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When A Headshot Session Goes Wrong

I like to give my clients a lot of leeway in terms of what they consider beautiful and glamorous, or what aspect of themselves they wish to bring to their session. I also believe a successful photoshoot starts as a collaboration between the client voicing their ideals and my team and I deciding on how we will bring those to reality. But if a client chooses to wing it, in the hopes that I will capture great shots without the right amount of preparation on their end and frankly, on ours, then this can spell disaster.

Such was the case of Mrs. X, an executive at a tech firm who initially contacted me to update her social media headshots. I agreed to do the shoot two days later at her home. She wanted to handle her own hair and makeup, as well as choose her outfits. Though this it is entirely my clients’ prerogative, being in charge of these aspects of the shoot rarely work in their best interest.

It's a big ask of any client to know how to apply camera-ready makeup, which is very different from everyday wear. But she insisted that she'd always hated the results of working with a makeup artist, so against my better judgment I acquiesced. So unfortunately, instead of being confident and present, she then expended her energy fretting about how she looked.

For all the advice I, as the photographer, can give, as well as lighting choices and posing suggestions, nothing can quite make up for a nervous, fidgety client who can’t dial-in on the moment because she's worried about how her hair is falling in every shot, or if her makeup looks right.

For my part, in the rush to accommodate her schedule, I had failed to get an idea of what kind of images she wanted to create. Instead of her home, perhaps it would have benefited her to be in-studio where we could provide a more controlled environment. I certainly didn’t deliver on my pre-shoot consultation and mistakingly believed I could get great results by simply being of service in the moment, and not helping her understand what would yield the best results for her. It is invariably more important to spend some time getting to know what a client needs then to satisfy a timeframe that leaves little room for information gathering and an understanding of priorities and concerns. Expectations soon become near impossible to meet.

Needless to say, the results of our shoot were disappointing. I was unable to capture beautiful, authentic expressions that represent her best. Her makeup just didn't work well for in-camera portraits and her different hairstyle attempts went through various stages of non-cooperation. There was nothing I could do either in-shoot or in-post that could salvage the images. The session was a wash.

Though she did hope for a reshoot and changed her mind about getting her hair done and bringing in a makeup artist to assist with contouring and touch ups, my scheduling and her timely need for the images made it impossible.

And though it is rare that clients choose to forgo assistance in preparing and maximizing their session, this does illustrate how hiring a professional photographer is not reason enough to expect that you’ll end up looking your best without bringing your A-game.

A portrait session, regardless of how candid or posed, demands an investment in time, in energy and money in order to yield great results. And more often than not, cutting corners for personal or financial reasons will make the experience a complete waste of time or worse, sour you on the very reason why you hired a pro in the first place.

So do yourself a favor. Don’t leave things to chance. Speak with your photographer at length about what you envision for the shoot. Share images of yourself that you love, of other people whose headshots you admire, and decide together what elements can be included or left out of the session. As with most endeavors, what you put into it is what you’ll get out of it.

For more information on prepping for a portrait shoot, I invite you to read the following blog entries or call 310.622.4580 to discuss your portrait needs.


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