Things to Remember Before and At Your Portrait Session

by James Baker

An outdoor portrait shoot in the beautiful Sunnidale Park in Barrie, Ontario.

There are a few things you can do as the client to make your portraits better.  Some you need to think of before the shoot, and some you need to think of during the shoot.

  • Make sure you have an idea of what kind of pictures you want.  Things like the background, the clothes you will wear, the style of shoot like classic or something more fun.  You will discuss this with the photographer, but it can help if you consider it before then.  Then continue to go over it in your mind a couple of days before the shoot to make sure you have clearly in mind what you want and how you might help the photographer get it.  On the other hand, you may have an idea of a picture you really want, the photographer will do his or her best to get it, but sometimes the location, time, or other factors may make this impossible.  Don’t be too disappointed if the shot you wanted really didn’t work.  The photographer will have many more that look great and will be more “you”.
  • Pack grooming equipment like a brush, makeup, etc.  If there is a breeze, it can ruin hair no matter how much time was spent getting it right.  Bring what you need to fix it if needed.  The same thing goes for makeup.  Depending on the location, and time of day or year, it may be hot or wet.  Make sure you can keep yourself looking how you want in your pictures.  Keep them handy during the shoot in case you need them.
  • If you haven’t already discussed wardrobe with the photographer, try to stay away from black or very dark clothes, white or very light clothes or clothes that too closely match your skin colour.  Unless you have discussed otherwise with the photographer, it can make getting the shot exposed properly very difficult.  Also avoid bright colours or loud or detailed patterns.  These can detract from your face and even put a tint on your skin.
  • If there is going to be more than one person in the pictures, wear clothes that are of a similar shade.  They don’t have to be the same colour, but if someone is wearing dark clothes and another is wearing light clothes, the lighter clothes will attract the eye more than the dark clothes and the person wearing the dark clothes will start to blend into the background.
  • Avoid sunglasses and hats on the way to the shoot if you can.  They can mess up hair, put lines on your head and nose that will be visible in the photos and sunglasses can make it hard to adjust your eyes to the light when you are having your pictures taken.  This may cause you to squint in your pictures.
  • If you are bringing kids that won’t be in every shot, it might be a good idea to bring someone else to keep an eye on them when you are in the shot and they aren’t.  You won’t be able to keep an eye on them and pay attention to the photographer at the same time.  It may be a good idea to bring something to keep the kids occupied.  A favourite toy also makes great bait for a child to, “Look at the camera and smile.”
  • Feel free to bring someone with you to the shoot that isn’t going to be in the pictures.  Make sure you discuss it with the photographer first.  Not all photographers are ok with this.  Also make sure that they will not try to talk to you or otherwise be a distraction during the shoot.  Everyone there should turn of their cell phones as they can really spoil the rhythm of a shoot.  The photographer may ask your friend to hold lights or reflectors if they come, so be warned.
  • Another good idea for kids it to bring a change of clothes.  You never know what can happen with kids on the way to the photo shoot.  It’s not a bad idea to have a change of clothes yourself.  As Jeff Foxworthy said, “Babies are nauseated by the smell of a clean shirt.”  If there’s a place to change them, it might even be a good idea to get them dressed up after arriving for the portrait session.

You may get these tips from your photographer, and you may get others.  You may even get instructions that contradict these.  These tips are guidelines that will help your portrait session experience easier, but no matter what is said here, the bottom line is that the photographer knows best.  They do this a lot.  Listen to what they say and trust them to get the best portraits possible.  And most of all, relax and enjoy the experience.

Please leave a comment if you have anything to add as either a subject of a portrait or as a photographer.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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