Camera ReadyIf this is your first photo shoot, expect things to go badly. Even salon professionals who have gone on to produce award-winning hair fashion photos look back upon their initial shoot and either laugh or cry, sometimes both. Chaos, inefficiency, naivete, amateurish images.

"Oh, it was horrible!" recalls 2007 North American Hairstyling Awards (NAHA) Hairstylist of the Year Alan Ruiz, who began doing photo shoots a few years after opening his two Jackson Ruiz salons in Austin, Texas, in the late 1990s. "We just had everyone come to the table, and we'd see what happens. It was a mess!"

Maureen Anlauf, a stylist at Juut Salons in Minneapolis who won the same title the year before Ruiz, also cites a learning curve. "I look back at my early stuff that I thought was so great, and now I realize I had a lot to learn," she says.

California photographer Steven Barston says the number one mistake hairdressers make in photo shoots is neglecting to have a solid plan and sticking to it. "It comes down to organization and planning," says Barston.

"A photo shoot takes months of planning and conceptualizing," says Anlauf, who topped NAHA's Contemporary Classic and Fashion Forward categories this year. "But it also takes practice. Every time I'm on a set, I learn something. Every time."

Whether you're doing a test, in which all of the players supply their talents for free, or hiring other professionals, the pros recommend a standard procedure: Start with a concept, assemble your team, create storyboards to follow the day of the shoot and prep your models beforehand. Even when photos are disappointing, stylists who dust themselves off and try again see improvement. Perhaps their lessons will save you a bad memory of your own.


If you already have your photos snapped, read Maximum Exposure by Rosanne Ullman to learn how to market your images.



What Ruiz and Anlauf intend to do with their photos-compete in NAHA-may be very different from what you have in mind for yours.

Photographer Tom Carson, who distinguishes himself from fashion photographers by confining his work to hair, says that in order to have a successful shoot, you must know who your audience will be.  "Are you trying to appeal to potential clientele? To other hairdressers? Will you send out a trend release press kit to all the newsstand hair publications?" says Carson, who uses his website,, to showcase his photography.

How commercial your styles will be should depend upon whom you want viewing them, says Charlie Price, owner of Click Salon in Denver. "Don't do your avant-garde hair show looks for your salon brochure," says Price, NAHA's 2002 and 2008 Hairstylist of the Year. "On the flip side, if you're using the shoot to meet a fashion designer, don't take a photo of your sister-in-law's new cut."

Know not only whom you're addressing but also what you're trying to say. "Your photos should represent a collection," Anlauf says. "There should be something that connects the images in the hair. When put together, the images should tell a story."

When you're shooting for a marketing brochure or ad campaign, your primary goal should be to produce photos of beautiful, enviable, hair. Then the theme can be as loose as: These are looks that we do at our salon. Frank Shortino is known throughout the trade press for his participation in copious amounts of photo shoots. His team at Shortino's Salon and Spa in York, Pennsylvania, creates trend photos, while Shortino prefers doing makeovers.

"I know we can take an average plain Jane and make her look like an unbelievable Jane," Shortino says. "That's what people like. They don't want to see us take a professional model and make her look better."

Ultimately, your theme should frame the hair story, not swallow it. "Don't get too much into the concept, or you'll overwhelm the hair," says Barston.

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Critical to the concept is the decision of whether to hold your shoot in a studio or venture into the wild. For most, the decision of indoors vs. outdoors is a no-brainer-wind, rain, humidity, temperature and spotty clouds vastly diminish the level of control you'll have on the set.

"You'll never see a NAHA entry shot outdoors," says Ruiz and, according to Carson, consumer magazines tend to prefer collections presented in a studio setting. Furthermore, with today's digital photography you can decide later to add a background, although that will add some expense.

However, trade magazines tend to like location shoots, Carson says. It can be effective to showcase urban hair in the city, for instance, or farm-girl hair in a field. Ruiz calls that a "lifestyle shoot."

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Styling Team

For a shoot aimed at developing photos that market the salon, typically a select handful of staff stylists participate from early in the conceptual development through completion on shooting day. This can be a good opportunity to reward your veterans as well as to give new people an opportunity to assist in an environment completely different from the salon. Some owners hold a competition to determine who will participate, while others methodically select the salon's top producers. A third option is to establish a "pay to play" framework that requires those interested to chip-in financially; other owners may take along the people with the highest retail numbers.

When Price offers his high-producing stylists the opportunity to do shoots as an additional creative outlet, he's never turned down. "If a stylist doesn't want to do a photo shoot, that's a red flag because it should be the most fun thing there is to do," he says.

Every team needs a leader, agree the experts, and Price feels it shouldn't be just anyone. "The owner must be very involved in the shoot," he says.

Ruiz typically serves as the artistic director in his shoots. "I become the Tim Gunn of the shoot, providing inspiration through a general topic, movie, song-it can be anything or a combination," he says. "Then I let them create what they want." 

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Camera ReadyOnce you become comfortable with a photographer, you'll work hand in hand and every shoot will become easier. But you may go through a few photographers before you find your creative soul mate. Ruiz suggests asking for referrals from the editor of your city magazine's fashion section.

"Send the photographers an e-mail and see whether they'll do a test with you before you pay them an exorbitant amount of money," Ruiz says. "Show them pictures of what you want to do."

When Barston works with a salon team, he suggests that they clip photos from magazines or e-mail him some website photos. "They should point out which lighting they like, the make-up images they're going for and the general look of the hair they're planning to do," he says. "Photos are best because we're all incredibly visual in this industry."

In return, Barston, who displays his hair and fashion photography at, recommends asking the photographer to show you his book. "I'm all about classic; other photographers are more funky and trendy," he says. "If you want angelic, ethereal images with natural light, work with someone who has that in their portfolio."

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When it comes to booking your models, however, Shortino says you have to take the responsibility for what you want. Your choice of models depends largely on how you want to allocate your budget. Using non-professional models will save money, but they're a wild card. If you're shooting for a competition like NAHA, you're probably better off hiring experienced people.

"Professional models are the best because they're getting paid to do whatever you want," says Barston. "The modeling agency has cleared the cut or color change with the model, and she's cool with it. She has no voice in the process, but she should bring something to the photo through physical movement."

Barston's major salon client, Hairroin Salon in Hollywood, California, offers L.A.'s professional models a discount. That gets them in the door, and later the owner can negotiate a deal for using them in a shoot. 

The model you want to avoid is a celebrity; even a local personality can be a drama queen. "They're used to seeing themselves on TV, on stage or in film, where the image is more forgiving," Barston says. "They also tend not to move in front of the camera as well as a model does."

Many salons use "real people" as their models, often their own clients. Whereas professional models can come in with overprocessed hair, you can find non-professionals with exactly the hair you want. But unlike professionals who already have agreed to do what the shoot requires, any off-the-street models require a full consultation just as you would conduct with any client before making a major hair style change.

Carson recommends that you explain fully what you will be doing to her hair, and make sure she agrees to it. "During the shoot if she's thinking to herself that it's too short or too dark, or her boyfriend's going to hate it, all of that will show on her face," he says. "Your photos will have her looking as if she's about to cry!"

Of course, the most important piece is the face that your hair will be framing. "I've seen a beautiful hair style on a model who doesn't look right in it, and the photo doesn't work," Carson says. "But the opposite-mediocre hair on a beautiful model-makes everyone say, ‘I want that style.' It all starts with the face."

It helps if you have an eye for which faces will be photogenic. Carson assures you that no matter how small your town, you can find people who will make good models. Hold an amateur model call, or really go through your client base.

Shortino recommends spending up to a month on the model hunt-going everywhere from Wal-Mart, to the grocery store or department store. "Sometimes, if I see a younger girl, I'll give her mom my card and say, ‘Give us a call if you're interested,'" he says. "I just look for people who are somewhat attractive and have good skin and eye color."

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Makeup & Clothing

A hair shoot keeps the focus above the neck, which heightens the emphasis on make-up. Flip through the beauty articles in Vogue-the hair is in focus and prominent in the frame, Barston says. Carson suggests looking for a make-up artist who has experience with photo make-up and is versatile enough to achieve a variety of looks. If you're planning for avant garde, you should make sure your make-up artist has done that before. Then, as with the photographer, it's critical to show visuals of what you're looking for and explain the theme thoroughly.

"I can go in afterward and retouch the images," says Carson. "But it's very time-consuming to lighten the make-up or add contour. It will cost less to hire a good make-up artist to get it right the first time."

If you have confidence in a make-up artist on staff at your salon, that can present a welcome opportunity for you to involve that member of your salon team. For your fashion stylist, you can use someone from the salon. But be careful, advise the experts-particularly with allowing clothes that are too distracting or provocative.

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The Prep

Once you have assembled your shooting team and have settled on a theme, schedule some preproduction meetings with everyone involved except the models. It's up to you how much input you want from your stylists and how much you want to drive the vision yourself.

On shoot day, your goal is to avoid surprises. "If you have a storyboard you're more likely to have things run smoothly the day of the shoot," says Price, who even has his team practice the styles on mannequins.

Getting the model in your chair prior to the shoot will also boost your chances of success. "Sometimes hair stylists will try to do a complicated look that they're not really prepared for," says Barston. "But when the stylist has knowledge of the model's hair, she can do pieces or extensions ahead of time if need be." And, of course, cut and color should be done a day or two ahead.

Another reason to meet with models in advance is to have them sign releases. "The release protected us when a young model sued us because she was getting published too much," says Shortino, remembering a model who complained that she should get royalties on the extensive exposure. "We gave her a nice look and the magazines liked it!"

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Time and Money

A shoot with three to six models will take all day, often a long day, and Anlauf says it's not unusual for her to book two days. Price counts on three hours per model, which breaks down to 90 minutes for hair styling, 30 minutes for make-up and one hour to shoot. With several stylists, of course, the model prep can be done simultaneously. Plan as well as you can, and then it just takes as long as it takes.

By now, Shortino has it down to a science; he has six to 10 stylists doing a total of 12 models and still finishes in one day. While Anlauf says the price of a shoot can run $10,000 or more, Shortino tags the cost at $3,000 to $5,000, which includes providing breakfast and lunch for everyone on set. "It's good etiquette to take care of the people you have there for the day," he says.

For your very first shoot, hold your expenses to a minimum, Price says. "Use three models that you pay $300 each, and many photographers in most cities would be thrilled to make $1,000 for the day. Have someone on staff do the make-up, or hire someone locally for $300 to $500."

The other choice is to make your first shoot a test. "Get your feet wet," says Ruiz. "Build a relationship with a few photographers, make-up artists and models. If their skill level is as high as yours, it will be a phenomenal experience for all of you. You'll learn together." 

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Legal Limitations

Although you probably don't need a lawyer to draw up a complicated legal package for you, read everything you sign and be aware of the typical legal pitfalls:

•Require every model to sign a standard model release permitting you to use her image for both editorial and advertising and for print, video and online publication.

•On your calendar, mark the last date you're allowed to use the photos. Normally, the modeling agency and/or the photographer permit about a year's use. If possible, include in writing that once you offer the images to a magazine, you have no control over how long it will take for them to be published.

•If the players are contributing their various talents for no payment, what you're doing is a test. You may include the images in your portfolio in order to pursue freelance work, but not for any type of advertising or marketing. They cannot appear on your menu, on a poster in the salon or in a book left out for clients.

•Shooting on spec is a little different. Although most or all of the contributors come to the table without payment and you are prohibited from using the images for advertising, when you shoot on spec you are permitted to send the photos to publications for editorial consideration with the credits naming everyone involved.

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