How I Plan a Portrait Photo Shoot from Start to Finish

My last couple of articles have been all about helping potential clients (of myself or any other portrait photographer) to prepare themselves for a portrait shoot.  So now I thought I’d give a little insight in to how I plan a portrait photo shoot.  From the moment that first enquiry lands in my inbox, all the way to the follow up after the images have been delivered to make sure the client is happy with the result.  Every step of the way is just as important as the next.

First Contact

When that first email from a potential client arrives, the first thing I do is a little excited dance around my office!

Then I compose myself to formulate a response.  In my first response I’ll try to find out if we’re going to be a good fit for each other, and if the client may be interested in meeting me for an informal chat over a coffee.  LOVE coffee!  Other beverages are available if you’re not so keen on coffee.

I digress!

Informal chat

This is when we get a chance to meet each other in a relaxed environment and find out more about each other.  I want to get to know the person in front of me by considering the five W’s:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why

These are all important parts of getting to know that person and will help me to create the story when it comes to the photo shoot.

If the person I’m meeting with has taken the advice in my article on how to choose a portrait photographer, I know they’ve got at least two other photographers on their mind.  So there’s little point in talking about details of the shoot at this point.  I could write an entire article on my reasoning behind this so I’ll leave those explanations for another day.

Juicing the creative orange

While my potential client is considering their options, I start getting my creative juices flowing.  I build a mood board with the help of Pinterest.  You may think that this is a waste of time when I haven’t got the job yet.  But there are three main reasons why I disagree:

  1. I’ve armed myself with a load of ideas, which means that if I’m lucky enough to be the chosen one, I’m ready to meet again with my client at short notice if they need me to!
  2. I’ve banked these ideas for future use if I meet someone similar
  3. It’s a lot of fun!

Here’s an example of a board I’m building at the moment for a heavy metal guitarist I might be working with soon.

Second meeting

Here’s where we get in to the finer details of the photo shoot.  I’ll share my ideas from the Pinterest board I’ve created, see which ones resonate most and build the shoot around that. We’ll chat about location, what to wear and what the client can expect to happen.  Finally, we’ll fix a suitable date and go over the formalities.

The shoot

Your big day has arrived!  You’re the star of the show so go and smash it.  If you’re not feeling like a rock star, try a few power poses before you show up.  If you don’t know what a power pose is, check out this awesome TED Talk by Amy Cuddy.

Whilst you’re being a rock star, I’ll be making my way through the planned shots list that tell the who, what, when, where, and why of the person in front of me. If you’ve booked me for a few head shots, I’d expect this to take an hour but I’d always plan for two.  The last thing either of us need is to feel rushed.  If we’re going for a more detailed story telling approach (I love a story!), I’d plan for up to four hours.


After the shoot, I’ll get to work on editing the photos.  This can take up to two weeks, depending on the number of images being delivered.

Without getting in to the technicalities of why, all photos need editing.  Even in the days of film, developers would manipulate the image to get the best out of it.  But that doesn’t mean falsifying the image.  I try to stay as true to real life as possible.  I just want to make your images ‘pop’.  Again, a photographers editing process is another article in itself.

Image delivery

I’ll send your completed images via a cloud service called ‘WeTransfer‘.  In the email you receive from them will be a download link.  WeTransfer put a two week time limit on that link before it expires and they need to be sent again.  If that happens, just drop me an email and I’ll repeat the process for you.

Annoyingly, the email from WeTransfer containing the link often ends up in the spam/junk folder.  Luckily, I’m sent the same email you are, except I know I need to look for it (because I’ve just sent it).  So when I know the transfer is complete, I’ll look for that email, copy the download link, and paste it in my own email to you, letting you know your images are ready.

It doesn’t end there

I want to be 100% certain that you’re happy with the image I have delivered to you.  So please give me your honest feedback.  If there’s something you’re not happy with, let’s get together for a chat so I can fix it.  Some people get easily offended these days when they receive feedback they don’t like.  Personally, I see it as an opportunity to improve my processes and skills as a portrait photographer.

Once I know that you’re happy, it’s a wrap!  But don’t forget to tell your friends.


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