I was inspired to write this article while preparing for an interview with Time Out Magazine who will feature my work later this month. I get asked all the time about how best to prepare for a photo shoot so here are a few things to think about.
There are many factors that contribute to a great portrait session. As a photographer, I aspire to create a set of beautiful images for every client, in every session. However, there is no doubt that there is plenty you can do to get the most out of your photography experience and maximize the success of your shoot. Here are a few things I factor into my shoots to create the best images possible:
LIGHT AND TIME OF THE DAY
If there’s one thing that can make or break a photograph more than any other factor, it’s lighting. You might have the most incredible landscape or stunning portrait model, but without the right quality of light you can still be left with a flat, dull, and uninspiring photo. For portrait photography, best results are achieved when the light is soft, defused and even. This basically means early morning or late afternoon is the best time to shoot.
MORNING AND AFTERNOON SUN
The wrong light can make your subjects look flatter, harsh or can create dramatic shadows. Straight after sunrise is a great time to shoot, which basically means a very early start but the light can remain good until about mid-morning. Late afternoon, around 4.30pm can also achieve good results, usually this is with warmer colours.
THE GOLDEN HOUR – MAGICAL LIGHT
My favourite lighting style for outdoor portraits is backlit photography during these golden hours – soon after sunrise or again within an hour before sunset – when the sun is low, warm, soft and dimensional. Everything in this light looks magical and we can achieve a fairy-tale like quality with this type of lighting. It adds an essence to images that just can’t be replicated even with the best photo-editing program.
The Hong Kong climate can be unpredictable even beyond summer and so it’s best to bring along mosquito repellent, sunscreen and cold drinks to keep refreshed.
It’s also a great idea to arrive early for an outdoor shoot as latecomers risk missing the best light! It’s very particular but the results are so worth it!
One hour into sunset
Outdoor summer portrait: bring along mosquito repellent, sunscreen and cold drinks.
For indoor sessions, timings are more flexible depending on the amount of natural light coming into your home
SESSIONS WITH TODDLERS AND PETS
Taking photos of toddlers can be very challenging. Tired and hungry kids will likely not want to cooperate in a photoshoot so it’s a great idea to make sure your toddler is well rested and has eaten recently. During a session I did a few years ago, the parents had taken their toddler for a full day out and arrived late and flustered to our shoot. The resulting child meltdown was inevitable. It’s a great idea to bring snacks and a change of clothes for young ones. Balls or any favourite toys can help them to relax and have fun during the session. Pets are welcome to participate in the photoshoot too, but you might consider bringing an extra pair of hands to take care of them during the time they are not included. Young children often feel anxious or are distracted when the pets are unsupervised and this can reflect in the photos.
I highly recommend keeping an open mind and never forcing a child to do something they don’t want to do in a shoot. Sometimes the best shots are the unexpected ones that come completely naturally.
My son refused to remove his pirate outfit during a portraitsession with his grandma. This is one of my favourite imagesof the whole series.
OUTFITS MAKE THE PORTRAIT
What the subjects are wearing in a portrait is just as important as all the other details such as lighting, location, emotions and the pose. Poorly selected clothing can really take away from an otherwise great portrait.
When choosing what to wear it’s a great idea to pick a colour scheme. Creating a colour scheme can add a more artistic touch to your photos. Try to co-ordinate with your partner or family, and aim to dress in no more than 2 or 3 main colours. You shouldn’t be aiming to match, but try to pick colours that tone in together.
It’s especially important to avoid logos and clothes with written slogans. Logos or wording on your clothes can really pull attention away from the important parts of an image – your face and expressions. Simple accessories are great and can add interest, but avoid too many as this can be overpowering.
It’s wise also to think about your background. If you’re having a photo shoot at home, consider how your clothes will work with the backdrop. Likewise, if you’re having your portrait taken at the beach, choose clothes that work well with the natural surroundings.
My style of portrait is light and airy, this type of photography lends itself well to a light and fresh color scheme such as pastels, pinks, blues, greys, creams and beiges.
I have two simple rules when it comes to backgrounds – It must be clutter free and have great light. Locations can vary though – and be anywhere from your own home to your favourite outdoor scene or one of my tried and tested locations in Hong Kong.
My personal preference is for outdoor locations, particularly when it comes to family sessions. I am absolutely an outdoor person and think that Hong Kong offers an incredible amount of diversity with both its stunning cityscapes and beautiful nature.
Here are a few of my favourite locations which have never failed in helping to create a stunning backdrop:
1.CLEAR WATER BAY COUNTRY PARK
Clear Water Bay Country Park is beautiful all year round. I’ve had many photo sessions here and no two shoots ever look the same. The park offers a lot of open space, shade, beautiful trees and amazing morning and afternoon light for my signature backlit photos.
One hour to sunset
It’s tempting to think that a bright sunny day will produce the best results for your images but please don’t be put off if your session falls on an overcast day. While certain weather conditions may necessitate that we reschedule your session, an overcast day can actually produce some of the most beautiful results.
During the rain break
On an overcast day
- CLEAR WATER BAY BEACH
There is beautiful light both in the afternoon at Clear Water Bay beach. The spectacular open space and skyline coupled with interesting rock formations help achieve stunning photos in this location.
One hour to sunset
3. WU KAI SHA BEACH
Another spot I love, Wu Kai Sha is a small beach with beautiful morning light. An added bonus in choosing this location is that there is a lovely garden just a 5 minute walk away, meaning we can shoot a beach and park setting in the same session.
- LIONS NATURE EDUCATION CENTRE
The beautiful Lions Park in Sai Kung is one of the most popular locations for family, children and pre-wedding photography. It offers lush natural backdrops and is very easy to access with onsite parking.
During the spring time
- PICTURESQUE SAI KUNG
The Sai Kung waterfront, being close to my own home is also a favourite of mine and offers a variety of interest and colours to add a depth and sense of locality to your images.
- REPULSE BAY
Beautiful Repulse Bay Beach offers stunning pastel hues and a simple, dreamlike quality can be achieved with your images.
Morning is the best time for Repulse bay while the beach is quiet.
- ST. STEPHEN’S BEACH
5 minutes from Stanley Main Beach, St Stephen’s beach offers all the features of a beautiful natural beach shoot, a stone’s throw away if you live in the city.
This beach is facing west, the best light is in the afternoon.
I hope this article has helped draw attention to some of the elements to consider when we prepare for your next family portrait session. These factors when considered carefully and matched to your personal tastes can greatly help create the setting and atmosphere for beautiful family images that will surpass your expectations.