Organizing A Commercial or Editorial Shoot

There are quite a few key components of organizing a commercial or editorial shoot, more so than the normal portrait session. This post will cover the basics with a few cool tips and sources to find deeper information. Let's address each piece of the puzzle in order:

  • Have a solid grasp of what the client wants.
  • Ensure the contract and deposits are taken care of.
  • Secure all necessary equipment and permits.
  • Release Forms signed.

Commercial Shoot Checklist

Have a solid grasp of what the client wants.

There are few things worse than wrapping your session and submitting to you client only to receive a blank stare, or even worse, "this wasn't what I expected." Admittedly, as creatives we don't always operate at perfection on every outing.[pull_quote_right]"This wasn't what I expected."[/pull_quote_right] A bad day or a poor shoot should be expected every now and again. But having a clear, concise idea of the client's wants AND needs (can be two completely separate things, this is why you're the creative professional that's getting the check) is one of if not THE most vital part of your shoot psyche.

Ensure the contract and deposits are taken care of.

Ok, you've vetted your client and you know exactly what it is they want and how you're going to accomplish it. Now what? Get it in writing and sign off, then get some type of payment. Some professionals won't take payment until after project completion, and that's fine. With years of experience and a solid amount of financial cushion (or backing) this approach may well work for them. However, we all agree on needing signed contractual agreements. You don't have to fumble through the headaches working without one will be sure to bring you, the many before you have done this already, me included!

There are tons of resources out there for contracts, but I have learned that nothing will ever beat out reaching out to legal aid and getting a template crafted for your specific business and location. Laws and rules change, so being in tune with someone that studies these changes as thoroughly as you study lighting and aperture can be a huge benefit. When "project creep" and negotiations & haggling come (as they do with your professionals young and old alike), a concrete contract will be a great reference point to give you some support and a solid foundation. Here's a good starting point for a project creep rebuttal: "I'd love to take a look at that, i'll just need to crunch some numbers to adjust your estimate since this is out of the original scope of our contracted project."

Secure all necessary equipment and permits.

This one is self explanatory. Whatever you do, ensure that you have proper clearance to be wherever you have selected as your location. There are some exceptions to this rule, but in general for contract work you don't want to leave things up to chance. If your shoot is going to take some time, having someone as a look out isn't going to help when you have to set up and break down a ton of gear and get away from security/police. That exception to the rule I mentioned? Here's my devil's advocate rule of thumb: "It's always easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission." Use it wisely grasshopper.

With equipment, always pack extras. Let me repeat that to ensure you see the importance: ALWAYS PACK EXTRAS. Extra batteries, extra strobe bulbs, a backup body, some extra lenses, extra memory cards and other precautions will help you to recover when things go wrong. Notice I said when, because things will always go wrong at some point! Maybe you've been lucky enough for it not to have happened yet, but consider it a blessing. Can't afford extras or don't already own backups? Don't worry, there are rental houses that allow for 3 day or longer rentals on camera equipment. I personally swear by Aperturent in Sandy Springs, GA. They have tons of gear and they're some of the nicest men and women you could hope to work with.

Release Forms signed.

While this isn't a comprehensive list that covers every single thing you need, getting your release forms signed and filed away is crucial. Without these forms, you can't use a person's likeness in any commercial material. There's more than just model releases though; location releases are equally important, specifically if your location has some merit.  Landmarks and private property normally require releases, just check with the location owner and they should be able to take care of you.

As for model and minor releases, these are easier to get completed because these people have agreed to work with you! Again, there are tons of resources online to help get you on your way.


Keep this checklist in mind while you're setting up consultations and creating quotes, guys. They'll save you headaches for sure, but they also boost your professionalism on this journey we take as creative professionals.