Why Pre-Production Meetings are Important in Portrait Photography

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In the fashion and related advertising industries – pre production or pre shoot meetings are a given. Clients are spending sums of six and seven figures for an image or series of images. Consequently a photo shoot in these industries never goes ahead without a pre-production meeting. There is simply too much at risk not to have one.

“AG” captured by Raja Afzaludin B. Raja Abdullah. (Click image to see more from Raja Afzaludin B. Raja Abdullah.)

This meeting involves all the individuals involved in the image creation chain – art and creative directors, wardrobe stylists, lighting tech and photographer, amongst others. It ensures – or at very least – reduces the risk of the shoot being marginal or unsuccessful.

Why then would you, as a portrait photographer even consider doing a portrait session without demanding – that may be a strong word – let’s say, being emphatic with a potential client that it is essential to have a “preprod?” It is crucial that your portrait session deliver the goods – first time off. Failure to do this will result in a disgruntled client. We all know how damaging negative feedback is to your reputation.

3 aspects to a pre-production meeting:

1. What style of portrait does the client aspire to?

If you shoot a wide variety of portrait styles you need to ascertain which style the client is set on. Go through your portrait portfolio book with the client until there is no doubt in both your minds exactly the style of portrait that the client is after. Make a note of the reference image in case there is a dispute further down the line.

2. What personality traits and views are you as a photographer aiming to capture?

Browsing your portfolio with the client gives you the perfect occasion to try and understand more about your potential model as an individual. Look for personality traits and quirks as you discuss their portrait session. Try and get a bit of an insight into the individuals personality. If possible, attempt a bit of research – at least Google them – prior to the meeting to help you ask the right questions to initiate conversation.

Technically use this as your opportunity to study the facial shape, find the larger eye, determine which side the hair is parted generally start to plan the most flattering lighting setup and what angle of view you are going to capture the portrait in.

“Taylor” captured by Tracy DePaola. (Click image to see more from Tracy DePaola.)

3. What not to wear.

Being as diplomatic as possible, you need to direct the client as far as what to wear during the session. The end result – the portrait – is you responsibility, entirely yours. To get the best possible results take control of the client’s wardrobe.

Family Portraits: Choose a mood color for the shoot: either cool or warm for the entire group. Then dress everyone in those colors. Try and avoid any patterns – they just cause a sense of confusion in the image – and the added problem of Moiré for the photographer using medium format digital. Never mix warm and cool colors or light and dark tones.

Long Sleeves: Unless you are shooting a “beefcake” or “glamour” style image, always insist on long sleeves for men and women. At best the bare arm draws attention away from the subject. Women, unless very fit and thin should cover their arms for formal portraiture.

Necklines: My feeling on necklines is the higher the neckline and less exposed the skin, the better for the average client. My favorite is a high Vee Neck for a model with a broader face and a high neckline Tee or Turtle for a model with a thin face.

Bright Colors: Generally bright colors are a distraction. On serious notepaper, portraiture is about the countenance of the model. It’s not about the clothes. Whatever clothing is visible, I want to “fall off” into the background and not scream at me. Gaudy patterns, prints and bright colors make it difficult to achieve this effect.

“Untitled” by Alexei Jurchenko. (Click image to see more from Alexei Jurchenko.)

About the Author:
Simon Stewart is a full time fashion photographer from South Africa with over 35 years of photographic experience. http://www.simonstewart.co.za contains articles of interest to both photographers and fashion models.

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2 Comments

  1. Ashley says:

    This article is ridiculous and insulting, I am a woman reading this. I am fit and thin but find your opinion pathetic.

    “Long Sleeves: Unless you are shooting a “beefcake” or “glamour” style image, always insist on long sleeves for men and women. At best the bare arm draws attention away from the subject. Women, unless very fit and thin should cover their arms for formal portraiture.”

    What the hell is with the 1950′s attitude of women should be covered up unless “very fit and thin”
    You sound like a shit photog who doesn’t know how to capture real people in a natural way.

  2. Nancy Young says:

    Very good artice, will follow your tips for sure! Thanks for sharing :)

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