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What is a "shot list", and why is it necessary? (Commercial Photography)

commercial photography dsp photo projects music photography travel photography Apr 14, 2022
Commercial Photography Shot List

I have been at this photography thing for many years now, serving both the editorial and commercial photography markets (amongst other things). I've collaborated with businesses, artists, and publications both large and small. Despite their differences, one of the first questions I get asked by a prospective client is, "How much do you charge for a photo shoot?"

To which I always respond, "It depends on what you need done."

In other words, I cannot put a value on my work unless I know what it is my clients need from both a creative and licensing perspective (i.e., time and talent to produce the images, along with how those images will be used by the client). I also need to consider project-specific expenses, such travel costs, possible gear rental, hiring an assistant, insurance, etc.

Fundamentally, particularly with commercial clients, in order for me to quantify what I'll be producing I need to work from a "shot list", which is essentially an itemized list of specific images that need to be produced. This list can be very general, or it can be very detailed, and it is essential. The more details I have to work with, the better I can determine what will be required to produce the desired images.

A shot list also goes a long way in defining expectations. If I am not working to a shot list, then how do I know that I am meeting a client's expectations? (HINT: I don't know.) 

Furthermore, if I'm not working to a defined scope of work, then how do I know when I'm finished creating? It's not practical nor financially feasible for me to keep shooting for a client at a set fee (my quote) but not know when I've completed my work. 

Expectations. They are key to all of this.

Would you hire a landscaper and pay them a bunch of money to work on your property without defining what it is you expect out of them?

Would you go to a doctor help cure an ailment without telling him or her what your symptoms are?

If you wanted pop music at your wedding, would you hire a heavy metal band, and then be disappointed that they didn't play "Celebration" by Kool & The Gang?

For your business, would you pay a vendor for raw materials without establishing exactly what it is you want delivered?

No. No. No. And, no.

So, why do some people expect a (commercial) photographer to complete a job without working to a shot list?

The solution to this is rather simple: Prior to contacting a photographer for a quote, simply create a list of the "must have" shots that you want, along with a sub-list of "nice to have" shots. Of course, these photos should reflect your marketing message, and serve a purpose in telling your story. 

As I often say, whether your a small business, a rock-and-roll band, or a travel publication, your choice of imagery should not be an afterthought. Don't think of your photos as merely something you "should" have. Think of them as an investment. 

And, when you look at things from that perspective, your shot list should come easy to you. And, your photographer will thank you for the clarity.

How can DSP help you to tell your story?

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