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Here's how my photo shoots work

January 18, 2016

I like to think that my photo shoots are fairly straightforward, easy, and fun affairs.  However, I recently had an experience that taught me how stressful a photo shoot can be, even when you know exactly how they work.

I have an image that will be featured in the January/February issue of Colorado Life Magazine.  The magazine kindly offers a 200-word profile of their contributors and they also like to include an image of the photographer.  The format of my current headshots didn't work for the magazine layout so they scheduled a quick shoot with me in order to get a few more options for the publication.  The way their photo editor and photographer, Joshua Hardin, runs his headshot shoots is very similar to the way I run mine offering me a unique opportunity to evaluate the service I offer from the customer's perspective.

Now I spend most of my time behind the camera.  It's been quite a while since I've been in front of the lens.  Sitting for the photos reminded me how nerve-wracking being imaged can be so I wanted to explain what a photo shoot with me is actually like and the steps I take to make my clients more comfortable throughout the process.

Step 1: Ask questions

I don't even take my camera out of the bag until I have had a conversation with my client about what their expectations are.  Sometimes the client and I have had an opportunity to chat prior to the shoot.  If that's the case I reiterate that their needs have not changed since the last time we spoke.  In many cases it's been several weeks since the last I communicated with them in depth and there have been several clients who have found out just prior to the shoot that they need additional images in a different style for another use. 

If the client and I have not had a chance to communicate much prior to the shoot I run through a very simple list of questions with them to make sure I deliver the product that they need.  Since I primarily shoot headshots my questions are typically professionally oriented and look like this:

What will these images be used for?

What industry do you work in or are you trying to enter?

Do you have a company or website color scheme that you are trying to match?

Is there anything that you self-conscious of when you look at images of yourself?

The conversation usually takes about five minutes after which I take the camera out of the bag and begin to go over "the rules" while I check my settings.

Step 2: The rules

I don't want to overwhelm my clients by giving them a lot to remember right off the top so the rules tend to be extremely simple.  I let my clients know that I need them to have good posture throughout the process and that standing up straight is the most important thing they can do to help me.  Then I run them through the three different facial expressions that I image taking the first set of pictures as I describe them.

Alisha was very good at making all three of the expressions.  This mother of three wanted to be able to set her own schedule in order to spend as much time with her children as possible so she just recently entered into real estate.  We worked together earlier this week to create headshots for her marketing material.  She will be my example client throughout this blog.

Mime Face

1.  Mime face - I have yet to discover why I began calling this expression mime face but it usually gets a smile.  I describe this as resting face with a slight upturn at the corners of the lips just so that my clients don't look angry.

Half smile

2.  Half smile - I describe this one as a big closed mouth smile.

Smile with teeth

3.  Megawatt smile - This one is the biggest, toothiest grin I get can out of my clients.

Step 3: Assessing the first set of images

I always take the first set of images dead on to the camera in order to get the classic headshot look.  After I'm done with the first three I show the client the images on the back of my camera explaining beforehand that typically one of the expressions will look more like them than the others.

When I'm showing them the images I ask them to look specifically at hair, clothing, and make-up if applicable to make sure that everything is straight and styled the way they want it to be.  I also ask them to assess their expression and let me know which one is their favorite so that we can focus on that expression throughout the rest of the shoot.

Step 4: The turn

After we've looked at the first set of images and fixed any hair or clothing issues I return to shooting and begin focusing on my posing.  I explain that I will be having the client turn both directions because everyone has a favorite side of their face and I want to make sure that I am able to present them with both options when I send them their finalized images.

Step 5: Moving

While I have an indoor mobile studio set-up I can construct specifically for headshots I actually prefer to shoot outdoors because of the variety of backgrounds that are available to me.  I like to provide my clients with options so I typically shoot in shopping centers because they contain various backdrops in a concentrated area.  Once the client and I have finished with the complete first set of images I let them know that we'll be moving to another location and doing the exact same thing over and over again for the entirety of the shoot.

Returning to the shoot with Alisha I mentioned earlier - we walked roughly a square block and had several different options for her photographs.


Had we ranged slightly further we could have found a few more spots but Alisha was happy with the variety of images I was able to take in such a small area.

Step 5:  Releases & payment

Before I leave a shoot I ALWAYS have a client sign my release.  I explain it in plain language and give them an opportunity to read the written text while I put away the camera and explain my delivery process.

Unless we have prearranged payment I also double check and find out what method the client would like to use to pay and if they need a receipt, W-9, or other additional paperwork from me.

And that's my process.  I am constantly evaluating and looking for ways to improve in order to provide the best service to my clients.  The opportunity to be on the other side of the camera was invaluable but ultimately didn't cause me to change what I do. I am confident in my own process, the product it helps me create, and the feeling my clients walk away with.