A Beginner's Guide to Planning a Portrait Photoshoot

One of the most popular genres of photography and perhaps one of the best for beginners to try is portraiture. This great video will give you a quick guide to planning a successful portrait photoshoot.

Coming to you from Julia Trotti, this helpful video will give you a good outline for planning a successful portrait photoshoot. Of the tips she gives, I think the most important in my personal experience has been having a good concept in mind before the shoot, whether that's a location, a set of outfits, or whatever you'd like. When I was first beginning, I would often just grab a friend for a "shoot," which just meant showing up with a camera and no plan and seeing what happened, and well, the shots looked like I showed up with a camera and no plan. It can be rather difficult to improvise when you're still new to photography, and having a concept can help you stay focused and come away with the shots you were hoping to get, and it can help you to find and develop your style as a photographer. Check out the video above for the full rundown. 

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3 Comments

Yan Pekar's picture

Thank you for sharing your experience. It is a good overview, however quite basic and generic, and some points could be misleading for beginners. Such as:
1st step I would recommend is to gather client’s requirements, get to know your client / model, understand what kind of photos they want, and then choose a location matching the concept. Starting with choosing location without knowing your client / model may result in creating photos they would not like, or shooting in a location they will not feel comfortable with. You are going to create photos of a person, and show their personality in their portraits, so why not start with getting to know them? The impression I get from the video is that you first choose a location, then your model. From experience, this approach is not appreciated by many clients, as it forces them adapt to the photographer's style and chosen location (vs a case where a photographer creates a photo shoot concept based on the client's / model's requirements and character).
To plan and create a concept, it helps to start with a checklist, and ask yourself some questions “what client’s problem does the photo shoot resolve? What kind of photos do they need? How they will be used?”. The shooting process on the video looks more like snapping, taking hundreds of photos, but there is no mentioning of how to capture a portrait, how to work with a model, light, pose, camera angle, background, etc.
You keep saying “I, I, I”…”I like to start with…my favourite spots are…”. When you work with a model, the final results would depend on both of you working together.
One of the reasons why people take so many portrait photos that look emotionless, uninteresting, with same face expression is because they first focus on what they want rather than on trying to find out what their client / model want, and establishing emotional connection with them. Many people press a button without establishing any connection with a person they take photos of, focusing on just what they want or see, and not taking into account what the model wants, or actually seeing a person in front of them. Sorry, I could not find any valuable advice in the video on how to plan a shoot or create a concept, except for generic and obvious ones "choose a location", "prepare your bag a day before", etc.
A good habit ("must have" for professionals) is to have 2-3 backups on different drives, not just one (as mentioned in the video), as after you format memory cards, you are running a risk of having just one copy of your photos. Alex Cooke, I am wondering what did you find unique and valuable about this video that is different from thousands of similar generic videos on the Internet?

Daniel Medley's picture

It seems to me that your advice is a disconnected from the advice in the video and the accompanying article. You're speaking to a professional who has been approached by a "client", whereas the video seems to be starting from the POV of a beginning portrait shooter or a photographer looking to contact/approach models for their own ideas.

I've found that when approaching models to do some shooting it's best to have a concept already established. The ones I've worked with appreciate being approached with a fleshed out concept that can be articulated in a sentence or two. After all, if I approach/contact a model, at the end of the day the shoot is about what I want. Hopefully they appreciate it enough to want to be a part of it. I don't approach a model and say, "Hey, we should shoot sometime, what would you like to do?"

Just the other day I spoke with a represented model and told them I was planning a vintage glamour shoot along the lines of George Hurrell. I pulled out my phone and showed them some George Hurrell stuff. I told them I already have a HMUA and wardrobe person on board. They are excited to do it. It's my idea. It's my concept. They like it enough to come along for the ride for TFP.

That being said, if someone approaches me as a client then, yes, an approach similar to what you're talking about makes sense. After all, they're paying me and I work for them.

Yan Pekar's picture

Hello Daniel,
Thank you for your reply, appreciate your opinion.
I appreciate that the video is referring to beginners who (I am guessing) take pictures of models rather than clients. However, it is more beneficial to start developing the right habits rather than starting with ones which one will not benefit from when they start shooting clients.
In any case, whether creating portraits for a client or for a casual model, one of the objectives of portrait photography is to show personality of a person. Hence, I do believe that my advice is connected, as no matter whether you shoot for a client or not, you are trying (unless the photographer is only thinking of what he or she wants) to show their personality.

I think we are talking about two different cases. As the video did not mention (and was not about) commercial campaigns shootings, I was referring to portrait shoots where the goal is to create a portrait of a person. You were (I am guessing) probably referring to a case where a model is chosen to fit a pre-defined concept, such as commercial campaigns. From experience, sometimes models expect photographers to have a concept because a) they want to be a part of some "cool story telling photos", and b) they have no idea what photos they want and they have no ideas for a photo shoot.

Shooting commercials is a different case. Here, in most cases, the objective is shifted - it is more to show / sell a product rather than to show personality of a model in their portrait. The video did not refer to commercial photography, it was about portrait photo shoot.

Whether to have a concept ready when approaching models really depends on your goals. If you are shooting for a commercial campaign or for a stock, then yes, you develop (or the client provides you with) a concept and then you look for a model matching the concept requirements. In this case, personality of a model may not be the main priority to show…the first priority might be an advertised product, for example.

Speaking of “at the end of the day the shoot is about what I want.” - yes, if you shoot for yourself. But…if you shoot for a client, or if you are focusing on showing personality of a person then you are shooting FOR people (does not matter whether paid or not), and according to their requirements. Imagine that you booked a portrait shoot, you know (sort of:) what kind of photos you want to have, and your photographer tells you “we will shoot in this location, and this is how I want it, because this is what I want”. Imagine that you do not like football, and your photographer takes you to a football stadium for a shoot. It’s not a place where you will feel comfortable, and it has nothing to do with your personality (if you do not like football, that is:)
Have a great day.