Planning For Better Portraits. Better Photography


In my early days of photography, I often needed models to work on my projects. By projects, I really meant to practice on. Portrait photography is, in my opinion, one of the most satisfying genres of photography. Dealing with people. Capturing the essence of a person. Capturing a story in the photograph you are about to take. Unlike shooting landscapes, structures or products, photographing people gives feedback. This is a two-way partnership between the photographer and the subject.  It all starts with good Portrait Photography Planning.

If you subscribe to the “Risk / Reward” model where the greater the risk you subject yourself to, the greater ( or potential of ) reward is the return, then shooting people is the riskiest type of photography. Think of it. Wedding photography  Once chance to get it right… get it right in the opinion of the wedding party. ( At any event being photographed, somebody will not like their image )   Unlike shooting a forest or a bridge or a dress or other inanimate object, people speak back, people have an opinion and you run a risk that their opinions will differ from your in what is beautiful, artful, tasteful.   So reduce the events to shooting one person and you get the portrait.

Portrait Photography Planning

Photographer and Subject

Control your Shoot

The portrait is the most controlled photo-shoot you can do, especially if shot indoors and heavens, in your own studio. You control the light, the shadow, the temperature, the wind. You can even control the hair the makeup the wardrobe on the model. Everything  is under your control, except for one thing……. your subject! The person you are shooting.  You may have reduced the risk of shooting many people at once, but you are still dealing with a person.  And when you deal with people, proper planning will not only help you capture the images you want….. it may even be the only thing that gets you your job or stops your model from pulling a “no show”.

This brings me to the point of this blog and I hope it brings you to a better understanding of making your next portrait shoot or project a bit more rewarding.  Lets talk about portrait photography planning in this article, although proper planning is needed for any genre of photography,


Proper Planning Means Better Communication

Whether you are trying to lure paying customers or hiring a model for a project or just doing a Trade For Services, as the photographer, you are also a director in the shoot. Before anyone steps into your studio, they will want to know what needs to be done prior to the shoot and what needs to be done during the shoot to achieve the desired results.  Let’s face it… unless you are a well known, professional photographer, you have to sell your potential client or model to shoot with you.

I think you will agree that waiting until the model or client shows up to discuss the shoot is leaving things a bit too late.  Your shoot starts well in advance  and you should have a checklist for your client or model. Again, put yourselves in the shoes of your subject.  Simple questions need answered,  such as “Where is the shoot?”  “What time is the shoot?” “What time do you expect me to arrive?”  Sounds simple, but how many of you have had a model show up late???  How many have your model show up on time, but sit for 3/4 hour putting on makeup and now your timetable is behind schedule.  Proper portrait photography planning will answer all these questions.

Be Clear and Concise

I think my point is getting through.  Of course, we all know the basics, like “lets shoot this Sunday at 2 pm, at the big oak tree in the park” This  is clear as to when and where, but what about the other questions, who, what why and how?   A professional photographer is going to take the time to write out a description and add inspiration drawings or images and this file ( be it a PDF or Word file etc ) will be available for your clients or models.  It will answer all questions you can imagine.  Who is involved in the shoot?  What is the purpose of the shoot?  How will the images be used, wardrobe expectations, jewelry, accessories, hair style, shoes, props, expressions… everything expected is laid out in advance so there are NO unknowns prior to the shoot.  Again.. proper portrait photography planning. ( PPPP)

Don’t Forget, you are dealing with people!

When I incorporated this into my regime, two things happened.  First, my image from “Guy With A Camera” changed to professional, organized photographer and that attracted more customers.  It eliminated other photographers from my client’s choices because I  clearly explained what was going to happen.  Secondly, the number of models who would pull last minute no shows dropped to almost zero!!   I hear so many photographers complain about models who pull no shows.  They rant and rave and want to shout out and call out the model and black list them…….. but that photographer is forgetting  one ting…. that he/she is dealing with a person as the subject and a person will have feelings and emotions.  Don’t forget this.

Take a look at yourself first!

Maybe a model no shows because they are too nervous and they “chicken out” .  Have you ever chickened out of something in your life?  Maybe you are doing a trade for services and the model or client felt, “hey, this photographer is casual and just like me, an amateur… no big deal if we cancel out”.  So ask yourself as a photographer, did you do all you could to present yourself in a professional manner?  Did you clearly lay out the expectations from the beginning?  Was your model nervous?  Did you check your client or model out prior to the shoot… talk to them, chat with them to get their experience, confidence level?  Before you whine that your client backed out or your model bailed at the last minute, ask yourself from the eyes of your subject, did you represent yourself clearly and professionally?

Add this brings us back to planning. There are lots of free examples out there for mood boards, inspiration boards or whatever you want to call it.  Don’t leave your shoot to chance.  Make your expectations clear and concise. Great shots rarely happen by accident.   If you would like to see some of my pre-shoot communication sheets, just ask

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