Booking Your First Shoot: Find the Right Photographer

By Mike Cadotte, Director of Photography and Tracey Longo //


While the invention of digital photography has given birth to a landslide of new photographers eager to book your first shoot, getting the actual results you want takes a little more finesse than just picking your best friend’s neighbor’s photographer.  I hear from disenchanted models, athletes and clients all the time who paid their money, went to the shoot, and never got the photos they wanted and needed. No one should walk away from their shoot disappointed-and you don’t need to.  I’ve done more than 100 shoots with athletes, figure and bikini models and those just seeking good photos, and I’ve come up with a fairly straightforward planning checklist of do’s and don’ts to help you choose the right photographer to meet your needs:

Determine your goals. Why do you want or need photos? And what kind of looks are you interested in? Look at lots of photos online and save copies of the ones you like to show your photographer so you’ll be prepared to talk to intelligently about your posing, lighting and background needs and seek the photographer’s feedback. Whether you want high quality progress shots, want to enter an online fitness contest or jumpstart your modeling career or just want better Facebook photos, choosing the right photographer is the most important step in getting desirable photos.   Include a part about needing images for their personal training business

Get Recommendations. “If you find photos you like, find out who took them,” says Kerstin Zedalis Reinecke, a first-time figure competitor who vetted me heavily in an interview before booking a shoot with me late last year. Her photos appear throughout this column. Kerstin wanted photos of the remarkable transformation she had made to her physique. “I definitely had a very specific look I wanted to achieve in my photos,” Kerstin says. I saw Mike’s photos on another competitor’s page and was intrigued with the way he uses light to capture athletes’ bodies.”

" I wanted to capture my body as piece of art. You understood the hard work that went into my journey. I could see that in your work and it put me at ease to book my first-ever photo shoot." – Kerstin Zedalis Reinecke

Pick the photographer who can meet your needs. Get referrals from friends, but go one step further. If you want to do action shots, don’t pick a photographer who specializes in lingerie shoots. Dig deep into their portfolio. Make sure they have plenty of examples of photos similar to the looks you want to achieve. Don’t assume because they take nice photos in general that they will be able to make you look the way you want to look. The lighting for shooting physiques is completely different from glamour photography. The photographer’s demonstrated experience and portfolio should tell you exactly what he or she can do for you.

Get a Price. You should expect to pay at least $300 for a good, quality photo shoot. But remember, that’s just the beginning of the “cost” discussion. Ask what you’ll get for you money, including:

  • How long will your shoot be?
  • How many pictures will you get and will they be high or low resolution? Prints or files?
  • Will the photographer take care of retouching? Is his or her editing skillful or do photos wind up looking unnatural?
  • Who will own the rights (will you be allowed to make prints from the files and send them to magazines? Will the photographer?).
  • Does the photographer decide which images you get to see and get or do you make your own selections from all the photos taken in a gallery?
  • Will photographer provide hair styling and makeup or do you need to bring your own?

What does TFP and TFCD mean? It means trade for print or trade for CD, which means that you’ll be exchanging modeling services for photography services. Not all photographer offer TFP. Many models ask if I will shoot TFP.  Personally, I only use TFP shoots when I need to test out new effects, locations, and equipment. This is a business for me. In contrast, photo hobbyists shoot TFP because they don’t rely on shoots for an income. Beginning photographers use TFP to get their feet wet. Everyone has to start somewhere. But just because it’s free doesn’t always mean you’ll great results. Some photographers offer “free” photo shoots, but charge per photo, should you want any. Remember, too, that if the photographer is testing different locales and equipment, they may not be interested in shooting to your specifications.

Location. Location. Location. Does the photographer offer various kinds of settings for shoots, such as interesting, cool locations? Or does he or she only shoot in their studio or with a white background? A white background is fine, if you’re looking for commercial or advertising work. If you’re looking for natural settings and lighting, make sure you see such examples in the photographer’s portfolio.


Ask for referrals. You want to ensure that others have had good experiences with a credible, competent professional. You don’t want to diet down for a competition or the shoot itself, only to have the photographer bail at the last minute.

Set up a meeting. When you narrow down your list of potential photographers, ask for a meeting to discuss your needs and ideas for your shoot and ask him or her to bring their portfolio. If a photographer is too busy to do this, it’s a good indication he or she is too busy to meet your needs.” It was important that you called me right back and that we had good communication and dialogue right from the start,” says Zedalis Reinecke. “We met at a local bodybuilding show and I really liked the fact that you totally got that I wanted to capture my body as piece of art. You understood the hard work that went into my journey. I could see that in your work and it put me at ease to book my first ever photo shoot with you,” she adds.

What other expertise does the photographer have? Does the photographer have any other value-added skills that could also benefit you, such as magazine submission experience, advertising experience or marketing advice? Can he or she help coach you about self-promotion and building your brand, designing business cards?

Pose. It’s important for first-time “models” to ask if a photographer will help with posing, or if you need to come up with all your own posing ideas? If you plan to diet down and will be carb depleted, you may need more assistance than usual. Ensure you’ll get the services you need.

Get everything in writing. You don’t want to be surprised down the line. Make sure the photographer has a contract that specifies the photos and services you are looking for so your experience is surprise-free.

Be safe. With the increase in photographers who offer their wares online, take a friend or family member with you to the first meeting. Let the photographer know you’ll be bringing someone. It’s okay to bring someone to the shoot, too. Just be sure that anyone you bring understands you need to focus on the photographer and the shoot, not friends’ reactions.

Whether you’re goals are to launch a modeling career, capture a highpoint in your fitness journey or come up with headshot for marketing purposes, following these steps will help you find the right photographer and get the photos you need and want. MC

Look for my next column: Preparing for Your First Shoot