Your clients are not your adversaries.
Despite how the grognards view their paying customers, and the advice they give to gifted young photographers like yourself just starting out in the business, the people you shoot and sell to are not your enemy.
In fact, it’s in your own financial interest to educate and empower your clients as fully as you can.
One way to do this is with a Client Prep Cheat Sheet.
This is a small set of general advice for clients to get the most out of their photo shoot. You don’t want to just assume that high school senior girl knows to freshen her nail polish the morning of the shoot – you don’t want to assume Dad knows to moisturize around his nose leading up to the shoot to avoid flaky, dry skin.
You can’t force your clients to perfect preparation, but you sure as heck can give them the knowledge necessary to do so. A photo shoot of any kind is no small investment for most families, so if you can give them the tools they need to make the best photos they can, you’re providing added value beyond just your artistic talents.
I talk often about creating a better experience for your customers, something you can do today, right now – no training and little to no practice necessary. Taking the time to put together a cheat sheet for clients to glean hints and tips from is another way to go beyond the ‘book, shoot, sell’ mentality of many established photographers.
What goes into your Client Prep Cheat Sheet
The best way to build your own cheat sheet for clients is to just go back through the shoots you’ve already done and identify all the shoulda’s – shoulda told her to bring hair clips for the wind, shoulda told him not to wear a shirt with a distracting print, etc.
We photographers could use a cheat sheet for our own preparations as well – and I’ll elaborate on this in a later article.
I sat down with my wife, who does all of our baby photography and has modeled for over a decade, to put together a list of suggestions and advice to share with your clients. Take what you like, toss what you don’t, and most importantly, grow and evolve your cheat sheet to address the shoulda’s you run into as you photograph more and more clients.
- Hair – If you’re getting a hair cut for your shoot, do so about two weeks beforehand, just in case it goes wrong – you just never know. For men, a fresh cut a couple of days before the shoot is fine.
- Hair accessories – If you’re shooting outdoors, be ready to put your hair up and make it look nice in case of a windy day. Bring bobby pins, hair clips, headbands or any other favorite accessories.
- Glasses - If folks wouldn’t recognize you without glasses, you want to wear glasses in your shoot – however, the glare on glasses can detract from your eyes in photos. You can have your lenses removed from your frames for your shoot (don’t worry, it’s what Hollywood does to avoid glare in movies), ask your eye doctor to loan you a pair of similar frames, or you can also visit an inexpensive company online like Zenni Optical and buy a suitable pair of duplicate frames on the cheap.
- Red eyes – Visine is your friend. Not getting drunk the night before your shoot helps, too. [Don't think I kid, I've shot plenty of hung-over clients.]
- Lips – You will probably wipe or lick your lips during your shoot, so bring fresh lip gloss or lipstick to do touch-up. Use lip balm for a few days in advance of your shoot to make your smoochers look their best.
- Teeth – If you want to brighten your smile, start your treatments about two weeks before your shoot.
- Breakouts – Start using African Black Bar Soap for a week in advance of your shoot to help reduce and limit pimples and blemishes. Equally important, don’t cake on a lot of make-up to try to hide blemishes – it’s almost always easier to Photoshop away pimples than to clean up overdone make-up. For fever blisters, avoid getting them in the first place, then use Abreva if one pops up anyway.
- Make-up – A subtle application of make-up can really soften your skin and accent your facial features. But make sure you know what you’re doing, and make sure it matches your skin tone, or your face may look orange compared to the rest of your body.
- Facial hair – Men, be freshly shaved with a new razor, shaving cream and a moisturizing after-shave lotion to avoid bumps and redness. Trim up your board, sideburns, moustache or goatee, especially looking for wiry stray hairs. Ladies, even if you have some light facial hair (particularly around your lip or chin), indulge in a waxing in advance of your shoot – even barely-there light facial hair will be noticeable in your photos. Men and women both, pluck and clean up those eyebrows.
- Moisturizer – Dry skin can really detract from a great photo shoot. Start moisturizing nightly a week in advance of your shoot. When you get out of the shower, dry off until lightly damp, and slather on moisturizer. Focus on your arms, shoulders, neck, face, hands, anywhere you’ll be exposed to the camera. This includes your legs if you’re shooting in shorts or a skirt. ProTip: For dry skin on your face, especially around your nose, use a sugar scrub. Mix a cup of sugar with about a quarter cup of olive oil, or just until it looks like wet sand. Scrub your face with it anywhere you have flaky skin, wash it off, then wash with soap to remove the oil. The sugar paste shouldn’t be oily, just wet enough to moisten the sugar. Also, be sure on your face to use a facial moisturizer, not a thick body moisturizer, or you could break out. [Us men, of course, are most in need of this advice, especially around the face and hands.]
- Nails – A fresh coat of nail polish will make a world of difference in your photo shoot. Pick a neutral color that won’t distract in your shoot or clash with your outfits. Freshen the morning of the shoot, then be careful not to scuff it while prepping. [I see this most often with high school senior girls, to whom half-gone nail polish seems to be a popular fad.] Your photo shoot is a great excuse for a fresh manicure, but if you can’t go to the salon, make sure your nails look tidy and clean, including the cuticles.
- Bloating – Ladies, avoid high salt and high fat foods for two to three days in advance of your shoot. Being bloated will sap your confidence and comfort in front of the camera.
- Undergarments – Bra straps won’t do anything to help your outfit look its best. Be sure you bring a set of bras and strap-adjusting accessories to work with any outfit you want to shoot in to keep those straps well-hidden.
- Sun burns and tan lines – If your shoot is booked for Saturday, don’t go to the beach on Friday. If you plan to tan before your shoot, do so at least a week beforehand and don’t get burned. Be mindful of clothing tan lines, sunglass tan lines, hat tan lines, etc.
- Ironing - If you iron, iron the night before and then hang the clothes for your shoot. If you’re wearing something that wrinkles easily, don’t wear it in the car on the way to the shoot – just change at the location.
- Shoes – Ladies, can’t go wrong in heels or wedges. Men, clean’em up! Dress shoes are best [or boots down here in Texas], but as with most things, let your momma or your wife decide.
Here are some specific suggestions for certain types of shoots:
- Moisturize that belly!
- Gather your props to bring along – ultrasound printout, alphabet blocks that spell your baby’s name, baby shoes, stuffed animals, flowers, whatever you’ve seen in other maternity photos that you like.
- Wear whatever you feel comfortable and pretty in – long, flowy skirts, especially solids are nice, and strapless bras that coordinate with them. Tube dresses are great for showing off your shape. Bring a pair of regular jeans, not the belly panel ones. A button-up shirt also makes it easy to transition into showing your belly.
- If you’re doing semi-nude/implied nude photos, bras and underwear will create noticable lines on your skin, so wear loose-fitting clothing to the shoot. You can add undergarments as necessary for photos later in the shoot.
- Do bring your significant other! They’ll make a great prop for your photos, and greatly expand on the number of different photos you can make during your shoot. They should bring outfits that coordinate with what you’ll be wearing, or a dark long-sleeved shirt or sweater and dark pants. The focus should always be on you, your expressions, your emotions, your personality, your joy and your connection.
Newborns and Babies
- Use a wash cloth to clean away flaky skin and eye boogers.
- If your baby has flaky skin, cradle cap, or eczema, I can highly suggest Lil’ Outlaws Rump Rub [seeing as it's made by my wife!]. It’s handmade, it’s vegan, it’s chemical free, I know exactly what’s in it, and it works wonderfully.
- Trim those tiny fingernails and toenails with appropriate baby trimmers.
- Book your shoot around your baby’s feeding and nap times, work with the natural rhythm of your baby. The perfect time to shoot is right when the baby would be laying down for a nap. If your baby normally falls asleep after a feeding, wait to feed the baby until you’re at the shoot. Baby photographers allot plenty of time for this sort of thing to set up the best situation for great photos.
- Dress up paper diapers. Cloth diapers are classy and stylish, but if you don’t use them, bring bloomers or decorative diaper covers, solids preferred.
- Nothing is the best wardrobe for a newborn – no outfit fits a newborn well, and they often look swallowed in clothes. Accessories are good, though – little hats, dainty headbands, boys in crocheted hats, etc. Bring sentimental items like the quilt that Grandma made for the baby, a baby blanket from your own childhood – they’re great for the youngster to lay on.
- If your baby takes a pacifier, bring it – if they’re bottle fed, bring an extra bottle to help put the baby to sleep.
- Clean, clean, clean – clean nails, clean hair, wipe away eye boogers, clean feet (sandals on kids = black feet!), wipe snotty noses, fresh-scrub teeth. The cleaner the kid, the better their photos will turn out.
- If your child is still in diapers or pull-ups, tuck’em in or wear bloomers.
- If your child is still of napping age, make sure they nap before the shoot.
- It is perfectly okay to bring bribes to a photo shoot – given a stage and being the center of attention, it’s like our kids know exactly when to act their worst. Some cereal, smarties or other candy that won’t stain teeth can help a short photo shoot go by smoothly.
- Avoid colorful drinks or lollypops within 24 hours of your shoot, don’t let them eat or drink anything that will stain their face, teeth or mouths.
- Wardrobe – For girls, you can’t go wrong with cute dresses, rompers, and dainty hats or headbands. For boys, jeans and polos or a button-up shirt, or a T-shirt with a button-up over it can be very cute, as well as overalls on the right age and personality. For siblings, the children don’t have to match perfectly, just coordinate. You can’t go wrong with dark, rich monotones, which drive the attention in photos to sweet faces and darling expressions instead of loud prints or colors. If nothing else, pick a color that compliments your child’s eye color.
- Dad – Have a fresh shave or trim, and use a new razor with shaving cream and a moisturizing after-shave lotion to limit bumps and redness. Make sure nails are clean and trimmed. Wash your hands. Clean up your shoes. Moisturize and scrub away flaky facial skin (see above General advice). When you wash your face, pay attention to eye boogers and sleep crusties. For wardrobe, go for jeans or pants, tucked polo or dress shirt with a belt, or go casual with just a T-shirt or untucked polo, button-up short sleeve, etc. In general, whatever your wife tells you to wear. Again you don’t have to perfectly match the rest of the family, just wear something that coordinates.
- Mom – Women know what to wear, but in general, unless you are extremely thin you may want to wear something that covers your upper-arms. Long- or 3/4-sleeve tops are very flattering. If you wear jewelry, aim for subtlety, and be aware of it twisting or turning.
- Kids – Same advice as above, but again, everything needn’t match, simply coordinate with the parents’ outfits. If Dad’s in a T-shirt, don’t put the kids in dress shirts – make it make sense.
High school seniors
- The biggest tips for seniors are to have an even tan, don’t get sunburned, clean and freshly-paint those nails, and moisturize and scrub away dry skin.
- Bring a variety of outfits – cap and gown, something casual, something stylish, ladies slip a dress in there to throw folks off, fellas try a formal look to impress. Wear what you think you look best in, but take the opportunity to also try a new look, just to surprise folks.
- Bring props that recall your high school years – band instrument, sports gear like a volleyball or baseball bat, your beloved (or cursed) high school car, letter jacket, sunglasses. Most of all, rep your style, whatever that may be. Your senior photo should be unique to your life and personality.
As they say, an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure any day. Just as you educate your clients about copyright during your sales session, you can empower your clients by educating them how best to prepare for their photo shoot with you.
Again, there is no hard and fast set of advice you should share with clients. Use this Client Prep Cheat Sheet as a foundation for your own, and sculpt it to address the issues you run into most often on shoots.
- Why wait? Cut and paste the above tips into a text file or e-mail template so you can e-mail the appropriate set of information to your next photography client. Send out your Client Prep Cheat Sheet when your client books with you. Post your Cheat Sheet to your web site or blog. Educate and empower your clients to help you give them the best photos possible. Go through the list and reword, rewrite, remove, or add on anything you see fit so your Cheat Sheet is custom-built for your clientele.
- Do a Google search and peek at other photographers’ pre-shoot client advice posted online. If you see something you like, rewrite it for your clients and include it in your own cheat sheet.
- Brainstorm session: What are the three most common ‘mistakes’ you see your clients making when preparing (or not) for your shoots? What are the shoulda’s that your clients would most benefit from knowing? File this in your Brainstorms folder.
- My writing at PartTimePhoto.com exists to serve your needs as an amateur photographer making the transition to paid professional. I appreciate and welcome your readership, and invite you to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter at the top of any page of this site.
- What are your three most important prep tips for clients? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.
- Top 10 money-making outdoor photos of people – Your First Customer Series, Part 2
- Culling and post-processing your first photo shoot – Your First Customer Series, Part 8
- How to choose the right photography products to sell
- How to prepare for your first photography client’s call – Your First Customer Series, Part 5
- Your first photo shoot: expectations and results – Your First Customer Series, Part 7