Working with a Pre-Shoot Portrait Checklist

“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.”—Winston Churchill

I think that the most important aspect of making portraits is communicating with the subject. It starts with initial contact and moves onto communication during the session but to make the best possible image, you need to start before a subject arrives.

Here’s a few simple tips that will make your subjects look better which in turn trans-lates into better portraits. Feel free to copy and even improve these ideas and be sure to send them to a client before a shoot.

  • Wear solid colors. Nothing detracts from a subject more than clothes with busy patterns. I tell clients the time to wear these kinds of outfits is for fun, not during a portrait session when the emphasis should be on the their face.
  • Make sure clothes fit. While this might seem obvious, too many times I’ve seen subjects wearing ill-fitting clothes that do nothing but divert the attention of viewer.
  • The camera shows the truth. If the subject has skin problems such as peeling from a sun burn or incomplete tan coverage for the clothing they’re planning to wear, I suggest they reschedule. Makeup and software can correct minor problems but they’re not miracle cures.
  • Makeup. No matter what style and color of makeup a female subject think makes them look best, suggest that they change their make up style when changing clothing during the shoot. I once made a suggestion to one client about the type of lipstick she wore and not only did she like the photographs better, her husband liked the way she looked too.
  • Hairstyles. To provide variety in the portrait, suggest that the subject style their hair slightly differently for each clothing change.  You can change the lighting but nothing can change the way their hair looks.
  • Footwear. Wearing the right shoes can make as a much a difference as the right makeup. Ask female subjects to bring along at least one pair of shoes with the highest heels they have—that they can walk in—even if it doesn’t show in the portrait. High heels changes the way they stand and gives them a bit of height that adds to the overall drama of the subject.

Finally, there’s an old photographer’s expression—ESP: Expression Sells Portraits. The expression on a subject’s face tells the story of who they are. If they only have one look on their face, all of their portraits will appear monotonous.

If you’re interested in shooting portraits and how I use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere” which is available from with, as I write this, new non Prime copies selling for $17.50 (plus shipping,) cheaper than the Prime price.


Author: Joe Farace

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