How to have a great portrait photo shoot

Strong, well composed and well lit branding photography: a great portrait photo shoot, is essential for your Personal Brand website, your social media, your business card, Speaker profile, to send out to podcasts with your pitch, and innumerable other applications.

I've been a photo editor for many years and have worked on most of the publications across Australia and the UK , all of which required consistent photographic briefs. In this post, I'm going to step you through tips for a great portrait session.


It's useful to have a range of moods and background for a variety of applications. Think of your industry and the end use for your photos (website [home page portrait + about page additional photo], social media, business cards, head shots) and talk about this with your photographer. Running circular from top left in the image above you can see a range of poses and moods:

  • Top left: professional, no nonsense, half smile, direct gaze - calm and well dressed, 3/4 length portrait
  • Candid, busy, professional, with satisfying range of complementary tones. (a good secondary image for an about page, blog post, social media)
  • Candid, off guard, interesting background, creative clothing choices that contrast beautifully with plants.
  • Relaxed, warm professional. appealing tonal range
  • Candid, natural light, looking to the future - optimistic and reassuring
  • Direct gaze, strong smile. tonally pleasing
  • 3/4 length, composed and calm. relaxed clothing choice, with elegant accessories
The end use for your images informs your photo shoot


Think of the end use for your portrait to make a list of the images you need from a photo shoot. Make sure that the photo shoot you've booked and paid for will give you the setups (the background/different rooms or locations) that you need.

  • headshot for LinkedIn / business card / team photo
  • high resolution image for print material for when you're keynote speaker at a conference
  • Lo res warm photo for when you're guesting on a podcast
  • Full width images for a website full-row-banner-image
  • Instagram images that can be used with text over the background
  • Take a look at the frameworks I've built for my clients personal brand websites here to see examples of how images are used in different ways - as full width rows, as vertical, square, horizontal images. If you have a website design already, take this with you on the photoshoot so the photographer knows where the image will be placed


  • Advantages of a plain / studio background:
    1. It's easy to extend in photoshop for text placement.
    2. Easy to add text over the plain background of the image for social media
    3. Keeps the attention on the subject
    4. Limits complexity and is more calming than an office space
    5. You don't need a plain studio backdrop - you could ask your photographer to limit the depth of field to you only, and make everything else in shot a blur - this has a similar feel to a plain 'cyc' background because it keeps focus on you, but adds extra colour and light play with the blur on the surroundings
  • Advantages of being photographed in your office or store - where there is furniture and detail in the background:
    1. It places the subject in context, adding extra information for the audience without written text.
    2. Text can be added, but should be placed on its own colour block background so it's readable for all accessibilities
    3. Can show product or business in live setting, giving depth to your message
    4. Makes you clean up your office or workspace ūüėČ
    5. Limiting the depth so it's only you in focus, with make everything else in shot a blur, keeps focus on you, but adds extra colour, texture, interest and light play with the blur on the surroundings
    6. Depth of field is limited to the subject in the photo above, allowing for a colourful, textured background which works beautifully with the outfit. This doesn't take focus from the subject, it adds to the way we feel about her - she's relaxed, confident, artistic


If you have someone in mind, or have googled portrait photographer near me, check out their site for examples of their work. Not all photographers have the same style. Check to see

  1. Are they a portrait photographer? (they may be great at food photography, but portraiture may not be a specialty)
  2. Do you like their portrait style - is it static and posed? or more candid and not as formal?
  3. Do you like their lighting style? Would you like a natural lit shoot, perhaps in your workspace, or in their 'Daylight studio', or do you have a studio lit portrait in mind ? (see references below)
  4. Do they have a studio that offers multiple location backgrounds?
  5. Are they able to travel to you to photograph you in your store/workspace/garden?
  6. Do they offer hair and makeup services as well?
  7. Can they help you with your clothes styling?
  8. Can they advise on backgrounds if they're shooting you at home?
  9. What does the shoot consist of? Just 1 set up? a number of different background/locations setups? All of the images from the shoot? or a small selection, or even just 1?
Portait shoot lighting and pose examples
What to wear for your Personal Brand photo shoot


This can be quite the obstacle when you're preparing for a photo shoot. Choose clothing that makes you feel confident.

  1. Your personality is read in the clothing choice you make - I recommend plain clothing against a pattern background, while a pattern can be read against a plain backdrop. If you're a hawaiian print person, and you're intending to be photographed against flock wallpaper, discuss this with your photographer - a good photographer will make anything work.
  2. If you have a background colour in mind, think about blending in - lighter colours are ok atop each other as shadows define your outline, but your fave black dress may not be visible enough against a black background.
  3. Comfort is important, but check for whether that fave shirt is actually threadbare and see through.
  4. A good photographer should give you feed back on what to wear and may even suggest you bring a range of outfits for you to trial.
  5. If there are a number of setups, you may want to take a change of outfit for each, but check that this is covered in the shoot you've paid for. Changing clothes takes time | You're paying for the photo shoot time | Ensure there's time for changes. Discuss this with your photographer.


Talk to your photographer about what files you get with your service. You will need high res - so ask for Tiffs, never camera raw (doubtful you would be offered these). If they're willing, they could also supply you with jpegs. Ask for Tiffs and jpegs.

The difference is in compression. A tiff is closer to the raw file that comes from a professional camera and is great for print reproduction, which works on a 4-colour process (CMYK). A jpeg file is compressed down to be smaller for web. It is also smaller as it only operates on screen where there are only 3 channels: Red Green and Blue (RGB)

What should I pay for a good photo shoot


Pricing will be different from photographer to photographer and will be dependent on what you need. Do you need just one setup, one change of clothes, head and shoulders only? or do you need the full story of your brand told across different stages, in different outfits, different moods.

In Australian capital cities, expect to pay upwards of $500 for a simple setup. Multiple outfits and locations, travelling to you, the return of multiple high resolution files will add to cost. A photographer's popularity and availability may also influence price. Being clear about what you want will help you clarify the range of the shoot with the photographer.

Snappr Sydney wrote this in 2020: " for a two-hour portrait photoshoot in Sydney, the average price you can expect to pay the photographer is approximately $448. On average a one-hour portrait shoot will cost $280 and a four-hour shoot will cost $783. Sydney's portrait photographer prices are 12% above the AU national average."
This is a guide. You're using a professional with alot of sundry expenses, including their time and expertise. Trust them and pay them.

Get a variety of quotes, but expect to pay fairly for a day's work. The photographer isn't simply snapping a pic: they have to book studio time, set up the camera and lighting, photograph you, go through files, send them to you for perusal and choice, then retouch. Even if the time spent directly isn't a full day, there is additional time spent in getting you the images for use.

Image references for Personal brand portrait shoot


Stock libraries are a great place for photo shoot references. In a competitive market, they have to keep up to date with portrait trends. Please note - I'm not advising you replicate a portrait - the intellectual property of these images is copyrighted, but it's good to browse for your 'look and feel' conversation with your photographer.

Remember though, these 'candid' relaxed subjects are models. The stock libraries have excellent retouchers and there are thousands upon squillions of dud frames that didn't make it to the library.

Use the search function then refine your search as you like:

  • input:¬†'woman X0-X0 years portrait' into the search field. or use professional woman portrait and limit by age decade
  • On the left side are more parameters to filter the search results : eg, choose horizontal, copy space, one person this narrows the field.
  • If you like an image, click on it - there are often other frames of the same model, from the same photoshoot.
  • Take screenshots of the images you like and use these as a reference for the aesthetic you're after

You can see from the search results, a good portrait doesn't need to mean full hair and makeup - there are warm, reassuring, personality-filled portraits there that aren't the full H/MU . Lighting is the key that a professional will deliver, that is trickier when we are just photographing ourselves at home - unless you have a charming room with a window you can stand beside (clear wall beyond) and can infill the shadows somehow, so details are visible.

We are our harshest critic - don't let this stop you

I've worked with celebrated, successful women, celebrities, high achievers and everyday people with a great story to tell. I look at their photos and marvel at how beautiful they are, yet rarely are they at ease in front of the camera, or in love with the results. Don't judge yourself harshly. A good photographer will coax confidence and calm in you, but it's best when this truly comes from within. You're there for you. It's your time. Have courage and commit. Deep breaths, direct gaze into the lens. You've got this and you are powerful and wonderful.

I support Personal Brand website clients with a photo brief for their photographer. We'll work through what you need for photography for your site, and where else you will need to provide a portrait.

Your voice, Your Audience, Your Message. Want some help identifying your personal brand? Book a call below.