Books That Help Me Take Personality-Packed Portraits

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One of the first things I ask any new client is why they inquired with me. More times than not, their response includes, “Your portraits seem to bring people’s personalities to life! I can tell it’s really the person being photographed, and I want that for my images.” It’s one of the biggest compliments as a photographer: I’m genuinely capturing my clients in their images, and others are noticing it! Honestly, my background as an engineer did not prepare me for this skill set. We’re known as the quiet, awkward types that have trouble communicating. After getting fired from one job early in my career (I was an iffy employee at one point) for poor communication skills, I decided to fix it with one of my favorite hobbies: reading a bunch of books.

I’ve always been a voracious reader. Most of my reading list consisted of murder mysteries, spy thrillers, science fiction, and re-reading Harry Potter for the bajillionth time. So it wasn’t a huge jump to start reading about communication, human behavior & psychology, and leadership. I certainly learned a BUNCH and consequently did some major self-improvement work. What I gained from that reading transformed how I approached clients during a shoot and my photography business. I’m going to walk through the essential skills I picked up from all my reading and the main books where I got that information.

personality packed portraits

Books For Personality-Packed Portraits

You know what these look like: genuine smiles, eyes filled with laughter, stares that penetrate your soul, and mischievous smirks open to suggestion. We’re all capable of these and other emotions. The hard part is getting out of our heads where we overthink and psych ourselves out. As a photographer, getting a portrait technically perfect is only half the battle. I spend the most energy helping my clients feel comfortable and relaxed enough to trust me that when I say, “Imagine you’re talking to Jesus in his thong,” we get a genuine laugh to create freaking incredible portraits. Establishing trust is priority number one. Once we have that, the portraits are the easy part (for my clients, at least. I’m still working like a madman). 


Good communication is the basis for everything. Bad communication means bad results, or in engineering terms, “Gargabe in equals garbage out.” Having the tools is one thing, but knowing how to communicate between two humans to get on the same page is crucial for a successful shoot.

Matching Energy

Ever walk into a room feeling totally crummy, and the person next to you is practically vomiting sunshine? That doesn’t really help you feel better. Instead, I’ve learned from many books that meeting someone where they are is vital, especially before trying to change their disposition. This is also big for my shy or reserved clients. Having a loud and boisterous attitude will put them further into their shell. In contrast, if I have a very high-energy and talkative client, I have to turn on my extrovert side for that session. Matching my client’s energy is a big part of making them feel welcome and comfortable in a session!

Positivity & Encouragment

Being positive and encouraging seems obvious, but this one has some nuance. I make it a point to encourage and support good processes, not just the results. Yes, I’m usually hopping up and down, telling my clients they’re rocking their session. I’m also telling them, “when you do this, it’s great for these reasons.” I also support the process of getting the images. Providing positive reinforcement for how we’re getting the images is important because if we’re 100% goal-focused, we can quickly lose steam if we hit a wall with the images we’re getting. When we’re trying something new or difficult with the images, encouraging the process keeps everyone engaged and excited while we work through any challenges.

Being Silly

Humor goes a long way to disarm my clients and keep the session fun and engaging. Back in my theater days, I was known as a physical actor.  My comedic style has a lot to do with my body. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve also learned to be verbally funny. But they’re all tools to keep my clients laughing and enjoying themselves. Happy people are relaxed, and that comes through in images!

Emotions & Body Language

I could write a book at this point on all the reading I’ve done on emotions and body language. It’s truly fascinating to learn how our emotions work, how they influence our body language, and vice versa! That’s right; your body language can influence your emotions. Having a mopey day? Smile, sit up straight, laugh, and “act happy” for the next 10 minutes, and you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel! I use this a lot to elicit various emotions and moods from my clients, telling them to act a certain way or pretend to be a character from a movie or tv show. Saying “be happy” doesn’t really work. Instead, once I’ve placed my client into the desired pose, I’ll ask them to think of their favorite stand-up comedian, animals doing funny things, or get them talking about their favorite hobbies. 

Aligning Goals and Vision

One of the biggest Ah ha! moments I’ve ever had was understanding that because everyone grows up with a unique set of experiences, we all have different interpretations of the shared words as a result. For instance, if I ask you to think of the color red, what comes to mind? Is it a firetruck, a rose, a sports car, your favorite shade of lipstick, or something else entirely? I typically imagine my dad’s boat, which is a cherry red. Your life experiences will make you think of a very different red (unless you’ve been stalking my dad’s boat, which would be creepy). Of all the other possible things to think of, how many variations of red are available? Now apply this to words like strong, independent, charismatic, bold, energetic, or attractive. The possibilities are endless! For this reason, I’ve learned how to better understand what my clients mean when they tell me something as innocuous as, “I want to look smart.” By doing this research, I can create images that match their goals and show off what they want and who they are! It’s a win-win.


These may not interest you as much, but I’m a big believer that running a great business is also an important aspect of having happy clients. Getting great artwork isn’t enough – I want my clients to love the experience of creating their portraits. With that goal in mind, I read a lot of books about service. Thinking about long-term goals that benefit my clients and me and how to be transparent about options when planning the portrait session and selecting wall art to take home. I also try to read books on making my business more efficient and user-friendly because I have a day job in addition to being a photographer. So balancing the two while keeping everyone happy is a constant journey.

So Many More Books!

As I mentioned, I’m a huge book nerd, and the ones I listed above are just a handful of the great works I’ve consumed and learned from. I try to approach my photography business from multiple angles to provide my clients with the best experience and value. Learning how to communicate and create a collaborative environment that promotes trust and a sense of fun is crucial to getting portraits that show true personalities. They are tools that also help foster a great portrait experience. If you’d like to see more of my reading list, I can send you a link to my Good Reads profile. If you’d like to know more about the tools and processes I use to get the most personality out of my clients, feel free to shoot me a message. And if you have a book recommendation, please comment below! I’m always looking for new material.

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