Preparing for a Glamour/Portrait Shoot

I’ve written so many emails about this that I think I should put the info down in a blog article and simply refer models to it! The following is first person:

I will tell you not to plan on anything ‘busy’ to wear. You need solids, and preferably nothing the same color as any desired background. Black and white are winners, as is a variety of jewelry. This holds true for both kinds of shoots.

I personally like fancy jewelry in casual, even fake nude, dress. Any long earrings, especially with real/fake gems/stones is a winner. The gems give the lights a place to reflect, whether back at the camera or on the skin.

For formal and group portraits, though, all jewelry should be minimal. The focus is on the faces and reactions/interactions, and distracting jewelry just takes away from that. For a glamor shoot, have a wide variety on hand, as it is not always possible to figure out what will work with what, especially when the photographer can’t tell in advance how well you will work with existing environments, props and lighting.


For makeup, I’d start out with a full foundation and no blush. Don’t put too much into the eyes at first (not sultry), but bring your kit. The idea with makeup makes sense when you think about it: We can put makeup on easier than take it off. So I like to start out with a ‘just woke up’ look, as sometimes we can play with that in the fake nude poses.

Thats the second time I mentioned the term fake nude, so here’s an explanation: It refers to shooting the head and bare shoulders to imply a state of total undress. So as long as the model is wearing something without straps on the shoulders, a sheet can be pulled up to the chest to make the viewer imagine a state of undress-without actually having to embarrass the model into doing so completely!

This means that blush, eye liner, lashes, and mascara are all better off being put on as we go, so start minimalistic. The other reason I like this approach is that it is easier to shoot more glamorized shots later that earlier. I say this because you will be more relaxed as we go, and we can’t get “the look” if you are tense.

For single/group formal portraits, makeup is good-but don’t go gaudy. I can take out absolutely anything in post-processing, but too much make-up is tacky, and we’re trying for classic!

If pets are involved, either have someone else on hand, or make sure I do. Neither the photographer of the model(s) can take care of the pets-it is impossible. Another person is also needed to help direct/distract the pet, or to “tire” it out if if becomes too restless (due perhaps from not being the center of attention).

If at all possible, schedule things for when the pet (especially in the case of dogs) is usually at rest or takes its naps. A wide awake, bouncing puppy cannot be controlled by any act of man or nature. What will be needed, though, are toys they like, a blanket they use, etc.

Organization, Timing and Logistics
The secret is doing it in a very organized way, so as to maximize the curiosity factor. What I mean by that is that your pets and/or kids will be the toughest to corral, and maintain their attention. What we have going for us is that they have never seen me (or any of my assistants) before. This gives us a window of opportunity of about 1/2 hour before they get bored and move on to what they consider more interesting things. This is why we do the group shots right away! :)

As for the time of day, that matters a LOT on the pet’s/kids’ routine(s), as mentioned earlier. We need them awake, but not psychotic; Calm, but not sleeping! There is one exception to this, though. At some point (usually ends up toward the end), I’d like to get your youngest kids/babies sleeping. What is best is to work out a schedule where we get great light (time of day), and sync things up with nap time?

Day of the shoot
What we do is usually something like this (time of day, light (shadows) outside, etc. all make this change drastically):

– The faces’ color needs to be the lightest, or highest contrast, in a shot. This is how people focus their attention to you and not the clothes.
– It is better to have long sleeves and long pants for formal portraits, as too much skin draws the eyes away from the faces and distracts the shots. Glamor shots are the opposite, where the eye needs to be drawn to curves and the shadows they cast (for the most part).
– Usually, earlier and later in the day is good for contrasting shadows for outside shots. It also makes it easier to place subjects in shade (whether natural, or produced by reflectors. With Kids & pets (except cats), morning is the most energetic time of the day.
– Toys that kids use are essential to have on hand-especially with younger kids. We need to have that special stuffed animal, etc. to either have them play with, or to draw their attention just out of the shot.
– Consider having the kids dressed similarly. For families, all members should dress similarly, but I also promote having some casual alternatives on hand, depending on time restrictions.
– For a group shoot, consider having you & your spouse/other dressed similarly for any shots, including casual. I don’t mean identically, but rather similar shades, colors, etc. When in doubt, go dark.
– Be flexible with wardrobe, as it just takes a few minutes to change, and will add variety to the session’s shots. This holds true for any shoot. The model’s moods may change when things get started, and might even want to try something that previously seemed too much.
– For families, consider a few shots of the kids each in whatever sports garb they use in their sports activities. You know, baseball, lacrosse, etc. Kids are usually very proud of these activities, and will remain patient/still long enough if they know they are being treated special. Be sure to have a recent trophy or award handy if this is important.
– I don’t do forced smiles, as nothing beats a natural one! We need to be in genuinely good spirits, so I need to really ‘work’ the kids & dogs. If you and yours could help there, it will make things immensely easier. this is why I insist on “extras” or assistants when doing either shoots with kids or pets-regardless of whether they are actually [intentionally] in any of the shots/scenes.
– This is a hard one… If at all possible, we want to show any pets without collars-and definitely without leashes. This all depends on your yard, environment, the pet, etc. I know inside this is easy, but the outside ones are really special if we can pull this off.

The Sessions
1. Get the group shots done right away, for the reasons stated above.
2. We work down to smaller groups of kids, starting with Mom & the girls, Mom & the boys, Dad & the boys, Dad & the girls, Dad with each boy, Dad with each girl, Mom with each boy, Mom with each girl, then the boys by themselves, followed by the girls by themselves, and finally shots of smaller groups of the boys and girls just being themselves, and solo shots as themselves, sleeping/napping, interactions at rest with pets, etc.
3. As you can see, we start with all the kids together, and work toward having them just comfortable and playing with each other in small groups or by themselves. This way they can be caught interacting without a forced pose, usually using available light, as they don’t think they’re being observed/photographed.
4. Try to work shots of the youngest in last, if possible, to hopefully catch them napping innocently! :)
5. Depending on how behaved/distracting/disrupting the animals are, we should treat them just like the kids-easily distracted with a short attention span. I play it by ear to get them into as many shots as possible, including interactions with the kids while catching them in impromptu shots.
6. I suggest following this routine outside first, then perhaps changing for doing interior shots. Shoot outside first and inside last, for some of the reasons above.
7. For inside, consider the locations in the house you like, but bear this in mind: Portraits of subjects close to a background, like a wall, do not work well. What does are shots where the background is as far behind the subjects as possible. This allows the background to be out of focus, and not adding any distractions. If you have the room, we just keep interesting backgrounds, like a fireplace, at least 10′ behind the subjects (this can be less, depending). Also, more of a prominent feature in the background can be in a shot if it is further away. Usually we’ll experiment quite a bit, as everyone’s home, and every location shoot, is different. In a studio, everything is controlled.
8. This might also hold true for lofts/overlooks.
9. We should do inside shots when/while there is still natural light coming in the windows. Flash in dark rooms, or those with artificial light, are too harsh and unnatural if the room’s decor is important. Portraits, unlike casual shots, require artificial lighting.
10. By the time we get inside, the kids should be completely ignoring the camera and flashes of light. By then, it will be boring them, so we can do some more interactions shots where they are playing with each other, board games, etc. Again, setting up this kind of thing with favorite/current toys is key. Don’t use toys that require a lot of movement, preferring rather those that make them a little more still. Fast motion is very difficult to get in clear focus-especially with natural light.
12. Let’s not forget about your sweetheart shots as well. Perhaps after we’re done with the kids & dogs, you’ll both be pooped enough to be relaxed for those.
13. Oh, and if music is important to your family, playing any instruments for the others is great. Musical instruments make fabulous props.

Now obviously I’ve taken a lot of this article from posts to families as well as glamorous individuals. The article is supposed to have something for either situation. I’ve written it for models/families, but it ends up giving photographers something to think about as well.

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