A shot list is exactly what it sounds like….a list of shots. Seems pretty basic? But how many of you actually make a list of the shots you would like to take, before you leave for your photo shoot or go on a photo vacation? Sure, you want to be spontaneous and react to special moments–but with a shot list in hand from the moment you take your camera out of the bag you can use your time more efficiently. It is the basis from which you develop your photography game plan for the day. Also, you don’t run the risk of returning from a photo outing only to realize you did not shoot some of the images you had wanted to shoot.

Another advantage of a shot list is that you can develop your equipment list from the list of anticipated shots. You can decide what lenses you will need, external flashes, filters, etc., so that you will be prepared. Shot lists are of course particularly important if you are shooting for a client, to meet the terms of your contract, but they are equally important if you are shooting to add to your own stock photography portfolio or if you are just getting started as a stock contributor.

Stock Photography Success

A key to being a successful stock photographer is a diverse portfolio, so that your images appeal to a great variety of buyers with different needs. Whereas one buyer might be interested in editorial shots of a farmer’s market, other buyers may want to license an image of strawberries in a carton sold by farmer, or flowers and plants. By brainstorming and anticipating the needs of potential buyers, you should be able to create a shot list of marketable images. Check out my article on Stock Photography Insights for more tips on stock photography.

Creating A Shot List

When I develop my shot list for my travels I usually research my destination by reading travel books and checking the internet, as well as talking to friends who have visited the locations. I stop at visitors information centers once I arrive at the destination. I ask for recommendations and further revise my list. I also review stock photography websites, such as Adobe Stock, to see what other photographers are photographing at the destination I am visiting. (Just type in the subject you are researching at the top of the Adobe Stock page, in the search box.)

My shot list will start with the bigger picture, and then move to smaller details. For example, if I am visiting a city, I usually include major tourist attractions and landmarks—iconic shots. Also shots that give an overview of the location I am visiting such as an image of the skyline and viewpoint panoramas. Other subjects may include architecture, shopping streets and neighborhoods, art and music, food, customs, market places, street performers, people in everyday life, and clothing, particularly in countries where traditional dress is distinctive. If I am visiting a scenic area I include different landscape shots, and if there is wildlife, the animals I will hopefully find to photograph. I will also identify locations for sunrises and sunsets.

A shot list for a photo shoot of family or a wedding or event would be totally different from what I put together for travel. If you are working with a client, it should probably be created together with the family, couple or event coordinator so that you understand what they expect. Such a list might include not only whom you plan to photograph and where, but lighting scenarios’s, as well as poses.

One Subject, Several Photographs

Every buyer of a stock photograph has a different idea of how the image they are seeking should be portrayed. It is thus important to photograph the images on your list different ways. Shoot vertical and horizontal, wide-angle and close-up, and from high and low perspectives. Also create abstract designs out of your subject matter, when possible. (Graphic designers use textures and abstracts as background for other images or for text.)

Get Personal

Shot lists can be very personal. I recently returned from a short trip to San Francisco, a city I once called home. My shot list was a trip down memory lane–where I ate my lunch on the Embarcadero, the street I walked down to get to work (with a view of the Pyramid building), images of people in Chinatown, a neighborhood I liked to meander through on Saturday mornings, the cable car I occasionally took to work, etc. The images were personal, but I will add several to my stock portfolio and offer them for sale. That is the beauty of stock images.  If you are taking the photos anyway, why not also sell them?

Even if you aren’t traveling, responding to a client’s request, or joining a family outing, think of what is close to your home–an event, a pretty park, or a local neighborhood, and create a list of shots before you go out to take some pictures. You may find there is a lot more to photograph than you would have thought possible.