Nailing Your First Photo Session: Tips for Planning as a New Photographer without a Studio

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New clients plus no studio doesn’t have to add up to a stressful start to your photography business. After all, you’re a professional now. You can handle this.

There are a lot of exciting “firsts” once you start your photography business. One of these is your first photo session with a new client. Of course, you want to come across as confident and professional. Because most photographers don’t start out working from their own studio, however, arranging that photoshoot can be more of a challenge. So let’s talk about planning a photo session for your new photography business, taking into consideration you’re not working in our own studio.

While not having your own studio might seem like a hurdle, relax! With careful planning and a professional attitude, you can create a stunning experience and photos that impress your clients. In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of planning a successful photo session, even without a studio.

Step 1. Selecting a location

For some types of photography, a studio definitely takes a lot of guesswork and stress out of your photo sessions. On the other hand, finding alternatives can be an important part of your creative process, helping tailor your locations to the specific needs of your client. Without a dedicated studio, the world becomes your canvas. Selecting a suitable location is key to setting the right mood and capturing the essence of your client.

Consider outdoor spots like parks, urban landscapes, or even a client’s home. Locations that have significance to your client can create a one of a kind photograph. Ensure the location aligns with your client’s vision and offers ample natural light or suitable artificial lighting options. This is particularly important if your skills or gear are currently limited when it comes to handling problematic light. (More on that later.)

Step 2. Scouting the location

Sometimes you’ll have a particular location in mind, other times the client might suggest one or more options. Even if it’s a location you’ve frequented in the past, it is important to treat it as though it’s brand new to you. Remember that things change and the last thing you want is to arrive prepared for your best memory, only to find out your plans won’t work.

Before the actual session, visit the chosen location in advance to familiarize yourself with its unique characteristics. Take note of potential backgrounds, interesting angles, lighting conditions, and any potential obstacles you might encounter. This preparation will save you time during the session and help you visualize the shots you want to capture. Most importantly, it will alleviate some of the stress of working with a new client for the first time.

Step 3. Communication with clients

Speaking of clients, open and clear communication with your clients is vital for a successful shoot. This will be true whether it’s your first experience with that client, or after the client has been coming to you for years. Discuss their expectations, preferred style, and desired mood for the photos. By understanding their vision, you can tailor the session to meet their specific needs and expectations. Remember that your first job as a photographer is not actually taking photos, it’s managing expectations.

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Additionally, share details about the location, time, and any special considerations they should be aware of before the shoot. Touch base with your client regularly, especially if the session is more than a few days in the future. If plans change or update, contact your client immediately and directly. Never assume that your email or text about a change of time or location has been read. The telephone is your friend. Use it.

Step 4. Equipment and gear

Ensure you have all the necessary equipment for the shoot. This includes your camera, lenses, tripod, reflectors, flashes, and spare batteries. Depending on the location, you may also need props or additional lighting equipment. Determine if an assistant will be necessary for handling diffusers or reflectors. Double-check everything is in working order and pack your gear in a secure and organized manner for easy access during the session.

Now that you’re a professional business, you’ll need to build redundancy into as many areas as possible. In other words, spare everything. While you may not yet be able to afford a backup camera body, there’s no excuse for dead batteries, glitching memory cards, or broken cables.

It’s not unusual to rent or borrow equipment that you might need for a specific set of photos. Even though you might think a lens is just something to snap onto your camera and focus, you should always practice with any gear that is new, or new-to-you. Never assume that something behaves a certain way, or that it will even work in the first place. Remember your client isn’t paying you to experiment, so make sure you can use the gear with confidence.

Step 5. Lighting considerations

Lighting plays a crucial role in photography, and without a studio, you must adapt to varying lighting conditions. For outdoor shoots, utilize natural light to your advantage, shooting during the golden hours (early morning or late afternoon) when the light is soft and flattering. Experiment with diffusers and reflectors to control the light and minimize harsh shadows.

In indoor settings, make use of available light sources or bring portable lighting options for more control. As previously mentioned, practice is important. It’s not overly cautious to do a practice test in your chosen location before the actual client session.

Step 6. Contingency plans

Even with careful planning, unexpected challenges can come up. Working on location can leave a lot of things outside your control. This is why you should always have a backup plan. Prepare contingency plans for weather changes, equipment malfunctions, or other unforeseen circumstances. Research alternative locations nearby or have backup dates available to reschedule if needed.

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While it might seem like double work to potentially prep for two separate locations, this is the tradeoff for not working in studio. Flexibility and adaptability will help you maintain professionalism and deliver on your commitment to your clients. Remember to communicate your backup plan to your clients in advance, so they’ll be ready to shift right along with you.

Step 7. Poses and composition

There are a few things that can strike terror during your early photo sessions. One of those is hearing your client say, “You’re the professional, tell us what do do”, when you try to decide what type of poses they might like.

Be prepared to guide your clients with posing instructions to help them feel at ease during the session. Encourage natural expressions and interactions while keeping an eye on composition and framing. Explore different angles and perspectives to add variety to the final images.

Remember that even if you’re not certain whether something will work, you can give it a try and your client will go along if you carry yourself as that professional they believe you to be. Confidence in your direction will instill trust in your clients and result in authentic and captivating photographs.

Step 8: Relax and enjoy the process

There’s one more important thing you need to understand: Life happens. Things don’t always go the way you plan or imagine. You can do everything right and still feel that things are going wrong. You’ll mess up, maybe not the first time, but eventually something will go wrong. You’ll be frustrated, either by yourself, your client, your locations, or any one of a million other potential things. But the world won’t end. Regroup and carry on, giving your client the best possible experience and photographs possible.

It’s also just as likely that everything will go smoothly, every time, and that your sessions flow like dreams. Treat each one as the most important you’ve ever done, with the goal of making each one the best. Every session is an opportunity to learn, grow, and perfect your skills. Ultimately, confidence follows.

See opportunities, not obstacles

While not having your own studio can present challenges, it also opens up a world of creative possibilities for your photography business. By carefully selecting locations, communicating effectively with clients, being well-prepared, and adapting to different lighting conditions, you can plan and execute remarkable photo sessions. Remember, confidence and professionalism are essential ingredients for a successful shoot, regardless of whether you have a studio or not.

So, step out and capture breathtaking moments that will leave your clients delighted and eager to work with you again.