Tips for a great photoshoot

10 Tips For Making Your Portrait Photography Session a Success

Being a portrait photographer is like riding a constant roller coaster of emotion. One minute you are up, feeling on top of the world after a great session; then the crash comes. Those moments of self-doubt and sessions gone awry can get you second-guessing your abilities as a photographer. It happens to even the best of photographers.

We hope that each session is an unforgettable experience for our clients. While you can’t control every aspect of your session, there are things you can do to ensure that each portrait photography session is a success.

1. Educate Your Clients to Better Prepare Them

The more prepared your clients are for their session, the more likely it is to run smoothly. Getting your portrait photography clients ready begins at the first inquiry. You want to set the stage for what they can expect during their session.

It’s a good idea to know what concerns your client will have before their session so you can address it before they even think to ask about it.

In your first email, send a welcome guide to help them visualize their own session. A few weeks before their session, send out another email with tips for what to wear, what to bring with them and another reminder of what to expect.

The day before, get in touch with your client again. Make sure you both have the correct session location and time. Answer any questions they have and remind them that it’s going to be a fun experience and nothing to get stressed out about.

Pro Tip: Check to see if your email program allows you to save these emails as a reusable template. This way, you only have to write the main points once.

A photo of a women creating a planning checklist for a portrait photo session
Key to a successful portrait photography session is client preparation. Image by: Kendra Swalls-Paisley Layne Photography

2. Come Prepared

Some people have nightmares about oversleeping before an important meeting or showing up naked. As a portrait photographer, my biggest nightmare has always been showing up to a session without my camera or memory cards.

You have spent time preparing your clients on what to expect from their session and easing their fears, so now you have to do the same for yourself.

The night before your session, make sure all your batteries are charged, the camera bag is packed and you have all the equipment you need ready to go. Waiting until the last minute can leave you rushing out the door without something you need.

camera gear on a table
You do not need all this gear for a portrait session but make sure you are packing the essentials.

3. Visualize Your Session

It might sound a little hokey, but taking the time to visualize your session can help to ensure your session runs smoothly. Think about the location and the specific areas you want to utilize. Consider which photography compositions and poses will work best with your location and client.

Create a map in your mind of how the session will flow and which poses flow naturally from one to another.

Having a plan, and a “map” of the session will keep you calm and focused on the task at hand.

It is essential to plan out the basic poses and compositions you want to attempt at the session

4. Be the Expert

Your clients have hired you for a reason. They like your work and trust you as the expert.

It’s important that during the session you take charge and lead the session.

Be personable and friendly with the clients to make them feel comfortable, and don’t be afraid to explain to them what you are doing or what you want them to do. I have been known to model the poses I want for the client or making a fool of myself from time to time just to get them relaxed and laughing.

One of my biggest fears used to be freezing up when it came time to switch poses. I was afraid I would look “unprofessional” if I took a few moments to think about the pose I wanted or tried something and it didn’t work. To help, I started taking pictures of the poses I liked or wanted to use and keeping them at the front of my memory card. That way I could “check my settings”, but really be scrolling through the first images on my card for posing inspiration. 😝

Again, your clients trust you and are more worried about how they look than what you are doing behind the camera.

A portrait photographer checking a preview image in a camera
Approach everything you do with confidence, never second guess or doubt yourself while in the middle of a session.

5. Don’t Start Shooting Right Away

Put yourself in your client’s shoes. Most of the time this the day of the photo shoot is the first time you are meeting them in person. Not only are you a “stranger” but now you are going to have a camera in their face and ask them to “act natural”.

Before jumping into the actual photo session, take a few moments to chat with your clients. Ask them about their day, walk around the location and talk about what ideas you have or just start a friendly conversation. Getting them comfortable before pulling out your camera is going to make them feel, and look, a lot more relaxed during the session.

During the session, take a few breaks between shots and ask them questions or strike up a conversation. Tell them you are adjusting your settings and allow them to relax between poses.

Sometimes the in-between shots are the best ones because they aren’t worrying about what to do with their hands or if their smile looks natural. Some of my favorite shots have been ones they didn’t even know I was taking.

Photo of a bride walking towards the camera
Don’t forget to catch a break and strike a conversation with your clients. Image by: Paisley Layne Photography

6. Scope out the Location

Location scouting takes time but can be an invaluable asset to creating a great photo shoot. If a client is a requesting a location you have not used before, make sure you schedule time to check out the location and make note of the areas you want to shoot in.

Ask other photographers in the area that have used the location to share any tips or certain spots that you might need to know about ahead of time. Some of the best locations require a little exploring to find just the right spot to shoot in.

Scouting out the locations is useful even if you have shot there before. The changing light during the day or at different times of the year can dramatically change how you use a location during a session.

It also helps to let the client know what clothing choices are best for the location, any hazards to be aware of or directions on where to park and meet you. Doing your homework before your session will not only put your mind at ease but will allow your clients to feel confident in you.

A photo of a sunset at a viewpoint.
Scout location to find the best places and times to take your shots.

7. Check the Weather!

This might seem a little obvious, but if you live in an area where the weather changes quickly you want to make sure you are aware of any possible inclement weather.

Stay in touch with your clients if you worry that the weather might not hold out, and have a backup plan in place. Your clients will feel more relaxed knowing that you have thought of everything.

successful portrait photography session
image by: Paisley Layne Photography

8. Get to Know Your Client

Imagine walking into a dentist office, and before you can even say hello they sit you down in the chair and start drilling away. No thank you!

As a client, I like to know what to expect. I want someone to make me feel as though they care about me as a person and not just as a paycheck or another name on their list. Getting to know your clients, talking to them about their experience and asking them questions to spark conversation can make a huge difference in the client’s overall experience and comfort level during the session.

Try to go deeper than just surface level questions such as “how are you?” and “what do you think about this weather?”. If you are shooting couples, ask them about how they met, their favorite places to hang out or any pets they might have. If you shoot families, talk to the kids about their school, sports or video games they like to play.

Related Article: Kids’ Photography Tips

Try to find things you have in common to talk about during the session. Some clients are harder than others to chat with but have a set a talking points you can refer to if needed. Keep it light and fun and before you know it, your clients will feel more like friends than clients.

Getting to know your clients don’t just happen at the portrait session, it begins way before that with email and phone conversations. Take any chance you can to get to know your clients before their session to help them prepare and make the session run smoothly.

A photographer and a client chatting away
Getting to know your clients put them at ease and win you repeat business

9. Build Your Client’s Confidence

The majority of sessions I shoot are centered around women (brides, high school seniors, boudoir) so I have found that boosting their confidence during a session is key to having a successful portrait session. From the moment I first see them, usually the first words out of my mouth or “you look gorgeous!”. Right away they start feeling better. Maybe they were questioning their outfit choice or worried their hair wasn’t laying just right. Reassuring them from the get-go lets them know that they have nothing to worry about.

Throughout the session, I make a point to check all aspects of the image and make any adjustments before snapping the photo. Clients love knowing that you are looking out for them and want them to look their best. Fixing out of place hairs, adjusting clothing and posing them in particular ways to accentuate their best features, helps build trust and confidence.

Some photographers are against showing clients any photos that are not edited to perfection, however, I have found that sharing a few back-of-the-camera shots helps put your client at ease during the session. In their mind, they feel awkward and uncomfortable. When they see how amazing they look in an image on your camera, it’s going to help them relax and feel confident in the end result.

A female client posing for a portrait photo session
Building client confidence gives you better subjects to photograph! Image by: Paisley Layne Photography

10. Get Some Help

There have been plenty of times where I had a session coming up I was extra nervous about. Maybe it was a high profile/high maintenance client or a particularly difficult location. Either way, having someone tag along to help out always puts my mind at ease. Not only can they help hold reflectors or set up equipment, but having a second set of eyes to help with poses or interactions can be extremely helpful.

Don’t be afraid to ask a photographer friend to tag along to your sessions. In my area, there is a large online group of local photographers I am part of. It’s common to see posts asking for an assistant to help out with a session, sometimes for pay, and other times just for the experience and help. Never be afraid to ask for help. If it is going to make your client’s experience better or the session run more smoothly, then it’s always a good idea!

Ok you don’t want this kind of help… but you get the idea

Doing these 10 things before you portrait photography sessions will not only help them run more smoothly, but it will keep you stress-free as well! Do you have any tips or routines you use before a session to ensure it goes smoothly? Share your tips in the comments below.

About the author

Kendra Swalls

Kendra Swalls is the owner of Paisley Layne Photography, a premier boutique portrait and wedding studio in the Dallas/Ft Worth area. With a background in education, Kendra incorporates her love for photography with her passion for teaching others through workshops, e-books and tutorials.

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