Trimming the Fat: Tips For Staying On Budget

For producers, one of our biggest responsibilities is to manage the budget on shoots. This takes resourcing, planning, flexibility, creativity — and the ability to anticipate and adjust in moments notice.

Where to Start

In general, I start with a budget as if we had the ideal amount of money to accommodate the shoot. This doesn’t mean you should beef up the numbers — but that you should figure out what you need so that all bases are covered. Leave a little wiggle room in case of any problems. From there, you can start going through the costs line by line to see what you can do without and still have the production run smoothly. More often than not, you will be asked to cut the budget at least a little and sometimes as much as by half. Here are some ideas that will help you bring down the budget without compromising the creative (keep in mind that these suggestions vary according to each job’s requirements).

What Are Your Needs?

Make a list of everything you need for your shoot based on the layouts and the concept. Establish what the most important aspects of the shoot are and prioritize your client’s needs first. Then, see where you can start eliminating.


When your budget is tight, it’s time to get tactical. Some costs are what they are, but most vendors are willing to work with you if you are a loyal customer. Be sure to figure out what areas can be cut first before asking for deals. Choose those that won’t significantly impact the final product.

Mark Andrew Photog Editorial copy Editorial Shoot – Small Crew


Budget for the necessary crew and see if some can perform double duty. Check to see if your second assistant can also do digital tech work. Maybe your wardrobe stylist can pick up a few props as well. Hire a person who does both hair and makeup.


This is one area that agencies seem to want to skimp on, especially for lower-budget jobs. To me, the talent is just as important as the photographer they hire. Who you put in front of the camera is a very important part of the image and hiring the right talent determines how easily you can achieve shooting the right image. It’s worth every penny to hire the proper casting director to help achieve this. If you’re really in a bind, find a producer such as myself who can do both casting and production at a combined cost.


Images that look like they were shot on a very expensive location could have been done in a studio. Price out your variables, as renting a home or public space can be much more expensive then styling a studio space. Do you need a large studio or can you work in a smaller studio that’s half the price? Consider all possibilities.

Medium-sized advertising shoot with a medium-sized crew.

Medium-sized advertising shoot with a medium-sized crew.


Figure out what equipment is necessary and rent only that. If you’re shooting on location, anticipate all worst-case scenarios in advance and be prepared. If you don’t have the budget to rent duplicates, plan ahead by contacting the closest equipment house and see if they have what you’re planning to use in stock. If you’re working out of a studio, see if they can work with you on a set price.


Many clients are now booking what we call “real people”. These are people who do not make a living out of modeling. The main reason for hiring these types is because they are much less expensive, but they are sometimes much harder to find. Make sure this is the best route for your client. If your client wants to use models or commercial talent, you can set a price and see who is interested in working at that price.


When working with tight budgets it’s not unheard of to ask talent to bring some of their own wardrobe as supplement. If talent is to be using a prop, then ask if they have that too.


A large crew advertising & commercial shoot with a large crew.

A large crew advertising & commercial shoot with a large crew.


The lower the head count, the lower the catering cost. If you’re really on a tight budget, then ordering from a menu is always the least expensive way to go.

Budget Has Been Approved

Once you have been awarded the job, be clear and concise with the crew about their exact job, their day rate, and how many hours they are expected on set. Book a crew that has previously worked together, as they’ll know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and will support each other to do the best possible job as expeditiously as possible.

Make a shoot schedule, have detailed maps, and a call sheet with all contact information. Have layouts handy and you’re on your way to having a great shoot that will stay on budget.

Knowledge, organization, and anticipation will ensure that you will not go over budget, and have lined out your shoot appropriately. This is often where an experienced producer will be the best choice for clients.

If you’d like more information or need help estimating please feel free to contact me at nann@nlpproductions.com

Nannette Patridge

Nannette Patridge began her career working as a studio manager for influential advertising and editorial photographers, where she honed her production skills with high-profile clients. She continued to be active in the photo community as an in-house producer and photo agent at Visages Reps, also holding full-time positions as a photo director, photo editor, and freelance bookings editor throughout her career. Nann welcomes working with new clients of all specialties, having produced assignments for Godiva Japan, Verizon, Bloomingdales, Adidas, Maille, Key Bank to French Grazia, Elle, Red Book, Esquire, and more. In 1998, she founded NLP Productions, a full-service production and casting house servicing artists and creatives producing print, video, commercial and editorial productions worldwide.

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