A Five-Step Plan for Your First Photoshoot

The world of professional photography is not picture perfect. As a model trying to start my career in New York, the heart of photography, I had my share of photo-themed horror stories. Whether you’re thinking of hurling yourself full throttle into the modeling world or you’re just wanting a few professional photos done, you should understand that a photographer you find online most likely is not the same in person. I’ve heard countless stories about creepy old men using photography as a front to take advantage of girls who have little experience in front of the camera. These range from stories about sexual harassment or unsolisceted “compliments” and advances, to actual sex traffickers only posing as photographers. Furthermore, once a picture is taken, that creepy old man can basically do whatever he wants with it. Without a form saying otherwise, a photo of you most likely does not belong to you— it belongs to the guy behind the camera. 

One girl’s story that was particularly frightening to me was about a photo she didn’t even know was taken of her that had been blown up on a billboard. It was of her backside. It was taken while she was walking out the door away from the shoot. The photographer had sold her picture. He made money off of an embarrassing photo she had no idea was taken—and now it was 15 feet above the highway for everyone to see! Photographers can shape how a person looks. This is scary because that person won’t know how a picture is going to make them appear, and if it’s a photographer with bad intentions, who knows what will be done with the photo. It’s critical that anyone looking for a professional photographer finds someone trustworthy. Here’s how to get free, beautiful photos the safe way.

  1. 1. First Step:

    When trying to find a photographer, the first thing you should do is ask around your social circle. If you know someone who regularly does shoots, or maybe they just have a couple professional photos on Instagram, ask who their photographer is. Almost every photographer I shot with knew at least two of my friends. Asking someone’s experience with a photographer is good to get an inside scoop, and it can save you from getting your picture taken by Ted Bundy. 

  2. 2. Second Step:

    The next step you should take involves some FBI skills. Firstly, if you still need a photographer, there’s a couple places you can look. Start with hashtags on Instagram or other social media outlets. If you’re looking for someone in Kansas City, you might look up #kansascity, #kansascityphotography, #kcphotography, etc. Oftentimes, photographers will use hashtags to promote their work. Next, you might look up other people that are likely to have professional photos. This could be local models, artists, dancers, musicians, modeling agencies, businesses, restaurants, etc. For example, you could Google, “Kansas City modeling agencies” and find their Instagram pages. Most agencies will tag the photographer. Finally, you might search local university organizations on Instagram. Many will use student photographers to take pictures for their organizations. If the school has a photography degree program , then even better! You can find a professional student photographer from here. Student photographers are my favorite to work with because  they’re close to my age, and they’re less likely to have malicious intentions because they put money and effort into their artform. 

  3. 3. Third Step:

    The next step is to weed out the “bad” photographers. A good and trustworthy photographer will: 

    - Have a fairly large following on social media. At least 1,000 plus followers.

    - Showcase their work. The photos should be professional and clear. It’s obvious when a photo is not professionally done.

    - Have photos  of multiple models/people. Sometimes photographers will only have photos of  one to three people. This shows the photographer doesn’t have a lot of clients.

    - Have an Instagram with an aesthetic. Most photographers focused on their artform will make their page look visually pleasing. If their page is cluttered with random, uncoordinated pics, then their focus is elsewhere.

    - Have a website. A legitimate photographer should have a website.

    - Have a job. If the photographer is not asking for pay, then that means photography is their hobby/side gig. If they don’t have another job and aren’t asking for pay, then it could mean they are selling the pictures they take to make a living. You should check to see if the photographer has a LinkedIn or some professional platform. 

  4. 4. Fourth Step:

    Once you’ve found a photographer that meets this criteria, message them on Instagram. Instagram allows you to see how the photographer acts in a more casual setting. This will help you read their intentions better and let you get to know their personality and mannerisms. Someone who's going to act inappropriately in person might act this way through a casual app like Instagram. This will let you see the red flags before it’s too late. This has helped me dodge many uncomfortable in-person situations. 

    While talking with your photographer, you can discuss ideas you have for a shoot, including what you’ll wear, the location of the shoot, as well as price. All of my shoots, except for one, have been free. You can find incredible photographers who do not expect to be paid. You can also find terrible photographers who do expect to be paid. Despite this, as long as the photographer aligns with the bullet points above, either will work. They should also make you feel comfortable. Never go to a shoot where the photographer was pushy about what you should wear or where the location should be in your messages. A good photographer is attentive, agreeable and collaborative.

  5. 5. Fifth Step:

    Prepare for your shoot. In order to prepare for your shoot, you should:

    - Plan on going to a public place. Your first shoot with a photographer should be in a place where there are people, like a park, a museum, a street downtown, etc.

    - Plan to take a friend. It’s important to have a sidekick in case anything goes wrong.

    - Pack your bag with the essentials. This means pepper spray and a phone charger. 

    - Ask the photographer what he does with their photos. This is VERY important! You want to make sure that you either have ownership of your photos, or that the photographer will not post or sell any of your photos to a place you don’t want. If the photographer does not provide a written form stating what happens to your photos, then you make one. You want to clearly inform them of your expectations. Your agreement should include that you see all the photos taken and that any photos you didn’t like/choose should be deleted or removed from their files.

    - Have an escape plan. If anything were to go wrong, what will you do and what will you say? If there is anything you’re uncomfortable with, then you have every right to say no— and you should!

Once you’ve followed these five steps, you are ready for your photoshoot! Remember that the most important step is to listen to your gut instinct. If something about a photographer isn’t right to you, then find someone else. Photoshoots are fun, but without the right precautions, you might end up with your butt on a billboard.