Anatomy of a photoshoot

I was asked by a Guild of Photographers member to write a short article on the “how to” of communicating during a photoshoot. This picture was supposed to have a romantic, soft faraway, thoughtful feel to it.

I wrote it as a downloadable PDF and posted it to the Guild’s Facebook page. Here it is below should anyone else be interested.


The Anatomy of a Photoshoot by Simon Young

This is a relaxed guide to a photo-shoot with a person. It can be adapted for couples and groups and isnʼt particularly genre specific although I am thinking a basic portrait while I write this.

I will not go into the different ways to light or angle a face or how to identify good natural light locations. I shall assume that you are a competent photographer and are interested in the “flow” of the discussion with a client before and during a photo-shoot. They have arrived and have a cup of tea and have just sat down.

Step 1. Find out what will delight your client. A good photographer is at all times observant and aware of the rapport with the subject. So we shall start with simply asking the client a question. “What sort of shot would delight you”? Then watch (donʼt stare) at their face. Their gaze will probably flick away for a moment and they will then come back with an answer. Nearly always, the rough expression on their face just after their eyes have flicked away will be what will delight them. Maybe a soft smile, or a relaxed look. They may answer something like, “Iʼd like to come across as friendly and confident”. (This may be a corporate portrait). They may say, “I want to come across as friendly and relaxed”. (Iʼve had many clients wanting shots for dating websites).

Step 2. Ask them, “When was the last time that you felt “friendly and confident””? Again gently watch their face and see if you get that same expression back again. Chances are that you will and that it will be more amplified than before. Allow the client to talk about that time, encourage them to relive it in their mind and memory. Ask them questions about it. “How did it feel when you were….., What did you do afterwards….., who was with you… Etc”? The idea is to amplify the expression and make it familiar to the client, without them necessarily being aware that they are doing it.

Step 3. We want to associate a keyword with this expression. They may have said that they were on holiday in Greece at the time, for example. Iʼll look at them and try and match the expression they want and say “So if I say “Greece”” and then project the expression to them, they will do the same expression and say “Yes” or similar. If you are in rapport, this will always work. The things that stop it working are alack of rapport, or a lack of self-belief. You can go through step1, 2 and 3 as many times as you want to find different expressions.

You then start your photo-shoot. The camera, location, lighting and starting pose are done.

You say to the client, “Iʼm just going to take a test shot” (Quite often youʼll get a good one as they donʼt think they need to worry about this one), be ready for another shot if the expression is looking good. Then look at the back of the camera (if digital), make sure that you smile and say something like “Oh yeah, perfect”. Then donʼt look at the back of the camera again. If you look and have an odd expression, the client will worry. Then keep clicking and talking to the client. Something like this…


The shoot…

Test shot..

“Oh yeah, lovely”..




“chin up a touch” (at the same time, you lift your chin slightly)


“Fab” (you have to gauge which affirmation words to use dependent upon the client).


Look straight at me”..




“Thatʼs great”..


…”And Relax”..

Be ready for a shot at this point, if you get a good one..

Say “Gotcha”, and “Gotcha again” if you think that will work.

The success of this approach is in the rhythm. Shot, compliment, Shot, Instruction (only ever one small instruction at a time), Shot, Compliment, Shot, Relax. You can shoot up to around 15-20 shots. If you havenʼt got the shot that you want by then, youʼll probably not get it on this set. So stop, get them to relax, move a light maybe (or pretend to), then start again. Often by the second set, they are more relaxed and you can bring the keyword “Remember Greece”, into the middle of the set when you are happy with the angles and lighting. It is useful to find something truly beautiful about the person you are shooting, this makes the running commentary sincere. Everyone has lovely eyes surely?



A useful way of describing rapport, would be “I agree with you and donʼt feel threatened by you”. Part of our primitive brain is on the look out for dangers and threats. The trick is to allow this part of the brain to go on holiday for the duration of the pre-shoot and photo- shoot. A way of ensuring this is to be confident and donʼt say anything that they can disagree with. We shall call this “The agreement frame”.

Assume that you have rapport when you first meet and that you can only lose it. When you ask the nice big open questions in the early stage of the interview and get them talking, they will give you a string of facts that you can feed back to them later. “So you loved your holiday in Greece”…


“..And youʼre here today to get a shot for the Dating Site”…


“Before you arrived, you were a bit worried about having your photo taken” (smile as you say this and nod your head slightly), They will say


and smile and nod back at you if you have a good rapport. You can use these tricks at any time before and during the shoot. At the end of the shoot, it is important to gently break rapport (maybe turn away slightly as they are speaking, or look at your camera), so that they know the session is over. During the shoot, it is important to match “energy” levels with the client. If they are after fun and funky, you must come across as fun and funky. If they are after contemplative and far- away, you must be relaxed, soft and far-away. I hope that this has given you some ideas and things to try.


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