Portrait Session Guide
Why have a Portrait Session?
There are a lot of firsts happening as you are planning your wedding, and a photo shoot is probably one of them. You could have a lot of selfie experience, but having your photo taken usually involves a waiter or friend saying “1, 2, 3, smile!” and having to put on that fake smile for way longer than you’d like.
So you’re probably going into this thinking that you are not photogenic, that you are awkward in front of the camera, and that you won’t know what to do. It’s a vulnerable experience to be in front of the camera, and you don’t want to feel embarrassed or made a fool.
But I’ll be honest; portrait sessions are one of my favorite things to do with a couple because I see them as a chance for them to look at your relationship in a whole new way.
Not that all couples have to react this way, but I remember showing Kristen and John their engagement photos, and she unexpectedly started crying. I asked her what made her cry, and she said that the photos it was because the photo showed how much I cared for John and realized how much their relationship meant to her.
When my wife and I saw this photo, she said it was her favorite because this is who we are: usually holding each other, and laughing at something random. Even as a photographer and knowing this is true, I never got to see our relationship in this way, and I cherish these photos we took together.
So it could be the way you look when you lean on him, or how your hands look as they are laced together as you walk down a sidewalk together. It could be his loving expression as you making a funny face, or your rolling your eyes at a joke that he makes. I promise you that there’s something about seeing your relationship in an intentional, but also candid, moment that’s so inspiring and beautiful to see.
The portrait session is also a chance for you to see how I work and how I approach taking photos before the wedding day. But really what this session, and photography as a whole, is for me is just an excuse for me to connect with you and get to know you and your story. Underneath all the planning for this session, for your wedding, and these photos is a love and relationship that I would love to hear about.
I know that you’re coming into this with mixed feelings and, again, a vulnerability in front of the camera, but I promise that I will take great care of you and tell you exactly what’s happening so that you can feel comfortable.
What the Session will Feel Like
And that’s the key: feel comfortable. That’s the one truth that I stick to for the entire shoot. If you are comfortable, you will smile, laugh, cuddle, kiss, all the sweet things you do when you are with the person you love. That’s pure gold. That’s what I like to capture, and that’s what makes these photos beautiful.
The worst thing I can do is to have you stand somewhere and for me say, “OK, now just be natural and act happy!” I’m shuddering just thinking about how awkward and uncomfortable that is.
Instead, I will be giving you precise cues to help you understand what it is that I’m looking for.
“OK stand right here, facing me this way. Steven, I want you to stand square towards me with your weight resting on your left leg with your right hand in your pocket. Justine, I want you to lace your fingers over Steven’s hand and turn towards him. A little bit more, a little more, yes that’s great. Now roll your shoulders back so that you’re standing up straight. Both of you take a deep breath and let it out slowly while looking at each other.”
The result should feel like something that you are very familiar with and yet feel as if you are giving the best version of yourself. Once that’s set, there’s room for you to move and talk and just be yourselves.
Poop and Farts
I remember one session where I had the couple facing each other, and they had this solemn look on their faces. After a few shots, I asked them if everything was ok, and they said, “Oh yeah, it’s fine. We were just talking about when we should merge our bank accounts.” They were talking about banking during a portrait session. After that, I made it a point to tell each couple, “When you talk to one another, just talk about poop and farts.” That’s it, nothing else: poop and farts.
It’s great how poop and farts can make you feel so comfortable, isn’t it?
When to Have a Portrait Session
When we should have our session depends on how you want to use these photos:
- Printed for Wedding: 1-2 months before the wedding date.
- Save the Date/ Wedding Website: 5-6 months before the wedding date.
- Invitations: 3-4 months before the wedding date.
It takes me about 3-4 weeks to edit the photos and send them over to you, so we have to take that into account as well.
Where to Have a Portrait Session
Although I have a catalog of places that are photogenic and great to shoot, my favorite locations are those that mean the most to you. I once did a whole shoot around a street corner where the guy first told the girl he liked her and wanted to date her. They went back to that area every year to eat at their favorite restaurant. It was a random street, but for them it meant everything.
Rather than the cliffs of the Grand Canyon, or on top of Rockefeller Center, I want to know about that random restaurant or neighborhood you always ended up in after a long walk. Those locations are the best.
But if you don’t have a specific location, because all you did was stay home and eat pizza while watching reruns of Breaking Bad, then I have many options for you to choose from.
What to Wear
Oh man, this is a tricky subject. Whole blogs are dedicated to this one subject, and you’re probably sick of reading about wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses. But what you wear is an expression of who you are, and that is something that I dare not say you should be one way or another.
The best way I could explain it is to have you imagine you are going on a fancy dinner date together. Think of how you would dress, not to look nice for someone else, but for each other and the time you’ll spend together.
Rather than giving you specifics on what to wear, all I can suggest is that you be thoughtful about what you choose. And of course, what makes you feel comfortable. A suit is very comfortable to be in for some, but for others, it’s a straitjacket.
What not to wear is a bit easier to say because it has to do with what doesn’t work on camera. Colors that are too bold or neon don’t translate well into photos unless they’re a part of a whole theme. Also, big graphics, type, or textures on your clothing don’t help either—sometimes those are all you see, rather than your expressions. I am more than happy to give feedback on outfit choices before our session if you send me flat lays or mirror selfies.
All of this planning, all of this scheduling, all of this doing things for the first time, is so that you can both celebrate the deep love you have for one another. That’s what it is about, and all the logistics are there so that we can capture it beautifully.
I know that there’s so much to think about and take in, so here is a recap:
- Find some outfits that you feel pretty in and that he looks handsome in and send me the photos.
- Think of some of your favorite dates you had together and tell me where they were.
- Try your best not to fight the day or hour before the shoot, and have some great poop stories prepared.