Take These 5 Steps To Ensure Successful Portrait Sessions

Do you dream of becoming a paid portrait photographer? The prospect of making money doing something you truly enjoy is quite enticing, but there’s no shortage of photographers who, when faced with their first client session, feel overwhelmed and crippled by anxiety.

These feelings can manifest themselves in your work, which is the last thing you want, as your goal is to give your client their money’s worth out of the photoshoot. In all likelihood, you’ll overcome your nervousness with time and practice. But that doesn’t mean you ever reach a point where photo shoots just magically go smoothly every time.

You always have to make the effort to ensure your session runs as smoothly as possible. If you want successful, stress free photo shoots follow the five tips that follow.

Eliminate Self-Doubt

As I alluded to in the intro, self-doubt can wreak havoc on a photo shoot. It’s natural to be nervous, especially your first couple of times around, so you need to drown out all the noise in your head telling you that you’re in too deep, that you don’t posses the skill level, that you’re going to disappoint your client.

Recall previous successes and use them as a blueprint for subsequent shoots, but don’t expect your results to be identical every time — that’s not necessarily what you want. Your aim should be to tailor the shoot to the needs of each client. In this respect, every photo shoot is an opportunity to start fresh and grow your self-confidence.

Do whatever it takes so that you’re always projecting competence and confidence. You don’t want your clients to regret hiring you.

Photo by Jake Young on Unsplash

Arrive Early To The Location

It is, of course, a mark of professionalism to be on scene well in advance of your client. Obviously you need to get everything set up, but another advantage of arriving early is that you can take a moment to yourself to quiet all those aforementioned voices in your head that might be causing anxiety.

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Check Your Gear

The simple things are often the most valuable. My philosophy is “you never know.” Check all the gear you will be using during the shoot to ensure it is functioning as expected. You don’t want to take for granted that everything is working properly and then discover it isn’t when you’re ready to start shooting — it’s inconvenient and embarrassing.

A simple gear check can help you avoid an uncomfortable fate — a fate in which both you and your client lose confidence in your adeptness.

Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash

Check The Environment

Since you’re arriving on scene early, another thing you’ll want to do is assess the shooting environment. This is especially true for outdoor locations where you will want to look for elements that you can include in your shots.

Also take this time to evaluate the (natural) light you will be working with. Lighting conditions are sure to change by the time your client arrives and will continue to change throughout the photo shoot, but it’s helpful to get a general idea of how the light in your specific location might affect how you shoot.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Communicate With Your Client

The most important factor in facilitating a successful photo shoot is communicating with your client. A little chit chat can go a long way in helping you determine the client’s state of mind. Casual conversation will put you both at ease and might reveal more about your client’s preferences and expectations which, in turn, will allow you to tailor the shoot on the fly to more closely match your client’s personality.

Photo by Anna Vander Stel on Unsplash

Final Thoughts

Photo shoots can be nerve wracking whether you’re getting paid or not, but once money enters the equation that just tends to compound the stress, particularly for less experienced photographers.

The tips above will hopefully serve as an entry point for wrapping your mind around how to pull off a successful photo shoot. As you learn and grow in your work, you’ll be able to expand on the ideas presented here and eventually establish tips of your own that you can pass on to others.

While the formalities of a photo shoot play a key role in your success, be sure to remind yourself and your client to relax, smile and have fun.

Additional Resources

  1. 5 Free E-Books That Will Make You Better at Portrait Photography
  2. Why And How You Should Be Using Flash Gels To Make Your Portraits Pop
  3. An Easy Tip For Better Portraits
  4. Take These 4 Steps To Successful Available Light Portraiture

When you're really ready to take the next step in portrait photography, then take a look at this guide.


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About the author

Jason D. Little

Jason Little is a photographer (shooting macros, portraits, candids, and the occasional landscape), writer, and music lover. You can see Jason’s photography on Flickr, his Website or his Blog.

  • Ian c says:

    Great tips Jason, the same values could be easily transferred to any first shoot paid or otherwise involving strangers or family. I certainly remember my first shoot, for all the wrong reasons!

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  • Definitely, one of my first shoots. which was a small wedding. If I know what I know now, I would have been able to let the client know what is and is not possible. Sometimes, the clients wants will not result in what you can do without proper lighting to make it happen.

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