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How to prepare for a photoshoot

Headshot photo of a female composer

When preparing for a photoshoot the night before, the main things to keep in mind are that you want to be rested for the shoot and you want your skin to look good.

For that reason you want to make sure that you get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol at all costs the day before the photoshoot.

If possible try to have all of your outfits lined up and ready a few days in advance, as you don’t want to have to scramble the night before the photoshoot, running around the house while trying to decide what to wear, and trying to get everything ready for the coming morning. That will stress you out, and trust me, you will not go to sleep early.

The process of preparing for the photoshoot will ideally have to start a week or so in advance, but that will obviously also depend on what type of photoshoot it is. If you have booked a whole day personal branding photoshoot, that will for instance require much more preparation ahead of the shoot, than a 2 hour headshot session would.

In this article I am going to break down the whole process of preparing for a photoshoot in a few easy to digest bites, which hopefully will help you in making the best out of your upcoming photoshoot.

Choosing what outfits to wear for a photoshoot

Professional headshot taken outdoors

When preparing for a photoshoot it is key to select the right outfits, and it is always best to have more and not use them than not having enough. That is because you never know how the outfit will look in the photo, and you do not want to find yourself in a situation in which the only two outfits you have brought with you just don’t work.

I normally recommend to my customers to bring with them simple, plain colour outfits, that match their skin tone and/or eye colour. Muted colours do also tend to work better than highly saturated colours, and I would avoid any items with intricate patterns. It is important to remember that the clothes you wear are meant to complement and not distract. Said that, these rules are not set in stone, and even though I would ensure that at least some of the outfits are within those guidelines, that should not put you off from bringing an outfit that you really like, just because it is not within those guidelines. Rules are made to be broken.

When picking your outfits it is also important to keep in mind the purpose of the photos and how you would like to portray yourself.

As an example, if you have booked a personal branding photoshoot to promote your business, you might want to think about how you would like your brand to be perceived.

Would you like your personal brand to come across as casual and approachable or classic and distinctive?

Headshot taken outdoors in central London

If you are an actor, think of what parts you would like to play and the mood you would like to create.

I would also recommend taking a look at websites of people/brands in your industry to see what they wear as that might give you an idea of what style to go for.

If in doubt it is always a good idea to email or call your photographer ahead of the photoshoot to discuss possible ideas. I am always keen to get on the phone with my customers and brainstorm ideas.

Getting your outfits ready

Moody portrait photo of a male model

One thing I have noticed from working with professional models is that when they come for a photoshoot, their outfits are always extremely well organised. That allows us to work quicker and it prevents your clothes from getting all wrinkled.

That is extremely important as wrinkled items will not be usable, and even though some photographers might have a clothes steamer available for you to use at their studio, not everybody will, and even if they do have it, that will take time away from the photoshoot, and often steaming is not enough to completely remove the wrinkles.

If you google “how to pack to avoid wrinkled clothes”, you will find plenty of articles and videos that show you how to pack your clothes to avoid wrinkles.

Making sure your skin looks great

headshot of a female actor

Lack of sleep and alcohol can make your skin look tired and I would recommend getting plenty of sleep in the days coming up to the photoshoot and no alcohol the day before.

To make sure you get some good sleep, you can try to switch off the TV a bit earlier than usual and stay off screens for at least a couple of hours before going to bed. I normally try to read instead if I know I have a big day coming up, and exercise helps as well.

However, you should not worry about things like spots or any other non-permanent skin blemishes, as that will be taken care of in Photoshop. Said that, it is always good to check with your photographer whether retouching is actually included with the package.

How much makeup should I wear?

Headshot of a female actor

First of all if you do not normally wear makeup, and/or do not like to wear makeup, do feel free not to wear any.

I often get customers asking me how much makeup they should wear for the photoshoot, and I would normally recommend not to wear too much makeup, and to wear it to enhance and not to conceal.

That is because, like I was saying before, any spots and non-permanent blemishes will be taken care of in Photoshop and too much makeup can make it more difficult to retouch the photos.

As an example if you like to wear lipstick or eyeliner, by all means do go ahead and wear it as you would normally do, but if you have a spot somewhere on your face, there is no need to try to hide that as it will be easier for me to remove it in Photoshop.

The other concern I have with makeup is that certain brands of makeup tend to be too shiny and reflect light in a way that creates harsh highlights on the face, and there are also brands of makeup that tend to crack and that will make it really difficult to retouch the photos.

The other alternative would be to get a professional makeup artist (MUA) to do your makeup, but if you want to go down that route I would recommend discussing it with the photographer first as it might increase the cost of your package.

If you already know a MUA you like, you could also ask your photographer whether they would be happy for you to book your own MUA for the shoot. Just bear in mind that MUAs who are used to working with photographers will know what products are best to use for photoshoots. As an example they will pick brands and types of makeup that are less reflective.

Said that unless there is a specific reason why you would like to have professional MUA to do your makeup, from my experience, light makeup as you would normally wear it, is the best way to go. Occasionally I have had customers who have friends who come along with them to do their makeup, but you might want to check with your photographer first that they are happy for you to do that.

Also, if you are traveling by public transport and are concerned about your makeup getting ruined during the journey, I would recommend waiting and applying your makeup when you arrive at the photographer’s studio, but do bear in mind that that might detract from the time you have to shoot.

What about hair?

Professional headshot taken outdoors in natural light

One thing that I would advise against, is having a haircut near the date of the photoshoot. That is because, very often you might not be happy with the way your hair looks straight away, and it is often not until your hair has grown a bit that you start to like it. That is really important as if you do not like your hair, it is unlikely that you will like the photos.

Also, if you wash your hair on the day of the photoshoot it is extremely important that you completely dry your hair before you leave the house. If your hair is not completely dry when we start shooting, it will show in the photos, and there will be nothing we can do about it. I would also recommend bringing an umbrella with you if it looks like it might rain to avoid getting your hair wet before the photoshoot.

Communicating visually

Moody black and white portrait photo

I am sure that most of you have heard the old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and when preparing for a photoshoot you should think about what you would like those thousand words to be.

However the level of preparation required will vary, depending on the purpose of the photos.

As an example, if you need the photos to promote your business, you could put together a list of your main competitors’ websites, together with a small brief that explains what you offer, who your target customers are, and how you would like to brand yourself as a company. This will help the photographer to understand the purpose of the photos, and they will be able to create photographs that communicate effectively with your target market.

If you are an actor you could think of movie characters that fit with the types of parts you would like to play.

Said that, at times you might just want some creative photos and don’t have a specific mood in mind, and that is completely fine. Some of my best work has been created in that way.

Mood boards

lifestyle photo taken on the Millennium bridge

Given that it can often be difficult to put a certain mood into words, a common way of overcoming that barrier is mood boards, and there are plenty of apps and websites, like Pinterest for instance, that allow you to collate together imagery that you like. Another way would be to simply save the photos on your phone and organise them in separate folders.

However, mood boards do come with their own risks and if not used properly they can become a hindrance.

That is because a photograph is a mix of a photographer’s unique style, your own personality, and the mood you have set out to create.

Trying to fit into a mould that is not right for you, will not give you good results, and most good photographers will not agree to copying someone else’s work, as it tends to be frowned upon in the industry.

The other issue with mood boards is that they can staunch creativity. Just like a police investigation, a photoshoot should be approached with an open mind. If you enter a room and you are focused on finding one specific piece of evidence, you will likely miss all the rest of the evidence that’s around you. Likewise, in photography, you won’t create anything new if you are too focused on replicating something that has already been created.

For that reason mood boards should only be used to explain visually what type of mood you're after, and not to try and replicate the photos on the board.

I really hope you have found this article useful, and do not hesitate to get in touch should you have any questions.

My studio is located at 59 Clearbook Way, Stepney Green, London, E1 0SD

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