Use a Pre-Shoot Portrait Checklist

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

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

I think that communicating with the subject is the most important aspect of making portraits. That process starts with initial contact and moves onto verbal communication during the session but to produce the best possible photographs, I believe you need to start before a subject arrives at the shoot.

Here’s a few tips I think will make your subjects look better, which in turn translates into a better portrait of them. Be sure to e-mail them to a client before a shoot and feel free to copy and even improve on these ideas.

  • Wear solid colors. Nothing detracts from a subject more than clothes with busy patterns. I tell clients that the time to wear these kinds of outfits is for fun, not during a portrait session when the emphasis should be on their face.
  • Make sure their 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 retouching can correct minor problems but they’re not miracle cures.
  • Makeup. No matter what style and color of makeup a female subject thinks makes them look best, suggest they change their make up style when changing clothing during the shoot. I once made a suggestion to a client about the color 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 big a difference as the right makeup. Ask female subjects to bring along at least one pair of shoes with the highest heels they own—and can walk in—even if it doesn’t show in the portrait. High heels changes the way a woman stands and gives them a bit of height that adds to the overall drama.

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, their portraits will appear monotonous. For more thoughts on this subject, please read my post “What Is a Portrait After All.”

How I made this shot: For this portrait of Bella Fire in a sexy mood, the main light is a DigiBee DB800 placed at camera right with a 48-inch Plume hexagonal Wafer softbox attached. Another DigiBee DB800 is at camera left and slightly behind Bella with a 18-OMNI Reflector attached, softened by a triple-layer Diffusion Sock. Camera used was a Panasonic Lumix GH4 with Lumix G Vario 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (at 45mm) with an exposure of 1/125 sec at f/8 and ISO 200. Background was a diamond-patterned Colorsmack from Silverlake Photo.


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My proposed title of Posing for Portrait and Glamour Photography was The ABC’s of Portrait Posing. On this blog there are lots of posts about posing. Use the Search box on the upper right-hand corner and type “posing” to find appropriate posts. If you want something more lasting, take a look at my book with new copies available from Amazon for $18.34 and used copies for 16.51 as I write this. The Kindle version is $20.99 for those who prefer a digital format.