Gaining Confidence as a Portrait Photographer pt.2

 I hope you enjoyed the first part of this series. This post is more on what I like to do the day of the shoot. Some of it will be opinionated, but most will be appropriate for all situations. Some of it might seem superstitious or just plain over-thinking, but it’s worked so far.

So you’ve prepped the past week or so, now you’re on the day of the shoot and you’re feeling good about what you’ve done so far.You’re good, but that doesn’t mean your job is over. You need to make sure your subject feels confident throughout the shoot and that’s what most of this post is going to be about. It’s about making sure your subject feels comfortable. Your subject’s attitude and mood is just as if not more important than yours during the shoot. They need to feel good in front of the camera and it’s your job to make sure that happens.

Create a comfortable environment

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re fairly new to portrait photography. So you probably don’t own a studio space and you’re working out of your home or mainly outdoors. No matter what though, it goes without saying you should make sure you do what you can to make an environment where the model won’t think she’s going to get hurt.

Studio Space

So if you’re working in your home in a studio, you want to make sure it’s clean. I mean, it’s a guest in your home so you should want them to see a clean home. Another thing I like to do is make sure that there’s no one in the room that doesn’t need to be. If you have roommates, ask them to not come through during the shoot time or if they do be polite. I lived with 3 other people during most of my shoots and I did what I could to shoot around their schedules so I didn’t have to worry about someone coming through. It’s a small thing that most people would ignore, but not everyone. You never know how someone is going to feel about it so you should at least attempt it.

I also like to play music during studio shoots, I think a good playlist playing low in the background can ease the mood and create a good vibe for the shoot. I use Spotify with my iPad or laptop and just hook it up to a speaker in the room. The one thing I do try to note is I make sure it doesn’t go too far in one direction of music. It’s good to have songs that everyone will enjoy and doesn’t sit heavily in one genre of music.


So if you’re shooting at a park, a beach, or on the city streets, it’s good to make sure where you’re going has free parking. If you have to pay to park on the streets you should tell the model beforehand (that’s if you pick the location). You should also make sure the place you’re going is a safe location. You shouldn’t have to worry about the safety of you model while shooting.

If you’ve never been to the area you’re shooting before go out beforehand and scout out locations. I think this one is pretty obvious. You shouldn’t be standing there with the model looking dumbfounded on where to shoot. Have primary locations and backup locations. If you’re at the park and you find a really nice location but someone shows up before you get to shoot there, you’ll need to make sure you have backups. You can’t just kick people out of the area unless you have the area reserved for the shoot. If you’re reading this, chances are you won’t.

I went to Nashville in March and I’ve never been before. I scheduled a shoot with a model outdoors in a location I’ve never even seen before (she suggested the location). I showed up 2 hours early and scouted out locations for the shoot that were close and weren’t too populated. I made sure the area was nice, safe, and I found backup locations in case we couldn’t shoot where I wanted to. It all worked out in the end and made for a really great time and some fantastic photos.

Dress Appropriately

Just don’t look like a bum. Simple as that. Especially if you’re shooting with a family, dress nicely. Now I don’t mean suit and tie, but dress to the occasion. If it’s a model shoot, you can dress down a bit, more streetwear-type clothes. I don’t think I would ever go into a shoot with a basketball jersey on and athletic shorts though. Like I said before though, that’s my opinion. This tip is more about just being a professional. You don’t need your own uniform, but it’s all about first impressions. The more they like you from the start, the easier it’ll be going forward.

Good People Skills go a Long Way

Listen, I get it. If you aren’t good meeting new people or making small talk it’s something you’re going to have to learn. A huge skill to have is being able to disarm someone’s negativity and self-consciousness. This goes especially for less experienced models or people who just aren’t comfortable in front of the camera.Being able to make them feel more comfortable with you will make them feel more confident in front of the camera.

I used to be so nervous with models and other people I shot with, but the more I shot, the more comfortable I got posing and the less I had to think about everything. This made my personality come out more and I was able to have more fun without overthinking everything I was doing. I definitely think this is one of the most important traits of a good portrait photographer.

In April of 2016, I shot over 100 headshots of college students for their LinkedIn profiles. I did this in an open, public location with people looking in all directions. At least 75% were tense to start off and everyone would initially give me a half smile. I definitely attribute the success of these photos to my ability to make the subject feel comfortable and confident.

Taking portraits isn’t a science. There’s more to it than just sitting a person in front of a camera, putting some lights in the right spots, and putting the right settings in your camera. Being able to connect with your subject is just as important as the rest of your prep. You need to make sure they’re feeling just as confident as you during your shoot.  

Using Format