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You won’t buy it if you can’t picture it. Lookbooks are how brands and retailers use photography to literally "picture it" for customers.

“It” isn’t just the product. Plain white background product photography has its place, but to really speak to your customer you need context; in other words, a fully styled outfit and inspiring location.

Planning and Shooting a Lookbook for Fashion

Over the past decade of working as an in-house photography manager, freelance stylist, and Instagram marketing business owner, I’ve been on photoshoots for many different products, audiences, and styles. Whether budgets are in the six figures or little more than a shoe string, the same principles apply — and I’m going to try and share them with you here.

Every image in this post is from a photoshoot I was involved in as stylist, producer, and/or art director, and is reproduced with permission from the photographer.

Lookbooks allow you to brand yourself with a complete outfit and scenario.
*photos above by (from left to right): Embry Rucker, Kylie Turley, Foxes & Wolves, Embry Rucker

Why Shoot a Lookbook?

The term “lookbook” is a broad one. Basically, it’s putting fully styled “looks” together for your customer to help them make purchase decisions. Most customers will buy the whole look if they like it, or be inspired to purchase an item they might not have otherwise, because you showed them how to wear it and style it.

It’s also a chance to show the customer your brand’s personality and elevate your perceived value by presenting high quality content. If you have creatively inspiring content, it can lead to free marketing through social shares, pins, re-grams, etc.

Let’s walk through the process of creating your own purchase inducing, pinterest inspiring, re-gram worthy lookbook. It may look overwhelming, but it’s easier when you take one step at a time

Photo featuring jewelry worn by model in desert holding hat while wearing cape

Lookbook shots place products in stylish inspirational context.
*photo by Taryn Kent for Asha Patel Designs Jewelry

Pre-Shoot Planning

Step 1: Budget

It’s always best to asses your budget first. You don't want to start planning, hoping, and dreaming up an amazing concept, only to realize you can’t afford to make it a reality.

I can’t give you cut and dry costs, because there are so many different rates and variables, but here are ballpark numbers for a few different types of photoshoots:

  • Local Location Shoot or Local Studio (1 shoot day, 1 model, photog, stylist) = $3500 - $9000
  • Domestic Travel Shoot (1 shoot day, 1 model, photog, stylist) = $8000 - $13,000
  • International Travel Shoot (1 shoot day, 1 model, photog, stylist, lodging, transportation, food) = $12,000 - $17,000

All numbers listed assume only one shoot day with one model, so costs will increase if more shoot time and models are required

Step 2: Creative Direction

Now that you know how much budget you have to work with, you can brainstorm your creative direction. A mood board made up of tears is a great place to start.

Pulling tears can be physically tearing what you like from catalogs and magazines, taking screen grabs of other websites, pulling past work of your own, or making a Pinterest board. Whatever you do, it’s a good idea to put it into a sharable digital format so you can easily share it with other members of your team.

For example: on the left is a mood board I created for a beach shoot, and on the right are images from that shoot:

Collage showing mood board and resulting photographs for a beach lookbook

On the left is a mood board that led to capturing the images on the right.
*photos by Taryn Kent for The Paradise Society

It’s important to review and keep in mind the product you are shooting while you are pulling tears to make sure there isn’t a disconnect from what you are envisioning and the product you have to work with. For instance, you might love the look of a shoot that took place in a sleek modern home, but if your product is bohemian you will have a hard time making that vision successful.

After you have assembled your mood board, you can determine if you want to achieve your vision in a studio or on location somewhere.

Model in long patterned black dress on concrete stairway to nowhere

Match your photoshoot location to your product and mood board.
*photo by Taryn Kent for The Paradise Society

Step 3: Booking

Hiring the right people is just as important as having great product and even more important than a great location in my opinion. Quality talent makes quality photos. If you have talented people, they can make a less than ideal location look fantastic.

Quality talent makes quality photos.

This is not to say location isn’t important, because location can elevate your photography; when you have both talented people and a unique location your photos can become inspirational.

For a lookbook shoot, you’ll need to book the following:

  • Photographer: You can’t create a good piece of art without an amazing artist.
  • Model: Pick someone you think is a good fit for the brand and whom your customer will identify with. A good model knows their angles, what expressions look good on them, how to take direction, and how to look natural. If you don’t pay for a good model, you might end up having to take a few hundred photos to get one you like. A good model will save you time (which is the same thing as money).
  • Stylist: Depending on what you need and what you can afford, a stylist can be an incredibly valuable member of your team. They can help you put the looks together, source accessories, create shot lists, make the product fit flawlessly on set, and assist with creative direction consistent with the outfits.
  • Hair & Makeup: Looking good on camera is different than looking good to the naked eye. It’s worth bringing in a professional who knows hair and makeup for photography; for example, you may want your model to have a smoky eye, but the flash creates shadows intensifying that look. You want a makeup artist who knows how to adjust for lighting to achieve the desired look on camera.
  • Brand Representative (You): This is usually an art director or creative director. If you are on a tight budget, this same person might be handling production tasks like arranging lunch, managing the shot list, location, transportation, etc.
  • Producer or PA: If you can afford one, you want one. A producer/PA allows the rest of your team to focus on their primary roles. They’ll get lunch, manage transportation, permits, send call sheets, help with set up and steaming, and anything miscellaneous that comes up.
  • Location: If you're shooting in-studio, you need to book time if the photographer doesn’t already have their own space. If you're shooting on-location, you may need to acquire permits for public spaces, rent a private dwelling, or get permission to shoot on hotel or other business property.
  • Set Designer and/or Prop Stylist: If you are shooting in-studio and have something unique you want to create, you may want to hire a set designer and/or a prop stylist to bring the set to life.
Looking good on camera is different than looking good to the naked eye.

Studio photo of model in white romper and tan hat, blue background

Studio backdrops don’t have to be white.
*photo by Foxes & Wolves

Step 4: Shot List

Please don’t have a photoshoot without a shot list. No one on your highly skilled team of professionals will have a clue what’s going on if it’s only in your head.

No one on your highly skilled team of professionals will have a clue what’s going on if it’s only in your head.

Even if you don't know exactly what each look will be, you want to map it out as close as possible beforehand. Tears help if you have them. The more you are able to predetermine, the more you will be able to shoot; it also helps you work through problems before the shoot instead of during the shoot, saving time.

Your shot list, at the most basic level, should include a list of looks (and the products in them if applicable) and some creative direction for each shot. This is a great place to utilize your stylist: they can help you create the looks and brainstorm styling and accessories to make sure you are on the same page, helping both of you do your jobs better.

Be realistic about how much you can shoot. Depending on the pace of your shoot, in my experience, you can shoot anywhere from 10 to 30 looks for a lookbook in one day. Keep in mind the number will be on the lower end if you have multiple locations in a day or want to be meticulous with each shot. It’s smart to prioritize your shot list in case you run out of time.

Be realistic about how much you can shoot.

Stylist Sarah Kensell adjusting hat on model Jen Hawkins, leaning against VW Beetle outdoors in Todas Santos, Mexico

A stylist will perfect looks in the moment.
*photo by Taryn Kent of behind the scenes for The Paradise Society

Shooting Your Lookbook

You’ve planned meticulously, assembled your crew, and now the big day is finally here! If you hired the right people then they will all bring what they need to get their job done. Here’s a few things for you to keep in mind:

  • Be the first one there. You don't want to be rushed. You want to have time to brainstorm with the photographer during set up, and have time to handle any last minute roadblocks or issues. Prepare for the unexpected.
  • Supply the product that needs to be shot (unless you choose to hand that off to the producer beforehand).
  • Have your creative brief or mood board and shot list printed out (or in an editable digital document on a portable device) to reference throughout the shoot. You’ll want to be looking at the shots to make sure they match to your vision. Being able to mark up your documents is important, because things will always change on the fly and you’ll want to be able to make notes or move things around as needed.
  • Don't forget the snacks! Photoshoots make people hungry.
  • Stay on task and be aware of your shot count throughout the day. The first few looks always take the longest, but once you get in the groove you want to keep that flow going as long as you can. Snacks help. Did I mention snacks?
  • Bring some way to play music. Nothing makes a shoot more awkward than silence.

With the right talent and preparation, the day of the shoot will be both fun and productive.
*photos by Embry Rucker for Rocky Barnes Blog

Using The Photos

Now you have awe inspiring photos. What do you do with them? Whatever you do, don’t waste them!

If some shots don't seem to tie into the rest then consider making a few shots into a second lookbook. Use the photos, use all of them, and use them for as long as they are relevant to your season.

Use the photos, use all of them, and use them for as long as they are relevant to your season.

Wherever you choose to use the images (online lookbooks, Instagram, Facebook, store signage, web banners, product details pages), just be sure of a few things:

  • Make the photos “shoppable.” Whatever platform you are using, be sure to make it easy for your customer to find the products quickly to convert and purchase.
  • Align timing across channels and mediums you are using to showcase the photos, so that you are showing a cohesive brand image to your customer.
  • Be very clear on your usage rights for the photos (from photographer and models) and don't break out of that agreement. Most terms are for either web, print, social, or advertising for a duration of 6-12 months.

That’s it! Use your photos, create a brand identity, engage your customer, and see what a difference quality photography can make.

Do you have questions about shooting a lookbook? Let me know in the comments below!