It’s one thing to have your photo taken socially by a friend. Although we know there is all likelihood the image will appear on social media for everyone to see, as an informal shot most of us take little notice as to the finer details of how we look. We don’t rush to the nearest mirror to check our hair and, as there are usually other compositional considerations such as other people involved, we as subjects are rarely the dominant feature in the frame. However when it comes to a professional portrait session with the focus purely on you all the things which were not previously important now are; your clothes, your hair and the oft repeated question, what do you do with your hands? As a photographer it is my job to guide and assist you through a session, however there are key components you as the subject can control, which will help the session run smoothly and, more importantly, make a significant difference in the final product. 

If you’ve organised your own dedicated portrait session or if a photographer has been booked to take your portrait at your place of work, the same considerations apply and, ideally, should be prepared prior to the event. Bear in mind when it comes to the final image, people will see what they want to see according to their own opinions; not everyone sees the same thing, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your best to project you how you wish to be seen.


What is the industry norm and how would you like to be perceived? I would suggest not straying too far away from your industry uniform but there is generally scope for manoeuvre. While I believe a jacket and shirt combination warrants a tie, the inclusion of neckwear does add a sense of formality. It is also worth considering the potential background and its colour when choosing your outfit, for example a white shirt or dress may blend unattractively into a white background. Thus it is advisable to have several shirts, tops, jackets, jumpers of different colours and necklines to cover various eventualities. By the same measure it is wise to avoid logos, seasonal or trendy items; nothing dates a portrait as much as, for example, a Christmas jumper. Needless to say, wear something that fits and lastly, wear something that represents you.


Avoid having your haircut the day before or on the day of the portrait session. The best case scenario is having your hair cut a week or so before a session which gives you time to learn how to style your new look. Worst case scenario is you have time for emergency TLC or reschedule the shoot in case you’re unhappy with your hair.


It is preferable to start with a natural look with little to no make up. More can always be added during the shoot if required. If you have oily skin, consider a morning or early afternoon session or potentially a cleanser or treatment before the shoot. Failing that, if you’ve had little control over the time of the portrait session, or if you’ve been busy unexpectedly at the last minute, you should wash your face or ask for a tissue to wipe your face down. Even if you think you have good complexion, it is worth looking in the mirror for a quick check.

Mental space

Bear in mind it is natural for whatever is going on in your head to manifest itself in your face be it positive or negative. If you’re late or flustered it is important to take a moment for yourself and to calm down before stepping in front of the camera; there is little utility in rushing to have your portrait taken, if there is a likelihood you’re not going to be happy with the subsequent result. While a photographer should be able to offer direction, it can be difficult to establish rapport during a short portrait session. As such it is important for you to bring your best self and to show your true colours. Also if you’re in the grips of a strong emotion, direction from the photographer may merely be a distraction with your true feelings quickly returning to the surface. If you can, pause and think about what emotion you’d like to be perceived, be it happy, confident, relaxed and so on. Consider what encourages those emotions and feelings in you; it could be a loved one, a pet, a professional success. Close your eyes, recall that memory and own it. And when you’re ready, open your eyes to have the camera capture that passion.


While you think it may be cute, when the focus of a portrait is you and especially if the composition is a close up, be careful of head tilts. What may work in a wider image is exaggerated when zoomed in to just a face. When it comes to your hands, stand naturally, just because you have a camera in front of you doesn’t mean you need to suddenly start waving your hands in the air. While arms crossed can sometimes look like you’re establishing a barrier between you and the camera, more often than not it is a subject’s stern gaze that creates this distance. And if you wear glasses, have a think if you would like to include them or not. If you’re an occasional wearer, I would suggest not wearing them and not wearing them for approximately 20- 30mins before the shoot to ensure no marks on your nose.

To get the best from a portrait session you need to work with the photographer to ensure the best possible outcome as ultimately you know yourself and your face far better than anyone else ever will. You will know if you have a good or bad side. However most of all, be prepared. Your portrait photographer will do the best they can but a good portrait involves collaboration and involvement from you.

Do you feel ready for your next portrait photography? If so I aim to deliver the best results possible. Email me today.

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