How to plan for a photo shoot - 4 steps for creating a shot list for product photography / by Michael West

Product Photography Harley

Save money and increase your production by having a clear organized shot list for your up coming photo shoot.

Due to many factors like availability, budget, and deadlines you may only have one opportunity to photograph a subject.  Therefore, it is VERY important that you define a clear shot list prior to the shoot. This way there are no missed opportunities to capture what you need for your marketing materials. I like to work backwards by looking at the desired result and figuring out how to get there. 

 "Good photography requires good planning"

Let’s say that you manufacture high end water bottles. Your new insulated water bottle product is coming out soon and you need images of it. Follow these steps to work your way down to a specific shot list.

1. List your mediums

  • List all of the mediums that the imagery will be used. For example: e-commerce, photo gallery on products page of a website, social media, print catalog, direct mail, email campaigns, banner ads, POP, etc.

2. Define the "Creative Direction"

  • For example: White seamless background technical style for product pages, on location with active adults hiking in a mountain environment. Add any other ideas here for creative direction. 
  • Do you have certain shots that you need for layouts? For example: Subject is on the right side with room for text on the upper left corner or a vertical (portrait) shot for a banner ad.
  • Ideally you will have a creative direction document that will assist in guiding the shoot. Include sketches and example imagery.

3. Current photography standards

  • Take into account your current photography and how you will need to shoot the new products similarly. 
  • For example: Your standard water bottle currently is shown on a white seamless background as a full product shot and then there is a tighter detail shot of the mouthpiece.

4. Start your list

  • Format a shot list document and include all of the columns that are relevant to your shoot and product (see an example below). I like to use a spreadsheet because it is easy to re-organize, sort, edit and so on.
  • List all of the individual items that need to be photographed. For example: Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Purple, Stainless, etc. Include a part number or unique identifier that the image should be named.
  • List all of the product features. For example: No spill mouthpiece, double wall insulation, bpa free, impact resistant, etc. This will most likely also be done in the "creative direction" but if you skip that part, now is the time to identify any of these features that will need to be represented visually.
  • Usually you will have multiple shoots. Start in the studio and get your list dialed for all of the shots you need in studio. Begin with the technical product shots, then move to the detail shots, then bring in any props or lifestyle that is defined in your creative. Next create your location shot list. Move in a similar direction, by starting with your product only shots then details, then bring in the lifestyle.

Here is an example of a shot list for our example water bottle company:

MWP Shot List Example


  • Include all key stakeholders in this process

  • Include how you want the images to be named when finished

  • Be flexible. Remember things change on the fly so leave space

Contact me if you would like help developing your shot list or you need to create a standardized process like this.