. Please talk to us well in advance if you wish to show your business in action.

Here’s a photo that was useful for print and online marketing of a jewelry designer sketching at a table with her equipment.

NOTE: This checklist is intended for our typical client – a small business or sole proprietor. Photo shoot prep for larger businesses is far more complex.