How to Prepare for a Photo Shoot

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Photos are an easy and effective way to grab people's attention and show them your work. And the more professional your photos look, the better. While these days you can easily use your phone or tablet to grab a beautiful picture, photo shoots with a professional photographer give you the opportunity to work with someone who is trained in capturing your best angles and can contribute ideas and designs that you wouldn't think of otherwise. Over the years I have arranged several photo shoots for myself and had the opportunity to work with some amazing photographers. I can tell you definitively, no matter what kind of artist (or professional) you are, it can never hurt to have a catalog of professional photos to illustrate who you are and what you do. So here are some tips for finding a photographer, preparing for a photo shoot, and posing during the session.

Before the Photo Shoot

When preparing for a photo shoot, you want to go in with a clear vision of how you want the photographs to look. What purpose are the photographs serving? Will they be used as acting head shots? Images for your online craft store? Pictures to promote an upcoming concert, dance recital, or comedy tour? Keep in mind that different industries may have different standards or rules for certain types of photos (for example, acting head shots tend to focus on the upper body and face). So how you intend to use the photos will help determine the style and concept for the photo shoot.

Even if there is no industry-specific framework you are trying to stick to, it helps to go in with a concept for the shoot. To help you develop ideas, look online at your favorite images and promotional campaigns. Instagram and Pinterest are particularly useful for this purpose, as well as the personal websites for your favorite artists. You can use these photos as examples of possible outfits, makeup, backdrops, and the style of photography itself. Do you like black and white shots or are you a fan of colorful and bright images? Are there particular angles that appeal to you, or particular poses? You should note all of these things and adopt your favorite elements for your own photo shoot.

Finding and scheduling the photographer can often seem like the most difficult task pre-shoot. However, there are usually many resources available to help you find a photographer. If you tend to like a particular style of photography that you've seen online (or even in person), find out who the photographer is and reach out to them. Many will be happy to talk about their work and give you a quote (i.e. pricing information) for a session. You can also crowdsource online and ask friends, family, and even acquaintances about photographers they have used in the past. I am always happy to share the names of the photographers I've worked with and find that most people usually feel the same.

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Photographs, while incredibly valuable, can be very expensive. The cost is often more than worth it with the right photographer, but when those costs are prohibitively high, you can explore a different route and talk to local photography students, particularly those in colleges or high schools, or to friends and family who love photography as a hobby but do not treat it as a career. Working with a young student who wants to use the opportunity to build his portfolio or an amateur photographer who takes excellent pictures as her hobby serves as an excellent alternative solution. When budgets have been tight, I've been incredibly lucky to work with some amazing photographers who worked at a lower rate than normal or who even took photos for free just because they love photography. I will always advocate paying for art and artistic services just the same as you would pay for any other product or service; however, I all too well understand that budgets sometimes will not stretch far enough to cover everything. Just make sure to be open with the photographer you are speaking to about your budget constraints so that you can negotiate honestly and openly. And if they quote you a certain price, respect how they value their work and adjust your plan as necessary.

When negotiating with your photographer, you should not only discuss price, but the number of pictures they will take, how long the photo shoot will last (including travel to different locations), how many pictures of those taken that they will edit afterwards, whether they can print those pictures for you afterwards (often photographers can get a better deal printing pictures), how you'll receive the pictures (email, USB, etc.), and whether you'll own the intellectual property rights to the pictures. The latter question is very important to ask, as that determines how freely you can use the pictures that result from the shoot. If you want to use them for any purpose going forward, you need to make sure the photographer has given you all the rights to the pictures, which can be as simple as them saying as much in person or over email, etc.

Photography by Frédéric Völker

Photography by Frédéric Völker

You should finish your preparations by selecting the outfits you will wear (if there are multiple), the makeup you will use, and the locations you will shoot in (make sure you have the necessary permission to shoot in specific locations!). You should also pick any props you want to use, which can range from sunglasses and flowers (staples of any photo shoot I arrange), to the products you create, to symbols of your art and career. When I arranged a photo shoot for my production company, 13 Roses Productions, I brought thirteen red roses (and a couple of extras in case some broke), sheet music and composition books, and made use of a piano in the background. This resulted in some amazing and timeless images that I have used on the website and in several promotional campaigns. So always think ahead and bring some props. Even the most random items can add an extra spark to a photo.

After arranging all of this, make sure to get a good night's sleep and drink lots of water in the days beforehand. You don't want to put in all the work in arranging the shoot and then show up looking tired and not feeling your best. Simple steps like these will ensure that you are happy with the pictures at the end of the day.

During the Photo Shoot

The most important thing to remember during a photo shoot is to have fun! Ideally you've done all the preparation beforehand and it'll be smooth sailing going forward. But even on those days when you're rushing to get to the location or you left a prop or piece of clothing at home, or it started to rain before your outdoor shoot could even begin, you need to remember to relax and have fun. Any pictures you take will reflect your mood that day and, if you want to get the best shots, you need to be prepared to leave whatever is stressing you behind before stepping in front of the camera. Or, if it's possible, to take what's stressing you and channel that energy into your modeling. If traffic is terrible and you're taking dramatic head shots, channel that frustration through your eyes and stance. Other ways to get in the right frame of mind for a photo shoot can include playing music. The right playlist can relax you, lighten your mood, or increase the drama and the sexiness of your poses (shoutout to Beyoncé and Bruno Mars for always getting me in the right frame of mind!).

If having friends there will relax you, then invite them to join you; as long as they won't be a complete distraction and prevent you from getting all the shots you need. Whenever possible, I like to invite a third person to act as a personal assistant of sorts for the day. In the past, friends have helped me note when something is out of place or a pose isn't working. They can also just talk to you and make you laugh. If the third person is someone you are comfortable with and who makes you feel relaxed, their presence can help you take more natural looking photographs. It's also fun to sometimes include them in the shoot, both as a thank you for participating and just to have fun.

Always make sure to look at the pictures that the photographer is taking on the camera during the shoot. That way you can make sure the pictures are coming out the way you want and that your poses and facial expressions are coming across as you intend. And don't be afraid to be spontaneous. I am nowhere near an actual model and, despite appearances, I can get very camera shy. Especially when I compare the images I had in my mind with what I see on the camera. But the best pictures I have ever gotten are the ones where I just went for it, ignoring any insecurities or doubts. Whenever I decide to pose as fiercely as Ashley Graham or any of the many beautiful actresses I follow, I find that a good portion of the pictures come out quite beautifully, especially with the help of the fine-tuned eyes of the photographer. So don't hold back on the day of the shoot. The worst that can happen is that you don't like some of the pictures; the best that can happen is you get to feel like a top model for a day.

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After the Photo Shoot

If you need the images by a certain date, make sure to let your photographer know so they can work with that time constraint in mind. Also make sure that they send high resolution photos so you get the highest quality version of your pictures. Lastly, I will always recommend saving all the photos (the good, the bad, and the never-see-the-light-of-day photos) onto an external hard drive, so you don't need to worry about losing them if something happens to your computer.

I hope these tips help you prepare for and experience great photo shoots in the future! Below are some of my favorite shots from previous photo shoots I have done for myself and 13 Roses Productions. If you have questions about the photographers, let me know in the comments below! Now go forth and strike a pose!