How to Prepare for a Perfect Shoot

When I first started doing portrait photography, I was terrible about preparing for my shoots.  I didn’t own my own space quite yet, so I would show up to the rental studio at the same time as my clients and totally wing it – I’m embarrassed to say that now, but it’s true! 

Not only was it super-stressful for me to flounder through the shoot, but I’m pretty sure my clients could tell I was making things up as I went. When you’re growing a business, building trust with clients is SO important – and running my shoots with no plan definitely did not build trust or lead to good relationships with my clients!

But once I started giving myself time to prepare for sessions, EVERYTHING changed! I quickly learned that preparing for each and every shoot is a must, and I believe that’s true for every photographer out there. Here’s exactly what I do to make sure every shoot is perfect:

1. The 30 Minute Rule

The number one rule for a perfect shoot is giving yourself at least 30 minutes to prep in the space you’ll be shooting. If you’re in a studio, map out which areas you’ll be shooting in and how you’ll position clients in each area. Get backgrounds, lighting tests, and props in place before anyone shows up.

If it’s an outdoor shoot, become familiar with the landscape and visualize how you want the shoot to flow from one space to the next.  Get to the area you’re shooting in at least 30 minutes before your clients arrive so you can walk the grounds, make a plan, find the best lighting and get your exposures just right. You might even want to drive by the outdoor location a week early, at the same time you’ll be shooting, to check the light. 

Your clients might have pre-session nerves and arrive worried about looking good on camera or making sure their kids behave. The number one thing you can do to put them at ease is to show up with confidence and have a clear plan in place!

2. Review Client Details

Another thing I always do to prepare for a perfect shoot is review everything I already know about the client.  If it’s someone I’ve shot with before, I’ll look over their past sessions so I have a fresh understanding of what we’ve already done and get some ideas for how we can make this session different.

If it’s a new client, I read back through our emails, planning call notes, and pre-shoot questionnaire to get to know them before they even arrive.  Being able to anticipate your clients’ needs is a must, and you can’t do that if you haven’t properly prepared for your time together! When your clients show up, you can give them a relay into your session plan – like where and how you’ll shoot them so they feel like they’re in good hands from the start.

3. Take Care of YOU

Finally, a shoot can’t be it’s best unless YOU are at your best! Make sure you get plenty of rest the night before a shoot and give yourself some time that day to relax and get your mind in a good space. This will look different for everyone, but from my years of shooting, I’ve learned not to book too many sessions back-to-back, and make sure there’s a little extra downtime before a shoot that will be extra-draining, like ones with big groups or… Two year olds!

Of course, there’s no way to prepare for every variable – the weather may change, kids may be grumpy, or your technology may glitch, and those things just happen sometimes! But, since there’s a lot of variables you CAN control, it’s important that you make sure you take the time do so.

If you’ve taken the time to mentally and physically prepare yourself and your space, you AND your clients will feel less stressed – and that’s the very best way to have a perfect shoot!


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