How Should I Prep for a Portrait Session?

First of all, thank you for choosing me as your portrait photographer!

I thought it would be helpful to put much of the pre-shoot prep information in one place, as it is my most asked question as the portrait session nears.

My most asked questions are:

  • What should I wear? Are there colors/patterns I should avoid? What looks best?
  • What should I do with my makeup? Is there anything that I should avoid wearing? Will there be a makeup artist available?
  • Where and when should we shoot the portraits? Will you come to me or do we need to select a venue?
  • Do you retouch the images (ie commonly known as "photoshopping" or post processing)?

Warning: this is basically a brain dump, so this is a lot of words and I can ramble.. you've been warned.


What Should I Wear?

In general, I typically recommend that you prepare at least 2-3 different outfits for the shoot. At the bare minimum I like to have people bring 1 casual outfit (which can absolutely be whatever you come to the shoot wearing), and 1 dressier or professional outfit. But if you want all of the shots to be professional/dressy outfits, of course feel free to bring an assortment of those.

You won't need to bring different pants/skirts as most of the time the portraits are waist up or higher (a traditional portrait or headshot is usually cropped around chest level or even tighter in some cases).

Avoid distracting patterns or designs. Usually solid colors work the best, in a complimentary color to your skin tone.

If you want to wear a white button-up shirt/blouse, it's often a good idea to bring a blazer or something to layer on top of it as a plain white button up can appear a bit flat in photos by itself.

If you're wearing jewelry, try not to wear anything that is super shiny as it can catch light from the strobes in a distracting way.

If you are wearing a suit jacket, I tend to recommend one that is not lined or avoid heavier fabrics as it can add a lot of bulk to the portrait. I guess somewhat obvious, but cut in the shoulders is critical with both fitted tops and suit jackets, so try and wear a top where the seam hits correctly on your shoulder.


Any Tips on Makeup?

If you are doing your own makeup, I have a few recommendations based on what I've seen out of many portrait shoots, and what tends to work well or not so well.

I won't go into too much detail, as I am not a professional makeup artist, but a few basic things that will help a shoot go smoothly;

Bring powder! I think this is by far my most important tip. People have all different types of complexions, but in general almost everyone that I've taken portraits of can use a bit of powder (both men and women). As the day progresses, and skin gets more oily, it can catch light in an unflattering way and powder is a quick way to reduce/eliminate that shine.

In fact I have started to keep powder on hand for both men and women to use, as it can be so useful in really perfecting a look straight out of the camera. All is not lost if you don't have access to it however, as typically I can correct for shine in post/retouching.

Avoid or minimize usage of highlighter (unless you have specified a shoot outdoors or in natural light). Again, I am not an expert in makeup but I've noticed that with the popularity of contouring, highlighter in powder or by itself has become pretty common. The vast majority of my portrait shoots are in the studio, using high powered strobes, and these lights are amazing at defining subjects in a flattering way. However highlighter tends to show up as shine in an otherwise perfectly exposed image. If you want to use highlighter, I would recommend using the bare minimum to complete a look as a little goes a long way in the studio.

Go easy on blush. In natural light and varying types of light (say you did your makeup by window light and then come into my studio where you are light by slightly cooler temperature strobes) blush can be more or less intense. Again, like with highlighter, a little goes a long way when it comes portraits taken with studio strobes. If we are specifically doing an outdoor shoot with constant light sources, then a bit more is totally fine but in general we will be shooting indoors using strobe lights.

I tend to prefer shooting earlier in the day as oil tends to accumulate more on the skin towards the end of the day, and in general energy levels are higher earlier in the day.

Lastly, goes without saying that you should drink plenty of water and get some rest the day before the shoot as that often will do more for your complexion than hours of makeup.

Also, if you feel like you'd be happier with a professional makeup artist to prepare your look for the day, I can absolutely recommend one that fits your budget and needs.


Where and When Should We Shoot the Portraits?

If the shoot is in NYC, and you are coming to my studio in Chelsea (off of 24th and 7th and nearby most of the major subway lines) then we can work around any time of day - early morning, past midnight, etc.

If I am on location in SF and Seattle (or other cities, but these are the two other cities I tend to service the most), then I recommend a space that is at least 12-15 feet lengthwise (in general the more space the better), with at least 8 feet of width to work with, and the ability to close or shade the windows if we are shooting during the day. If we are doing a posed portrait for you, I prefer some privacy as it makes it much easier for you to relax and get into the shoot. I won't need access to electrical outlets as all of my gear is all battery powered.

As I mentioned in the makeup section though, earlier in general is always better as you will have more energy, and skin has a way of accumulating oil as the day progresses.

If we are shooting outdoors, in general I recommend avoiding shooting right around high noon and instead either in "golden hour" of around sunset and sunrise. But with the magic of battery powered strobes, we can light you perfectly in many different conditions so just inquire about what your preferences are. Keep in mind though that in some cases an outdoor shoot can be a bit more expensive if hiring an assistant is required to hold shade/reflectors/lights/beer/etc.


Do You Retouch the Images?

This topic is a popular and somewhat sensitive one for many, but in short, yes I absolutely do retouch images to varying degrees (almost all of the photos in my galleries have had some amount of retouching done to them).

My ideal for portrait retouching is an image that simply looks like the best photo ever taken of you, rather than an image where the instant reaction is "wow that was heavily retouched". So I take the time to reduce prominence of aspects of the portrait that may be less flattering, but I typically don't remove them completely.

My retouching approach is focused towards essentially bringing out the most flattering elements of the image. I typically will smooth the skin slightly to reduce the prominence of pores - important to note that I do not smooth skin to the point where pores entirely disappear as this can lead to an unrealistic doll-like appearance. I strongly believe that reducing prominence of pores is not "cheating" when it comes to making an image look better, as it is intended to selectively dial down the level of detail ("specularity" in photographer's parlance) that studio strobes and incredibly detailed high megapixel camera sensors are able to deliver. In real life, when someone is standing in front of you, no one can see the level of detail in your pores and such unless they were literally a couple inches from your face, so in essence retouching/smoothing skin is actually a better reflection of reality than straight out of the camera non-retouched images. Think of it as perfectly applied foundation :)

In addition to all of this I will do the baseline level of retouching like correcting for color temperature and balance, exposure, and some tasteful cropping to ensure we're focused on you the subject.  I'll also decrease darkness under the eyes, increase the prominence of the irises so they really pop in the image, and remove skin blemishes like acne and such.

Also, if we find that there is an image that is absolutely perfect but perhaps a lapel is sticking out in an awkward way or we're shooting maternity photos and your belly band is showing through the material of your clothing, I can easily remove these things as not to distract from the image.

Again I will stress that this is something that I will work closely with you to dial up or down, as I want to make sure that people are 100% thrilled with the images I produce. I strive for people to leave my studio (whether it's my actual studio in NYC or on location in your home of office) feeling like we've worked together to produce the best photos anyone has ever taken of them. 

If you have any questions of course feel free to contact me at as we build out your portrait shoot! Again thank you for choosing me as your photographer, and I'm excited to work with you!! 

Sung Park