When you set up a portrait session, whether it is for a client or family member or even if it is a creative collaboration with model and hair and makeup artist, there are certain things that I believe you need to be aware of.

I use a shoot list on which I write the date, time, model, hair and makeup artist and anyone else that is required. Perhaps there is also an assistant, the designer or client. Whether my studio, another studio or location.

I then write what wardrobe, props and backgrounds are required. Also I make a few notes of what images are requested (there may be a particular look a client is after). I create a mood board for colors, styles and looks for client, model and HMUA.

That’s all great to have ready beforehand, but what about the actual shoot?


This is my top priority. Is everyone comfortable, and not too hot or too cold? This is not always possible on a location shoot, but making sure everyone is as comfortable as possible.

If on-location and it’s cold, make sure you have warm drinks and blankets for you model in between photos. You might be rugged up, but the poor models often are not. In the studio make sure that everyone has water if needed and take breaks regularly.

Staging and styling

Double-check backdrops are steamed or hung correctly. Double-check all wardrobe items are secure. Make sure everything is as it should be.

I make a staging list prior to the shoot and I tick that everything prop-wise from my list has been placed. Often it is simple and just a stool, other times quite complex. There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a shoot and suddenly remembering that one key piece you wanted but forgot to add to the set. Take a smartphone photo just to double-check.


Often this is something you need to think about ahead of time. It is also something that can be done on the fly. That is, if you have an idea ahead of time of what you want to achieve, it can save a lot of time during the shoot. Perhaps even a shot list. However, you may decide that there is another option while on the scene.

Being flexible allows you to make the most of your time and the photoshoot. It can give you and your client more options. Don’t think you need to shoot everything vertical (portrait mode) or everything horizontal either. Mix it up.

Shoot full-length (Head to toe, if there’s room), then different crops. Close-up (top of head to neckline). Bust shot (above the head to mid-torso or bustline). Headshot (above the head to just below the hip). Full body (this is above the head to below the knee or below the feet). Never crop a shot just above the feet!


Obviously if you are shooting in a studio with strobes, you need to check that the lighting is set up correctly. Are they positioned for optimal lighting or the look you are after? Don’t be afraid to experiment and move things around if required.

Do you need to add a reflector as well? These are nice for adding light on faces and such.

If you are using natural light, do you need a fill light from a speedlight?

What time of day are you shooting? Early morning or late afternoon often have nicer light, but not always possible. Do you need a scrim or diffuser to soften harsh light?

Check your background

Just before you go to take the shot, double-check your background. Is there something intruding that shouldn’t? If on location, is there something in your background you don’t want or require. Dogs and people walking into shot are good examples and can ruin a great photo. Just check if it is something you can remove quickly and easily remove in post if it can’t be removed from your background.

Also, do a quick check hair and makeup is all looking great too. Sometimes there is a wispy hair over the face which can be removed in post-editing but it’s easier if you don’t have to.

Following these simple steps can make for a fun and seamless shoot. If you are new to all this, following these steps can also make you feel more confident and look more professional as well.