Capturing Magic: Finding Inspiration For Captivating Portraits

Capturing Magic: Finding Inspiration For Captivating Portraits

Portraiture has been around for many centuries. Before the digital age and even before the age of film, portraits had been created through other mediums such as paintings and sculptures. A portrait is a treasure that people keep around for a lifetime. A great portrait embodies the essence of the person and tells his or her story without saying a word. How can you make your portraits stand out from the rest? Getting creative. Doing something different. But then, where do you find the inspiration for such types of portraits?

Here I created an artist set to get the look of interrupting an artist at work.

Model: Shoko Fujita


The idea for a portrait can revolve around many different things, such as an overall theme, maybe a piece of clothing, a location, a prop or the person you are photographing – among many other things. You can generate ideas for a portrait through music, art, books and more. It becomes easier to find inspiration the more you become aware of your surroundings and most importantly, familiar with your subject.


What’s the Purpose of the Portrait?

The first thing you should think about when deciding how to tackle capturing a portrait of someone is: what is the purpose of the portrait? A portrait might be a senior portrait for a teenager getting ready to graduate high school in the next year, an individual’s portrait, a couple’s portrait, family portraits or even glamour or boudoir portraits.

A senior portrait.


Determining the purpose of the portrait can help guide you toward the characteristics your client might be looking for in their portrait such as a couple’s portrait might want to display their love for one another, a senior portrait might symbolize hope for a bright future and for a boudoir portrait, the idea is “sexy”.

Glamour portrait in my hallway.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma


Below are several characteristics that you may find can help jog some creativity into your portraiture.


Background Choice

In a car. A sixteen-year-old boy just got their first car. He is proud of achieving the passing of his driving test and as a typical sixteen-year-old boy, his car is his most prized possession. This is a good opportunity to suggest shooting a few portraits with him in or standing next to his car.

Outdoors. Shooting a portrait outdoors offers an infinite number of possibilities for backgrounds. Find out your client’s favorite area of town and meet them there for the shoot. If they like the beach, shoot at the beach. Are they avid hikers? Strap on your hiking boots and let them guide you to their favorite spot and photograph them in that environment. If they’re unsure of an outdoor location, it’s up to you to scout out an interesting backdrop.

We shot this portrait outdoors in my neighborhood.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes


In a studio setting. Many portrait photographers opt to shoot in a studio so that they can better control the light. You have options for backgrounds in the studio such as seamless paper, canvas, muslin or you can even build a set. Below I used a Savage Mocha seamless paper background along with dramatic lighting.

Background choice in the studio against Savage Mocha seamless paper.

Model/Actress: Celeste Smith


Work Your Angles


Shoot From Above. Savage Floor Drops can make for an interesting background when you shoot your subject from above. Having materials around such as fur and silk also add texture and sheen to the image. In the image below, I also added pillows and lit tea candles as well as a guitar to create an “At Home With the Musician” type of portrait.

Get on a ladder and shoot from above.

Model: Daria Komarkova


Give your subject space to look into. As a good rule of thumb, when shooting a portrait, especially “landscape-oriented” (horizontally), frame your subject on one side of the image or the other (use The Rule of Thirds as a guide) and make sure that he or she has space to stare into. When you have a subject facing outside the frame closest to him or her, the image generally evokes a bit of tension within the viewer.

Placing your subject on one side of the image and giving them a lot of negative space on one side gives them space to look into.

Model: Maria Iodice


Shooting Orientation. I generally ignore the idea that portraits should be “portrait-oriented” (vertical). I generally shoot a portrait both portrait-oriented and landscape oriented (horizontal) for variations.

Vertical orientation.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma


Remember the best way to shoot landscape-oriented people photos is to give your subject space to look into by placing them on one side of the image or the other with their face facing into the image center.

Horizontal orientation.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma


Tight Shots

When I shoot, I generally have my subject hold for 2-3 shots and capture the same photo a few different ways, such as full body, ¾ shot, waist up, headshot and a tight shot. Tight shots can be an interesting choice to create a unique portrait. It especially comes in handy if your subject has a receding hairline or a double chin.

Tight shot of a friend.


Play With Light & Shadow


Mixing Multiple Light Sources. I remember I was once told that mixing different types of lighting could be tricky or disastrous. I did an experiment once in outdoor shade next to a building doorway where there was a combination of ambient daylight, my speedlight and a tungsten bulb in the doorway and came up with the portrait below. Don’t ever be afraid to experiment and create things someone else told you that you couldn’t.

Here I blended ambient light, the tungsten bulb light in the doorway to the right and my speedlight to get this shot.

Model: Andy Mizerek


Use Shadows. Whether it’s shadows created from mini-blinds indoors or from trees outdoors, or even shadows you create with studio lighting, shadows can transform such a humdrum image into something very extraordinary.

I used a tree to break up harsh lighting and got some interesting shadow patterns.

Model: Daria Komarkova


Create Silhouettes. A portrait doesn’t necessarily need to capture all the details of a subject. Sometimes just a silhouette outline of your subject can make for a creative portrait too.

Silhouettes can make for interesting portraits.


Go High-Key or Low-Key. High key portraits evoke a feeling of lightness, innocence and purity. The key to creating a high key portrait is a lot of light, while still managing to maintain a true black point.

A high key portrait always has a light and pure feel to it.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins


Low-key portraits are a good choice for music and athletic portraits or any type of portrait where you want to create a lot of drama as the images are very dark and the light is very focused on a particular part of a subject such as their face, hands or maybe even just a baby’s feet. In the image below I added a rim light to create a separation between my subject and the background to add dimension.

Low-key lighting can add drama.

Model: Baron Jackson


Use window light whenever possible. Many photographers are a fan of natural light and prefer daylight studios to just any ole studio. There’s just a quality of softness about light that comes through a window, which can serve as a little bit of a diffuser itself. Window light can be recreated artificially, but there’s just something striking about natural window light.

Window light makes for a beautiful dramatic portrait.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes


Add Movement


Spin, Spin, Spin. I recently wrote an article on getting more creative with your self-portraits and experimented with spinning and shooting with a slow shutter. I managed to create the image below on the second try. Here you can see my face in profile and full face. Just a unique “spin” to a portrait.

A slow shutter offers a nice motion shot.


Blowing confetti/glitter. You’ve see the images. A girl with a party hat (or not) blowing confetti toward the camera lens. It’s a nice shot to try to capture for a birthday portrait, but it does take practice and a tripod to capture the confetti in the air prior to its descent.

Sports portraits. You might be hired to shoot some portraits during a child’s sports game. Anticipation of movement is the key to a sports portrait – that and a fast shutter speed. After the game you can slow down and capture images of the athlete in his or soiled uniform holding the football, catcher’s mitt, baseball bat, or whatnot. It provides much more character than a stark, sterile, clean uniform.

Dancing portraits. A photographer can capture beautiful portraits of ballet dancers who are  quick, agile and can hold a pose for a pretty long time. I actually added movement into the image below by shooting the dancer through a piece of Plexiglas wrapped in Saran wrap.

I shot through saran wrap on Plexiglas here to create a sense of movement.

Model/dancer: Shoko Fujita



A different way to approach shooting a subject is through the use of a mirror. If you can find a room with a full length mirror on one side, this can make for a stunning image – especially the more dramatic the wardrobe they are wearing. No mirror wall? A stand-up mirror can also work to capture a person in a just little bit of a different way than just a “smile and say cheese” portrait.

Use of a mirror for this portrait.

Model: Colleen Rose Careri


Composites & Double Exposure


Composites. A composite, if done right, can add a new dimension to a portrait. I’m not an expert with Adobe Photoshop, nor do I have the patience to spend hours and hours to do outrageously amazing composites, but taking your subject and placing them on a different background can sometimes make the image more interesting.

A composite created from a studio shot on white seamless and an image borrowed from Google.

Model: Shoko Fujita


Double Exposure Images. A double exposure image is another process that can take a little bit of time but can fun and can literally share your subject with something they like. I’m a huge fan of sunflowers so we created the double exposure of me in a sunflower field. The sun just happened to be in a perfect spot to generate an even deeper meaning to the portrait.

This is a double exposure self-portrait amongst my favorite flower.


Introduce Props


Flowers and foliage. Whether you add flowers to your client’s hair or put flowers in their hands (which can also help to relax your subject by giving them something to do with their hands…!), adding a client’s favorite flower to their portrait not only adds an additional piece of beauty into the image but it also adds yet another hint to the viewer as to the subject’s likes and preferences. Beyond the example below, the self-portrait above also showcases this.

Giving my subject flowers gave her something to do with her hands too.

Model: Larissa Byrd


Food. Yes food… but make it fun food! A portrait of a child blowing out candles on a birthday cake makes a nice sentiment. Combining a lollipop or even a piece of fruit into a portrait can make the portrait a little more fun and interesting. If your subject is holding the object, even better! Giving them something to do with their hands helps to relax them a little in front of the lens as it helps take their attention of the camera and places it on the object they are holding.

Add a lollipop for a twist to the semi-monochromatic image.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes


Materials and Lace. Exaggeration is okay not only in fashion, but portraiture too. In the image below I draped a piece of beautiful jade lace over my client’s hair and gave her a bouquet of black calla lilies to create a little bit of a darker portrait. Adding various materials or lace to a portrait set whether it’s on your subject or they are laying on it, adds a nice touch to the final result.

Here the props were the lace made into a veil and the black calla lillies.

Model: Shoko Fujita


Incorporate Accessories


Hats. Hats can be a fun addition to a portrait depending on what they are wearing and your subject’s personality.

I added a cowgirl hat to complete this ensemble.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes


Scarves. In addition, a scarf can also be a nice addition to a subject’s look in a portrait. In the image below, my subject has an Eastern European background and actually asked me if we could incorporate a scarf into some of her portraits.

Because of her ethnic background, the scarf helps lend to her story.

Model: Maria Iodice


Add Embellishments to Makeup


Feathers. While feathers might be a little overboard, they can make for a fun and dramatic portrait if you have a great makeup artist on hand. In the image below, we went with a beautiful peacock theme.

We created a beautiful peacock theme for this shot.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins


Jewels. Adding jewels to makeup, especially around the eyes, can really bring out the feature they are near. The colors and sparkle also really stand out.

Adding jewels to her eyes draws your attention to the most important part of the portrait – the windows to the soul.

Model: Lizbeth Sawyers


Various Facial Expressions & Emotions

Rather than a typical, “say cheese” portrait, you may be able to evoke several different emotions in your client and capture them. Teenagers are notorious for being a bit reserved when it comes to professional portraits when it’s not their idea and the parents are the ones demanding them. A serious expression is quite fine though! Try to conjure up different expressions from your client. A sly or coy smile here, a bright cheery smile there, a pensive and thoughtful expression there – it all works!

It’s ok to capture a normal beautiful portrait.

Model: Chelsea Jackson


If your client is a bit of a jokester, even capturing capturing silly facial expressions really captures their essence and shows the viewer their personality.

Sometimes different facial expressions can show a fun side of someone in a portrait.

Model: Chelsea Jackson


Shoot Candids Between the Posed Shots

Of course, capturing candid shots in between the posed shots can also be a huge bonus as you’re capturing unposed, true, expressions of your client when they are being themselves and are caught off-guard. I managed to capture this candid portrait below during a pause between poses. I thought it was a bit calm and serene (almost meditative) and the client loved it.

I caught this shot between poses.

Model: Shoko Fujita


A Last Word About Gaining Creative Insight…

Finding inspiration and coming up with creative ideas for captivating portraits can be very easy. The more aware you are of your surroundings, the more you will realize that the possibilities for ideas are endless. One of the great things I’ve learned over the past few years that has helped my creativity is self-portraits. You learn a lot not only about being in front of the lens, but how to tell your own story.



Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
The Art of Portraiture Part 3: Your Subject

The Art of Portraiture Part 3: Your Subject

The most important element of a portrait is your subject. Yes, composition and depth of field adds to a portrait, and backgrounds and lighting can make or break one, but without a subject, there is no portrait.

The biggest key to a great portrait is your subject.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins


We started off this series discussing Composition, Depth of Field and Background and in our last article, we covered Light. In this article, I’m going to go over the feature of a portrait: your subject.



The best thing you can do before a portrait shoot is to sit down with your subject for at the very least: 10 minutes – and talk with your subject. Get to know them a little better. Where are they from and in some cases, what country are they originally from? What’s their favorite color? What kind of music do they enjoy? (This can often help by using a service such as Spotify or even Apple Music to play the music your client likes during a portrait shoot to get them to relax, which we will get into later…) Do they have hobbies? What do they do for fun?

Using your subject’s unique qualities expresses who they are in a portrait.

Model: Maria Iodice


The list of potential questions is endless, and the benefit to getting these types of questions answered is this: the more you know about your subject, the more your can bring your subject into their portrait. For the image above, my client above told me about her ethnic background so we played around with some scarves to capture more of the essence of who she is and where she’s from.



Sometimes you might have a quiet, reserved teen to photograph and other times you might have to capture a more extroverted, animated subject. Getting to know their character when you have that initial chat before you pick up your camera will prepare you for what you want to capture about that person. You wouldn’t want to force a smile on someone who rarely smiles just as much as you wouldn’t want to force a serious expression on someone who is always smiling and laughing.

A portrait should express a person’s character.

Model: Chelsea Jackson


The idea is to capture your subject as the person he or she actually is rather than portraying them as someone they are not. In the image above, my subject was a carefree, extroverted girl and she naturally gave me this expression which completely shows the fun, carefree woman she truly is.



Getting a subject to relax can be a tough one, but it doesn’t have to be if you have a few tricks up your sleeve. Again, getting to know your client before a photoshoot will not only only give your client better images in the long run, but it will help you to actually capture those images! Learn what kind of music they like and then play their favorite singer or band’s music very subtly in the background during a shoot.

Getting a subject to relax can be hard – or not – once you learn how to do it.

Model: Lizbeth Sawyers


Sometimes giving a subject something to do with their hands relaxes them. The common cause a subject might have for not being able to relax is just not knowing what to do in front of a camera. Use a soft, friendly voice. Be very specific with your direction. Talk to your subject. Remember all those questions you asked in the beginning? Ask away as they more you are interacting with your subject, the more relaxed they become in front of your lens and you with your subject.




Facial Expressions

A facial expression can be one of those things that makes a breaks a portrait. If your subject is not relaxed in front of your lens, it will show in their face, whether it’s tension in the forehead or around the mouth or a deer in headlights look in their eyes. Even when you are shooting models, a problem can arise with getting a good facial expression in an image.

Facial expressions are key.

Model: Alexandra Rosner


Knowing how to relax your subject and getting them to connect with you personally (directly behind the lens) rather than just connecting with that long black thing in their face (your lens) can make all the difference. As you can see in the image above, my subject has no tension in her forehead, her eyes are soft and her mouth is relaxed.


Body Language

Posing the body to express what you want to express in a portrait is probably one of the more easier tasks than dealing with facial expressions. A person can be feeling a certain way on the day of their shoot and it’s more difficult to get a good facial expression out of them that is more natural to their usual personality. Getting a subject to pose their body is a bit easier sans posture. A person having a bad day may have a more slouched look or poor posture. You’ll want to make sure to observe and correct this before pressing the shutter. You can tell a subject how to pose, or even more effective: mimic a pose to a subject and then walk over to adjust them as necessary.

Body language can tell a story in and of itself in a portrait.

Model: Baron Jackson


In the image above, I was looking for a bad boy, musician type look, so I needed a more serious expression. I used a hand in the pocket and the other hand posed upward grabbing his shoulder to exude a more confident look.



Hands can be a little difficult to work with sometimes, but again, if you know a few tricks, they do not have to be. For women, the idea is for a woman to look feminine: soft, gentle, light, beautiful and graceful. So let’s create graceful hands! A good trick for this is to have them start with their hands at the top of their head and have them lightly sweep their fingers very lightly, gently and SLOWLY downward “like a feather”, across and/or in any other direction. Keep clicking the shutter while their fingers are in motion, or tell them to “hold” once their hands/fingers get to a place where you want to create the capture.

The use of hands.

Actor: Patrick Walsh


For men, it become a little bit easier. Men can use their hands to engage with their facial hair, their hands can be placed in their jean pockets and/or they can even tuck their hands under their arms when you have them cross their arms. (When they do that, sometimes a good trick is to have them push their hands forward a little as it can bulge the biceps a little more…)


Eye Contact

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “the eyes are the window to a person’s soul”. Capturing your subject with direct eye contact can be very engaging to a viewer looking at a finished image. For this reason, the eyes should be the sharpest part of a portrait.

Direct eye contact.

Model: Daria Komarkova


However, sometimes catching your subject with their eyes focused on something off-camera, can be just as engaging. It makes you wonder, what they are looking at? What are they thinking? Typically a candid portrait will usually have eyes focused on something else off-camera because they are engaged with something else, making the image “candid”.

Eyes directed off-camera.

Model: James Karl Campbell



Many people will opt for nabbing a candid portrait. A candid portrait is one where your subject is not really in an intentionally posed position. Some photographers like this because they feel a subject is more at ease and being themselves during a candid moment. Others like the feel of a look into someone’s everyday life. Whether I’m shooting fashion or portraits in a studio or outdoor setting, I keep shooting whether I’m posing a subject or not. It’s only then I will capture a moment of laughter, or a deep moment like in the image below.

Catching someone off guard sometimes makes for an interesting portrait.

Model: James Karl Campbell


In the image above, after shooting a long day with my model, we took a break for a few moments and I managed to catch him staring into the light. I have to admit a “candid” portrait wasn’t the first thought on my mind when I captured this portrait. It was more his expression of being deep in thought during a period of silence and the reflection of the light in his eyes.



Introducing motion or movement into a portrait can add vibrancy and flair to a portrait. You might be shooting an athlete or a dancer or even a moving child. Having a hint of motion in the image adds a dynamic element to a portrait that help differentiate your portrait from other portraits.

Introducing movement into an image can make a portrait breathtaking.

Model/Dancer: Shoko Fujita


In the portrait of the dancer above, the dancer was moving slowly, however, I was also shooting her through a piece of Plexiglas covered with folded Saran wrap to get an added effect of motion, creating a more soft, elegant and whimsical ballerina portrait.



Props can be key in not only getting your subject to relax or adding in a talent of your subject, but they can also help to tell a story with your subject as the main character. Sports equipment, musical instruments and more can lend to adding an interesting storyline to the life of your subject through an image.

A little rug, a few pillows, lighting some candles and giving a girl a guitar gets you right at home with the artist.

Model: Daria Komarkova


In the image above, I wanted to go for an “at-home-with-the-artist” feel so I rolled out a faux wooden floor, laid down a comfortable rug, threw down a few warm-colored pillows, lit a few candles, and gave my rock-n-roll subject a guitar to strum while shooting her from above.



So really, a good part of a good portrait relies a lot on your subject and how you interact and place them in a frame. You now know how important talking to a subject is prior to a portrait shoot as it affects so many subsequent parts of that shoot. Posing is important and catching your subject off-guard in a candid moment can be just as wonderful. Mix in a prop here and there to speak a volume about your subject’s talents and/or to tell their story and you have an amazing portrait!

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
Shooting The Model Portfolio Part II: The Shoot

Shooting The Model Portfolio Part II: The Shoot

Alright! Everyone has arrived. They have been briefed on the photo shoot ideas, goals and the wardrobe. The model is now in the chair getting his/her initial hair and makeup ready for the first set. In the first article, How to Plan a Model Portfolio Shoot, I went over all the preparations on my checklist that I perform whether it’s over the course of a few weeks or a few days. In the last article, Shooting the Model Portfolio: Part I, I covered everything I do the morning of a photo shoot. In this article, I’m going to tell you my checklist of what I look for during my shoot – as I am shooting.

Initial makeup being completed by my makeup artist, Gil Aldrin.

Model: Shoko Fujita


While hair and makeup are in process, my photo assistant(s) and I are putting together the sets and as we do so, I go over any lighting setups that I want to use for a particular set, and why, as I try to also educate my assistants throughout the course of a TFP model portfolio photo shoot as well.

On one of the fun sets I’ve shot, my assistant Yann,

steps in to help me determine lighting placement.


About an hour to an hour and a half later, depending on the detail of the hair and makeup I want, we are ready to shoot. Let’s go!



As a studio photographer, you are in control of everything during a shoot. From hair and makeup direction to having the last say on wardrobe placement and from set design and its lighting to actually shooting the images, there is plenty that I look for so as to not spend a lot of time in post-production fixing things that could have easily been avoided. Then there are those preventable mistakes that are so big the image is unsalvageable. Below is a checklist of many of the things I look for within my frame before pressing the shutter button.


The Model’s Hair/Makeup

Your model’s appearance is the point of the portfolio shoot. Analyzing every part of him/her prior to pressing the shutter is a must. I have a checklist of things that I’ve learned to look for before taking a shot. Some of these things are hard to prevent, but I do my best to avoid additional work in post.


Hair. Stray hair is difficult to avoid but not only do I look for unruly hairs, I usually have my hair/makeup artist constantly check during the shoot to make sure the hair is as it was originally styled. The big thing for me is making sure the hair is as I originally envisioned it to look.

Here we were outdoors and I loved how the wind naturally whisped through her hair.

Model/Actress: Valery Lessard


Makeup. I usually try to include a swatch of colors for my makeup artist that I’m interested in seeing for a set so I check to make sure the end result was also as I envisioned. I look for eyelashes out of place and when using face jewels, that they are placed as I wanted. Does the makeup work with the design of the hair?

On this nautical set, we were aiming for everything some tone of purple.

Model: Deeksha Chawla


The Model’s Wardrobe


Wrinkles. Wrinkles are an easy fix during a photoshoot, but kind of pain to work with in post-production. Be sure to press any wardrobe prior to the photo shoot and keep it guarded! There are products out there to take some wrinkles out in a pinch without an iron, but major wrinkles need to be ironed.

Missed ironing the dress before the shoot!

Model: Katie Buell


Tags. Scarves have these (as seen below) as do any wardrobe piece. They can be easy to miss but it’s good to do a quick once-over with each wardrobe change to make sure no tags are showing.

A missed tag on the scarf around her head blended in, yet it didn’t. Rookie mistake.

Model: Maria Iodice


Loose Strings. I once shot an entire set on one of my first few fashion portrait shoots and did not notice there was a stray clothing string on her sleeve until I was working on the images in post-production. It’s also good to do an initial once-over for loose strings stuck to the clothing.

Always check for random clothing strings attached to clothing, hair or shoes.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma


Clothing Fit. Does the wardrobe fit and hang right? On occasion wardrobe pieces might be a bit too big on a model and that’s where those nifty spring clamps, also called “A-Clamps”, come in handy. If the clothing is too big, just clamp the wardrobe piece wherever needed but out of the camera’s view.

Everything fit in this case and the scarf was draped as we wanted around her arms.

Model: Karen Ramos


Unintentional Bracelets.  This is a biggie. Models are known for coming onto a set with their hair tied up ready to be styled. They take the hair band off and put it on their wrist, and because it blended so well with her skin, you miss it, shoot a series of stunning images with the rubber band looking like a bracelet. In the case of the image below, the model was wearing a Hindu bracelet, which photographs as a rubber band on her wrist. Another rookie mistake. Be sure to check wrists to make sure only the intended wrist wear is present.

A missed bracelet looks like a rubberband in this image.

Model: Deeksha Chawla


Posing the Model


Dynamic Feet. I always try to make sure the model’s feet are not both posed facing the same direction. When you pose a model to have each foot in a different direction, up on the toe, one lifted slightly higher than the other, etc., the image seems to have a little more energy – it’s more dynamic.

Here I posed the model with one shoe on the rung of the stool and one on a toe on the floor.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma


Angles. The goal of many fashion photographers with beautiful, tall models is to angle their bodies to create geometric triangles. This is also something that creates a more powerful, dynamic looking image. I typically try to make a triangle with one, if not both arms, but if with both arms, not at the same level because it looks too sumo-wrestler-like. I will have her place one hand near her stomach and the other on her hip so that they an uneven. Triangles can be made with legs as well.

I made sure to include at least one triangle using the arm closest to the camera.

Model: Shoko Fujita


Neck. It’s also necessary when shooting anyone, to expose the neck by elongating it as shown in the image above. Failure to do so can sometimes lead to a short or “no-neck” model in the image. With the wrong lighting, the chin may blend in with the neck. In addition, elongating the neck also helps anyone with a slight double-chin.


Head Angle. It’s usually a good idea to angle the head of a model or actor for headshots, even if it is very slightly.

Here I had her tilt her head a little bit combined with a slight lean back.

Model: Daria Komarkova


Chin. Another big one is what I generally joke in the studio calling it the “chicken head”, number one, because it slightly resembles such and number two, it relaxes the model and we all end up having a good laugh. I have my model elongate their neck, pull their chin out and then pull it down. This helps to define the jawline.

Elongate the neck, chin out and down.

Model/Actress: Celeste Smith


Hands. Hands can be tricky. Nine times out of ten, your model or subject will have very stiff hands in an image. What to do with the hands! For men, it’s a bit easier because we typically portray them as the strong type and their hands should show the same, but a very “light beard grab” works well (as shown below). For ladies, I have them run their fingers through and down their hair lightly or down their body lightly.

The “light beard grab” help define the jawline of this model.

Model: James Karl Campbell


Facial Expression. Facial expression is really key and can really make or break a photo. This can also be a tricky thing to get right, especially getting what you want from the eyes. Sometimes you may get a model with a “deer in headlights” look, but an amazing thing I try to go for is to get a powerful stare, a look with meaning and lips slightly parted, such as in the image below.

The powerful stare with meaning gets the vote here.

Model: Daria Komarkova


The Frame Around the Model

What’s around your model can also be important and can sometimes cause a problem if it’s not caught right away.


Background/Foreground. A good part of the time when we’re photographing a subject or model, we want the focus to be only on the subject or model and not really on the background or foreground. In those cases, we would decide on depth of field to keep the focus on the subject of the image. In the image below, I needed to show the context of where my model was at, dressed up in his sharp suit, so I created a semi-shallower depth field so that you could still tell the context, but only the model was in focus.

I wanted to do a city shot with the background slightly out of focus for this model’s portfolio image.

Model: Andy Mizerek


Avoid Mergers. A “merger” is when something is directly in front of or behind your subject – one overlapping the other or when that element touches the side of a frame. One common example that comes to mind is when you photograph someone with a dead tree in the background and you have tree branches coming out of your subject’s head! Try to avoid those as much as possible.


Add Props. Props are those ingredients in the image that I’m always cooking up. Since I work in a home studio environment, I use a lot of my own things as props such as my guitars, flowers from my coffee table, my coffee table itself and the list is endless. Since I love giving my models characters to become, in the image below, I made my model a singer using my existing microphone from my own use, but adding more credibility to the image by putting it on a stand and buying a pop filter and headphones to make her look as though I am capturing her in high key at a recording studio. Blue seamless lends to the picture popping with color.

I like to create various creative sets using props I either own or buy.

Model: Maria Iodice



That’s about it! At this point it’s time to shoot: whether you’re a slower, methodical shooter, like me, or you are a speed shooter popping off multiple images as your strobe recycling time allows – these steps have proven to help me create some pretty amazing photos for my models, as in the examples of my work and end result shown below.

Gelled backlighting, a little fog and a creative photographer takes the cake here.

Model: Deeksha Chawla


And one of the resulting images from this shoot set…

Final image after post-production.

Model: Deeksha Chawla



I typically like to shoot several different sets in one shoot so I’ll rinse and repeat the steps below for every set.


Change Up Sets or Locations. Sometimes you will be moving from studio to location or from location to studio or from location to location. You may be working completely in the studio and need to change up your set design.


Change Up Lighting Setups and Modifiers, as Needed. As the sets change, your lighting setups and modifiers may change too. I like to have variety in my lighting styles for a model portfolio shoot so that every image has a different mood/feel.


Change Up Hair / Makeup. I keep my hair/makeup guy on set for the entire shoot for not only touch-ups, but changeups too.


Change Up Wardrobe. I keep a rack ready for wardrobe and it’s typically fully stocked with my Model Closet wardrobe as well as essentials that I personally invest in for shooting – then reselling. For model portfolio work only, I’ve found it’s just a lot of easier for me to create ideas and concepts when I have a little bit of control over wardrobe. Plus, newer models get excited about what they will be wearing and I notice they get more confident when using clothes other than their own because it tends to make them feel like it’s more of a fashion shoot than just a portfolio shoot.



So these are my steps when shooting a model portfolio. You may find these great steps, you may have more steps or you may find some of these steps do not apply to your situation or style of shooting. In the next and last installment of this series, I will go over all the steps I go through after a model portfolio shoot, so stay tuned!

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
Shooting The Model Portfolio Part I: Day-of-The-Shoot Preparations

Shooting The Model Portfolio Part I: Day-of-The-Shoot Preparations

The day is finally here. For some of you, you’ve been planning this shoot for some time now. Everyone will arrive in a couple of hours and there are a few more things to be done before the photo shoot begins – then it’s showtime.

A photo shoot that took place on the outdoor High Line in  NYC.

Model: Valery Lessard


Continuing on from my previous article, How to Plan a Model Portfolio Shoot, for the second segment of this 4-part series, I’ll go over my checklist for day-of-the-shoot preparation before the photo shoot begins. Let’s go!




Receive and Set Up Catering for Photo Shoot. Since I typically like to start my shoots in the studio and then move outward, I get my food delivered around 6am for a 10am arrival time of my crew and the model. I usually put out nuts, granola bars, fresh berries as well as an assortment of coffee, tea and bottled water. This is definitely not mandatory, but I prefer to keep my model and team hydrated and semi-nourished with high-protein and natural foods to avoid energy drain during the shoot.

I’m trying not to prop a  company here, but Freshdirect always hits the spot for what I need.


Last Minute Floor Cleanup. Next, I usually save cleaning my floors (vacuum and mopping) until the day of the shoot so that they are pristine because I tend to get on the floor a lot to shoot my models.


Set Up a Private Dressing Area. Whether it’s a separate room, a bathroom, a room divider or in my case, a cloth draped over an open window above a door, it’s necessary to set up a private space for your model to change.


Set Up Tethering for the Shoot. I have a basic tethering setup. When I’m working out of my home studio, I move my iMac from my office to my work station in my studio area and connect my Tether Tools USB Tethering Cord from my Nikon D750 Camera into my 27” iMac Desktop Computer. When I’m traveling or out in the field, I connect it to my Dell PC laptop. Want to learn more on tethering? I’ve written a very informative article on tethering where you can learn about what is needed to tether, how to tether and much more: Preview While You Shoot: The What, Why, When, Who and How on Tethered Shooting.

Plugging in the tether cord into my camera.

Image courtesy of William Matthew Chamberlain


Set Up the First Set. Next, I typically start setting up my first set to get ahead of the game. I usually set up one of my harder sets first because it will take hair and makeup about 60-90 minutes to finish with the model for initial hair/makeup so this is when I will have the most time to build up a set.


  • Background. Whether you are using seamless paper, a fur, a faux floor or an outdoor background, I usually set this up first and build upon it.

In this case, I set up a faux wooden floor and a fur as the background for the model to lay on.

Model: Daria Komarkova


  • Props. Next, I will build props into my set. Some props, like the pillows and candles above, or the chairs and stools below, serve as props but become part of the set. Other times, props will be what your subject is holding, like the guitar above, the purse below, or, even what they are wearing (things such as sunglasses or hats might serve as props…)

I used every stool I had and dressed my model very elegantly for this “barfight fashion” set.

Model: Karen Ramos


Here, I placed a light behind my model as a rim light around her hair and shoulders, a beauty dish in front to capture her face.

Model: Deeksha Chawla


Team/Model Briefing. Once the model, my hair/makeup artist(s) and photo assistant(s) arrive for the photo shoot, I generally go through each of my visions: the set idea(s), the wardrobe, the feelings I want to evoke in the image and my goal for the outcome for each image. I communicate much of this through mood boards on my iMac along with presentation of the wardrobe and accessories, props, etc.



These are the general items on my checklist the morning of a TFP model portfolio photo shoot. I’ve found these steps to be very effective for my photo shoots. Some of these steps may not apply to you or maybe you have other steps that are useful to you. We’d love to hear any additional day-of shoot prep steps! Feel free to share your suggestions and comments.

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
Planning the Model Portfolio Shoot

Planning the Model Portfolio Shoot

As a photographer, we are in charge of and responsible for everything that happens on a photo shoot. We plan the shoot. We prepare for the shoot. We shoot. We clean up after the shoot. Then we begin the process of retouching and distribution. There’s a lot to do and a lot to remember each time you have a photo shoot. When your jobs get bigger, there’s always even more to do.

Winter project in the summer using Plexiglass.

Model: Karen Ramos.


Photographers, new photographers especially, are always looking to build and update their portfolio images. You can oftentimes work with models for little to no cost through TF shoots (“TF” meaning “time for” something, usually prints or digital images) as new models are always looking for images for their portfolios and willing to exchange time for images.

A majority of my work at the moment is shooting a model’s portfolio images. Much of this work now comes from agencies needing portfolio images for their new faces. These can sometimes be paid or TF shoots . Since I need to pick an avenue of reference and because I will not be going into marketing and how to get a model portfolio client, I’m going to gear this to the professional photographer who is providing his or her services in exchange for portfolio images only. However, many of the tasks are the same regardless of how a model client ends up in your studio – they may just be in a different order.

For this series, I’m going to focus on the things I do before, during and after a shoot in three segments, respectively. These steps can apply to anyone working in a home studio or a commercial studio. For this first segment, I will discuss what I do before a TF model portfolio shoot. Please keep in mind, this is my general checklist when preparing for this type of shoot and that not all of these tasks will apply to every situation.

Outdoor fashion look shot late Winter of last year.

Model: James Karl Campbell.



I generally only shoot a model’s portfolio “TF” approximately once per month. New photographers may do this more often to build their own portfolio. So when I say pre-shoot, for me, this is everything I do up until a week before a photo shoot. These tasks may take more or less time for your situation. I’m very detail-oriented, so for these I try to plan as far in advance as possible since I am more in control of the details of a TF shoot. However, when working with paying clients, sometimes we do not have the luxury of all the time in the world because your client needs images… yesterday!


Develop Ideas/Concepts/Themes. One of the first things I do before this type of a photo shoot is to develop an idea, concept or theme for the potential shoot. This can revolve around a makeup idea, a hair idea or a set idea that you want to build. It can revolve around wardrobe. Maybe you have a lighting style in mind? It can even revolve around a location where you would like to shoot. Some influences I’ve also learned to use to conjure up ideas are music, art or film.


Create Mood Boards. Throughout the year, I subscribe to various magazines for mood board inspirational purposes. I do not copy what I see in the images. I like to clip out things that I like and scan and store them on my Google Drive to be able to put together a mood board later down the road which helps the client and my creative team visualize what I have in mind for the photo shoot. Things that I like which get the scissors include: lighting styles, makeup ideas (which get sub-categorized into to eyes, lips and overall), hair ideas, wardrobe inspirations, pose ideas, mood of the image and general concepts and set ideas.

A sample mood board for a set idea on Google Drive.


Don’t forget, it’s also good to include a color palette on your mood board as color palettes can help your makeup artist. Pinterest is also a great tool for getting inspiration to create a mood board. It also has sharing options that you can use to share with your creative team.

Folders for my mood boards on Pinterest.


Select Wardrobe. For some, selecting wardrobe can come before a model. I actually keep a commercial double rack full of clothing, shoes and some accessories in various sizes that I can use when shooting a model. This leaves only the need to bring shoes if I do not have their size. I do this because many models do not have stylish designer clothes of their own. More often than not, shoes became an issue so I started to collect shoes in general colors, styles and sizes as well. When I am shooting a TF project, I may have an idea in mind revolving around a piece of clothing I already have and I find the model based on size.

Clothes are obviously key to a fashion business.

Photo courtesy of Yann Bizeul


If you have a particular idea or concept in mind and do not have the time to shop for wardrobe and accessories and if the budget allows, hire or “test” a stylist. Upon conveying your idea and giving him or her the specs, a stylist will be able to find the wardrobe you need for the shoot. For many, you may not be able to provide wardrobe, so selecting wardrobe will come after you book a model as you will need to coordinate wardrobe with the model from his or her own closet.


Select Your Creative Team. For the TF type of shoot, I tend to select my creative team prior to setting a portfolio photo shoot date and time as I have my favorites and I try to coordinate a shoot based on their schedules. At the very least, for a TF model portfolio shoot, if your model isn’t skilled at her own makeup, you will want to have a makeup artist (MUA) at the photo shoot. I have been blessed to work with a makeup artist who also does an amazing job with hair, but for a paid job I might have these two jobs separate, depending on the client.

I always work with at least a hair/makeup stylist and a photo assistant to help make photo shoots a little easier on me.

Model: Daria Komarkova; Hairstylist/MUA: Gil Aldrin

Photo courtesy of Yann Bizeul


Having a photo assistant is a plus as it is sometimes a lifesaver (and a timesaver) to have an extra set of hands on the set. If you have patience and are able to teach while shooting, you are sometimes able to find a photo assistant to help at no charge in exchange for learning and experience.


In addition, if you do not do your own retouching because you do not yet know how (in this case, check out my group, NYC Digital Photography Workshops for group and private workshops at for photo editing workshops), or you do not have the time, it’s also a good idea to locate a retoucher who can handle your project in the time period for which you need the photo shoot images back.


Choose a Location. Whether you are shooting in your home or commercial studio and/or on location, you will want to decide on location(s) for the photo shoot as this is information you will need to relay to your model, or the modeling agency to pass along to the model.

I often like to shoot in my own urban and industrial backyard.

Model: Daria Komarkova

Photo Courtesy of Yann Bizeul


I like to at least start in my home studio to shoot any images with any white or color seamless backdrops or any sets I want to build and then move outdoors or to another location whether it is in my immediate urban and industrial neighborhood or further out.


Set the Photo Shoot Date/Time. So now I’m almost ready to book a model for my TF shoot. Since I have access to agency models for portfolio building shoots, I want to have a date or two available where my preferred team and I are set to shoot. As mentioned in the step above, I then coordinate available date(s) with my team using my company’s G-Suite calendar.

I generally use my company’s Google calendar to note and remind for my appointments.


Develop a Model Spec List to Give to an Agency. If you are working for an agency, the next thing to do, since I have some potential concepts in mind, is to develop a spec list to give to the agency. Some general things on a spec list will include things like: age range, hair color and length, eye color, height, weight and/or body build and clothing sizes. You may be more specific if needed.

Just a few notes to relay to the modeling agency to described what I prefer for the idea I developed.


Get In Touch With the Agency to Provide Spec List and Select Model(s). I then call, or, if you have worked with the agency before – email the agency and pitch your ideas for the shoot and provide them with the specs you are looking for in a model for the images you envision.


Ask the Agency for Their Needs for the Shoot. In addition to providing what you need, it’s a good idea to ask the agency for their needs for promoting the model such as, do they need headshots, fashion or fitness-type images or maybe they need black and white vs. color images. Then make sure you fulfill their needs too during the shoot.


Coordinate Wardrobe/Shoes with the Model(s). Once you know who you’re client is, if you are providing the wardrobe, you will want to coordinate shoes for the model to bring to match your wardrobe ensembles for them. While I do keep a few pair of heels and booties in various colors and sizes, I cannot cover all colors and styles in all the different sizes.

Some of the shoes I keep in my Model Closet in my home studio.


If the model is providing the wardrobe, they will usually know the type of shoe to bring to the photo shoot to match the pieces they are bringing.


Buy and/or Create/Build Props for Sets. If you will be doing any work in the studio, you might have some ideas for a set that you will need to build. While you can often find some props or furniture for little to no cost through Craigslist, the want ads or maybe even a tag sale, you can also borrow these things from family and friends too. If I do not use those means to help build my sets, I typically go to eBay and I’m usually able to find exactly what I want whether it’s 2-inch thick boat rope for a nautical-like image or a black goth-type umbrella for a faux graveyard scene. I was once able to buy a 10-setting set of fine China from a lady on Craigslist for $15.

I used a faux wood photo carpet, a fur throw, my acoustic/electric guitar and

votive candles as props and bought pillow covers to create this set.

Model: Daria Komarkova


Adorama offers a wide variety of backdrops and faux floors similar to the wooden floor above. I also used one of my guitars and some votive candles as a props. I used eBay to buy a variety pillow covers for a bunch of throw pillows that have become handy for my shoots.


Think on Poses That Lend to the Wardrobe and Set. Before a photo shoot, I like to think on definite poses I would like to incorporate into a shoot and have a wide variety of reference from which to choose. Some folks like to sketch pose ideas and while I’m an artist too, with all the tasks involved in preparing a shoot, I always try to opt for the easiest choice. As I previously mentioned, I like to tear things that I like and want to inventory for future inspirational use such as wardrobe, a set idea, a mood, a lighting style, etc. out of fashion magazines. Additionally, I like to tear out images of poses that I may want to use in future photo shoots. In doing this, I end up with a very large catalog of these inspiration to work with in the future. From time to time, I do go through this catalog and purge things I no longer like to keep my catalog of inspiration always up to date.

Several posing books I also own and refer to before a shoot.


I also own several posing books (above) and have found them a nice resource to look through before a shoot to contemplate what might work with a certain wardrobe ensemble or a location I will be working with for that shoot.




Make Sure Wardrobe is Ironed and Ready. I cannot stress how important it is to make sure you iron the wardrobe if you have no one to do this for you. It is a huge pain to take wrinkles out of clothes in post-production.

Ironing the garment is extremely important as it can save you time and effort in post-production after the shoot.


Coordinate Jewelry & Accessories to Wardrobe. I like to put together at least a necklace and watch for every wardrobe ensemble, but oftentimes add things like bracelets, earrings, rings, purses, hats and/or scarves too.

Accessorizing prior to the shoot makes the shoot day a lot less stressful.


To make a portfolio appeal to a client selling a product like an accessory, I throw in a purse in at least one of the images or I dress up the model with jewelry and then for one or the other, make sure to pose the model to highlight the product, whether it’s the purse or jewelry.

I keep purses in various colors, styles and sizes.


Order Catering for Photo Shoot, if Desired. While professional models typically know to bring their own snacks and drinks, I generally provide coffee, tea, water bottles and things like fresh fruit and nut/trail mix packets and have these delivered to me the day before or the morning of the shoot.

I use Freshdirect to place orders for my catering delivery the morning of the photo shoot.


Clean Up Your Working Space. It’s a good idea to make sure your studio is clean prior to a photo shoot. Everything in my studio has a home. I tend to “reset” my studio after every photo shoot to have a fresh start for each shoot (kind of like a blank canvas…) Putting everything back where it belongs, even though I may be using it again the next day, prevents me from having to search for where I left something.


Order or Purchase Any Equipment or Supplies Needed. If you are renting equipment, 7-10 days before a shoot is a good time to get that order in to ensure a rental company, like Adorama Rentals, has the gear you need in stock for the date and time desired. Check how much seamless paper you have left, test your lights, check all of your batteries and by the way, how much gaffer tape do you have left? Refill and replace as needed.

Checking the batteries of the receivers on my monolights.




Send an Email Out to All Parties for Confirmation. I tend to send out a general  information a few days before the shoot but usually the day before. It includes an intro to everyone who will be at the photo shoot along with their headshots, when to arrive, what to expect, location and directions and what I will provide as far as snacks and drinks, if anything. I always ask each person to confirm they received the email, which serves as a confirmation that everyone is on the same page about the basics.


Pull Wardrobe, Accessories, etc. for Shoot Tomorrow. You may have many shoots throughout the week. I like to pull out everything I need for the next day’s shoot, the night before to double check that everything is paired, wrinkle-free and ready for the shoot the next day.


Do a Second Equipment Check. I was a girl scout in my early years and I was taught to always be prepared. While I know I checked everything earlier in the week, I like to at least check my lights and flash the night before to put my mind at ease or to know if I or my assistant need to make an early morning runner before the shoot to replace something. At this time, I also like to make sure all of my modifiers are where they are quickly and easily accessible.

I check my flash again to see if I need to recharge my Eneloop Rechargeable Batteries.


Pack Any Bags Necessary if Shooting on Location. If I know I am shooting on location for all or part of my shoot, I pack as much as I can the night before into gear bags, leaving out only what I need to use in the studio before moving away from the studio. When I only need a few lenses and adapters, I use my Kelly Moore Brownlee bag (guys, you’ll probably use a small backpack like the Case Logic SLRC-206). When I’m not sure what I’ll need because circumstances can change, I like to take a variety of lenses and adapters, etc., so I take my Ape Case ACPRO 1900 which holds a lot of gear and accessories, including my laptop for tethering!

My basic luggage for a location shoot.


You may need a lighting bag for a stand or two and a few monolights. For this I own a couple of bags like the Interfit Two-Head All-in-One Soft Carrying Bag which can also hold things like umbrellas and a small light stand or two. If you have any large or specialty modifiers, like a beauty dish, there are bags for these too.


These are all of my steps for working on a TF model’s portfolio photoshoot. You may or may not use some of these steps for various reasons or may have additional steps in your workflow. In the next article, I will run down my checklist for what I do on the day of the photo shoot. Until then…

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments