Gaining Confidence as a Portrait Photographer: Before The Shoot

This is the first in a series of posts I want to write on real tips for new photographers looking to take portraits. Usually you see posts about what gear to use, what poses to do, and where to put your lights. You rarely ever see posts talking about how acting confident can make the subject more comfortable or how to create a positive atmosphere. That's what I want these posts to be about.

A lot of new photographers getting into portraiture ask the question, what are some tips for taking portraits? And the answers are always the same; try to get natural poses, shoot during the golden hour, use a longer lens, use a lower aperture and so on... Those are great first tips, but something that doesn't get brought up a lot is making sure you're confident going into the shoot.

Every shoot is different

Fact. Just because one shoot was perfect doesn't mean the rest will go that way. Maybe the subject is in a bad mood or you have an equipment failure. Maybe they want to try something new you weren't prepared for. How will you deal with the problems and the unknowns of every shoot? Just because you had confidence one shoot doesn't mean it will transfer over to the next 3. You should try and do everything you can before the shoot to keep the confidence flowing.

Prep Like It's The Most Important Shoot Of Your Life

And you should think that every shoot is the most important of you life. You never know where it will go, who will see it, or what it will do for you. And on the other side, you never know if your lack of prep could hurt you or embarrass you. Who knows how far that will go. So it's important to prep for everything.

Know Your Gear

This one is obvious. What's the first thing you do when you get a new car? Read the manual. You should do the same with your camera and strobes. Something wrong? Chances are you'll know right away. And always always always test out new gear before you use it in a shoot. Things go wrong all the time, you need to make sure you know all you can before going in.

Story Time

Back in 2014 I was doing a lot of photobooths as well as some portrait shoots. Well I shot a photobooth one night and then the next afternoon I had a portrait session. The only problem is I forgot to switch from JPEG back to RAW after the photobooth. The photos still came out okay, but I definitely couldn't do everything I wanted to with them because I messed up so badly. I don't have any photos from the shoot anymore, but I messed up big time because I forgot to check my gear beforehand.

Discuss everything with your client beforehand

The most embarrassing thing you can do for a client is go in not knowing what they want. You are a service, they are the client, what they want goes. It's as simple as that. So you should try and communicate with them as much as you can before going into the shoot, this will show you are doing the best you can and relieve some possible tension on the client who may be worried they won't get what they want.

Make a Lookbook

I have an iPad I try to bring out for every shoot to show my client what I'm looking to do. I try to have a variety of photos with different styles because maybe what I'm thinking isn't what the client was thinking and they might like a different style from the lookbook more. This is especially perfect for new models who may be nervous and don't really have a lot of skills posing. You can show them on the iPad what you're trying to do and they can work off of that.

No matter what you do, things will go wrong. It won't happen every shoot, but it will happen. You need to make sure you're prepared when the inevitable happens. These are just some ways to prep before a shoot, if you have any others I missed, contact me and tell me what I should add!