photo by Andy Rasheed/eyefood

Preparation for a Portraiture shoot

June 6, 2013

I feel lucky in that I have a natural ease when meeting people, which is certainly a bonus if you end up shooting a lot of portraiture. But if you are out of your comfort zone, portrait photography can appear an intimidating process. I want to look at a few ways that you can prepare yourself to shoot a portrait that will assist you to settle into the process and get the shots you are after.

Knowing versus Stressing

Stressing over technical issues during a shoot will put everyone on edge and will kill the vibe! Make sure you have built up some experience and you know what you’re doing before attempting anything professional.

The best way to get experience is by offering to photograph your friends and family. You will want to get a good handle on your gear and a few reliable lighting techniques so that when you are shooting a stranger you are confident in the process. Confidence inspires confidence!

Some of my previous blogs will explain a lot of what you need to know about camera operation and some options to use light. Remember; if you pick off one bit of info at a time and apply it in practice a few times it becomes part of your knowledge base.









Think Before you Act

Like most photography, preparation is crucial to a successful portrait shoot. Have a plan with a couple of variations. Apart from corporate head shots, it’s rare that I will do a portrait shoot without changing lighting and location a couple of times. I will usually try and find a single location that offers two or three possibilities for backgrounds, and I will know in advance what lighting conditions to expect at the time of day that I am shooting. I then know what equipment to bring to cover my bases.

Get it together.

I do as much prep as possible before I ask the subject to sit for the shoot. Once I am on location I will assess what equipment I may need during the shoot and have it ready to use. I generally work from a tripod and, using the self-timer, I will take a test shot of myself in place of the talent to get a handle on how the light is working prior to their arriving.

Before getting the subject into position.

  • Make a lens choice; 50mm and longer are best for individual portraits because wider lenses will distort facial features.
  • Decide on shutter speed, apertures and ISO’s.
  • Checked battery levels, card capacity.
  • Have the composition roughly mapped out.
  • Consider lighting, and have a reflector or flash ready to use.
  • Make sure there is nothing to trip over (leads etc) and tidy up all the gear.

Peter portrait




Peter Dunn is a trained actor so shyness was not an issue. Given how comfortable he is with instruction the shoot only took a few minutes.









Getting to know you

Pulling the photo face

A lot of people are shy about having their photo taken and most of us have some issues about how we look in a photograph. As photographers, we are contending with issues of the subject’s self-confidence before we have even sat them down. Most people think they know how they want to look in a photo so they tighten up and pull their “photo face” and then carry on about how un-photogenic they are.

The main concern is to make people feel they are in good hands and reassure them that they will actually look fine in the photo. Much of this is communicated in the way you conduct yourself through the shoot. Before they can relax, the subject needs to know that you are relaxed and have the task under control.

The job of building confidence in the subject starts at “Hello, I’m…”. Don’t underestimate first impressions; you need to present well. You and your kit need to be clean and tidy and you need to show an approachable yet confident persona. If you are going to shake someone’s hand and you are not confident with shaking hands, practice until you get better at it. A limp fish handshake is a poor start.

in the field

With kids you need to be upbeat and happy but above all you need to be gentle and aware enough to know when to call it a day. If a child gets uncomfortable with the process generally the shoot is over.




Smile, and the world smiles with you.

Much of the performance you get from a person (who isn’t a model) revolves around the energy you bring to the shoot, it’s essential that you leave any bad vibes back home. You need to be relaxed and you need to smile! (A real smile not a cheesy fake smile). Try it next time you are out and about, most people will smile back at you out of reflex so build it into your practice.

The exchange

Without prying, I ask people questions about themselves; did you have a nice weekend, how long have you been working here, do you have any hobbies? If you find a topic that interests your subject, ask them about it. Then give them space to speak; “listen” more that you talk. When people are talking about themselves they are in control about what they share. After all, it’s the subject they know most about. I have found this a good way to put them at ease.

creative portraits

This image of Bindi Blacher was intended for an album cover and received some serious post production. 





Be light and enjoy the process

As I bring the person into position to be photographed, I am having a chat with them; being positive but never fake, and I will chat whilst I do the final adjustments to my set up and keep chatting into the shoot. I will knock out a couple of test shots and if I am happy with the set up, I just keep shooting. No, “OK I AM ABOUT TO START” but a continuation of the same energy as the test shots; just confident, no fuss and no pressure; Happy!

In essence

If you have yourself organised with both your equipment and you’re process the person being photographed will feed off your confidence. Your generous persona acts as a form of distraction for the subject and helps them loosen up enough to get out of the way of the process so you end up having a productive and enjoyable shoot.

Images and text © Andy Rasheed 2013

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