make money from photography

How do you shoot photos that sell?

Mark Lait

Mark Lait

You have to know the right photos to take, and you’ll learn a lot from your clients, as a matter of fact, you’ll learn everything from your clients! When going through their portraits at their viewing, they’ll happily chime in if they see something they don’t like – in fact, it’s your job to try and suppress their natural urge to OVER-criticise themselves.

They’ll say things like, ‘Oh God, I look like my Mum’ or, ‘I need to go on a diet’ but when they tell you this, they’re telling you something else – They’re telling you what photos to take … Becky and Mark spent hours and hours going through different shoots to see if there was a common thread and there is, they found the photos that sold most often and then created shotlists from them.

This was really clever because suddenly, we were selling a lot more photos and you know what else? I wasn’t hearing those things in the viewing room anywhere near as much. What they’d done was created systems, which are really easy to follow that didn’t show people their fat arms, or their big bums, or their bad teeth and now were starting to get comments like ‘Is that me’ and ‘Wow’ when they saw their photos.

From years of experience, I know that there are some very universal things that people don’t like about themselves – wrinkles, better body shape, poor teeth and there’s loads more, I could almost write a book about how mean we are to ourselves! Those other things that people will not like about themselves are not obvious to anyone else, and even worse, they won’t know what they don’t like about themselves until they see it in the photos which is why it is so important to find out about these things before they come in.

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When you’re qualifying a client over the phone or in person, always ask them “What do you feel most confident about in your appearance?”, followed by “and where do you feel like you’re lacking in confidence in how you look?” They’ll tell you some surprising things and when they say those things – and I can’t emphasise this enough, write them down in your ‘book of good things to know’ this is your bible … you can revise this when time permits and create responses to any negative comments they make about themselves … that way you won’t be caught out by being lost for words, and it happens to us all – believe me!

What they reveal about the way they see themselves will determine how you photograph them. If they’ve told you that they feel insecure about their upper arms being large or having loose skin as happens to people sometimes, cover it up and guide and direct them into positions which flatter that part of their body. We always have a selection of robes, cardigans and gowns for exactly this purpose. If they hate their teeth, don’t photograph their teeth! I know it seems obvious when I’m telling you like this but when you get in the shoot it’s a pressure cooker, there are so many things to think of at the same time that you barely have time to remember this so here’s a good little tip for you.

If you notice that one member of the group always has their mouth closed, you can pretty much guarantee that they are conscious of their teeth, so … don’t photograph them!

Work out ways to avoid full frontal ‘smiling with teeth shots’ of that person – there’s plenty of incidental shots you can get when you make them laugh and they reactively show their teeth and it’s not that the teeth are overly important but those incidental photos are the ones that draw comments like, ’oh, that’s just such a you photo!’,

That’s what people want, they want photos that represent their connection as a family or a couple or whatever,  these are the photos that sell, take them and sell them! Here’s another example –  a man is self-conscious about his receding hairline, you can do two things here – avoid lighting the top of his head, or let the editor know to crop it out, it’s a thing now days anyway, I see a lot of images where the hair is cropped and they look fine, here’s another tip – if you’ve got a baldy, do yourself a favour and turn off any backlight that you’re using, if you leave them on, his head will shine like a mirror and most likely, all of the detail will be gone, these things are part of how you create your own shotlist to create photos that sell.

I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m still surprised to see what clients arrive at the studio wearing, things that don’t hide the bits they don’t like!

However, like me, you’ll become very adaptable in the studio in order to achieve the desired result, if a client has come in with chipped nails, you can often hide them by getting them to hold something like an object or adapt the pose to hide them. I think on my toes constantly! Have they got lipstick on their teeth, if you don’t notice it, I can guarantee they will – and if they see it in one photo they will look for it in every photo.

Double chins, minimise them by asking the client to poke it forwards, however this doesn’t work for all clients, so I’ve sometimes used their hair or clothing to cover it instead,  if they’ve got long hair, just brig a swoosh of it over their shoulder – they’ll love you for it.

Your clients are relying on you to know what looks best, they don’t know and you do, this is what will set you apart from the other photographers out there who don’t think about these things, there’s a good chance they’re going to pay you a substantial amount of money start the shoot knowing that they will love them all.

Your clients teach you everything, they will tell you what not to do in your next shoot. 

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