Photo Session Preparation

Having your portrait taken is an exciting time. You’re about to memorialize a special moment in your life, so it’s worth preparing carefully for your photo session. Here are my eight tips for ensuring everything goes smoothly and you’re more than happy with the results:

  1. Choose your wardrobe with care
  2. Practice your hair and makeup
  3. Decide on your accessories
  4. Find a few fun props
  5. Work on your poses
  6. Pack a bag with all the essentials
  7. Know or prepare the location
  8. Coordinate with your portrait photographer

Let’s explore those tips in a bit more detail.

1. Choose your wardrobe with care

“What should I wear?” is probably the first question asked by all portrait sitters. My suggestion is to wear clothes that compliment your skin tone and that fit you well. Basically, if you are comfortable in your outfit, the odds are that you will shoot very well in it.

I find that smooth clothing creates the most beautiful photographs. In other words, your clothes should flow over your body, not restrict it. Therefore, try not to let undergarments create noticeable bumps or ridges since these may cast shadows from lighting.

For the ladies, tops that show off the neck, shoulders and collarbone are usually very flattering. Minimal coverage for tops is from above the areola and down just past the breast.

High heels are optional. They can help with posture and accentuate curves, but if heels aren’t your thing, don’t wear them. You’ll only look uncomfortable.

Show off Your Neck, Collarbone and Chest

Clothing ideas for female portraits

The most beautiful female portraits are the ones where the lighting casts soft shadows off the neck muscles, collar bone, and upper chest. The following clothing items work particularly well for accentuating the female form:

  1. Off-the-shoulder tops
  2. Spaghetti strap tops
  3. Deep V-neck with thin straps
  4. Sundresses with thin straps
  5. Mini or midi-dress with thin straps
  6. Bikini
  7. Fitness clothes
  8. Fishnet fabrics
  9. Shorts
  10. Blue jeans

Selecting the right colors for your outfits

In addition to choosing colors that compliment your skin tone, you also need to think about the background to your portrait. Basically, you need a good contrast with the backdrop, whether your photo session is indoors or outdoors.

  1. Avoid black and other dark colors
  2. Avoid busy prints
  3. Consider an interesting wrap, nightdress, oversize shirt, coverup or jacket
  4. Bring at least one outfit that contrasts with orange skies (green, cyan, blue, or purple)
  5. Bring at least one outfit that contrasts with blue/grey skies (pink, reds, oranges, or yellow)

If you’re doing a friends or family photo session, check that the colors of everyone’s outfits are complementary.

Clothes for photo sessions at Marineland, Lewis Point and Vaill Point

If your portrait session is at one of these St Augustine beach locations, I have developed some additional tips for your wardrobe decisions. These tips take into consideration the theme of your session, the time of day, and the natural stage.

  1. How to Dress for Marineland
  2. How to Dress for Lewis Point or Vaill Point Park
Female Portrait Wardrobe

2. Practice your hair and makeup

You obviously want to look your best for your portrait. This includes giving thought to makeup and hair.


A natural look is generally best for portraits. Avoid a cakey foundation. This happens if its color is too light or too dark for your skin, if it’s applied too thickly, or if it’s not been blended properly.

Likewise, you don’t want a sheer look since this gives too much shine in pictures. Use an oilfree, matte-finish foundation for best results. If your skin is oily, use finishing powder too. (Men – you can also benefit from powder!)

If necessary, tidy up your eyebrows with tweezers, waxing or threading (or whatever your favorite method is) a couple of days beforehand. Close-ups will reveal those stray hairs and there’s only so much retouching can do. But don’t overdo it (natural brows are in and you don’t want to draw attention away from your eyes).


It goes without saying that your hair should be clean, brushed and styled for your portrait. It’s best to avoid a hairstyle that you’ve never worn before, just in case you don’t like it, or it makes you uncomfortable. You want to feel good about yourself in front of the camera.

If you have shoulder-length or long hair, consider changing hairstyles throughout the session as this will add interest to your photos. You can start with full, flowing locks and then pin it up in various ways using clips, barrettes or bands.

Practice different styles at home in front of the mirror or try out a few ideas with your hair stylist.

3. Decide on your accessories

Accessories are completely optional, and much of it depends on the theme of your photo session and the outfit(s) that you’re wearing. For fitness photography, for example, lots of sparkly adornments will look a bit incongruous. In a fashion shoot, you may want to promote a particular brand of jewelry.

If your clothes are fairly extravagant, be restrained with your jewelry. Treat it as an accent. Otherwise, there will be too much going on. If, on the other hand, your outfit is going to be relatively simple, consider wearing large earrings, a bold necklace, or a stylish belt to enhance your features. It’s all about balance.

4. Find a few fun props

Props are a great way to add color, interest and even humor to a portrait. Probably the easiest and most obvious props are hats (from sun hats and cowboy hats to berets and newsboy hats).

Of course, props don’t start and end with hats. Here are some other items you may want to bring with you:

  1. Fancy or colorful umbrella
  2. Feathers or flowers
  3. Stylish sunglasses
  4. Blanket for the ground (avoid a busy, obtrusive pattern)
  5. Leisure items (golf club, fishing pole, book, picnic basket, etc.)

Be guided by the theme of your photo session and what brings a smile to your face.

Stuck for ideas? Find an item that means something to you. If you’re an avid reader, a book and a blanket would be perfect for an outdoor shoot. If you’re a guitarist, bring your guitar.

5. Work on your poses

Do not worry too much about how to pose for a portrait as I will bring multiple posing examples with me to the photo session. We’ll start out nice and slow until you become more comfortable in front of the camera. I’ll guide you throughout the shoot to help you pose for the most flattering pictures.

To be honest, it’s amazing how well all my portrait subjects do with little or no experience. However, there’s nothing wrong with you doing a little prep work. Check out these articles to learn how to pose like a top model or create dance flow posing.

Feel free to bring a dozen pictures of your favorite poses, either printed or on your phone, for quick reference during the photoshoot.

6. Pack a bag with all the essentials

A portrait photo session usually takes between one and two hours and can involve between three and six changes of clothes. It’s highly recommended that you bring with you all the things that you may need during that time. This includes:

  1. Finishing powder (to reduce flashback and shine)
  2. Any touchup makeup you may need and a small mirror
  3. A hairbrush, hairspray and hair accessories
  4. A cloth or towel to dab perspiration from face and body
  5. Your props and accessories
  6. Your various outfits, including footwear

If you’re at one of St Augustine’s beach locations, check to see what facilities are available for changing. If there aren’t any, you’ll need to use your car.

7. Know or prepare the location

If the photoshoot is taking place at your own property, you’ll want to make sure that your ‘stage’ is prepared well ahead of time. Consider everything that appears in the backdrop. You want to avoid distracting or ugly items such as powerlines and trash cans. Think too about seating.

If the photo shoot is taking place at Marineland, Lewis Point or Vaill Point Park, make sure you know how to get there and how long the journey takes you. You don’t want to turn up late and stressed because you couldn’t find the location. Acquaint yourself with the geography as well so you know what to expect.

8. Coordinate with your portrait photographer

My final tip is to coordinate with me. Each portrait photographer has their own way of doing things, me included. Make sure all the arrangements and instructions for your photo shoot are clear and let me know ahead of time if you have any questions or concerns. The earlier these are addressed, the more successful your session will be. Here’s where you can contact me.

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