Preparing for your Portrait Session . Blog Carousel . Chattanooga Photographer

In an effort to force myself to blog more often and to share the work of some of my wonderful colleagues I invite you to view our blog carousel. It is a network of blogs belonging to some truly incredible photographers where we choose a monthly theme and all post based on that theme, it’s fantastic to see other amazing photographers interpretations. This month’s theme is to post something educational that you can learn a thing or two from. Once you’ve read my blog post be sure to click on the photographer’s link I’ve posted to read theirs, you’ll be able to do the same on her blog and can keep going until you’ve come full circle. It’ll be an amazing journey, I promise.

I photograph weddings, families, maternity sessions, newborns, couples, commercial jobs, and even photograph for several magazines on a regular basis. There are certain things that can make or break any photo session and knowing what you want and being prepared are important factors in that. Below are a list of tips that will allow you to be prepared for your photos and to get exactly what you’re looking for.

(before you apply this information – be sure that you’ve hired a good photographer that you can trust – when you get to Dena’s blog post on hiring a photographer you’ll get incredible tips on that – so I won’t go through what she’s already laid out so well, use the information I’ve posted below after you’ve hired a wonderful and talented photographer who suits your taste and style)

1. Determine what style you’re drawn to. Do you enjoy natural settings? Fine art photos? Gorgeous environmental portraits that showcase a place you love or the place you live? Are you more modern and urban? Minimalistic? Trendy? Classic? Vintage? How is your home decorated? What do you want hanging on your wall? Hiring a good, talented, experienced photographer is an investment and the more you can tell them about what you like and what you want the more they can help to create that for you. Think about how you decorate your home, what you love to look at, what images on their website draw you in the most, and what you’d like to do with your photos to determine the style you’d like. For example, if you’re looking for a wall portrait to decorate a very traditional living room you probably won’t want to choose an urban location with graffiti walls and you’re not going to want to hang a wall portrait of your family in a rustic setting in your clean modern living space.

2. Plan your clothing choices. (this one is going to have a lot of bullet points)

You have a personality – let it show. Don’t dress your entire family in matching white t-shirts and khaki pants – but don’t let little Susie wear flowers, your husband wear plaid, and the baby wear a formal dress while you’re wearing stripes.

Coordinate without Matching.

Just say no to scary prints. Your clothing should show you who are without upstaging you (you want the focus of the photo to be on the people in it, not on their clothing).

Choose styles that fit the environment you are being photographed in. While, sometimes, wearing a formal dress in the woods can create a gorgeous and dramatic image it does have to be carefully done. You won’t want to wear jeans and flip flops to be photographed outside of a gorgeous formal building. You want to stay away from over saturated colors – super bright or neon colors might work okay with a graffiti wall – but nobody will notice YOU in the image – they’re only going to notice your crazy bright clothing.

Stay away from tight knit clothing. Most of us have flaws somewhere on our bodies – a curve we don’t like, a little bit of skin that looks like a fat roll when we sit down, a little pooch from the birth of a child…. Knit clothing tends to accentuate or even create new flaws we don’t have. It can make men appear to have bellies that don’t exist – and women appear to have fat rolls when it bunches up when we sit. Whatever you decide to wear – make sure it fits you well, it doesn’t bunch in places it shouldn’t, it doesn’t ride up awkwardly, etc… I LOVE cotton shirts on men, flowy fabric on women, and children dressed in classic clothing that won’t look dated a few years from now (like the circa 1978 wall portrait I have of myself wearing a pink top with rick-rac and poofy sleeves with a pair of heavily embroidered bell bottom jeans – I’m sure those were all the rage then but I’m certainly not sporting that photo on my wall today!).

Don’t be afraid to ask your photographer what to wear for your portrait session. Don’t be afraid to show up with multiple outfit options and just ask what they recommend. Better to have it there with you than to not have it and want it. While clothing makes a HUGE difference in the results of your portraits it shouldn’t be something to anguish over. Classic clothing will ALWAYS be classic and beautiful.

3. Work with your photographer on your session time. Once you’ve expressed the look and style you want for your portraits you’ll have to leave a lot of decisions to your photographer. An experienced photographer will know the best times and locations for your portrait session based on the information you’ve provided them. A talented photographer can control many, many things – but they can’t control the sun. You won’t get soft warm light out of harsh midday sun and you won’t get striking sunset colors in early afternoon. Obviously don’t schedule your session in the middle of little Johnny’s nap time and “hope” he doesn’t get cranky (he probably will) but sometimes you have to alter schedules a tiny bit in order to have the look you want for your portraits.

4. If there are children involved in your session… I know how stressful it is as a parent to bring your children to a portrait session. You’ve spent time and money on clothes, you’ve managed to get everyone clean and dressed and actually get yourself dressed too. Basically you’ve already performed three miracles by the time you walk out the door. You want the session to be perfect, you want your child (just this once, pretty pretty please) to act like a perfect angel and to smile on command. I know, I do, I totally get it – I schedule my own family photo sessions at least a couple of times a year and I feel exactly the way you do… “My children are being horrible.”, “This is humiliating.”, “I spent all this time and all this money and there won’t be any good photos at ALL.”, “I am NEVER doing this again.”, “WHY did I think this would be a good idea??” Those are all of the things that run through my mind during our family portraits – so I’m sure there’s a good chance they’ll cross yours as well.  Let me promise you that unless they are hitting someone, throwing rocks at the photographers camera, or just really absolutely out of control – they’re not being as bad as you think they are. An experienced photographer knows what to do to get the reactions they’re looking for. We’ll ask you if we need help dealing with your child(ren) – if we don’t – assume all is good and keep facing forward and smiling at us. It may take a bit of work to get most children to smile but if you’re ready and smiling when we get a big grin from them then we’ve got it! If you’re looking at them, rolling your eyes, etc… then we may not. Be prepared to let us tell your children what to do.

4. There are very few times when you should bring someone to “help” with your photo session. The fewer people in attendance, the better – most of the time. Obviously there are a few exceptions – I would always recommend having a friend or a parent there for your bridal session as you’ll need some help with your wedding dress. It’s a good idea to bring a helper when you have newborn twins or shouldn’t yet be driving after the birth of your child. Otherwise bringing additional people who aren’t being photographed are usually a distraction. Although they are trying to help we generally lose a lot of eye contact and attention to the “helper” as it’s someone your kids actually know and they’ll get a lot of the attention we are trying to get.

5. Relax. The MOST important thing is to relax and ENJOY your portrait session. Be yourself. You’ll be surprised at how much that alone will change things.

I hope that was helpful information for preparing for your portrait session. Next up is Atlanta Baby & Children’s Photographer, and my dear sweet friend, Corey Sewell who has written a fabulous in-depth article on how to choose a location for your session.

Posted in

Melody Hood


  1. […] | Lauri | Allie | Danna | Julie | Melody | Corey | Tara | […]

  2. dena robles on April 30, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Oh my goodness, your experience speaks VOLUMES here Melody. I think I will be sending this link to all my clients pre-session! A successful portrait session really is a collaborative effort and I think that point gets lost too often.

  3. Julie Tauro on April 30, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Great advice for prepping for a portrait session. I especially love the advice to relax and enjoy the session! It is sometimes hard to do but it absolutely DOES make a world of difference to the end results!

  4. Corey Sewell on April 30, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Amazing article, Melody! Love all of the perfectly detailed advice!

  5. chris plamann on April 30, 2012 at 10:53 am

    wow, stellar advice as always, i’d love to permanently link to this article from my own website!!

  6. Danna on April 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    what a wealth of information and knowledge you are! Thank you for sharing all this info. I agree with Dena, I may have to direct all inquiries to read this first.

  7. lauri on May 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    These are all such great tips, and so thoroughly explained! Love this!