Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Picture Perfect Professional Portraits

Picture Perfect Professional Portraits

Contrary to what the latest Nikon or Canon ad might be saying portrait sessions with professional photographers are alive and well, In fact, the business of portrait photography is actually going through a healthy expansion thanks to the emergence of some fun new genres such as expecting moms, family lifestyle and boudoir. Additionally, the emergence of much more portable studio quality equipment means that more often than not, your portrait photographer will either come to you or meet you in a great location where together you can capture some really great images.

Just like with all things related to working with a professional, there are some dos and don’ts when selecting, preparing and even during the process of having your photos taken. Your photographer will likely have a guide of some sort as well, but this should get you started.

Selecting a portrait photographer.

What do you want to do? Make a list. You want pictures. What will you use them for? Is your home a part of the subject/memory? Do you want the location to suggest other thoughts? Is this a one time thing or something you’re going to want to do every year? It is a good idea to have thought this through ahead of time. You’ll save a lot of time finding your photographer and you’ll also have a really clear set of priorities when you see her or him for the shoot.

Portrait photographers generally segment their business by what they’re shooting. Most will do more than one thing. Whether a photographer sticks to a particular genre (such as babies) or not will generally have much impact on the quality of their work. So take some time and look through their images to see if what they offer is what you want.

This said, you want to make sure that the photographer you select has enough experience doing what you want for them to be the experts when it’s time. Excellent boudoir portraiture isn’t about satin sheets and white wines, it is about posing and use of light and lenses that will put you in the best possible situation. If your photographer hasn’t worked with teenage boys, they’re not likely to get a smile from yours.

Let the photographer take the lead!


Babies are best in the morning and they’re best at home or a short walk from home. Baby photographers know these things. They also know babies. If your child cries they’re not going to be shocked or dismayed. They’ve heard babies cry. They won’t think less of you as a mom. The key trait possessed by most baby photographers - (in addition to amazing photographic skills of course) is patience. They’re also great at understanding how to change the environment enough that the baby sees and feels a change and they’re great at making babies feel comfortable. They’ll ask for help when they need it.


Having your teenager photographed for senior pictures? I have one big tip for you. Disappear. Don’t dictate wardrobe or poses or anything else and for heaven’s sake, don’t stand over the photographer’s shoulder yelling ‘smile’ at your teen! Let your teen and the photographer decide what they’re going to do and how they want to do it. Remember, these images are as much for them as for you. The best photographers know how to draw the best from this group. They make these sessions fun and interactive and both you and your son or daughter will end up with images you love.


Venturing into the dark for a boudoir session? You’re not alone. This is the fastest growing segment in portrait photography. Gals all over the country and gals of all shapes and ages are booking boudoir sessions with photographers who specialize in this genre. Interestingly, when interviewed about why they’re doing it, most say it’s something they’re mostly doing for themselves. Bravo gals, here’s some suggestions.

Consider your photographer carefully. What is going to make you feel most comfortable? Is your session going to be in a studio, hotel or your home? Boudoir session parties are one fun way a lot of women are jumping in, if that works for you it’s a great way to save a little money on the session fees. Just know that the key in getting great work is going to be a connection you’ll make with the photographer. The best make these sessions fun and easy. They encourage rather than push. And they know their craft. Tell them what your boundaries are in clear terms and then let them pose, mold, light and move you so they can get their best work. A common mistake is drinking too much before a session. Avoid this. It will show in your eyes and face. Any great boudoir photographer will have a solid list of do’s and don’ts for you to work from. Head their direction and you’ll have a great time.


Another fast growing segment is the family/lifestyle genre. In this case, portrait photographers will generally visit your family in your home. They’ll shoot some posed work but they’ll also do a lot of candid work around the home. They may meet you at a local park or other outing. These segments are great because they yield great images that can be used for everything from holiday cards to family yearbooks. Just tell your photographer what outputs you want ahead of time so they’re thinking about these things as they work.

As in all other genres, there are some dos and don’ts for Family portraiture. Think about your spouse. Is the best time to capture them in a great mood at the end of a long workday? Are they going to be excited about this or will they see it as something worse than the annual physical? Don’t spring this on your spouse when the photographer shows up at the door. No matter how animated, your fight will rarely make good photographic art. The same goes for your teens. Dragging them home from a friend’s house will rarely get them terribly excited about smiling for the camera. It seems like an oxymoron, but the more prepared your family is for what is going to happen, the more likely they will be able to relax and be natural when it’s time.

And here again, let the photographer take the lead. Don’t yell at the family to smile or be quiet or stand up straight. If you’ve selected an experienced family photographer they’ll make sure your family has fun. You’ll end up with what you want and your family will be excited when it’s time to do it again next year.

In all of these situations there are some important things to consider...

  1. Look your best. Get your hair done. Wear clean cloths you like and are comfortable in. Give the photographer the best chance to get you at your best and the work they’ll do will amaze you.
  2. Forget everything you’ve heard about Photoshop. It is a tool that can make a great photograph perfect, not a bad photograph good. Great photographers will not use photoshop make you look skinny if you’re not. They can fix some flyaway hair but they can’t edit away a bad hair day. They can fix a blemish in a heartbeat but if your eyes look drunk or stoned that’s how they’re going to look in your images.
  3. This is a photographer not a plastic surgeon. Great photographers know how to approach any body type and show it in its best light. Let them pose you and work with you. Just know that they’re going to celebrate who you are, not turn you into something you are not.
  4. Be prepared to spend a little extra time. Shut off the cell phone. You’re paying for the photographer’s time. You don’t take calls in the dentist’s chair, why would you take them during your portrait session? They’re not going to extend an hour just because you’re not ready or are distracted. Some will give you a little extra time, but most are busy enough that they can’t simply drop everything and hang out with you while you sort out your mother in law’s transportation or hairdo woes. If you book a one hour session, block out three hours. One in advance, one during and one after. Give yourself a break. You’re worth it!
  5. If someone is sick call early! Don’t push a sick child through a session just because the Christmas cards need to come out. See above. Photoshop is not a miracle worker. Great baby and family photographers are used to removing some unwanted - er - nose-stuff. But if your child is sick and fussy they’re not going to be able to make them look healthy. Just call and reschedule - but do it as far in advance as possible so the photographer is free to rebook your time.

There are lots of other things. Most, your photographer will share with you in preparation for your session. Now it’s time for you to act! Take the leap. Book a pro. Stick to these simply guidelines and you’ll be thrilled with what you get.

(as always, if you’re a working pro and you have something you’d like me to write about or add just drop me a line here or at and I’ll try to get it done. These posts are all free for you to use in whatever capacity you see fit. Feel free to copy and use them in whole or in part).

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