Creating Custom Photography

By Alicja Colon

Exhausted from a three-day shoot, our team of three was ready for the cross-country plane ride back home. We’d just completed Outreach’s website photography, our largest on-site session yet, and enjoyed a celebratory cocktail. Planning a shoot from 2,800 miles away wasn’t easy. Balancing logistics, content strategy, and photography styles was a beast, but it’s one we tamed — and we even thrived from the energy it provided. How’d we tame the beast? Let’s break that down.

Custom Photography@2X


To lay a proper foundation for photography, we have to determine the brand’s photography styles. Photography styles dictate how an image is to look based on the brand strategy. There are many decisions in creating an image, and each decision is a layer of how the story is told. We don’t stop at defining a photography style, but try to proactively imagine all the spaces you’ll use imagery and suggest action plans.

The three most common use cases for photography styles are primary (your main marketing images, e.g. homepage hero), secondary (supporting web imagery), and portrait. While exploring styles, we’ll scour stock sites or create examples to stress-test potential directions. These examples become our presentation deck, as we pitch the styles to our clients. Once the styles are approved, we move to a shot list.


A shot list, simply put, is a list of shots which is informed by the UI and content strategy. The content strategy (what the message is, and its priority) frames the narrative of the image, while the UI dictates the composition, size/ratio, and placement. With the shot list in hand, we start pre-production.


The images in the shot list provide direction for what props/locations/gear we’ll need and the run-of-show (a.k.a. schedule). Because we put a premium on messaging, everything… and I mean everything… must be on point. The models, their clothes, chairs, location, backdrop, props, have to be perfect. As you can imagine, when producing a shoot that’s 2,800 miles away, nailing down those specifics can get hairy. This is when having a producer on-site is key.

During our Outreach shoot, a member of our client team became the on-site producer. He scouted locations and provided photos from which we could choose. Our stylist provided his chosen models with clothing options. Once the time drew nearer, he became the liaison between us and the models, working from the run-of-show we provided.

The shot list gives me insight into the complexity of images needed and, therefore, an understanding of how much time is needed to create each one.

 A hard and fast rule — book more time than you suspect is needed. When creating the run-of-show, I need to figure out where the locations are in relation to each other, what images need to be shot outside with corresponding sun placement, and how difficult each image per scene is to create. It’s a lot of information to juggle, but having well-laid plans(knowing what images are created when and where) will pave the way to a structured shoot that allows time for spontaneous opportunities. Two things I make sure to add to each day of shooting: reviews with the client and reshoot times.


On set, we strive to have the designer of the project, a photo assistant, and photographer (that’s me) present. The photo assistant and photographer are no-brainers. But why the designer? They ensure content strategy and UI constraints are being consulted while we shoot. This is our fail-safe, as it’s easy for the photographer to forget in the jumble of information they have to mentally process - lighting, aperture, composition, direction, etc. Designers on set also pave the way to success during image reviews.

Then we have image reviews. This is when we welcome key stakeholders to view the score of crafted images. These are straight out of camera and sometimes can seem lifeless. However, when the designer takes an image and places it within context, it creates traction that the stakeholders buy into. That added context enables our clients to provide targeted feedback or instant approval. When needed, we can reshoot, which is why we build it into our schedules.

Without fail, we will need to reshoot something. But it’s always small. Because of in-context approvals, reshoot times get re-appropriated into inspiration-driven mini shoots.

This is where we dive into those delightful discoveries that we wanted to explore during the shoot, but couldn’t due to timing. These unplanned gems often land on our client’s site or marketing materials after, of course, some tender loving care in Photoshop.


Culling, editing, retouching, oh my! These are the three main steps images must travel through before they land on any website or ad. Culling means selecting the first round of images. I cut to the chaff, weeding out images that are blurry, underexposed, have bad composition, weird faces, etc. The rest are put through a basic round of editing where I adjust color, brightness, and contrast. Then comes the final round of selection.

Provided via an online gallery, we give the client the proof images for retouching. They aren’t alone in this effort, however. Since the designer was on set and present during the image review, they already have the key images selected and approved. If any additional images are needed, the designer makes their discerning choice and points them out within the gallery. After the selection, retouching takes place.

Straightened lines, wiped-out blemishes, and extra touches of color are examples of the care retouched images receive. It generally takes us between 30 minutes to an hour of attention to each file  before it’s ship-ready. For expediency, we’ll usually deliver them in batches..


Now comes the really fun part: celebrating alongside our clients! They’ve got a system of perfectly planned and executed images they can share with their audience. It’s always a time of excitement, and rightly so. It’s the final product of lots of planning, communication, and coordination. We’ve done our part — it’s their time to shine.