Your first photo shoot: expectations and results – Your First Customer Series, Part 7

by Outlaw Photographer James Michael Taylor on February 9, 2010

in This is Art,This is Business

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(Click here to visit the summary post for the Your First Customer Series!)

Ooh baby, it’s showtime.

(Speaking of showtime, here’s tip #1 for starting your first photo shoot right: show up on time. And on time means at least 10-15 minutes early. Guaranteed: if you don’t, your client will.)

You’ve booked your first client, gone over your personalized pre-shoot checklist, and just parked at the location you chose for your first official photo shoot. Grab the paper bag, don’t hyperventilate, and get ready for a terrifyingly exciting ride. Here’s where you get to shine – here’s where you create art that your client can’t live without buying.

Okay, assuming this really is your first rodeo, a more reasonable goal may be to just walk away an hour later with images that are in focus and salvageable in Photoshop.

Just like anyone who has ever tried their hand at “something new,” your first time isn’t going to be your best. I don’t believe so much in aiming for the stars and landing in the heavens as I believe in mindful preparation and doing your best. It’s all that can be asked.

You can knock it out of the park later on; for now, let’s just worry about getting around the bases, one at a time.

Slow down

On your first shoot, you’re going to deal with a heap of emotions and self-induced pressure:

  • You don’t want to come off as a clueless amateur.
  • You don’t want to give a bad impression and be talked poorly of.
  • You don’t want your client telling all their friends how horrible a photographer you are and ending your career before it starts.
  • You don’t want to throw up on your client.
  • You don’t want to pass out.
  • You don’t want to forget every single thing you’ve learned about portrait photography and end up with nothing but out-of-focus photos of people’s faces, contorted in disgust and venomous rage over your session being a complete waste of their time.

It ain’t pretty, but it’s true; you will probably be struck with the fear of any one of these escalating nightmares coming true. The good news is, they are nothing but fears; reality, I can tell you from experience, is far, far kinder than your own imagination.

More good news is, the first thing to do on your shoot is slow down.

(Repeat for effect: s l o o o w d o o o w n.)

The quickest way you will screw up your entire photo shoot is if you get nervous, worry too much about impressing the client, and melt into a lightheaded rush.

When you show up (early!) for your shoot, sit in your car and relax to some good tunes. Close your eyes. Take some deep breaths. Strike up the ol’ affirmations if you want: “I see myself taking my time, smiling and enjoying shooting with my client, and making the best photos I can for them.”

Deep breath.


Now that you’ve got your head on straight, step out of your car and don’t touch your gear. Close the car door.

Stretch. Breathe.

Look around. Smile and thank the stars you’re here today living the dream.

Start assessing the location you’ll be shooting at. Walk through the shoot in your head. Where’s an easy place to start out? Look for a comfortable place for you and your client, quiet preferably, with easy lighting and backgrounds, to test equipment and play get-to-know-you. If you did a dry run at the location during your pre-shoot checklist, just walk through your vision for the shoot one more time as a refresher.

Once you’ve surveyed the area and have your first few spots picked out to shoot at, pull your gear out and quickly test everything. Make sure your gear is where you want it and your camera settings are where you want them to be.

Feel free to walk over to your first setup (we’ll call good shooting spots ‘setups’), snap a few shots, and evaluate for exposure and background. Get things set to where you like them in your camera so when your client arrives, you won’t be fiddling too much with gear as you lead them into their first shots.

Client arrival & encouragement

When your client arrives at the location, do all the charming things your mother taught you. Greet warmly, firm handshake, smile, chat nicely, ask questions, laugh. Have some fun. Be serious about making the best images you can, but you’re not foreclosing on someone’s childhood home, you’re taking pretty pictures; allow some levity into the atmosphere.

One of the most important things you’ll do with any client is make them feel comfortable and confident. A photo shoot is as much about the experience as the resultant images; from the start, show your client a good time and give them consistent encouragement.

“Hey, we’ve got some beautiful weather today and you look great; we’re going to have an awesome photo shoot.”

“I really like the outfit you picked out, it looks great on you and it’s going to look really good with this scenery.”

“Wow, we’re getting some great photos here; the background is great and you’re really photogenic. I am very happy with these shots.”

To quote my choir teacher from high school, it doesn’t take a mental giant to do this.

Don’t be smitten, don’t be inappropriate with compliments, and sure as hell don’t be insincere. Look at your client with honest and thoughtful eyes and see the best about them to talk about. Maybe their glasses are stylish. Maybe their hair looks great. Maybe they look like a train wreck, so compliment their distinctive style.

Just a few words of encouragement sprinkled throughout a photo shoot can relax your client, who is almost guaranteed to be more nervous and uncomfortable than you are. Give them some confidence, their guard will go down, and you can really connect and make some images that show their best.

Chat with your client as much as you like before your shoot; let them know you’ve got some ideas for great pictures, but you want to know if they’re looking for anything specific or Artist’s Choice. Nine times out of 10, they just want you to do what you do best, but it’s good to ask. Help your client feel empowered as well as encouraged – if they don’t want the power, then make them feel they are in good hands. Some gentility and a good attitude will take you far in your art and business.

Once you’ve got a rapport going, it’s time to step up to the plate. Lead them to your first setup and get to work – showtime.

Your first shots

Your first shots – in fact, most of the shots you’ll take – will be test shots.

Get your client in place at your first setup, let them know they can relax while you do some shots to “test the lighting,” and do just that – snap a few and see what you get.

Here’s where we slow down – here’s where we guarantee the best possible images from your first photo shoot.

What you’re going to do is snap a few shots, then pause to look at them on your camera. You’re going to evaluate every set of images you make, and then make adjustments to get better and better photos.

  • Look at your exposure: Too bright? Too dark? Just right? Remember, expose for your subject, not the background; don’t silhouette your subject with a perfectly-exposed sky behind them, and don’t blow out the human in the photo to get a nice exposure on the dark tree behind them. Try to shoot from an angle that gives you a background as even as possible with the light on your subject. When you can’t, don’t sweat: just remember, expose for the subject, not the background.
  • Look at your settings: How’s your shutter speed? F-stop? If your shutter is too slow, you’re going to get blurry photos from camera shake or subject movement. If your F-stop is too low / wide, you’ll only have inches of depth-of-field to work with and you’ll likely end up with the best part of your subject, their eyes, out of focus. Raise your ISO if you need to give yourself a boost on either of these other settings.
  • Look at your background: What’s going on behind your subject? Is it a clean, complimentary background? Are there people, cars, signposts, trash cans, or other distractions? Are there any trees, flagpoles, or telephone poles growing out of their heads? Adjust your angle up, down, or sideways to clean up your background.
  • Look at your subject: Books have been written on how best to photograph the human face. For your first shoot, we’ll take aim at just a few biggies: shadows, expression, pose. This is where you’ll work your magic with a client to capture their best in your photos. Let’s give this one it’s own subhead…

Look at your subject

Here’s where so many photographers new to portraiture get discouraged and lose confidence. What you observe and adjust about your client’s face to get the best possible image will separate you from the wannabe’s.

Shadows: Unless you’re going for an artsy look, you want nice, soft, even lighting across your subject’s face. You want both eyes to catch some light and have life in them. You want light to come from roughly 45 degrees above and behind you, off to either side up to 45 degrees if you like.

This is why midday portraits are so challenging: your subject is lit from directly above, hiding the eyes and casting unflattering shadows.

Adjust your client’s body and face left, right, up, down, spin them around if you have to, to get pleasant light on their face. Remember that the camera will magnify the depth of shadows, so as with every setup you do, take some test shots and evaluate.

Harsh lighting is the most common challenge you’ll face shooting outdoors. If your client faces the sun, they’ll squint and tear up; if they turn sideways to the sun, half their face disappears; if they turn 180 degrees to the sun, their hair will blow out; if you put them fully in the shade, your background will probably be overexposed.

This is something you’ll have to learn to overcome with experience and practice. Be mindful of it as you shoot, keeping an eye on your subject’s face and the background behind them.

Above all else, no matter what other factors involve themselves, you want to properly expose your subject’s face and capture the best expression you can. In the sales session, your client will care far more about your getting a great photo of them than a perfect exposure on the background behind them.

Expression: Here’s where it pays off when you encourage your client and instill in them some confidence in front of your camera.

Getting an honest, personal, individual, telling expression out of a client is an art in itself; certainly worth of its own article in the future. There is so much nuance and psychology and personality involved in drawing out the best expression from a client.

Putting your client in the wildly unnatural position of being photographed, recorded, vulnerable in front of the camera, and then getting perfectly natural photos of them in that situation, is an area you will learn to master as you grow as a professional photographer.

Use your charm and social judgment to get natural expressions from your client. Get them to laugh. Get them to make goofy faces at you. Get them to look angry. Then happy. Then super-happy. Then angry again. This role playing will almost always draw a laugh or smirk out of them. Help them loosen up and be themselves and you’ll capture the best of them.

Pose: Posing is another factor in getting the best images of your client. This is also a subject about which many books have been published. In fact, go buy one or two right now. The illustrations and advice will give you far more knowledge and confidence than I can instill with mere words here.

In brief, you want to pose your client in a natural way that best compliments their unique body characteristics. In many ways, you want your posing to reduce or eliminate so-called “flaws.”

Double chins, big foreheads, big ears, big noses, lazy eyes, flabby arms, muffin-tops… You’ve got your work cut out for you, my friend.

But fear not! Honestly, most clients are reasonable human beings and know exactly what they look like, “flaws” and all. Play up their best features and reduce what they don’t like so much. As in all things, do your best; you’ll do fine.

Seriously though, invest some money in a good posing book or some time on a good web site that teaches posing. Even if you throw out all the canned “tried and true traditional” poses, what you learn about using poses and lighting to best compliment different faces and body types will pay dividends in every portrait you shoot.

Everyone is beautiful in their unique way, about this I have no question. It is a joy to me as a photographer to get to know and understand a client, to connect with them, and to best capture what makes them a beautiful person in this world. Sometimes it’s a laugh, a smile, a raised eyebrow, a stoic presence, a spiritual vibe, a loving aura…beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Step up – here’s where you earn your supper.

Pacing the shoot

Remember, you’re in control of your shoot. But for random acts of God, you’re given the reigns when it comes to pacing your shoot.

And I’ll say again: slow down.

You’re in a photo shoot. There’s no rush, there’s nowhere to be, there’s no finish line to cross. You’ll probably be shooting for around an hour or so, which is plenty of time to get a wide variety of great images with your client in a variety of setups.

Be methodical: set up, pose, shoot a few testers, evaluate, adjust, test, evaluate, adjust, test, shoot for real and work on capturing the best expressions and moments you can.

Getting the best possible shots during a shoot is a lot like solving a puzzle. Pace yourself and enjoy the experience just like you would while doing a good crossword puzzle, playing Jenga, or getting in a game of The Sims.

The very fact that you’re reading this article right now means you are miles ahead of most people, in artistic investment and business acumen. Take pride: even if you haven’t shot your first client yet, the education you are providing yourself through this blog and other sites and sources is putting you head and shoulders above most people to have ever touched a camera. You care. You’re trying. And that’s worth a lot.

As you proceed from setup to setup, work over your subject from different angles and distances at each spot. If you’re shooting them at a park bench, get a nice close headshot, then a layback shot on the bench, then some wide shots of them sitting on the bench, then doing a handstand on the bench – or whatever you want.

Nail your must-have shots, your bread-and-butter images that you know will sell well after the shoot, then experiment. Play around with ideas and just let your creativity flow. Once you feel you’ve worked over a setup for all the shots it has to give, move on to the next setup.

Repeat until your time is up.

Don’t be afraid to shoot the same shot at different times and setups throughout your shoot. Give yourself plenty of variety to choose from during post-processing. Keep shooting, testing, evaluating, adjusting, and shooting some more. Trust me; the headshot you get of your client toward the end of your shoot will probably be far more natural and pleasant than the first of the day.

Calling it a day

When time is up on your shoot, again turn on that charm your mother taught you and send your client off with more encouragement.

“This was a really great photo shoot, thank you so much for the opportunity. I really enjoyed it and I think we made some great photos today.”

“I’m really happy with how everything went today. The weather was right and you were really working the camera. We’re going to have some great photos to look at.”

“I think we got some photos today that you guys will really like. This is a great place for a photo shoot and we caught some great evening light.”

Lead your client back to your car and explain to them the remainder of the photo buying process:

  • Show them your standard model release, explain what it means and what it’s for (“This just gives me your permission to use your photos in my portfolio or in an ad for my [senior, bridal, family, baby, whatever] photography business.”), and have them fill it out, including contact information and e-mail address.
  • Ask if they enjoyed the photo shoot. Then ask if you may add their e-mail address to your newsletter list. If you offer a coupon for new subscribers, let them know what they’ll get and how they can use it during the coming proofing and sales session.
  • Let them know you shot a ton of photos, but you’ll cull them down to the best from each pose and setup, looking for the best expressions and moments. If you recall a specific shot from the shoot that you know is good, mention it as an example. (“I loved the shot of you laying back on the park bench, the light was just right on your face; that will definitely be in there.”)
  • Set a date, time, and location for your client to get with you to view the proofs and buy their prints and files. If they want the images in a private online album, collect your retainer for this service and let them know when they can expect an e-mail from you with a link to the images.
  • Ask if they have any other questions, thank them for a great shoot, and then release them back into the sea.

Congratulations – you’ve survived your first photo shoot! Hopefully with grace and aplomb, but if not, no worries. So long as you were courteous, encouraging, had some fun, and made some solid images, you’ve had a pretty fantastic first shoot.

If you threw up on the client and all your shots were out of focus…well, everybody has to start somewhere!


Taking notes on what to improve

Do you want to multiply the rate at which you improve as a photographer? Whip out a pad and pencil (or digital equivalent) as soon as your client leaves and get ready to jot some notes.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and flow of a shoot, then the euphoria of its end, without ever really slowing down to take stock of what went right and what went wrong.

The secret is to be conscious of your work.

Just like slowing down to evaluate each set of images you make during the shoot, you want to take a moment after to take note of your thoughts on how to improve for next time.

Pencil, stylus, keyboard, or touchscreen in hand, answer these questions:

  • What was your favorite part of the shoot? Go into detail. Was it nailing a certain shot? Joking with the client? Getting to know the client and making better images for it? You tell me.
  • What was the worst part of the shoot? Nerves before? Mind-melt during? Did the client have no sense of humor? Did you have no sense of humor? Details.
  • What do you think your client’s favorite and worst parts of the shoot were? Do these differ from yours? Try to step into their shoes as self-conscious and inexperienced subjects and explore what you feel they most and least enjoyed.
  • This knowledge in hand, what can you do differently or better next time to improve your client’s experience?
  • Briefly looking at your images on camera, what do you like and dislike from the shoot? Best? Worst? Why? Where did you ace it, and where did you miss? How can you do better next time? Be specific; give yourself something real to grab onto and improve.

Head home, plug your card into your computer, back up your images, then back’em up again to a second or external hard drive.

In the coming final articles of this series, I’ll go over culling+post-processing, the proofing+sales session, and how to follow-up like a rock star.

Next Steps

  • Take another pass through the Flickr archives to see what kinds of portraits other photographers are making in the great outdoors.
  • Like a good actress or actor, grab a mirror, and talk out some of your photographer-client shpeel. Have a mock conversation with a client, from introductions on location to posing and joking around to fond farewells. Have fun. Be silly. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Life is good.
  • Brainstorm session: What’s the worst thing that could happen on your photo shoot? What’s the most realistic worst thing that could happen? How can you prepare for it? File this in your Brainstorms folder.
  • What was your first photo shoot like? What were the biggest lessons you learned? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen February 17, 2010 at 1:19 am

Mahalo for all your advise! 🙂


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor February 17, 2010 at 2:15 am

Thank you so much Jen! Really enjoyed visiting your web site; your video portfolio is great. Is that Israel I hear providing the music? 🙂

Your art is really lovely – the way you mix colors and desaturation is very stylish!


Jenilee Holbert March 29, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I love your advise. I’m getting ready to do my first photo session in a week. I’m just portfolio building, not charging session fees but for the photos they like.
Anyways my question is, I have the model release form, but when it comes time to buying the prints, do you have an example of an order form, proofing sheet, or anything else I might need?
Besides the model release are there any other forms I should know about? Thank you!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor April 1, 2010 at 12:58 am

Thanks for your kind words Jenilee! Your photography is really lovely; your photo for today (March 31) on your blog is just lovely. Great documentary + relationship portrait feel. If you can bring this level of connection and intimacy to your client photos, you’ll never lack customers.

I’m actually finishing up my article on proofing and sales sessions right now where I touch on some of your questions, but to answer now, the model release is the only “form” I use. I’m pretty casual during my sales sessions, so I don’t use things like official order forms – I show images in Adobe Bridge (comes with Photoshop) and take order notes in a text editor.

I put all my client’s information (what they ordered, how much they paid and in what form, their shipping address if needed) into this text file and save it on my desktop. Once the order is complete and delivered, I move the text file to a folder where I can get at that info any time I need it. If a client wants a receipt, I print the text file and sign it for their records and security. When a client buys hi-res digital files on CD, I burn with the images a text file with copyright and licensing information. I’ll drop that file in an e-mail to you shortly.

I’m a talker though – I’m very conversational with clients to make them comfortable and make it easy for them to just tell me what they wand and how they want it. If you are more comfortable using order forms and proof sheets that clients can make notes on, don’t hesitate to do so. Microsoft Word has great templates for invoices and Bridge lets you print contact sheets easily.

Don’t worry too much about the pomp and circumstance – having a consistent brand is great, but it’s not the biggest reason people will remember you, become repeat clients, and refer their friends to you. Concentrate on making their overall experience delightful, produce the best art you’re capable of, then get out of the way and let the client buy what they love.

Please let me know how your photo session goes! You are very talented – folks deserve the chance to be photographed by you. 🙂


Dave April 9, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Just came across this series James… really good stuff!

I’m glad to confirm a lot of what you say to do is close to what I’m doing now.

I’m not exactly new to part time photography (about 1 year off and on now) but have recently started pushing for more paying jobs. I’d say I still barter mainly to build my portfolio for my new website I started this month (still a work in progress) but have made a teeny tiny bit of money here and there. The hardest part is pricing imho.

I have the potential to get a decent payout in my first high school Team/Individual shoot tomorrow… I’ll find out when the kids show up with their pre-paid envelopes I handed out last week (a first for that too).

I’m trying not to get too nervous but there’s gonna be a lot of kids to shoot. Wish me luck!



Outlaw Photographer James Taylor April 9, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Rock their world, Dave – looking at your site, you’ve got every bit of talent you need to do great things. T&I work can be very, very profitable – in direct sales and indirect family sessions. If you’re doing pre-paid envelopes, you’re already ahead of the curve.

The biggest stressor with T&I is time. Posing and lighting are usually consistent and easy (especially if you’re using those strobes on location like you talk about on your site), it’s not brain surgery to keep image numbers matched up to specific kids, but keeping the line moving and dealing with disorganized kids/parents/coaches can blow your schedule out of the water.

Having an assistant to play defense for you is a boon, but you can do it solo – maintain control of kids, crowds, and time, and you’ll make some fabulous profit-per-hour.

Good luck Dave! Let us all know how it turns out for you. 🙂


Dave April 22, 2011 at 2:22 am

Hi James,

Its been dang near a year since I posted my comment above. Just to give you an update, that T&I job went well… Even though I got the job booked, we decided to shoot HS T&I under my photo buddy/partners’ website as it seemed more appropriate. I’ve been picking up the senior shoots and other stuff as a fallout from the T&I’s. Since that first one last April (Softball), we got booked for Girls Volleyball, Boys Soccer, and now back to Softball all at the same HS. Both our wives come along and help with the envelopes and primping the girls. I’ve had interest from another HS but I decided not to push for it as I know their photographer fairly well and he does this for a living now… One or two big jobs a quarter and some side jobs every once in a while is plenty with my 8-5 job (more like 7-7 these days). I’m pretty much investing everything I make right back into eqpt. so if anything, its self funding this lovely habit for now, building my portfolio, and I’m starting to get a lot of verbal commits from Juniors saying they’re coming to me for their Senior pics now that they’ve seen my website (
Anyhow, just thought I’d say hi and let your readers know there’s definitely opportunities out there if your willing to work at it and continuously research and practice to find your niche. Mine has definitely become or developed into being a ‘strobist’. I love the technical aspects of it and all the different moods you can create with it.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor April 23, 2011 at 1:40 am

That is just awesome Dave, I am so glad to hear of your successes! You hit the nail on the head – the opportunities to break into the market are all around. Whether you’re pulling ahead of apathetic competition or just building excitement in a traditionally apathetic portion of your market, the fact is most communities are underserved by their photographers, regardless of how many there are. Enthusiasm, practice, and old-fashioned work ethic are a powerful force.

Even when you focus on a tight niche or artistic style, as you grow as a specialist photographer you also grow as a general photographer. What you learn doing T&I photography easily translates to children’s and family portraiture, business head shots, school and daycare photography, etc. What you learn as a landscape photographer informs your engagement and bridal portraiture. There’s so much opportunity for cross-application of these skills.

The value of networking can’t be underestimated – I got my break in professional portraiture from my sports photography work for the local newspaper. F8 and Be There, be where your clients are. If you want to break into the senior market, shoot senior activities – academic and sports competitions, homecoming, prom, senior class fundraisers, and so forth. Even if you focus your business on a specific niche, your success there will spill over and pull in all kinds of photography work.

It sounds like you’re growing a great pair of businesses, Dave, and taking advantage of the cross-marketing opportunities that present themselves.

The strobist work you’re showing in your portfolio is just too cool, I’m sure wildly popular with seniors. Beyond the stylish lighting, the images tell stories – there’s a lot more to them than just a pretty face.

Keep rockin’ it! And please do keep us posted on your continued adventures. As always, I appreciate your readership!


Belle May 5, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Hey James

have come across this blog which I think is fantastic. I would love to make money doing photography, I have had an interest in it for years. I got a Canon 600D for my birthday and I am devouring everything I can online to use it properly. I would love to start taking pictures professionally and have my own website and even my very own studio one day.

I have a tentative booking in the next few weeks, just a freebie for a mate that m partner and I sponsor, and he needs some promo shots for his website and advertisements, and I am so scared that I will stuff it all up!

Can you please give me some tips on what to ask before the shoot, to give me a better understanding on how to read the customer, etc. I would like to get some more work from them and their mates in the future.

Any advice you can spare would be most helpful.

Thanks again,


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor May 7, 2011 at 12:38 am

Hey there Belle, thank you for your kind words and your readership!

Best advice I can give on these very first ‘official’ photo shoots is to just relax – you’re doing it for free, your client has seen your art and knows what to expect, and you’re going to put your best into it. Study well, get some practice in beforehand, and then just do good work. Make a shot list, a checklist of things you want to ‘remember’ during the shoot (because trust me, you will get caught up in the moment and forget important things).

One thing that will ease your mind and help you nail what your client wants is to learn and manage their expectations – you know what you’re capable of right now, or at least have a good idea of what you know you can do versus what you don’t think you can do well. Discuss your client’s needs, temper those needs against what you are confident you can do, and you’ll both go into the shoot with the proper expectations. At that point, let yourself go, follow your plan of attack, and be an artist, be creative, be solid, do good work.

As for reading the customer, I think it’s most important to just be social, be casual, but on point. Some clients will want to gab, some will want to get to work, so just go with the flow. Don’t get lost behind the camera, and don’t chimp alone – let your client look over your shoulder sometimes, just so they can see what you’re getting, and don’t be afraid to ask if it’s inline with what they want – better to find out now than after the shoot.

Play and have fun, this is far less serious and far more enjoyable than most photographers make it out to be. If you can create that sense of enjoyment and calm leading into the shoot, your client will do the same and you guys can really work together to make some quality photos.

I hope this answers your question! If you have more, please don’t hesitate to ask. 🙂


Michelle Gr September 4, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Hi James,

I came across your post by accident–I was actually “Googling” for ideas of what the customer should bring to their photo shoot. Anyway, you’ve got great advice and I have to say that your encouragement to others is amazing!

Keep up the good work!


daniel October 22, 2012 at 2:37 am

i really love these advise, infact i’ve learnt alot in the last few minuites… keep up the good work… i’ll really love to work with other photographers if i had the chance, any advice you can give on that?


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor December 30, 2012 at 11:22 pm

Thank you for your readership Daniel!

Try finding a local professional photographers group – a camera club, a Facebook group, online discussion group, etc. You may have to search within your nearest metro area, but most bigger cities have these kinds of groups. Attend a meeting and get to know some of the photographers there, let them know you’re interested in assisting. I for one love to have fellow photographers join me on my shoots – they’re very helpful with lights and gear, and we always have good, healthy discussions after the shoot over dinner or wine.

Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures in 2013!


Barb October 22, 2012 at 10:38 am

Thank you James for this series – I’m doing my first proper photoshoot tomorrow (TFP, but still) and learned so much from it that I now feel that the chance of throwing up all over the models is only 30% or so! 😉
This is a great website and I’ll definitely be visiting regularly to gain as much knowledge as possible. Thank you again for all your work and selfless help! 🙂


Ysa February 24, 2013 at 12:42 pm

James, would you check out my website and give me your thoughts on both my portfolio (done TFP so far) and the look of the site? I’m “going for it” (doing this as a business) and would love an honest, objective opinion on how my work is looking so far. Thank you!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 8, 2013 at 9:48 am

Thank you so much for your comment and readership Ysa!

I greatly enjoyed looking at your portfolio this morning! You have a wide variety of very solid shots. Your children’s photography is especially good – you have a special eye for capturing kids, their moments and reflections and personalities. Especially in that post-baby, pre-senior age range, which I admittedly have a hard time with except for my own kids. Congratulations!

I think your site looks great! You have a great logo, lots of great art to show off, a great grasp of both location and studio lighting.

Here are the few critiques I could levy:

– Most of your photography is excellent, very salable, but there are some photos thrown in your portfolio that just don’t hold up to the rest. The lighting isn’t as good, the expressions aren’t as natural, they’re just a bit forced. Just watching your portfolio on slideshow, it’s pretty easy to see which images stand out and should be kept in, and which images just don’t speak to your best abilities. The young blonde girl holding the flowers for example – the lighting and expression aren’t there, compared to your many other great photos. One of my best editors at the newspaper once told me, when presenting any kind of portfolio (art, writing, design) to put what I think should be in – then cut it in half – then cut it in half again. What’s left will be your best work. I tend to lean toward a 10-shot minimum for a portrait photographer, with most of the photos in your preferred niche (children, babies, seniors, families, whatever it may be). As you shoot more and more, you’ll replace and add to that set of best photos and have a portfolio that really shines.

– Your copyright on your site says 2012. I always get caught by this on my own sites, so be sure to set an annual calendar reminder to update your copyright date. You don’t want to look inactive.

– I love your logo: simple, unique, and memorable!

– Your About page is great, right to the point, and it’s the little things like letting folks know how to pronounce your name that make a difference. I would suggest adding a couple of your great photos to this page so it’s not just a wall of text.

– I love that every page of your site has your contact information. I’d even consider, if possible, putting it at the top of your pages.

– One important detail (and so, so many photographers I see miss this): be sure and put the towns and/or areas you serve on your site! Not only on the pages, but in the Title tags of your pages. Such as, mine might read: Outlaw Photography of Bandera, Texas. That’s great for SEO when people are searching for a photographer in your area, and also it answers the simple question of what geographic area you serve. Go through your site with this kind of innocent minded mentality and see if any other simple questions aren’t being answered by it.

– On your Service/Pricing page, the text is a bit wordy (perhaps could be broken down into sub-headed sections with bullet points or paragraphs?). Under your Fine Art Photography, your link to your other site isn’t underlined, so it’s not immediately obvious it’s clickable. When I do click it, there is no site there (I’m sure it’s just not set up yet).

– I would suggest rewording your pricing information to ask folks to call or e-mail with what kind of shoot they’d like to do, and you can quote them a custom price. It’s a little thing with me (and again, many photogs do it), but if you have a price list, and you say you have a price list, why not just put the price list online for folks to read? It’s not a secret, anyone can get it if they ask, so why put up barriers that could turn away potential clients? Very often, it’s these little walls that turn away folks who might otherwise like to visit about a shoot. That said, I don’t personally post my prices online – one, because they are very low; two, because I have enough volume of clients that I don’t need to market myself on price. Folks who do contact me expect a much higher price, and are thrilled when they hear how little I charge. This helps ward away price-only shoppers, who are almost always going to be your least profitable and highest maintenance clients. But early on when you’re wanting to score those first paying clients, there’s nothing wrong with marketing on price – we all have to start somewhere – and as you improve your art, business, and marketing, you’ll see an improvement in your per-client sales and can adjust your pricing and marketing of it accordingly.

– I love your preparation page! A brilliant piece of customer-friendly content. 😉

– On your blog, “Get In The Picture” is a neat name, but neat doesn’t often translate to a good user experience. I’d mark the page as “Blog” in your navigation, then you can have a fancy title graphic that says Get In The Picture on the page. Ease of use almost always wins out. Again, with all of your marketing, with every touch-point, with every experience you create for your clients, you want to make it as easy and desirable as possible to book, shoot, and buy from you.

You have a really, really great start for your business! Your art is totally there, very salable, and you show a great eye for art that clients would love to share on Facebook or hang in their homes. Lean into the work that you love, the ideal clients you love working with, and the types of clients that you have a real affinity for, and you’ll really accelerate the growth of your art and your business.

Thank you again Ysa! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Ysa March 8, 2013 at 10:58 am

Oh wow. Thank you so much for your feedback. Every bit of it had me going, “Yes! That makes so much sense!” and “That’s so true.” I have found your website absolutely invaluable and will take your advice on to heart. And thanks for liking my FB page – I’m still working on getting that one going (can’t figure out what to SAY to folks LOL) – but it’s nice to have my very first “like” 🙂


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 11, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Sure thing Ysa, truly, thank you for your readership! And please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures this year! You’re asking the right questions and on the right track – if there’s anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to let me know!


Lisa February 27, 2013 at 12:43 pm

The thing I find hardest in posing is “un-training” my subjects. Little kids want to give me big, fake “cheese” grins (they even say “cheese” when they do it LOL) and I have to find a way to get them to stop. Luckily, little kids are easy to re-direct in a more natural direction just by playing games with them. But I find that, especially teen girls and young women have strong ideas about what they should do to pose and they end up doing some really silly things in front of the camera. I do find them much harder to “re-train”. Any advice? I don’t want to ruin their confidence, but I also don’t want them to do more of the same.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 11, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Thank you for your comment, Lisa!

Certainly, some folks are better in front of the camera than others.

The more re-training a subject needs, the slower I go with the shoot.

I tend to shoot very fast-paced, lots of my jibber-jabber, and I’m good at sweep clients up into my enthusiastic, non-stop babbling and joking around. So it’s very hard for me to slooooow down, and take the time to teach my subject how to pose when they don’t have an affinity for it.

Some clients, bless their hearts, are beyond repair – they’re awkward and uncomfortable and don’t want to be there and lack confidence and are spastic, desperate for you to hurry up and take the picture and let them get out of there. You can’t help it. Slow them down, distract them, compliment them, be encouraging, be sincere, just talk with them and try to relax them. In the end, they’ll come around, or they won’t.

I try to let clients freestyle, it often brings out a lot of their personality, and I’ll get them to give me silly faces and do over-the-top poses just to loosen up. Some folks want to be beautiful. Some folks want to be fun. Some folks just want to go home. Take’em as they come, guide them how you can, but don’t stress out over challenging clients. Practice. Practice interacting with different personalities in different ways, and over time, learn the best ways to get the best photos of each. Every client is different, so the onus is on you to – with time and purposeful effort – learn how best to handle each client.

I’m a people person, so I take great joy in working with all kinds of clients, and solving the puzzles some of the challenging ones present to me. Learn to approach it as such, and not as a frustration, and you’ll give those clients the best art and experience possible.


Roseann March 12, 2013 at 1:57 am

This is such helpful information. Thank you for sharing it. I just switched jobs to have more time to focus on my photography, and things are picking up pace fast! I am still offering free shoots to build my portfolio and am guilty of giving my first few clients too many images, over 100. Quality over quantity, leave them wanting more. 🙂 I really love the idea of writing down reflections right after a shoot. I usually just let it all swim around in my head, but a more methodical approach will definitely be more useful. Thank you again. I plan on reading everything you’ve written on the subject.


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor March 12, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Thank you so much for your kind words Roseann!

I greatly enjoyed visiting your portfolio tonight! Your photos across the board are fantastic – I can’t believe you’re still doing free shoots! But never a bad idea to get that portfolio rolling, but trust me when I say that you’re producing very, very salable work. When you’re ready to make the move, you will surely be worth more than you’ll charge.

You’ve got a great style and great attitude – you’re going to be a fantastic part time professional photographer. I’m truly impressed!

Thank you again for your readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


Outlaw Photographer James Taylor April 24, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Thank you for your kind words and readership Roseann!

Oh my gosh, I just finished looking over your blog, and you take such wonderful photos. Perfect backgrounds, great colors, lovely subjects, awesome control of outdoor and window light. The photos of the two babies playing together are magical – you have so much going for you!

Quality is always your best bet, but honestly, I like the word variety better – so long as your art is consistent (and you aren’t going to show your worst photos to a client anyway), I think it’s more important to focus on a variety of best-quality (whatever your best may be) photos when you do your sales session. That could be 100 or more proofs, but doubtful unless you shot for hours in different locations, with different outfits, and different people (with whole family, with siblings, with mom, with dad, with mom and dad, etc.). You’re right though, most photogs who show clients an overwhelming morass of proofs just weren’t confident enough in their art to cull out their mediocre shots. “I don’t want the client to miss a shot they might have bought!,” I hear often – but being a discerning artist, a professional guide to photographic art, is one of the roles we play as photographers.

Re: writing down reflections, I’ve recently started using Evernote to organize my writing and life in general – between it, Google Reader, and my Google Calendar, I’m finally feeling like I’ve got a handle on all the facets of my work and personal lives. I can’t recommend it enough, and it may be a great place to store and organize both your thoughts, reflections, PTP brainstorm sessions, client notes, study notes, practice notes, and inspirational photography clips.

Thank you again for your comment and readership! Please do keep me posted on your successes and adventures!


j.Estrada March 7, 2014 at 12:33 pm

Thank you so much for all this information. i feel so much relaxed in a way after reading this excellent blog. i appreciate you taking time to help with your experienced advice. i will like to read more about photography and of what you have to say about it. thank you again, very helpful. im excited and happy i found this.


Christian December 12, 2014 at 10:23 am

Thank you so much for this!


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