Photoshoot vs. photo shoot?

Photoshoot and photo shoot are both compound words and nouns that describe an event where a photographer takes a series of photographs. The word photo shoot is more widely accepted in the US and used to infer whether the photo’s subject is a prominent figure, or if the photo belongs to a media publication. The spelling of photoshoot is more common in the UK and does not differentiate between subject status or media platform.

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

What is the difference between photoshoot and photo shoot?

If you live outside of the United Kingdom, you probably use the terms photoshoot and photo shoot to describe the same thing: an event where a photographer takes a series of photos. However, there is a subtle, technical difference between photoshoot and photo shoot, and the main difference appears to involve whether the photo’s subject is famous or not. A secondary difference also considers whether the photos belong to a professional media publication.

American English vs. British English dictionaries

In the United States, we use the words photoshoot and photo shoot to describe an event where a professional photographer takes photographs of a prominent public figure for media publishing’s sake. But in England, the term “photo session” is used instead of “photo shoot” to carry the same meaning.

Meanwhile, British English dictionaries use the word photoshoot is used to describe when a photographer takes a series of photographs of a subject in the same location, famous or not. It’s common to use the terms photoshoot and photo shoot synonymously with “photo session” in the US, but we don’t differentiate between their meanings as they do with British English. 

If you study a lot of English grammar, you know how several nuances between American and British English exist for no apparent reason, and this happens to be one of them. If we research the words photo and shoot with either region’s dictionaries, the terms define the same noun and verb. It’s when we use them together to create compound words that we end up with different colloquial definitions. 

Photoshoot, photo shoot, and photo session are compound words

Compound words consist of two or more terms, but they aren’t the same thing as a phrase. A phrase consists of multiple words that have meaning when used together, but a compound word exists to represent one word. Sometimes we create compound words by removing space between the words (photoshoot), maintaining the space (photo shoot), or we use hyphens between two words to create one (e.g., close-up, high-tech). 

There are several other compound words that we debate over in the English language, but it’s because there’s often a significant difference between the compound word versus a phrase or conjunction that look and sound similar. For example, 

  • Nevermind vs. never mind: compound word (colloquial expression) vs. conjunction
  • Someday vs. some day: compound word (adverb) vs. phrase (adjective + noun)
  • Redcoat vs. red coat: compound word (noun) vs. phrase (adjective + noun)
  • Nevermore vs. never more: compound word (adverb) vs. phrase (adverb + adjective)

Why do we use words like photoshoot, photo shoot, or photo session?

Words like photoshoot and photo shoot are vocabulary terms used in the field of photography and have only existed within the English Language since the 20th century. It’s difficult to indicate how we began using words like photoshoot, but we can start the conversation by discussing terminology we do understand, such as “photograph” and “shoot.” 

Explorations in photography have existed since the works of Arab physicist Ibn al-Haytham (965-1040), where terms such as dark chamber or camera obscura described inventions that enabled people to capture light and depict life around them. But the way we understand modern photography today began with English experimenter Thomas Wedgewood around 1800.

If early photographers like Wedgewood had their way, the term “photograph” would have been called photogene or heliograph instead. We began using the word photograph in 1839 because of Sir John Herschel, who developed the term from Greek root words photo and graphos, which translate to “light” and “instrument for recording something.”

What does photograph mean?

By modern standards, the word photograph is a noun that describes a picture created from either:

  1. An image imposed onto light-sensitive material via chemical treatment, or
  2. A digitally stored image imposed through light exposure. 

In either case, a photograph is created through a camera, which uses a lens to focus light and an image sensor to capture and record light. Synonyms of the noun photograph include picture, snap, snapshot, image, portrait, and print. 

We can use the word photograph as a verb as well, but only as it pertains to the action of taking a picture of something. For example,

“The newspaper hired me to photograph the Democratic nominees.” 
“Regardless of the weather, he always photographs well.” 

Synonyms of photograph as a verb include snap, film, capture, and document. 

What does photo mean?

You might not have known this, but the word photo is an abbreviation of the word photograph. According to Lexico, the first record of using the word “photo” didn’t occur until 1860 when it was used by Queen Victoria. 

What does shoot mean?

Whether you look through an American or British dictionary, the word shoot is defined as an activity involving the use of film. As a noun, the word shoot describes an event where a professional photographer uses a camera to film or capture something. In this sense, we often see the word shoot used in “fashion shoot” or “shoot a scene.” 

Similarly, we use the word shoot as a verb to describe the act of filming or photographing something. Synonyms of shoot as a verb include film, photograph, snap, or take/get a photo of, take/get someone’s photograph, etc. 

When did we start using the words photoshoot, photo shoot, or photo session?

When we began using the terms photoshoot, photo shoot, and photo session is rather mysterious, but we know with certainty that the spelling of photoshoot is unique to recent years. According to Google Books’ Ngram Viewer, the terms’ first use within English literature correspond to the following dates:

  • Photoshoot: First used in 1991, remains relatively unpopular
  • Photo shoot: First used in 1938, popularized in 1981
  • Photo session: First used in 1909, popularized in 1958 

Photoshoot vs. photo shoot vs. photo session in American newspapers and AP Style Stylebook

The US Library of Congress’ Historic American Newspaper database appears to match Google Book’s literary pattern regarding the English language’s use of “photo session,” as well. The earliest use of photo session within an American newspaper doesn’t occur until 1952, where it was used in a headline for the Evening Star. The next mention of the word photo session didn’t print until 1957.

Since 1991, the use of photoshoot over photo session and photo shoot remains relatively low. Finding the word photo shoot in newspaper archives is nearly impossible due to the prevalence of gun violence, but we did find that the earliest mention of photo shoot occurs in Oregon newspapers back in 1991, and the first mention of photoshoot appears in 2017. Meanwhile, the term photo session appears in Oregon newsprint as early as 1969

While accessing the news archive of one US state doesn’t encompass the entirety of word usage throughout the country, it does provide a glimpse into how recently the terms were introduced. And, as we might have guessed from these results, differentiating the spelling between photoshoot and photo shoot is not noted within the AP Stylebook

However, the AP Stylebook species a standard reference for spelling, style, usage through Webster’s New World College Dictionary, which outlines the spelling of such as photo shoot instead of photoshoot. Other news style guides, such as the BuzzFeed Style Guide, also follow the Webster standard. 

What does photo shoot mean?

The word photo shoot is a noun used to describe when a professional photographer takes a series of photos of a politician or celebrity for a media publication. In the United States, we use the words photo shoot, photoshoot, and photo session to convey the same event. 

For example,

“Vogue tweets fashion photo shoot featuring model Kate Moss.” 
“She’s at a photoshoot with Vice News.” 
“We have a photo session scheduled with The New York Times.” 

What does photo session mean?

The word photo session is used in the United Kingdom instead of photo shoot. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word photo session is a noun that describes an event where a professional photographer takes pictures of a famous person or politician for a media publication. 

For example,

“The Guardian has a photo session scheduled with Megan Markle’s stylist and makeup artist.” 

What does photoshoot mean?

The word photoshoot is not recognized as a word by American dictionaries, although it is used colloquially in the US instead of photo shoot or photo session. British dictionaries define photoshoot separately as a noun to describe when a photographer takes a series of photos of the same subject in one location. 

For example,

“Let’s go down to the beach for an Instagram photoshoot.”
“The girls enjoy hosting improv photoshoots during their get-togethers.”

Photo shoot tip!

Do you ever wonder how tabloid magazines and paparazzi always know where to find models and celebrities? Under normal conditions, this isn’t an accident. While a photo shoot does involve a lot of planning with a dedicated photographer, a photo shoot is not the same thing as a “photo opportunity.” 

According to Cassell’s Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, a photo opportunity is a staged appearance or performance that occurs in public to attract media cameras for publicity. In short, a photo shoot is a professional gig, while a photo opportunity is a pseudo-event (Reese 196). 

Photoshoot vs. photo shoot: which is grammatically correct?

When it comes to deciding whether photo shoot is more correct than photoshoot, it’s best to consider the geography. After all, we use language to communicate, and all communication is dependent on how people understand each other best. 

When in England = use photo session and photoshoot

If you’re in England, use the term photo session describe when a professional photographer photographs a prominent figure for a media publisher. Remember that all British-English dictionaries auto-direct users to photo session instead of photo shoot

The noun photoshoot is also recognized in the UK to describe when a photographer takes photos of somebody, but the distinction to whether the subject is famous or if the photos are professional is not necessary. 

When in the United States or Canada = use photo shoot

If you’re in the US or Canada, people will generally understand what you mean, whether you say photo shoot, photoshoot, or photo session. However, since American dictionaries recognize the word photo shoot instead of photoshoot, it’s best to go with the standard spelling. 

If you’d like to use a proper term for an informal photo shoot, it might serve you better to use a synonym or provide context to indicate as much. For example,

“She’s scheduled to have her senior portraits taken today.”
“Let’s go down to the beach and take photos for social media.”

Notes on American grammar software

You may find that English grammar software such as Grammarly or Microsoft’s spellcheck may autocorrect the word photo shoot to photoshoot, or vice versa. But it’s important to note how most spell checkers autocorrect to whichever term is written most consistently by the document’s user. 

How to use photo shoot and photo session in a sentence?

When discussing a professional photo shoot or session, it’s important to recognize how either term is a noun, not a verb. 

For example,

Correct: “Models stun in spring collection photo shoot.” 
Incorrect:Models stun while photo shooting spring collection.” 

Correct: “Models stun in spring collection photo session.” 
Incorrect:Models stun while photo sessioning spring collection.” 

Further examples of how to correctly use photo shoot or photo session in a sentence:

“I gather photo shoot ideas by looking through creative mood boards.”
“The studio offers packages for family photo shoots.” 
“We need to plan a photo shoot for Monday.” 
“Watch celebrities celebrate behind the scenes during the post-award photo shoot.

How to use photoshoot in a sentence?

The word photoshoot is used similarly to photo shoot in that the word is a noun and not a verb. Correct examples of how to use photoshoot in a sentence include: 

“Cosmo publishes photoshoot of Grammy-winner Billie Eilish.” 
“We are scheduled for photoshoots all day.” 
“We’re looking for the right location for a photoshoot.”
“She hates photoshoots because she doesn’t enjoy being in front of the camera.”
“The photographer adjusted his Nikon’s camera settings to capture the best angles for the photoshoot.” 

FAQ: Related to photoshoot vs. photo shoot

What makes a photo shoot professional or not?

Professional photo shoots are conducted by professional photographers who can sell their photos to clients, whether the clients have commissioned portrait sessions or paying for photo permissions to publish on a media platform. Clients typically commission professional photographers who specialize in certain photo niches, such as: 

  • Portrait photography
  • Wedding photography
  • Fashion photography
  • Newborn and family portraits 

Who is a professional photographer?

There’s a thin line between a professional photographer and a hobby photographer because photography is an art form. In general cases, a professional photographer is somebody who is skilled at taking photos and uses professional-grade equipment to sell photographs to their clients. 

As with any art-form, a professional photographer might use fancy camera equipment with brands like Nikon or Canon, although other professionals might prefer uncommon or vintage cameras to achieve certain photo styles. Most modern professionals are also skilled in using photo editing programs like Adobe Photoshop, which can help enhance or distort digital images. 

Many professional photographers learn their photography tips through secondary education, but this experience isn’t necessary across the board. With the right amount of passion, practice, and good advice, nearly anyone can learn how to use a camera well. But as indicated above, a professional somebody who offers a paid service, and this is a primary distinction. 

Test Yourself!

Are you ready for your grammar close-up? Test how well you understand the difference between photoshoot and photo shoot with the following multiple-choice questions:

  1. The word ____________ is predominantly used in the ___________ to describe an event where a professional photographer takes photographs of a public figure for a media publication. 
    1. Photoshoot, UK
    2. Photo session, US
    3. Photo shoot, UK
    4. Photo session, UK
  2. The word ____________ is predominantly used in the ___________ to describe an event where a photographer takes a series of photographs in one location.
    1. Photoshoot, UK
    2. Photoshoot, US
    3. Photo shoot, US
    4. All of the above
  3. The word ____________ is predominantly used in the ___________ to describe an event where a professional photographer takes photographs of a public figure for a media publication. 
    1. Photo shoot, US
    2. Photoshoot, US
    3. Photo session, UK
    4. All of the above
  4. The word “photo” is an abbreviation that was reportedly used first by who?
    1. Ibn al-Haytham
    2. Sir John Herschel
    3. Thomas Wedgewood
    4. Queen Victoria
  5. Choose the best verb to describe the act of photographing for a photo shoot:
    1. Photograph
    2. Shoot
    3. Film
    4. A and B

Answers

  1. D
  2. A
  3. D
  4. D
  5. D

Sources

  1. Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 10 Jan. 1952. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. 
  2. Favilla, Emmy. “BuzzFeed Style Guide.” BuzzFeed News, BuzzFeed, 24 Jan. 2020. 
  3. Heppner Gazette-Times. (Heppner, OR), 24 July 1969. Historic Oregon Newspapers, University of Oregon Libraries. 
  4. Heppner Gazette-Times. (Heppner, OR), 30 Jan. 1991. Historic Oregon Newspapers, University of Oregon Libraries. 
  5. Photo.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  6. Photograph.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  7. Photograph.” Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper, 2020. 
  8. Photoshoot.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  9. Photo session.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  10. Photo session.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  11. Photo shoot.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  12. Photo shoot.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  13. Photo shoot.” Webster’s New World College Dictionary, YourDictionary, 2020. 
  14. Reese, Nigel. “Photo opportunity.” Cassell’s Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, Cassell, pp. 106. 
  15. Shoot.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  16. Shoot.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  17. The Daily Astorian. (Astoria, OR), 10 Aug. 2017. Historic Oregon Newspapers, University of Oregon Libraries. 
  18. The Detroit Tribune. (Detroit, Mich.), 07 Sept. 1957. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.