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Portrait Do’s & Don’ts from Photographer Tony Corbell

by Tony Corbell
photo & video

Tony Corbell Light Shaping

There are so many things to think about when photographing people that we don’t have the space for all I would want to say. However, there are a few do’s and don’ts that might help to keep you out of trouble and possibly improve your work and client relationships.

In the studio, NEVER leave your lights set-up overnight. The problem is that if you do, the last session of the day will look a lot like the first session tomorrow. Is that what you want? If so, fine. But if you advertise creativity, don’t give everyone the same session.


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Don’t look though your camera too long. This is the situation. You are looking at your subject, maybe focusing, maybe looking at your digital LCD numbers for aperture, shutter speed or setting in the viewfinder, etc. Remember that once you connect with your client, do not disconnect until the end of the shoot.

Don’t be distracted by other family members or an assistant. Again, the client is number one. Stay connected at all costs. Make them feel like they are the most important thing going on, not you.

Tony Corbell Light Shaping

Don’t be unsure of your exposures or color balance. Do all of your testing before your client is on set and project professionalism. Remember, “if you project a sense of confidence, they will project a sense of trust.”

Don’t underestimate your client’s knowledge of things digital. Our clients of today recognize that most professionals are using digital. They also have in many cases, better scanners and printers than some photographers. So be careful about not recognizing what your client knows. Don’t talk down to them about technology.

Do be truly creative with your sessions. Talk to your clients. Really talk to them and find out about them, their families, their past. Find out if you are working in their home what is the most important room in the house, not the prettiest. What are they most comfortable wearing, where do they spend family time outside, etc. Give them a true portrait of them, not what you think is a good portrait.

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Always have your equipment ready to go. I am amazed at how many photographers have low batteries when they start a job, only to have to stop and change. Folks, be ready and take care of your clients.

Do work as a team with your client. Guide them to make the right purchase just like you will let them guide you to make the right portrait.

When stuck on posing and lighting, always go back to the basics. Go back to the first female or male pose you know with basic lighting. From this your creativity will start up again. Then you’ll get on a roll.

Try shooting with their eyes to the lens more. I see so many photographs where people have their eyes going all over the studio. Try shooting with their eyes right into the lens, smiling or not, the power of this look is strong. If the head is turned slightly away from the camera, then bring the eyes back to the lens.


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Tony Corbell

Tony has been a photographer, an educator, and an author. His photographic works have been featured in publications throughout the world. While he has worked for some of the most discerning clients in the world, he is most proud of being acknowledged and included in more than twenty-five photographic books by other photographers.