Planning and executing a portrait photoshoot is an art form in itself. It requires careful preparation of your creative vision, styling and props. Here, ambassador Carla Step shares all the elements that need to be considered before you can even think of taking a shot.
Words and Photography by Carla Step
Step one: mood board
When I plan a portrait photoshoot and it’s not an assignment, the first thing I do is go to those images that I have saved for inspiration. Those photographs are where I start to envision what I want to do. I create a mood board with all the ideas, and from there, I start planning the session.
Step two: colour
One of the most important questions I always ask myself, is what colours do I want to work with? Colour is very important to me, sometimes even more than space or props.
Sometimes the model herself leads me to think of certain colours and on other occasions, I look for the opposite — to find a colour palette that breaks with the aesthetics this person usually has and thus be able to photograph her from another point of view.
“Finding the right clothing for portraits is vital to me. I think of clothing as an artistic element with its own texture, colour and shape.”
Step 3: Light & space
Once I know what colours I’d like the images to have, I start thinking about the space. The best scenario for me is a photography studio with natural light.
Natural light usually highlights colours in a very special way and favours people. Its worst flaw and its best virtue for me, is that you can’t control the light on the day you’re going to shoot, but that also gives photography a touch of spontaneity and magic. Over time, you get used to adapting to all lighting situations and knowing how to take advantage of them.
Regarding the elements of the space, the ideal for me is to have an environment that is as minimalistic as possible, to be able to add furniture only if I’m interested in it at a compositional or conceptual level. If not, the easiest thing is to work with a smooth canvas.
Step 4: Clothing
Finding the right clothing for portraits is vital to me. I think of clothing as an artistic element with its own texture, colour and shape. It is an element that will be very important, so I try to choose it well.
For example, if I’m shooting in a white space, I usually use clothing to apply colour. On the other hand, if the background I’m working with is a striking colour, I either look for a tone that fits well with that background, or use a neutral white or black garment. My advice to everyone I photograph is; always to bring timeless clothing, such as a white shirt, plain t-shirts in various colours, dress pants, classic jeans, and classic layers such as a trench coat, biker or denim jacket.
Step 5: Props
Once I’ve defined the colour palette, location, light and wardrobe, I think of props. These are the elements that give personality to the set and also generate action and movement with the model.
A basic for me, is to incorporate a chair that fits the mood of the session. This provides more variety of positions to the person I portray. Other elements that are very typical but always work are books, flowers or glasses. Any object that is closely related to our daily lives can be interesting.
For more portrait inspiration, check out these iconic portraits to add to your next mood board.
Carla Step is a visual artist whose photography focuses on the genres of fashion, travel and portraiture. Her training in graphic design and plastic arts, as well as her constant experimentation with photography have defined her style as an artist. As an Urth ambassador, Carla shoots with Urth lens filters.