10 Tips for a Successful Photo Shoot

CHB_2076HDR-3 Prior to starting my internship at Curator, I spent much of my time as a freelance photographer and photographer assistant, which led me to participate on numerous shoots for Microsoft, Kontent Partners, Redhook, Tom Bihn, Shep Films and the Pan Pacific Hotel. Through these experiences I learned a great deal about what it takes to have a successful photo shoot. Below are my top 10 tips I learned from practical experience and seminars.

Research, Research, Research

With any visually centric project, it is imperative to do your research. No matter what you’re shooting, if you don’t understand the client, publication, story, or product, your photographs will reflect that. With many shoots you may be alone, therefore doing as much research prior to the shoot you can do means the more literate you will be when meeting with the client.

Plan Ahead

A photo shoot can be ruined because of numerous factors, ranging from the weather, to knowledge (or lack thereof) of the location. If possible, it is important to scout the location a day or two prior to the shoot and be up-to-date on current weather reports, because at a moments notice a storm cloud could rob you of your light and ruin any dynamic lighting that may have occurred. It also helps to have a detailed “shot list” that you can rely on for back up shot ideas when lighting and other elements don’t work in your favor.

Understand Your Capabilities and Limitations

Certain projects require more elaborate equipment like external lighting, camera rigs, a higher resolution camera, or on-site postproduction tools. However, investing in more gear, lenses, or lighting gets extremely expensive, and fast. It can be beneficial to get acquainted with rental services such as,, or Glazers camera in Seattle.

Lighting is Everything

To be able to control and modify light is a key skill in photography. Light creates mood, drama, and a sense of place. The best times to shoot with dramatic lighting are either early morning at sunrise or at sunset.  Shooting during mid-day is the worst time to shoot because the amount of light will wash out the colors and over exposes the sky. Ways to get around shooting in mid-day is to find shade, or a way to obscure the light in a way that creates a dynamic contrast.

Packing the Right Gear

After a while, being a photographer means you’ll accumulate gear, and I've  found that more gear means more problems. While you spend time thinking about what lens to use or what flash setup you want, the other guy with less equipment is getting the job done faster and cheaper. I've found it to be effective to have two camera bodies (if possible), both serving different functions – one may have a telephoto whereas the other camera is outfitted with a wide angle zoom. For slower and more planned shoots, it is always good to have a back-up camera just in case your primary fails.

Create a Visual Narrative

Photography is an informed, forced perspective. The photograph may address the heart of a story or idea. It may be the peak of an action or a subtle reflection, but it provides understanding to a narrative. Keep the initial narrative at the front of your mind while shooting to keep your photos informed and help develop the sense of feeling you’re trying to elicit.


Break the Rules

Every photographer knows about how to frame an image. Whether it’s the using the rule of thirds or the golden ratio, photographers tend to like to stay within in these confined rules. It is important to break these rules and find an angle or shot that is ‘interesting.’ A photo that catches the eye is much more valuable than a mediocre image that’s well balanced and framed.

Familiarize Yourself

One of the most important lessons I learned from a National Geographic Seminar given by Ami Vitale and Melissa Farlow is to settle in and get to know the people and the space in which you are photographing. It’s not so much about getting yourself comfortable as it is about getting your subjects comfortable with your presence. Many photographers treat an outing or a shoot like they’re at a zoo, which in turn makes the subjects feel uncomfortable. Before taking your camera out, make time to connect with those around you, allow them to familiarize with you and in turn your photos will yield better and more natural results.

Edit Tight

The hardest part with anything we do is divorcing from something we spent time on or personally “love.” It is true with writing and it is true with photography. Even though you may love a specific photo, it may not be the right one for the client. Always keep this in mind when narrowing down your final products.

Give Something Back

It is always a great idea to share a print with your subject or client. This can be just as effective, if not more than a thank you note.

Easy Apps for Better Instagrams

I remember downloading the Instagram app in 2011 and becoming instantly obsessed. Even though I had probably five or so friends also using the app, I loved the concept and of course the sweet filters. Over the years Instagram has continued to add features and as we all know the game has been stepped up by professional photographers and the average Joe's who know how to capture the perfect angle. The truth however, is that most of these Instagram stars are not using the app alone. A lot of people use other apps for editing and I would venture to guess most are taking their photos with the built-in camera or a real camera and importing them to post rather than taking their pictures through Instagram.

While I am nowhere near the level of IG stardom, I do like to play around sometimes and try to make my pictures a little more pretty. Here are some of my favorite apps that I like to use in conjunction with Instagram to do just that.

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 9.51.40 AM

Instasize. Sure, the new iOS has the Square photo setting that gives you that nice square frame to shoot your photos with, but more often than not this means you’re probably losing a lot of the frame you actually want to capture. Enter Instasize. This awesome app lets you take photos or import from your library and size them to fit the Instagram dimensions. This app also provides some editing features including collage templates, filters and borders.

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 9.48.34 AM


Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 9.52.27 AM

PicPlayPost. If you’re a fan of collages, check this out. Not only can you make a collage of photos, but you can mix photos and videos! I’m a fan of using this app to highlight some of my favorite moments from one event, like a concert or a wedding.

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 9.57.54 AM

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 10.12.31 AM

PhotoCollage. One of many easy to use photo collage apps, this one lets you create collages from your photo library and edit things like color, margins and corner shapes. Perfect for showing step-by-step meal prep or those classic birthday collages.

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 9.56.51 AM

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 10.02.46 AM

Afterlight. Another awesome editing tool, Afterlight lets you take photos or use images from your library to change the lighting, add filters, borders and even shapes.

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 9.58.15 AM


Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 10.03.00 AM

Over. Make your own Pinterest-esque quote photos with this is an easy app that lets you add text to your pictures.

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 9.57.07 AM


Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 10.07.05 AM

Camera+. This is the ultimate editing app. It’s pretty easy to use and has a lot of new features to help save those too bright or too dark photos. I even use this for initial editing and then combine with one of the Instagram filters. All in all, this is a fun one to play around with and can make your phone photos look pro!

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 10.08.49 AM


I’m always on the lookout for stellar Instagram accounts to follow and new apps to try. If you have any recommendations, Tweet me at @c_allodi or follow me on Instagram @cmallodi.

The Curator News Feed: February 8, 2013

This week we found out what the most book friendly burb in the U.S. is, saw a crazy graphic showing how complicated social media marketing is, discovered some creative ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day and more! See for yourself and checkout everything else we were reading about in this week’s link roundup! Happy Friday!

Bucatini Alla Amatriciana, The Seasonal Gourmet. It's been a long, hard, great week.  One of my favorite ways to wind down on the weekend is to cook.  This will be a comfort food weekend and since my daughter will be at a camp tonight and tomorrow, I'm planning on making her (okay, maybe mine too) favorite comfort food on Sunday: bucatini alla amatriciana.  It's a spicy red sauce with pancetta and it's wonderful. Enjoy the weekend. – Scott

Dannijo Sells Jewelry and a Lifestyle a Picture at a Time, NY Times. This is a great example of selling a lifestyle versus selling a specific product and in turn, selling more of the product. The ladies of jewelry line, Dannijo, have done a great job harnessing the power of social media and really tapping into the notion that if they make people want to live like them, then naturally, people will want to wear their jewelry. – Julia

This INSANE Graphic Shows How Ludicrously Complicated Social Media Marketing Is Right Now, BusinessInsider. Do you ever feel like the barrier to entry for a lot of social media sites is just too high? Like there are a million apps and plugins and third-party clients, and how do people even keep track of this stuff? This graphic illustrates that feeling perfectly. It also inadvertently illustrates a lot of what we do from a social media standpoint here at Curator — study this stuff, know it and know which combinations of apps are best on a case-by-case basis. – Paul

Capital Letters DC Named Most Book Friendly Burb in the U.S., Entertainment Time. In this day and age of technology in every aspect of our lives and the need to have our half-dozen devices (mobile phone, tablet, eBook reader, laptop, etc.) all within arm’s length, it’s good to know that our hometown still loves its books. Not 140-character bursts, status updates or blogs, but real, honest-to-goodness books. – Dan

7 Web Ways to Show Someone You Care, Mashable. Most people wouldn't look to Mashable for Valentine's Day tips, but everyone's favorite social media news website came up with some pretty creative and digitally savvy ways to create some romance next week on V-day. The Lovestagram app is definitely the best one in the bunch. – Maria

Marc Jacobs New Creative Director for Diet Coke, NY Daily News. Designing for his own clothing line and residing at the helm of Louis Vuitton wasn't enough for Marc Jacobs as he recently added creative director for Coca-Cola's Diet Coke line in 2013 to his resume. Look for redesigned cans to be unveiled at the end of this month. Jean-Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfield held the position in 2012 and 2011 respectively. – Jennifer

Incredible London 2012 Olympics photos by David Burnett, In today's instagram culture it is always exciting to see examples of current events photography taken with by-gone technology. These 4x5 shots are only a third of what he's captured – and they are simply amazing. – Shawn

Facebook Deal to Buy Microsoft’s Atlas Coming as Soon as Next Week, Ad Age. More news in the worlds of Microsoft and Facebook this week. But, this may be something to keep our eyes on as next week approaches. As Ad Age reports, Facebook is anticipated to purchase Microsoft’s Atlas ad-serving business for around $30-$50 million. What does this all mean? It means Facebook clearly has plans to step up their game in the advertising world, becoming an even bigger player than they currently are. The article claims that the company is looking to build a set of digital advertising technologies that will rival Google. The deal could come as early as next week, so keep watch! – Annie