11 Tips For Your First Professional Photo Shoot

11 Tips For Your First Professional Photo Shoot

Your first professional photo shoot can be hell on earth if you’re not prepared. And how could you be prepared, it’s your first shoot?!

If you’re working with clients, as in taking portraits, it’s especially horrifying. Not only will you have to worry about yourself and your own paranoia, but you’ll have to manage their energy and expectations simultaneously. Now there might not be enough space in your brain to handle all that on a first go, but it gets MUCH easier with more experience.

I put together 11 tips for your first professional photo shoot, with the help of my friend and published photographer, Kathy Davies, to help you newbies avoid blowing your first shoot (wink).

First things first, just relax, it’s part of the process and you’ll be laughing and writing articles like this before you know it.

Then have a look at this list to pick up 11 tips for your first professional photo shoot.

1) Get lighting samples

Before you take live shots, make sure you have some samples. This means getting out to the location a day or two in advance to take pics during the time of day that your shoot is going to take place. Once you’re seasoned, you won’t need to do this as much because you’ll have a light meter built into your brain but it’s going to help you feel more confident and prepared in the early stages of your career. Move around and face different directions, snap pictures until you find the best direction of lighting.

2) Choose locations in advance

The worst thing you can do is have a client show up to your home/office/meeting place and say, “Alright, let’s walk around and find some locations.” It’s awful and the whole time you’re walking you’re going to feel like the grim reaper is around every corner. Come up with a list of 5-10 locations that you’ve visited and  taken photographs at and be able to draw on 2 or 3 for each client’s individual style. This helps you set an itinerary, be efficient, and look like a pro.

Try to pick locations with unique characteristics such as a textured surface (treated wood, weather aluminum, etc.) and strong contrasts. You don’t want the background to be too neutral and run the risk of blending in with the subject.

3) Shoot during sunrise and sunset

Lighting really is everything. There are a number of studies that indicate that people react more to the lighting than to the subject of the photo. The light qualities determines the mood of the audience. With that in mind, know that people gravitate towards golden lighting (sunrise and sunset). Subjects glow first thing in the morning and last thing before sunset. You can take a picture of a soiled couch in an alley at sunset and it’ll look great.

If times are out of your control (weddings) then move your body around and find angles with the least amount of shadows due to direct light. If the light is behind your subjects make sure you over expose the shot enough to see their faces without over exposing too much and blowing out the background. If the sun is directly in their eyes and they are noticeably squinting get them to rotate their body 10 degrees at a time until you find an angle that gives light to the subject but doesn’t blast out their face. Or just make your life easier and find some shade to keep the colors consistent.

4) Shoot in manual

Learning how to shoot in manual gives you the most control of your camera and yields the best results. All the other settings are lazy and allow your camera to operate at a sub-par level. The difference between f2.8 and f4.5 is tremendous. Once you’re comfortable with the big 3 – aperture, shutter speed, and ISO then you’ll be able to live in manual mode.

If manual stresses you out, then you just need more practice. For now, go into your settings and make sure auto ISO is turned off, set your ISO somewhere neutral around 1000 for indoor with light and 400 for daytime outdoors. Then lock your camera into aperture priority (A) and turn the wheel as far left as it will go, opening your aperture ring up to the maximum level. This will help produce high level photos without having to control all 3 variables.

5) Composition

Arguably most important behind lighting. Maybe they are even tied. Where you position the subject within the frame helps you determine your own unique style. There are many rules, such as the rule of thirds (subject in left third, middle third, or right third | vertically and horizontally applicable). You can also place the subject heavily in the foreground, central, or deep in the background depending on where you want the eye to originally focus.

The thing to remember about composition is that you want it to be unique. Shoot the same subject at all different distances with different positioning within the frame – lower right, upper left, center, left 1/3, etc. Look through the shots and determine what strikes your intuitive mind as visually stimulating.

Everyone has seen portraits at shoulder level so get on a ladder or lay down on the concrete and find a perspective that the eye isn’t used to. Those are the pictures that people like to look at.

Also, don’t forget to shoot slightly down on clients for portrait shots. Upshots will get you fired in 2 seconds. Your goal is to make people look thin and healthy and shooting down on a slight angle makes their lines longer instead of wider.

11 Tips For Your First Professional Photo Shoot

6) Getting the most out of your lenses

If you’re new, chances are you have a stock lens. Something like 18 – 55m f3.5. The pics aren’t going to look that good unless you know how to use your lens. The easiest thing to do is to shoot at maximum zoom to create “bokeh” effect. Move your body to get the compositions you want instead of zooming in and out. At maximum zoom the lens is operating with a more shallow depth of field and will naturally provide that blurry background look that everyone loves.

Once you can afford it, invest in prime lenses.

7) Connect with your clients

Remember your client probably doesn’t like having his/her photo taken. Make sure you make them feel as comfortable as you can. Many of them have never been photographed before and are just as nervous as you are.

Compliment them. Tell them they’re doing a great job, this will make them feel more relaxed in front of the camera. They know they aren’t models, make sure that is ok. If you notice them being stiff, tell them… in a nice way of course. Don’t be nervous about calling something out that you see, they will thank you for it later.

8) Make it fun

Don’t have any shame. If it’s in your character, be super goofy around your clients. Not only do you have to think of them being comfortable, but you want to make sure they’re having fun. That way you can get those natural smiles out of them and capture it with the camera.

Some of the best pictures come in between set ups. You’ll be talking to the client, making them laugh, all the while snapping great pictures.

9) Give direction

People say that they want natural and not posed photos, but they definitely need direction. It’s awkward for everyone if you are all just standing around waiting for something to happen. A way to get a natural looking pose is to tell them to do a certain motion. For example, tell your couples to talk, whisper, walk, kiss, hug…or even have a staring contest. Be ready to take a lot of pictures and find the 1 or 2 within each motion that appear natural.

Come up with a few staple poses or looks and build off of those as you learn about your client’s tendencies.

10) Look out for distractions

Make sure you’re checking your compositions for distractions that take away from the photo – a corner of a table, a person in the background, trash or clutter, cigarette butts, anything that you might not notice at first because you’re concentrating on the subject. Once you’ve taken the picture it will be quite difficult to remove those objects in post production. Do yourself a favor and make sure the shot is clear of unwanted distractions.

11) Editing

If you’re not good with editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom (don’t feel bad because they are impossible) then try emailing your favorite pics to yourself, opening them up on your phone, and applying filters through apps like Instagram or Picstitch. Then email the pictures back to yourself and put them in a folder on your computer to share with your clients.

11 Tips For Your First Professional Photo Shoot



Check out my article, “How to Become a Professional Photographer on a Budget” for a list of equipment to get you started.


Good luck shooting out there.

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