How Great Portraits are made!

As I photograph more and more people, the more I’ve come to realize something: a great portrait is the co-operation between the photographer and his/her subject. When both are working together the result is far more than what comes from direction alone. Now, the tricky part is that wedding and portrait photographers are usually shooting “normal” people, rather than trained models. Our subjects often aren’t experienced in having their photo taken, and don’t know a lot about the process.

However you can do a LOT to help your clients prepare for having their photos taken, and hopefully get to that magical state of collaboration. And bonus, it’s not even that hard. Simply create a resource. Here's how to do that.

Making Your Resource

You have to remember that you know a lot about photography, and your clients probably know very little. They’re hiring you because you’re the expert! So you have to take all that fantastic knowledge, and break it down into useable and practical advice. In essence you are going to teach them how to have their photo taken by you! Teaching is fun!!

The contents of your resource will reflect your unique approach to photography, so it’s important to not just copy someone else! The more your clients can understand what it’s like to work with you, the better the results will be! So to get rolling on this, sit yourself down and think through your entire client process, step by step.Write it all out if you haven’t done so already. And then, at each step, see things from your client’s perspective. Put yourself into their shoes.


The more you shoot the more you should start to develop a philosophy—the *why* you shoot and what you’re hoping to achieve with your work. This is important information to communicate to your clients! You’ll probably talk about this when they first inquire, so they should already have an idea of what you’re about, but we like to keep reiterating this so they keep it in their minds throughout the whole process. When we’re all on the same page with the reason for the shoot it’s a much more enjoyable and meaningful experience!


One of the most common questions we get is “Where will we shoot? Do you pick or do we?”. And these resources you’re creating are intended to answer all these questions for your clients before they even have to ask!

So the location question should be addressed right away, and the answer is going to be up to you! Do you have a studio? Do you work on location? Do you prefer natural or urban areas? Why? Tell them how you pick locations, and why. Share some of your favourite images in different types of locations. The resource should be as visual as possible, and feature lots of your images. It’s a great way to show off more photos, and get them excited about having images of their own soon!


If you photograph kids you’ll want to provide parents with advice on getting their little ones ready for the session. We have tips like bringing multiple outfits, snacks, and a favourite toy in case the little one needs some comfort. We also discuss what we hope to capture when we photograph kids (their personality, not just a cheesy smile), and ways parents can encourage their kids to be themselves.


The biggest challenge in getting ready for a photo session has to be choosing what to wear. So it's a must to help in that area.

We give tips on how to dress as a family or couple (i.e. you can coordinate, but don’t need to be matchy matchy), reminders to consider all parts of the outfit (like thinking about shoes and sock combinations, and not wearing hats at the beginning of the shoot). We also give some advice on hair and makeup, and encourage clients to bring an extra outfit or two if they want some feedback.

This section will definitely take some thought and work on your part, so don’t rush it. Look through your portfolio, and see if any clients stood out as having great clothing choices, then showcase them and point out what was great about their outfits!


Then, of course, is the session. Give your clients tips on what to expect during the shoot, both in terms of what they’ll be doing, and what you’ll be doing. Again, you’re going to have to think about your own approach to shooting here. The more you can explain the *why* behind all this, the more your clients will appreciate your motivation, and trust you. Trust is massively important in getting to that state of collaboration we’ve talked about.


Give your clients a peek at what happens after their session. This is where you will be doing a LOT of work behind-the-scenes, and they will appreciate knowing just what they’re paying you all this money for! If you do a lot of editing and retouching you could even show them some samples of how much enhancing you’ll be doing to ensure their images are looking top notch.

Also give them an idea of the timeline for their images. These are the kind of details that are worth repeating a few times, just so they don’t have that dreadful moment thinking “Shouldn’t our photos be ready by now?”, and you end up looking bad, even if you’re actually on schedule! Make it clear when they can expect to see the photos, and how that will happen (online, in person, delivery, etc.).


While you have your clients thinking about their session, you can also get them thinking about the ways they’ll display the awesome photos that will come out of it. Let them know about all your products, and why they are fantastic. Get them thinking about where in their house they want to put the images!


Finally, we finish up by letting them know that we are here to help in any way, and they can contact us about anything! We genuinely want to make sure they are comfortable and prepared for the session. It will mean a better result for everyone!


The critical thing to keep in mind is that you, as a wedding photographer, have vastly more experience with weddings than your client, who is generally going through the process for the first time!! So, the more information you can give them the better. They’ll really appreciate a helping hand, and you become much more than just the photographer. You become an essential part of their big day.


The most important part of the wedding day was planning a smooth timeline. After shooting quite a few weddings we had a good idea of how the day generally ran, areas that always took longer than expected (hair and makeup!), places to add some padding, and the rough amount of time to set aside for photos. You should also have a final meeting before the wedding to go through it all again, and help them talk through their timeline, just to be sure everything was solid.


Give your clients lots of tips on how to make the process go nice and smoothly. Please insist on a written list to make sure everything is nice and clear. Always firmly suggest doing the portraits immediately after the ceremony to avoid anyone running off!


Photographers are often one of the first vendors booked for the wedding, after the venue. From there on out the couple has to choose a TON of people to help with their big day. If you know of great vendors in your area, create a resource for your clients! You’ll save them a ton of time, and help ensure that you work with a great team on the wedding day!

Big Idea

The easier you can make the process, the more fun they’ll have, and the more they’ll enjoy working with you! Which is pretty much the goal isn’t it?