How I Plan A Portrait Session

how to plan a portrait session

Over the years, I’ve noticed a handful of things that routinely make for a successful portrait session: avoid the rain if you can, planning makes for better photos, and asking someone to think of their favorite dirty joke leads to amazing expressions. Maybe it’s my engineering background or just how I was raised, but I’m a huge planner. Making epic lists and color-coding my calendar is part of my DNA. So it was a big surprise when many of my clients mentioned how impressed they were with how much I planned their sessions. It made perfect sense to me: prepare all the details before you show up to shoot, and then you can simply enjoy being photographed! So why wouldn’t you plan a portrait session?

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My ultimate goal is to create a fun, easy experience for my clients with fabulous images as a happy result. From my experience, the better we plan, the better the session goes. 

Without fail. 

I’m walking through how I plan a portrait session to help my potential and current clients (and even those of you not interested in working with me). This approach applies to all my sessions, with minor tweaks making it specific to headshots vs. portraits vs. seniors vs. editorial, and so on. These should all be things to consider when getting professional photos taken. So if they don’t walk through these with you, I’d recommend asking your photographer these questions.

plan a portrait session goals

Planning Starts at the Inquiry Consultation

When you first inquire with me, I’ll set up a meeting to better understand your needs. This consultation is my first opportunity to take notes about several key factors:

What’s The Goal of the Session

Do you need headshots for LinkedIn? Are these portraits for a special occasion like high school graduation? Sometimes the answer is typically as simple as, “I want to take some creative portraits.” This initial question helps me craft the rest of my queries for what information I need to help plan your portrait session.

Why a Portrait Session Now?

It’s pretty straightforward – why do you want pictures? Knowing the intent of the images helps get my wheels turning in terms of the tone of the photos. Many clients have come in wanting portraits to celebrate a milestone birthday or a big event. Others simply wanted to feel like a badass. Understanding the “why” helps me craft the visual story that will be your session.

How Do You Want to Look?

Sometimes we have a hard time saying, ‘I want to be elegant,” but it’s easier to admit, “I want to look elegant.” I ask this question because it helps me think of potential wardrobe and location options. It also helps me think about the posing, lighting, and framing of your images. These factors affect not just how any viewer, but precisely how you see yourself in your images. For example, if you want to look like a rockstar, then I want to find a stage, get some funky colored lighting, and maybe a leather jacket for your session. 

What Kind of Images Do You Want to Capture

One of the most powerful lessons I ever learned is that two people can be saying the same thing but have entirely different ideas. For example, if I ask you to think of the color red, which shade comes to mind? Cherry Red? Fire Engine Red? Crimson Red? All of these are true but slightly different. Because of this, I always ask my clients to send me some inspirational images for the consultation, so I know exactly what they want to capture.

These sample images allow me to immediately say, “Yup, I can do that,” or let you know, “I can take pictures like this, but it’s not my normal style, and so I cannot guarantee that we’ll get images just like these.” Either way, I use these sample images to figure out what will be involved to make these images happen in terms of locations, lighting, wardrobe, and more so I can relay them to you when planning your portrait session.

plan a portrait sesion to capture ideal images

What Do You Want To Take Home?

I like knowing what products my portrait clients want to take home to optimally compose and frame the pictures for my clients’ desired printing and presentation options. For example, I know that I need to leave extra space around the edges of the frame for canvas prints because canvas prints wrap 1.5” of the photo around each side, effectively cropping the image. My goal is for everyone to have stunning, luxurious printed pieces adorning their homes. Each print medium has unique quirks, so I want to capture your images to match those pieces.

Next Planning Steps

After these questions are answered, we’ll have a pretty good idea of whether or not we’re a good fit to work together. At this point, I’ll walk through the rest of my process: contract & deposit, a planning meeting, the session itself, image selection and ordering, editing, and product delivery. If all of that checks out, we’re good to move forward and start working together! Since this is a blog post about planning, hopefully, you caught the 3rd item in that list – it’s another planning session!

A Dedicated Meeting to Plan

This meeting is where we get into the details of your portrait session! This planning meeting happens a few days after the contract is signed and the deposit is made. 

Recap The Notes

I always like to start my planning meetings by going over my notes from our inquiry consultation meeting. This recap checks that you and I are still on the same page and have the same expectations for the shoot. It also serves as a refresher for what we previously talked about before digging into planning details. At this point, I know a lot about the images you want to capture. From here, it’s making decisions for the session.

plan the location of a portrait session

Selecting a Location

Depending on the images and the inputs provided, I’ll recommend shooting in a studio or on location. I typically suggest a studio or shooting on-site based on the desired lighting for your images vs. how important a contextual background is for the photos. Once we agree on a studio or a location, I’ll make further suggestions for options within each. For example, let’s say that photographing on location is the best option, and you also want multiple backgrounds with minimal travel between spots. I would suggest Avalon in Alpharetta, or for Atlanta, maybe Westside Provisions or Ponce City Market. They all have many textured background options and are easy to walk around.

Lastly, I’ll talk about parking! Especially in Atlanta, having instructions for how and where to park is crucial. It helps reduce any potential stress caused by your GPS saying, “You have arrived at your destination,” but the forest in front of you doesn’t look like the parking lot you were expecting. Again, my goal is to minimize hassles and stress before your session – and parking is a vital part of that experience.

Planning The Clothing

We manage to dress ourselves every day, but when it’s for a photoshoot, we lose all sense of sanity and coordination. So, based on the goal of the session and the types of images desired, I’ll ask if you have clothing options that match your vision. If you don’t already own pieces that work, I’ll recommend reaching out to friends, buying items for the session and then returning them afterward, or doing something like Rent The Runway

Or if you’re my friend Kevin, just take a piece of fabric and some clamps and presto – dress. It’s magical.

Once we’ve figured out the look, I’ll also recommend colors, patterns, trim/cut, and layering. And if shooting on location, we’ll figure out where and how to change clothes so you avoid flashing the world and the elements.

Do You Need a HMUA?

HMUA stands for Hair and Make-Up Artist. My male clients typically pass on this option, but I highly recommend it for my female clients. Not only do you get pampered for an hour or two, but I have the HMUA hang out for the session and serve as an extra set of eyes to look for stray hairs and bunched-up clothing. Selfishly, I love working with HMUAs because my client’s skin and hair look exceptional, making editing easier. It’s a win for everyone. We can talk about how the make-up and hair should look to best fit the types of images you want to capture. Each element of clothing, hair, make-up, lighting, and location that aligns with the ultimate goal of the shoot makes the final images that much better.

Choose a Date

Picking a date is the easy part! Once we know the details, we can determine when to take your images. I always double-check local events to ensure parking won’t be a nightmare or traffic at a standstill. The number of times I’ve gone to Piedmont Park, and there was a festival… Additionally, I always talk about backup plans. Whether that be alternate places to park, what to do if it rains, or if there’s construction that prohibits shooting in that area – it’s good to know the alternate options so we can adjust or reschedule easily.

Review and Plan The Deliverables

In the inquiry consultation, I always ask what my clients are hoping to take home. In the planning meeting, I like to review the deliverables and how you want to use them. Are you looking for wall art in the office, living room, or bedroom? Do you want a folio box that will go on a bookshelf? Knowing what size and scale the images will be and how they will be presented helps me determine how to frame the images we capture. This ensures the best selection of images and allows us to develop a high-level shot list so we don’t miss anything!

Next Steps

Once we know what we’re doing, I’ll recap what we decided in the planning meeting to check that we’re on the same page. After that, I’ll talk through the following steps. First, I’ll send over a handful of emails and articles with tips and tricks for preparing for the photo session between the planning meeting and the actual session. I’ll also send the parking instructions and confirm we’re set a few days before the session date. Lastly, I’ll talk about what happens after the shoot regarding expectations and timing for global edits, the reveal session, detailed edits, product delivery, the close-out contract, and the feedback survey.

And that’s it! That’s how I plan a portrait session! I swear it goes by a lot faster when done over two Zoom sessions, and trust me, it’s worth it. With all of these minor details settled, all that’s left is to show up and get some stunning portraits taken. Ready for yours?

based in Atlanta and interested in working together?

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