Prepare for a Session

For some people, the idea of a portrait session is a bit unnerving. For others, it is a bit of a chore. And still others may love the idea of a portrait session, but not understand what to do to prepare. I understand all of this! I'm here to guide you with some tips and tricks I have learned over the years. Read on...

1. Relax

If you take nothing else away from all the tips in this section, the most important tip to remember is to simply relax. This is your moment. Your session is not timed. This is when we get to capture you! Take a deep breath. Relax. Just be you - unapologetically. In fact, you can be silly, subtle, sweet, simple, studdly, nutty, quiet, quirky, crazy, calm, cutsie, and all of the above. I have seen it all and it all works. The most important part of your session will be how you feel. I’m here to help you feel your best.

2. The Season

One of the most influential aspects of your portrait session will be the season you choose to have your portrait taken. In Montana, flexibility in scheduling is important as we all know it's possible to experience all four seasons in one day.

Usually the beginning of June through the middle of October (at the latest) is the easiest time frame to take portraits. The sun is warm and the colors in the sunsets are amazing. The trees are lush or turning golden hues. The fields are either green or turning a light straw color. The weather during this time is mild. With planning and flexibility, it is easy to work around afternoon thunderstorms, wind or the first few snow flurries.

While winter portraits are still do-able, cold temperatures and wind are usually very hard on you, the client. The harsher weather will cause noses, ears and fingers to turn red. Eyes tend to tear and if there is a lot of wind, hair becomes somewhat wild. Obviously, it gets a bit difficult to smile if you become uncomfortable in these conditions. I am always willing to take a winter portrait, but I encourage you to consider your comfort level first.

If you are looking to schedule a senior portrait, I suggest you contact me as early as April or May of the student’s junior year to schedule a session between June and September. It may seem early, but when the senior school year begins, students will get very busy. I know this from my personal experience. It is best to have the portrait session completed as soon as possible.

3. The Location

We live in one of the most beautiful settings in the world for outdoor portraits. I have several locations in mind that work well for portraits. You may have a favorite location or want to include specific environmental features. I would love to work with any ideas you have already.

Many clients think of a portrait setting to be ideal if it includes every feature they have in mind. But remember, the portrait is of you. The backdrop of the mountains or a stream do enhance the portrait, but you should be the focal point. We don’t want you to be minimized while the mountains take over the photo.

Indoor portraits can also be very attractive. Backdrops such as textured stone or wood look beautiful. Depending on the purpose of the portrait, we can adjust indoor settings easily. If you are looking for a portrait to represent yourself professionally, we can find or create a setting that reflects your career.

4. The Time of Day

Ideally, outdoor portraits are best captured in the late afternoon; the last two hours before the sun fades out of sight. If you need to schedule a portrait in the middle of the day, full shade is best. Bright sun high in the sky creates harsh light on your skin and a lot of funky shadows. The use of handheld photography filters is always an option in such a scenario, but filters require a bit more time and patience in the session.

5. Your Clothing

In addition to the season and location in which you have your portrait taken, your clothing will greatly influence the overall impression of your portrait. Your clothing should help you feel your best and add to, not distract from, you as the focal point.

a. Clean, pressed clothing makes a huge difference. Clothing should be free of lint, hair (both human and pet hair), balled threads (often found on sweaters and under arms), stains, faded fabric, wrinkles and creases. Any debris on your clothing will show up in a portrait. Attempting to completely edit out these distractions from a photo is challenging and time consuming. 

b. Large and abstract patterns, horizontal stripes, clothing that is too tight or too baggy and clothing that follows a significant trend should be thoughtfully considered before being used in a portrait.

c. Matching two color outfits were once a trend for family portraits which has since faded. Remember the images of everyone in the family wearing white tops with khaki bottoms or black t-shirts and jeans? For families, I suggest coordinated color themes. Check out Pinterest for some current guidance on how to coordinate your family’s clothing for a portrait. The ideas are endless!

d. Check for undergarments that might peek through clothing (bra straps and underwear). If you’re wearing a dark top, check if the fabric is so thin that a white bra might show through. Check for the same idea in light colored tops/pants with dark colored undergarments.

e. Accessories such as jewelry, belt buckles, shoes, scarves and hats can absolutely be incorporated into your portrait, if you wish. For senior portraits, I am a big fan of the classic letterman jacket. If you have accessories that you normally wear everyday such as wristbands or friendship bracelets, consider if these are something you wish to have represented in your portrait.

f. Your eyes will light up your portrait. I highly suggest you remove your glasses for your portrait session. Clear glasses will create reflections and possibly hide one or both eyes. Sunglasses will hide your eyes altogether. However, if your glasses are part of your signature look and you want to wear your glasses in your portrait, we will definitely make it work.

g. Make sure your shoes will work well on location! Wearing stilettos in a creek side portrait session is tough! Also, consider ahead of time if you would like to have a few barefoot moments captured. Bare feet add to creating a very natural feeling in any portrait.

6. Props

Props can be a unique way to convey a subtle message in a portrait. Before you decide to use a prop, try to think of what message you might want to convey in your portrait. Is the prop consistent with who you are, your values and the message the prop is helping to convey?

Family heirlooms, a special car, a sentimental chair and pets are a few of the special possessions I have photographed in portraits.

If you are thinking of including a prop or animal, I would love to know ahead of time so I can assist with how to best incorporate it into your session.

7. Self Care

You are the most important part of your portrait! Your self care the few weeks before your session will make a difference in your portrait. You don’t have to go crazy with a whole new self care routine, but consistency in the few weeks prior to your session will help you look and feel your best.

a. Arrange to have your haircut two to three weeks before your session. This will give you time to let the hair grow out just a bit. For ladies, decide what type of hair style you will be sporting for your session and try it a few times so it’s not ‘new’ for you the day of your session. If you choose to have a local salon help you with your hair, you will need to communicate with the stylist several weeks in advance. Be cautious of using too much hairspray as it can create a stiff look which doesn’t work well in outdoor settings if the wind comes up.

b. Exfoliate your beautiful skin two-three times a week for the two weeks before your session. Gentlemen, too! Follow up with a moisturizer. Use sunscreen if you are headed outside so you don’t get a sunburn or funky tan lines (and use sunscreen all the time anyway)!

c. At least two weeks before your session, make an effort to HYDRATE! Drink the suggested 8-10 glasses of water (avoid Gatorade and other flavored drinks). Avoid salty foods and fast food. A well balanced diet is a good thing and will always help you to look and feel your best.

d. Sleep. Yup... just as you have always heard, sleep is key for looking and feeling your best.

e. Need to book a dentist appointment soon? I suggest booking it within the month of your portrait session. Your teeth will be bright and beautiful and hopefully not sore. Keep up with brushing and flossing after your appointment. Definitely brush and floss just before your portrait session. It is difficult to edit food out of your teeth.

f. Trim and clean your nails. If you wear polish, think about your nail color and how it will look in a portrait. A fresh coat of clear polish the day of the session will look great. If any polish is chipping, it’s best to take it off.

g. Wear lip balm and bring it with you. Yes, gentlemen included. Your lips and mouth will get a bit dry from smiling during your session.

h. If you choose to wear makeup, know in advance what applications you will use and check to see that your makeup is fresh. Outdated mascara will flake and old eyeliner can sometimes cause redness in your eyes. If you are unsure of your makeup application ability or want to have a makeup consultation, a local salon or an independent consultant can offer you some great tips for portrait makeup applications.  Unless you are going for a very artistic and unique portrait, natural makeup works best. We want your portrait to look like the best version of you in everyday life. 

8. Posing and Posture

Of all the preparation opportunities available for your portrait session, learning even just a few posing and posture tips is one of the most impactful things YOU can do. Get ready to practice some life changing tips you can use any time you are in front of a camera.

a. In front of a mirror, check yourself out. You are an amazing human being and there is no one else on earth like you. You are one in an infinity. Let’s capture how amazing you are in a portrait. You are so worth it!

b. Stand face front toward the mirror. Stand up tall. Pull your shoulders down and back. Make your neck long and put your head up. Tighten your core. Breathe. Now, put your chin out and slightly down (but not slouchy) and point your nose just slightly to the left or right. Smile like you just heard a great joke or heard some very good news. I know it is awkward in the mirror, but if you practice this a few times it will help you look amazing in portraits!

c. Now try this. Same thing...but start with feet pointed just slightly to the left or right, and face that direction, stand tall, shoulders down and back, neck long, head up, tighten core, breathe. Now, turn at your waist and torso toward the mirror with your feet planted in the initial position. Shoulders down and back again ‘cause I know you let them slouch. Chin out and slightly down, nose and eyes straight forward. Now try nose to the left or right just slightly. Smile like you heard a joke or try a more peaceful facial expression as if you're looking at a beautiful sunset. And still keep a semi-soft smile.

d. Basically, we are trying to avoid the mugshot look. You know the look when someone stands straight and faces the camera. Their shoulders, eyes and nose are all facing front toward the camera. They are not smiling or even thinking of a sunset and they look sad. This is not a flattering pose. This is an example of a linear subject with no angles and no open space. 

e. We want open space, angles and eventually triangles. Angles are flattering and allow the camera to capture interest in what would otherwise be a linear subject. The open space the angles create is one of our goals.

f. Let’s try the posing position again in front of the mirror. Stand tall, shoulders down and back, neck long, head up, tighten core, breath, chin out and down, point nose to the left or right and pull a hand to your side on your waist or behind your neck. See that angle at your elbow? We want that! Elbows make angles, knees make angles, even your wrist makes an angle. Experiment with angles in front of your mirror.

g. The type of portrait for which you are posing will also direct what you do in terms of your posture. Professional portraits will call for you to convey confidence and approachability among other qualities pertinent to your career. For family portraits, think about your family's mode of operation, the general way in which you interact together. Is it fun, engaged, creative, connected, traditional, active, comical, loving? Senior portraits allow for a lot of direction from the seniors themselves. Many will naturally pose as comfortable, accomplished and spirited. I  encourage seniors to pose with the mind set of "self confident" not "sexy". 

9. Want more professional tips?

If you have made it this far, you may be an over achiever! Congratulations to you! Here we go...

a. Try posing yourself from the ground up. Start with your feet. Try not to be flat footed. If you sit in a chair, raise your heels off the ground to create a longer look in your legs. If your clothing allows, bring one leg up on your chair, chair rung or cross a leg at the ankle or knee. If you are standing, show the camera the thinnest part of your body, your side. Bend your front knee. Put your weight on your back leg.

b. Try not to let the camera see the inside of your hands. Pinkie fingers are ok. Bend your arms in some way or hold something that prompts you to bend your arm(s) such as a flower, the trim of your jacket, a musical instrument, a fence post or a book. Keep your hands soft. We don’t want your hands in a death grip. Put one hand in your pocket. Or gently cross your arms.

c. Pretend someone attached a string to the top of your head and they are gently pulling it straight up so the top of your head is closer to the sky. Let the camera see your jaw and neck. Lean into the camera. Try not to let the camera see up your nostrils. Seriously, that’s why I say chin slightly down.

d. Sometimes I will ask you to look straight into my camera lens and when I do, try to stare it down like you’re stopping a bull in Spain. Other times I will encourage you to look away or engage with others in the session. Have fun with that time and forget about me. And sometimes I will be snapping away when you don’t even know it. All of these moments will culminate to create a variety of captivating portrait images.

e. Chewing gum? I am not against gum, but chew sugarless. Gum with sugar will create an unattractive, dingy film on your teeth. Sugarless gum can help you keep your mouth from getting dry. If you chew gum, try to hide it in your mouth. The camera will catch it if you put it on the side of your mouth and smile. Try putting it on the roof of your mouth. It’s actually a good idea to keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth, toward your front teeth, as it helps with your smile.

f. Your smile is your signature. Smile like you just heard the most amazing joke. Smile large and big, with your mouth open just a tad. Now soften your mouth and be sure to separate your upper teeth from your bottom teeth. Keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth toward your front teeth. That is probably pretty close to your best smile. Your eyes are still smiling and somewhat squinty, which is attractive in photos. Eyes popped wide open are not particularly attractive in portrait style photos. Keep your mouth softened, which is more natural. Don’t think “CHEESE” as we have all been trained. Saying “CHEESE” contorts your mouth into an unnatural stretch, not a smile. If you need a word to help you smile, saying the word "MONEY" actually forms your mouth just as I have previously described. You're trying it right now, aren't you? Excellent work!

g. Think about someone you love and that will bring on an authentic smile. Think about someplace you feel at home and that will bring on a peaceful expression. To cast a more subtle or pensive look, think about the view from a mountain top or looking out onto the ocean. These ideas are just the start. You can come up with your own ideas about how to best create the self expressions you appreciate the most.

10. Again, try to relax...

Yup, I am going to write it one more time and I hope you read it again. If you take nothing else away from all these tips, the most important tip to remember is to simply relax. This is your moment. Your session is not timed. This is when we get to capture you! Take a deep breath. Relax. Just be you - unapologetically. The most important part of your session will be how you feel. I’m here to help you feel your best.

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