How to Create Soul-Driven Portraits

8 min read

Create a next-level experience and amazing storytelling images for your portrait clients with these ideas taken from quotes by six photography masters. 


Create stunning photography portraits with these six helpful insights from the pros

You’re searching for better ideas on how to provide exceptional experiences for your portrait photography clients. Apply these portrait photography tips for a session that flows and fabulous pictures that tell a story.

1. Start with trust

“A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.” — Annie Leibovitz

family laying on blanket

AnnaMarie Stephens

Before you even pull out your camera, connect with everyone you’ll photograph. Invite collaboration by communicating your vision and listening to their ideas. As a great portrait photographer, your pictures should be the vessel to tell their stories.

#ShootProofPRO Tip:

Always intentionally schedule time before the shoot to talk to your clients. Get to know them and discuss what your plan is to build that trust right from the beginning.

family with child

AnnaMarie Stephens

Things to watch out for:

Even if you have a set shot list, ask your subject how they feel that day. Circumstances can change after pre-shoot consultations.

Sometimes the most creative images you capture happen when you change your plan based on your clients’ limits. Your pictures reflect their comfort when you provide them a safe space to trust you without question.

mother and child

AnnaMarie Stephens

2. Forget yourself

“The subject matter is so much more important than the photographer.” — Gordon Parks

When we remove ourselves from the equation, we make room for our subjects to tell their side of the story. Start your sessions by observing their interactions.

#ShootProofPRO Tip:

Throw those tired photography poses out the window and let go of control! Step into the role of the observer and capture your subjects naturally as they continue to open up to you.

family in golden field

AnnaMarie Stephens

Things to watch out for:

As you observe your clients, notice how they move, embrace each other, and naturally group themselves. These are some great things you can use early in the session.

Once you truly understand the relationships of the people you are photographing, you can step in and give more guidance.

family with baby

AnnaMarie Stephens

3. Invite your audience in

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” — Robert Capa

After you’ve built up trust with your clients, take your viewers into the action with you as you enter your subjects’ personal space. 

#ShootProofPRO Tip:

Pull out your wide-angle lens and get closer to your subjects. Changing up your focal lengths is an excellent way to capture individuals of kids sitting on their parents’ laps! Have their parents play little games or sing with them to truly capture the moment.

pregnant woman in white dress

AnnaMarie Stephens

Things to watch out for:

As you focus on one or two people, don’t just pay attention to what is happening in front of the camera. Keep an eye on everything that is happening around you. While you’re in shooting mode, continue to be aware of people in your peripherals to make sure you don’t miss any precious candid moments.

However, if you notice someone is getting uncomfortable by your closeness, give them a break by changing portrait subjects or switching out your lenses. Intimacy is earned incrementally, especially with little ones.

moms walking with son

AnnaMarie Stephens

4. Create memories

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”

— Aaron Siskind

Every time you look at pictures of yourself, it automatically transports you back to that moment in your life. And while outside factors are out of your control, you can control the experience you provide.

#ShootProofPRO Tip:

Professional portrait photographers know that what happens during a portrait photo session is just as important as how beautiful the pictures turn out. Make sure that you create a fabulous experience your clients will want to remember!

maternity photo

AnnaMarie Stephens

Things to watch out for:

Ever find your clients whispering to themselves between shots? Cut out those awkward moments by continuously communicating with them, especially when the camera is in front of your face! Engaged photographers make engaging images.

Concentrate less on your camera settings and more on your clients by:

  • Telling them what you’re planning
  • Giving them something to do
  • Having them interact with each other 
  • Handling a detail you want to include 
same sex couple

AnnaMarie Stephens

5. Show the human experience

“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” — Robert Frank

Ever cull a photo of a beautiful moment where the framing just wasn’t right? An imperfect picture that captures the humanity of the scene is better than a perfectly shot, mediocre image. 

#ShootProofPRO Tip:

Let go of rigid photography rules and see how pushing past the barriers might improve your portrait photography. Some imperfections bear a sense of the moments you capture.

maternity photos

AnnaMarie Stephens

Things to watch out for:

Instead of getting them just right, focus on capturing the seemingly insignificant in-between seconds when people don’t know they are being photographed. Connect to your audience by capturing moments they can relate to.

Break the rules and make a statement. Don’t be afraid to include those perfectly imperfect images, even if you’re showing motion blur or an inferior crop.

maternity photo

AnnaMarie Stephens

6. Celebrate emotions

“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” — Don McCullin

Be your clients’ cheerleader by celebrating their big moments as you capture them. Create a safe place for them to express themselves, and use the trust you’ve built to pull out those dynamic, emotional images.

backlit maternity photo

AnnaMarie Stephens

#ShootProofPRO Tip:

Shooting an engagement or anniversary session? Bring along a bottle of chilled champagne or sparkling cider you can pop open towards the end of the session. Your clients will feel cherished and celebrated by you! 

mother and son

AnnaMarie Stephens

Things to watch out for:

When entering the scene as the photographer, make sure your presence doesn’t change the mood. Every client will respond differently to being so transparent in front of your lens. 

While some people lap up the attention, some want a more serene environment to show emotion. Respect their different boundaries by adjusting your volume, the directions you give them, and your physical presence.


Written by RACHAEL LAPORTE | Photographs by ANNAMARIE STEPHENS

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