Setting up and shooting a storybook photography session can be quite exhilerating and fun, but can also fairly stressful if you are unprepared. I've put together this tutorial based on my experiences to help guide you through the process and help make your stylized or storybook photo sessions a big success!
For my business, there are two ways these storybook photography sessions typically evolve.
- The session can take shape as something creative that I want to do personally or for submission to an editorial or magazine.
- A Client will request to book a creative storybook session.
Regardless of how the session is initiated the flow of the session should follow a similar path.
Step 1. Pick Your Storybook Theme
When setting up a storybook photography session, the theme options are limitless. You should brainstorm ideas and options based on your own as well as your client and subject's interests.
In this example, I set up a photo session based on the Alice in Wonderland story. This was something I wanted to do for an editorial publication in Child Model Magazine. Here are some additional storybook examples to get your ideas flowing. Disney is always a great place to start, but any story can really be brought to life through imagery. Some ideas that come to mind are Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow white and the 7 Dwarfs, Rupunzel, Peter Pan, Frozen, Cat in The Hat, Johnny Appleseed, and Where the Wild Things Are.
This is also a good time to decide if you want to do everything yourself or partner with some other local photographers to help set up and shoot the project with you. I personally enjoy working with other photographers, especially when shooting a larger group of subjects. For this session, my friend Kristin Fuller worked with me.
Step 2. Choose Models and Invite Them to Participate
When selecting subjects or working with a paying client for a session, think about how you will make their vision come to life. If there is only one child, can you create a look that will bring that particular storybook to life?
If you are working on an editorial session, think about your contacts and which subjects would fit best in certain character roles. You will have to identify a subject for each character role you would like to include. One good way to do this is to identify the characters you want to include and then lay out pictures of the models or subjects that you are considering to play each character. This will help you visualize who will fit best for each role.
Step 3. Create the Storybook World For Your Photo Session
There are so many moving parts that go into creating a storybook setting so we will break this step down into several parts.
This is one of the most important details. Once you have placed your models or subjects into various roles, gather their size information to help you find wardrobe items that will work with your theme and their role. I have collected quite a few clothing items over the years and can usually put something together quickly for a princess session and sometimes other, more complicated themes.
If you are starting from scratch and need dresses or various items, there are lots of resources based on your budget. Thrift stores can often be a great resource but if your looking for something more high-end for a client, here are several great clothing rental companies. Here are a few:
If possible, have models try on outfits in advance of the session.
I always try to sketch the layout of at least a few of the images I hope to accomplish during the session. You can also print some images of scenes you’d like to recreate for inspiration. This will help you wrap your arms around how to bring your storybook session to life.
You may already have your own props, but you also may have to invest in a few details to make your set look more real. Etsy and Hobby Lobby are always great resources.
For my Alice in Wonderland session, we found a vintage copy of the storybook so we used that as a prop for some of our Alice images. It was even fun to have our model read from the story during the session for inspiration.
It is good to start building an arsenal of photoshoot locations. I have 10 to 15 different locations that I regularly use for my sessions. You will have to think about what location would pair best with your theme. For example, if you are doing a jungle book session, look for a cool wooded area or an older building that could double as ruins.
We photographed the Alice session at one of the farms I use quite often for photo sessions. This location was especially appealing because it had open areas to shoot in and was also very quiet so we could set up and shoot the tea party scene without interruption. I also knew that we would be able to include some of the farm's bunnies into the images which fit our Alice theme perfectly.
Try to decorate the space so that your subjects can feel like they are stepping into another world. For our Alice theme we had cakes, pastries, tea cups, etc. to simulate the Mad Hatter's tea party seen from the story.
When selecting a location, you need to be conscience of the way the light will fall throughout the session and whether additional lighting equipment is necessary. Think about whether or not the lighting sets the type of mood that aligns with your theme.
Lighting really does help to tell a story and make a final image stand out more. The good news is that there is so much that can be done in Photoshop and with post processing now. For example, all of these photos were edited with the Pure Color Workflow Collection and Film Collection from Pretty Actions to give them that extra something special and I couldn't have been happier with the results. You can find my edit recipe for my Alice in Wonderland Photoshoot here.
Photoshop composites can be a lot of fun, too. For instance, you could add some animals, playing cards, clocks or virtually anything into an image during post processing.
Time of Day
When selecting the time of day for your shoot, it is important that your subjects can be at their best during that time. If your subjects are small children, be certain to schedule the session earlier in the day and around naps to avoid them being overtired and cranky.
Also, coordinate this timing with the kind of lighting and mood you are hoping to achieve during the session. You want the lighting to work well with your theme.
Step 3. Plan the Schedule
Once you have completed (or mostly completed) the steps above, you can now pinpoint the exact date and time for the session. Be sure to send your clients/models/vendors all the details. Some things they will need to know include: hair and make-up time, set-up time, location address, where to park, and if they need to bring drinks or snacks.
It can sometimes be difficult coordinating schedules, so you will need to be mindful of that and allow enough advance notice to pull everything together. Usually the more elaborate your storybook session is, the more time you will need.
Step 4. Things to Do the Night Before the Shoot
On the night before the shoot, load up your props and outfits. Double check to be sure all your camera batteries are fully charged and working and that you have cleared all your memory cards so you are ready to start fresh at the shoot. Clean your camera lenses or equipment that you will be using. Go ahead and load up all your camera gear as well if it's ready. Get a good nights sleep so you will be fresh and ready for your session.
Step 5. Things to Do the Day of the Shoot
Before you head out on the day of the shoot, be sure to double check that you have everything you need in your vehicle. Look at the checklist you made at the beginning of this process. Send a friendly text to all parties involved reminding them of the start time (I would suggest putting in a 30 minute buffer just so everyone arrives on time or if you get behind throughout the day), the address/location of the session, where they should park, and if they need to bring drinks or if you will be providing some beverages and light snacks.
Be sure to arrive at the location allowing plenty of time for any setup that may need to be done. For our tea party set-up, we spent just 1 hour getting the table ready to go. Be sure to greet your clients and/or subjects as they arrive or have an assistant who helps greet people and direct them to hair and make-up. If your subjects are coming with hair and make-up ready (which can sometimes help with budget), then you can start directing them to their wardrobe so they can get dressed.
Once everyone is ready it is time to get started. Work to get your subjects in their places and get ready to shoot. For our session, we had a few settings we absolutely wanted to capture. Our first goal was to capture a group image at the tea party table and then we wanted to move around the table to shoot additional angles and individual images. We also had fun with the props and were able to capture a variety of the subjects sipping tea and holding bunnies.
Another must have, was a shot of our Alice holding the vintage Alice in Wonderland book. There were also a variety of other images we wanted to capture and had laid those ideas out prior to the session. Because of our good planning and organization, we were able to successfully capture all the shots we wanted for the editorial spread and still had time left over to play a little at the end.
If you have the budget or can trade service with other vendors, it is always good to outsource certain tasks to those professionals. For instance, hiring someone for hair and make-up is always a great idea. If you know of an event planner or set designer, they can even help with set-up on the day of the session. You can hire a photographer assistant to help with reflectors, moving equipment around, greeting, etc.
It is also a good idea to make a day of the shoot checklist for all equipment, props needed and also for the images you want to capture during the session i.e. group shot by table, individual full body and close-up of each child …etc.
It can be nice to offer your subjects a little treat during the session if it fits the theme or after the session as a reward and a little break!
Make sure you use this guide to help you plan, setup and execute a beautiful and professional Storybook Photography Session. If you follow these tips you will come away with some fantastic images that both you and your clients will love! These images will be great for marketing your business too!
Do have any questions or ideas about Setting Up Your Own Storybook Photography Session? Leave me a comment below - I would love to hear from you! And please share this tutorial using the social sharing buttons - I really appreciate it!