How to Get Great Portraits From Your Photography Session

Along the way in building HBP I’ve learned so much about growing a business, utilizing technology, and of course, improving my camera skills – and passing along those lessons has been a guiding purpose of this blog. I recently had my own custom photography session for the first time ever with Jeph DeLorme (unless you count my wedding). I wanted to get some cool professional shots of myself to use for my business, since I can’t really use the ones of me in a wedding gown. 🙂  

My goal was to capture the essence of my brand. Then, I realized I wasn’t really sure how people perceived my brand…so…I asked!  Friends and clients used words like “outdoorsy” and “natural” and “simple.” So, when I contacted Jeph, I explained I wanted shots in a natural setting, rather than a studio, and he suggested a trail head in North Scottsdale. We scheduled, I shopped, planned, and primped, and…here’s one of the resulting shots!

I learned a lot from this experience by observing Jeph, by experiencing the same nervousness that my clients feel about their shoots, by understanding the anxiousness about wanting great photos, and then having to wait what feels like forever to see them! In addition to being able to relate better to what clients experience, I wanted to be able to pass along a few really concrete tips. Hopefully, these ideas will help you maximize the limited time you have with your photographer. 

  1. Style your shoot well ahead. Decide what you’ll wear well before your appointment. This prevents stress while in a hurry to get ready. If your shoot involves more than one person, this is especially important.  
  2. Try stuff on. Model for yourself in a full length mirror and make sure you feel good in what you choose. Confidence is everything while being photographed. If you feel good, you will look good.
  3. Be intentional about creating the look you want. In my case, I styled my shoot to capture the essence of my photography brand (travel, adventure, love of the outdoors). If you want to have playful photos, for example, then don’t wear clothes that you can’t play in. Be careful not to over-style, though…be yourself, just a bit “better than the daily average version” of yourself. If you are overly made-up and coiffed the photos won’t look like “you” – unless that’s how you are on a daily basis! 😉 (That’s not me! I am mostly the all-natural type.)
  4. Research. Peruse style magazines or the Internet to get a feel for options of what to wear. Look at other photographers work to find photos you like, and send links in advance of your shoot to your photographer so they know what you are looking for.
  5. Save money! You are already spending a lot on the photography itself, right? Rather than buying new clothes, I made use of pieces already in my closet to save money, and instead went shopping only to get key accessories (like the mid-calf boots I am wearing in the photo below), all of which, I can use again. Additionally, I brought along props from home, borrowed others from a friend (thanks Holly Ford), and offered to comp another friend a photo session if she’d do my hair and makeup (thanks Courtney-BTW she’s the one that did my hair/makeup on my wedding day, too…she’s good, huh?).
  6. Make a plan. I organized my outfits/wardrobe changes, and wrote down a shot list that included what accessories and props would be in each shot. I knew if I didn’t do this I would forget something, and then when we finished I’d be kicking myself the whole way home. 
  7. Location, Location, Location. Pick a spot for your session that means something to you. It was important to me to have a backdrop of mountains, in soft (i.e. morning) light. Your photographer can always help brainstorm ideas, but a place that has some meaning to you will make the photos much more memorable, unique, and personal. Sometimes photos need to be in front of a plain backdrop in a studio (like, say, professional head shots); but in my opinion, for lifestyle photography, the results are more interesting in natural light and “real” settings. Tell your photographer where you want to go, and if they won’t do that, then get someone else (like me) that will shoot on location! Seriously. That’s lame. And remember, shooting on location is difficult (because can’t control the rapidly changing lighting/weather/distractions and other environmental factors like you can in a studio), so pick a photographer that is experienced with on location shoots. 
  8. Save Time While on Location. My shot list flowed in the most efficient manner; for example, adding and removing layers rather than completely changing outfits. This allowed us to get more shots since I spent less time changing. It also meant I didn’t have to get completely naked in the desert. 🙂
  9. Tell Your Photographer About Your Insecurities. Good portrait photographers know how to minimize flaws and get angles and poses that will make you look your best, but it still helps them if you mention any particular things you are self-conscious about. For example, I am self-conscious about my teeth (if only insurance covered Invisalign. Sigh.) and my forehead (it’s, um, tall) so I just told Jeph that, and he made sure to work around those. If you have a “better side,” are worried about a double chin, want to look taller, or whatever, tell your photographer.
  10. Partner with Your Photographer. Don’t be afraid to bring props, ask for shots, and tell them what you want. Speaking as a photographer, I think my best shoots are with people that just ask, “Can do we do ____ (fill in the blank)” rather than just kinda sitting there and expressing no personality. How can a photographer capture your essence if you don’t express it? Go for it! Even if you provide lots of direction, a good photographer (like me **smile**) will still have their own ideas, too, that will wow you. It’s a team effort! In my case, this was my favorite shot, and the specific spot was my idea:

Thoughts? More questions? There are lots of other tips for customers of all types on my FAQ posts. Anyone out there have other suggestions? Post them below in the comments! 

 – HBA


About Mosaic Collective, LLC

I am Holly Baumann Ambuehl, founding member of Mosaic Collective, LLC, which was founded in early 2017 and is based in Central Illinois. I own and operate Mosaic Collective with my partner in business and life, my husband, Nathan. Mosaic Collective, LLC houses our rental property, my consulting contracts (with the nonprofit and public sectors on various work), and also my commercial and portrait photography business, which has been doing business as Holly Baumann Photography since 2008 long before the formation of our LLC. My blog posts feature client work, but I just love to write, so I also write about owning a business, food and drink, travel, and sometimes, my personal life! I am always honored when clients trust me to capture their vision, and equally so when my readers converse with me about what I've photographed or expressed here. I hope we'll have an opportunity to collaborate professionally and/or become friends. I'd love to hear what you think! - Holly
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