Getting the Most out of a Photoshoot's First Look

Getting the Most out of a Photoshoot's First Look

Whenever you work with someone new, whether it’s a member of your crew or a client, there is often that initial hesitation that comes with working with someone untested. There is a question of personalities clashing, of their skill, their expectations, and how they’ll handle direction or feedback. The sooner you are able to ramp up production and start capturing photographs, the better. Here are some best practices for making the most of the first look, and setting a great tone for your next photoshoot.

1.) Keep It Simple

If you have multiple looks planned for your shoot, then ensure that you start with the simplest one. If you start with a complicated look, then you’ll be at the mercy of the time it takes to produce that. It can be very difficult to keep yourself and your team energized while waiting on makeup and hair prep that can take nearly three hours.

There are other more practical reasons for starting with something simple, and that is because of the stress it can put on your subject’s skin. Dark or more vibrant lipsticks such as reds can stain your model’s lips, making it difficult to remove the color. This also holds true for any heavy makeup looks that require the makeup artist to remove foundation in order to reapply. Drastic makeup changes are a quick way to irritate your model’s skin, which can be unflattering on camera, and uncomfortable for them.

I have found that the best method is to start with the lightest look possible, and then build upon it as your session progresses.

2.) Flatter Your Subject

The first look, sometimes referred to as the “warm-up look,” should consist of wardrobe and styling that flatters your model. If it is for a personal portrait session, let them choose their favorite outfit. I always instruct my clients for these sessions to bring an outfit that makes them feel their very best. If this is for a session where a stylist has pulled wardrobe, then double-check your model’s measurements, and consult your wardrobe stylist on what look will be the most flattering for their figure. Leave the bolder, more daring styling options for later in the shoot.

I once had a photoshoot involving multiple models and wardrobe, where one of the models was unable to fit into her designated outfit. This caused the model to suddenly feel very self-conscious, and it took a noticeable hit to her confidence during the shoot. While you’ll always hope that your model can power through anything, you want to lessen these kinds of situations from occurring.

3.) Study Your Subject

The warm-up look is your chance to study your subject and learn a lot about them. You’ll want to discover very quickly what their strongest and weakest angles are, as well as monitor their movements and poses. It’s not uncommon for your model to be a little stiff or appear too posed at first, but this can be alleviated through proper direction and positive reinforcement.

Photograph a variety of angles and poses in order to spend time reviewing these images while your subject is preparing for their next look. Look for any habits they may have while posing, pay attention to your own lighting, and seize this opportunity as a chance to improve on any opportunities that you noticed during the warm up.

4.) Manage Your Time

In my experience, the first look, regardless of how simple, is the one that takes the longest for your makeup artist and hair stylist to complete. That being said, pay close attention to the time that passes in order to use it as a guide for the remainder of your looks. So long as you are not requiring the makeup artist to remove and reapply most of the makeup, then you can expect any looks that follow the first to take half that time to prepare. While this may not be a constant rule, it’s important to bear it in mind. It doesn’t take long at all for that time to add up and eat away at the valuable time you’re able to have the subject in front of your lens.

5.) Review with Your Team

While this is something that varies from photographer to photographer, I believe that sharing one of your best shots with your team is the quickest way to get them energized and excited. While it can be difficult to share a shot on-location with your team crowded around the back of your camera, if you’re in a studio or are leveraging a separate monitor, then share some of your photos with the team. It gives them something tangible for their efforts, and solidifies the impact they all had on helping to create those photographs.

Following the steps above will ensure that you set the right tone with your team, and more importantly, with your client.

Team Credits - Photographer: Kendra Paige | Model: Megan Coffey | MUA & Wardrobe: Miki Sarroca | Hair: Fiorella Castro & Mondo of Pyure Aveda Lifestyle Salon | Cosmetics: Darling Girl Cosmetics | Headband: Pink Pewter | Rescue Horse: Freedom Riders Academy | Retoucher: Svetlana Pasechnik | Assistant: Chris Brodsky | Special Thanks: Amy Ackermann

Kendra Paige's picture

Kendra Paige is a fashion and beauty photographer based in South Florida, with a passion for whimsical and colorful imagery. She discovered her love of photography while developing film in a middle-school darkroom, and has strived to be a positive influence in the photographic community ever since through education and mentorship.

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Appreciate the article , but the horse may feel slighted as some of his face has been photoshopped off .

Haha, a few others thought the same thing, but that's really how the horse's face is shaped! It's a Hanoverian / Draft mix, and because it's an older rescue horse that sadly endured years of malnourishment (he was 700 pounds underweight when they took him in), it's possible it may have had some impact on his shape.

That's Too bad about the horse. Hope he's healthy now .

They've done a really wonderful job rehabilitating him, and he's now back to a healthy weight. Really lovely horse, was definitely the easiest one to photograph. I'll just need to watch his angles next time!

Ugh. Cannot be unseen!

I don't talk about your face like that, Tam!

I've found the best way to get a shoot going is to get the subject laughing.

It's just like a date. If you can make someone laugh, things just tend to go well.

I couldn't agree more! I try to use humor very early on in my interactions to help put people at ease and get their buy-in. Great tip, thanks for the comment!

Good article Kendra. Your writing style is very enjoyable to read...relaxed and informative!

Thank you very much, always glad to hear from you! Hope you'll enjoy my future articles as well.

Of course! You know how much I like your work.

Great advice. You hit the nail on the head many times here, and I hadn't thought about always planning the simplest look first, nor had I realised that all other looks are applied much quicker than the first, but when I read it I thought - that's so true!

Thank you for your feedback! I do believe that some aspects of it may appear rather obvious to some, but it can also serve as a nice reminder for others! Recognizing a pattern can really help when managing time, because I feel that time management is a skill that can really vary from photographer to photographer.