Stories about people just like you. People who don’t feel comfortable in front of a camera, but still had a great time getting pictures that they love. Plus, some tips and tricks for how to look your best when you get your picture taken.


How To Make Sure You Get An Amazing Portrait

Portrait of man sitting on steps and look off into the distance.

One of the most common questions that people ask us is what they should be doing to prepare for their portrait session. And you might be asking yourself the same thing. What  will make an appreciable difference in the way your photos turn out? What are the things that you might not normally think about, but that can have a big impact on your final images? You are paying good money to get your picture taken, and in most cases the end result is going to publicly displayed somewhere, so you want to look your best. So here it is. We’ve compiled a list of the most important things for you to think about before your portrait shoot. It is up to you to actually do them.

Portrait of woman looking out of doorway with rich blue door, surrounded by a dark, rusty brick wall.

A Few Weeks Out

Hair – If you are getting a haircut for your shoot, do so about two weeks beforehand, just in case it goes wrong. For men, a fresh cut a couple of days before the shoot is usually fine.

Glasses – If you wear glasses in everyday life, you'll probably want to wear them for your photos. Unfortunately, they can cause a glare that will detract from your eyes. There are a couple of options for dealing with this, you can either take the lenses out of your normal glasses, get a loaner pair of similar frames from your eye doctor, or you can get a duplicate pair for cheap somewhere online. Frames Direct, Zenni Optical, or even the try-on set from Warby Parker are all good options.

Teeth – If you want to whiten them, you should start the treatment two weeks before the shoot.

Sun Burns and Tan Lines – Try to avoid getting sunburned altogether, but if you must, please do your best to avoid it in the days leading up to your shoot! If you are going to tan, go for it, but stop doing it in the days before your shoot to avoid getting burned, and be mindful of where your tan lines are in relation to the outfits you want to shoot in.

Portrait of woman leaning against tree and looking up in a playfully thoughtful way.

The Week Before

Clothes – Pick your outfit(s) well in advance of your shoot. Make sure they are comfortable and attractive. Solid colors or very simple patterns tend to work best. Think about how you want your photos to feel. If you want soft and elegant, chose neutral colors with soft, flowing fabrics. Creams, very soft pastels, light browns, tans, grays, or slate blues. If you want more fun and spunky, choose coordinating colors (but not matchy matchy) with bold accent colors, such as hues of gray with yellow or bright red accents. Adding fun accessories like scarves, headbands, hats, etc. can add a modern twist to your images.

Moisturizer – Dry skin really shows up in photos. If you don't already, start moisturizing nightly for a week in advance of your shoot. Focus on your arms, shoulders, neck, face and hands. Anywhere that will be visible during the shoot.

Nails – If you are going to use nail polish, pick a neutral color that won't clash with your outfits. Freshen it the day before or the day of the shoot. You can always use the photo shoot as an excuse to get a manicure, but even if you don't, at least make sure your nails look tidy and clean.

Headshot of young man sitting on a porch.

The Day Before

Bloating – No one wants their picture taken when they are feeling bloated and even if the bloating is not visible to the camera, your discomfort will be. To get the best photos from your shoot, don't eat things that cause you to feel unwell for a day or two before. You can always make a stop at your favorite fast food joint afterwards!

Red Eyes – Visine can help with the red or bloodshot eyes. Getting a good night's sleep the night before is also a good idea. (hint: the night before your shoot is not the time to hit the clubs.)

Facial Hair – Guys, be freshly shaved and trimmed. Use a new razor, shaving cream and after-shave lotion. Make sure any hair that is left is cleanly trimmed, keeping an eye out for the stray wiry hairs. Ladies, if you have any facial hair, do whatever you need to get rid of it, as even light and fine hairs will show up in the photos. Everybody, clean up and trim those eyebrows!

Ironing – If you need to iron something, do it the day before and hang the clothes you are going to shoot in. If something wrinkles easily, don't put it on until you get to the shoot location.

Practice - Before the shoot look at your face in the mirror and see which side you like better. Everyone has a good side, find yours. Try some different expressions in the mirror. Find your favorites. We'll want to get a variety of different expressions from you during the shoot.

Portrait of young woman hanging from a lamp post.

The Day Of

Hair Accessories – If we're shooting outdoors, you may have to put your hair up if it is windy. Bring bobby pins, hair clips, headbands or whatever you would normally use for that. It's always a good idea to have a brush as well.

Teeth – Brush your teeth before the shoot!

Lips – Bring lip gloss, lipstick or lip balm, in case you need to freshen up throughout the shoot.

Blemishes – Do your normal skincare routine, but don't cake on lots of makeup to try to cover up blemishes. It is almost always easier (and looks better) to get rid of those in post-processing.

Make-up – A subtle application can really help soften your skin and accent your features, but unless you really know what you are doing (or you've hired a professional), don't do more than the basics. Also, please make sure it matches your skin tone. Please.

Undergarments – Unless it is a boudoir shoot, you probably won't want your underwear to be visible. Make sure you think through any bras or accessories you will need to work with any outfit you want to shoot in.

Shoes – Ladies, heels, wedges, or flats are probably what you'll want. Make sure you look good and feel good, both will be apparent in the photos. Guys, wear your nice shoes. Your mom's or your significant other's opinion is almost certainly better than yours. Listen to them.

Lint – Bring a lint brush or roller!

Time – Give yourself plenty of time to get ready and get to the shoot location! If you've prepped well, it should be a breeze.

Black and white portrait of young man laughing.

During the Shoot

Music - If it is at all possible, we'll put some music on. This just helps to ease the nerves. Let us know before the shoot what you like to listen to so we can get it downloaded on our phones, otherwise we'll pick Gregorian Chant.

Direction - Throughout the shoot either I or my assistant will be giving you direction. Do your best to follow it. Even if it sounds a little silly. We know way more than anyone should about posing and the best way to shape your face. You may feel a little funny posing differently, but trust me the photos will look great.

Relax - Our photo sessions are supposed to be fun! Don’t be afraid to let your guard down. Try not to force your smile. It will look awkward in the images and your cheeks will be sore after the shoot. Try leaving a little space between your teeth when smiling, enough to put the tip of your pinky in between. It will help your smile will look more genuine.

Portrait of a young woman standing under a tree with pink blossums.

Thanks for taking the time to look through this list! If you do all those things, you’ll go a long way towards setting yourself up to get your absolute best portrait. But there is probably something we have forgotten. If you have any ideas or tips for how to best prepare to get your portrait taken, leave them in the comments below so that others can benefit from them.

Dillon McElhinneyComment