Creating a shot list prior to a photo shoot may be unfamiliar territory for many bloggers, but it's a key part of a successful blog monetization strategy. A shot list is an important element of creating accurate food photography pricing estimates, putting together a cookbook and, it helps make your shooting time more efficient. Blogger-turned-professional-photographer Darina Kopčok shares everything you need to know about creating a food photography shot list.

serving strawberry cheesecake

Whether you’re shooting for your blog or for clients, a part of your photo shoot planning should include a shot list.

If you’re anything like me, you may have been blogging for years without a food photography shot list, not knowing what a shot list is, or figuring using one would stifle your creativity.

But creating a shot list will save you a lot of time and maybe even expense. If you’re working with clients, it’s a must.

What Is a Shot List?

A shot list is basically a list of images that you intend to capture on a given food photography shoot. It includes the backgrounds and surfaces that you’ll use, the props, as well as the food, and perhaps even how you intend to compose the changes. This is a variation on a practice that’s used across a variety of media. For example, in film it’s called “storyboarding.”  Tessa Huff also wrote about how she used shot lists to photograph her cookbook.

If you shoot only for your food blog, you may not think about what props you’ll use until your dish is in the oven. While you’re putting together your set-up, you may find that the vessel you put your ribs in provides too much contrast to the white background and bright blue napkin you intended to use. Or, that you don’t have the right pitcher for that pour shot. The worst is when you’re cooking and realize you forgot to buy a crucial ingredient.

Tell me you know what I’m talking about. I think we’ve all been there.

What Are the Benefits of a Shot List?

Having a shot list will save you time and money. There have been occasions when I spent the day capturing shots that I couldn’t use for anything because they just didn’t work. It was a waste of food and my time.

A shot list won’t stifle your creativity. In fact, you can get creative while planning your shoots by not only creating a shot list, but mapping out your set-up. And there’s always room for creativity while you’re shooting and playing with your compositions.

You can’t give a proper estimate to a client without a shot list. Payment for your services should be based on your time. How can you know how long a project will take you if you don’t have a shot list? Plus, the purchasing of food by yourself or a stylist can add a considerable amount to a quote. You don’t want to end up paying out of pocket for this.

Shot Lists for Clients

bunch of tied together asparagus

A shot list is mandatory when working with clients. If you’re working with an ad or PR agency, they’ll likely send you a list of the required shots. If a restaurant approaches you, you’ll likely need to request one from them.

If you’re new to food photography, or are a blogger providing photographic services for brands, you’ll likely work with a lot of small businesses that have no idea about a shot list. They may not have worked with a food photographer before and will need to be educated on what goes into a food shoot. Even ad and marketing agencies that aren’t accustomed to working in the food space may not realize how much pre-production planning is required to shoot food.

If a client can't provide you with a shot list, then they're not ready to shoot.

If you’ve adequately explained to a potential client why you need a shot list and are met with resistance, then my suggestion is to walk away. Don’t attempt to do it yourself or provide them a quote without one.  It will lead to taking on too much work and expense. Attempting to wing it on set rarely goes well.

If a client can’t provide you with a shot list, then they’re not ready to shoot. You as the service provider will bear the brunt of their lack of preparation and disorganization.

Food Photography Shot Lists for PR Firms

Note that if you’re working with a PR firm, they’ll give you a huge shot list that you’ll in no way be able to complete in the time they expect you to. The mandate on their end is to get as many shots as possible, but nine times out of 10 the shot list will be completely unrealistic.

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At the outset you’ll need to advise them of how many shots you’ll be able to do and ask for a priority list. This way you can make sure you capture the must-have images on shoot day and ensure the client will be happy. These days, everyone wants extra shots for social media outlets such as Instagram; however, taking quality shots takes a lot of time and effort, no matter what image size.

Food Photography Shot Lists For Restaurants

Restaurant photography won’t require you to cook and it also shouldn’t require you to style the food. That’s not your responsibility, and you should advise the client about this when putting the estimate together. However, you will have to do some basic tweaks while creating your compositions.

The objective of getting a shot list from the restaurant is to make sure you have enough time to capture the images they require, and so that you and the chef can work together to time the food coming out of the kitchen.

When shooting for restaurants, 20 shots in an eight-hour day is a realistic outcome, so use this as your baseline. Keep in mind that this will really vary on several factors, such as whether you’re using natural or artificial light, shooting dishes on their tables or on your own surfaces with props, et cetera. Many restaurants also want images of the space itself, as well as kitchen shots and chef portraits. This can require a different approach in terms of lighting and can add more time to your day than if you were simply photographing the food.

What Should Your Shot List Look Like?

horizontal overhead of charcuterie

First, you need to know what dishes you’ll be shooting and what the final vision is for the shot. Will it be a dark and moody image with a rustic feel? Or do you want something bright and bold with a minimalistic aesthetic?

That will direct your decision about the props you’ll use, as well as the backgrounds and surfaces. The aim is to be cohesive, so if you’re looking for an elegant and refined look, shooting on a wooden surface that looks like an old picnic table will likely not work.

Break each shot down according to what’s in it.

  • What’s the dish?
  • What are the best props to support it and the story you’re attempting to tell?
  • And lastly, if you’re shooting for your blog, or are otherwise 100 percent responsible for everything that goes into creating the image, what are all the ingredients you’ll need to create and garnish the dish?

If you like, you can do some rough sketches of your intended composition. Photographers tend to get stuck in shooting food the same ways, so try to think outside the box and do something a bit different than you usually do. For example, if you do a lot of tablescapes or overhead shots, try shooting a food portrait close-up at 45 degrees.

Hopefully you now have a clear idea why a shot list is so important and what you need to create one.

Look for my upcoming article about pre-production planning for a more in-depth look at what it takes to execute a food shoot for brands and clients.

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Why You Need a Shot List for Food Photography was written by Darina Kopčok, a blogger turned professional photographer based in Vancouver, BC. She has shot campaigns for nationally recognized brands such as Hardbite Chips and Wild Coast Fruit Co., as well as worked with international organizations based in Europe and the UK. She's also an experienced writer and educator, working with bloggers and aspiring photographers to elevate their skill set and navigate the business side of the photographic industry. Darina blogs at gastrostoria.com and her articles can also be found at Digital Photography School and Expert Photography.

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