A guide to creating perfectly styled photos for your portfolio.

September 15th, 2023
family holding hands and following each other across field

As a photographer, your portfolio is your business card. It’s what showcases your talent, skill, and creative vision to potential clients. 

And what’s the most important elements of your portfolio? Your photos, of course. But it’s not just about having great photos—it’s also about presenting them in a way that speaks to your style and brand. That’s where perfectly styled photos come in.

Why perfectly styled photos matter.

Your photos are more than just pretty pictures. They tell a story and showcase your unique style and vision as a photographer. But if your photos are poorly styled or presented in a way that doesn’t align with your brand, they’ll fail to make an impact. Perfectly styled photos, like these by Adam Opris, can help you stand out from the competition and make a lasting impression on prospective clients.

Creating perfectly styled photos for your portfolio takes time and attention to detail. But the effort is worth it: by presenting your photos in a way that demonstrates your uniqueness as an artist, you’ll distinguish yourself as a unique choice in a sea of competitors that blend together.

How do you create styled photos?

Creating perfectly styled photos requires a combination of creativity, planning, and execution. In this piece, we’d cover why communication with your client matters; how to pick the perfect outfits; ways to incorporate other professionals into the photoshoot, such as makeup artists and hair stylists; how to decide on the perfect location; and finally, ways to keep yourself and your client relaxed during the entire photoshoot session. 

With all that out of the way, let’s dig in. 

man and woman facing and holding each other while he kisses her forehead

Communication is key in producing beautiful and personalized photos.

As a photographer, it’s easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of taking a great photo. But to truly create a beautiful and personalized experience for your clients, there’s one thing that’s even more important: communication. Here’s how you can use communication to produce stylized photos that fully capture the essence of your clients.

Communicate with clients before the photo shoot.

One of the more important things you can do is to communicate with your clients before the photo shoot. This helps you understand their vision and expectations, and also gives you an opportunity to share your ideas and suggestions.

During this pre-consultation, remember to discuss details about the location, lighting, props, and wardrobe.

Share your vision for the shoot and to learn more about your client’s expectations.

Create a personal Pinterest board with the client.

Why not create a personal Pinterest board with your client? It’s an effective, practical way to share inspiration and ideas with each other, and to make sure you’re both on the same page visually. 

Encourage your clients to pin photos that inspire them, whether it’s the color scheme, the pose, or the overall ambiance of the photo. You can also add your own ideas and share photos that fit the mood and style of the shoot.

Advise your client on style and mood.

As a photographer, your expertise goes beyond just taking pictures. Your experience can help guide clients to look their best while still maintaining a cohesive look that fits the overall vibe of the photoshoot.

Don’t be afraid to give suggestions to your clients; it’s important for them to feel comfortable and confident during the shoot, and sometimes a touch of that professionalism could help. You can also share ideas with them about colors, patterns, and textures that work well together.

Provide online guides to help with outfit selection.

Choosing the right outfit can be a daunting task for clients. What looks good in day to day life may not be ideal for their photoshoot. Providing an online guide to help with outfit selection streamlines the experience and alleviates their stress. Feel free to include tips for selecting the right color, style, and texture of clothing for the shoot, as well as suggestions for hair and makeup.

By providing this resource, clients can feel supported and confident, allowing them to enjoy their experience. 

child in ivory lace pinafore dress kissing the pregnant belly of her mother

Creating memorable photos: The importance of outfit selection.

Photoshoots are one of the best ways to capture moments and create lasting memories. Whether you’re working on a family portrait, a professional headshot, or another type of session, it’s important to your clients that their photos should turn out great.

As you probably already know, one of the key elements to creating amazing photos is outfit selection. 

The outfit can make or break the photoshoot, so it’s important that clients wear something they feel confident and comfortable in. Advising clients on outfit selection can be the determining factor between a good photoshoot and an unforgettable one.

Outfits that fit the style and mood of the photos.

Recommending outfits that fit the style and mood of the photos will go a long way in making sure your clients love their final result. The outfit should be complementary to the location and background, while also reflecting the client’s personal style. For example, if the photoshoot is set in the mountains, wearing earthy tones would definitely complement the surroundings. If the photoshoot is a professional headshot set in the city, wearing more formal attire would be a great way to fit the mood of the photos.

Recommend outfits that make clients feel confident and comfortable.

Advise clients to wear outfits that make them feel confident and comfortable. When a person feels good about what they’re wearing, they exude confidence, which has a way of showing up in photos. 

But while comfort is important, remember that the client should be the focus of the photos, not the outfit they’re wearing.

Tips on how to choose outfits that look good on camera.

Choosing outfits that look good on camera can be tricky, but with the right tips, it’s easy to achieve. Here are some tips to achieve an engaging look:

  • Avoid busy patterns or logos as they can be distracting in photos
  • Wear solid colors that complement the subject’s skin tone and hair color
  • Dress for the occasion and location of the photoshoot
  • Accessorize to add visual interest and flair to the outfit
  • Keep it simple and classic

black woman wearing makeup and posed dramatically with raised arm resting on her shaved head

How professional hair and makeup can elevate your stylized photo session.

As a photographer, a stylized photo session is all about creating a visually stunning final product. While you may focus on technical aspects like lighting, posing, and editing to ensure that your photos are as perfect as possible, your client’s hair and makeup can also significantly impact the professionalism of the final result.

No matter how skilled you are behind the camera, professional hair and makeup can truly elevate your final image. Not only do your clients look and feel their best, but professional services also ensure that their hair and makeup will hold up throughout the shoot and work well with the lighting. 

Professional hair and makeup artists have a deep understanding of how different looks will translate on camera. Work with them to create a cohesive vision for the shoot and ensure that everything from the lighting to the wardrobe to the hair and makeup is working seamlessly together. 

Finding the right hair and makeup artist.

Of course, finding the right hair and makeup artist for your shoot is non-negotiable. You want someone who’s experienced, skilled, and who understands the look and feel you’re hoping to achieve. 

Ask for recommendations from other photographers or industry professionals, look online for portfolios, or ask for referrals from past clients. Remember to always review the artist’s previous work to ensure their aesthetic matches the vision for your shoot.

Advising clients on hair and makeup.

As the photographer, it’s your job to advise your clients on their hair and makeup. While you ultimately want to leave the final decisions up to the professionals, work with your clients to ensure their hair and makeup fits with the overall vision for the shoot.

Be sure to communicate any specific requirements or suggestions to the hair and makeup artist ahead of time. This could include anything from requesting specific products to ensuring that the makeup is waterproof for the shoot.

Hair and makeup are essential elements of any successful stylized photo shoot. By advocating for professional services and working with your clients and the hair and makeup artist, you can ensure that the final photos are simply stunning. 

mother and daughter sitting in a patch of pale yellow roses

Finding the perfect location for stylized photo shoots.

One of the most important aspects of creating stunning, stylized photos is finding the perfect location. The right location can make all the difference in creating the most memorable engagement photos, family portraits, or business photos—a final product that truly wows your clients.

Location is not just a backdrop; it’s an essential part of the story you’re telling with your photos. In addition to providing context and visual interest, location also sets the mood for your shoot.

Before the shoot.

Before starting a shoot, advise your clients on what they should expect at the location you’ve chosen. If your location requires a permit or any other special considerations, make sure your clients are aware of this before arriving. Let your clients know of any props or items they might need to bring to make the most of the location; for example, recommend your clients bring a beach towel or sun hat for a photoshoot at the beach.

Choosing the right location.

But, how do you choose the right location for your client’s photos? There are a few key factors to consider:

  •  Style and Tone: The location you choose should reflect the style and tone of the photos you want to capture. For a romantic or whimsical engagement shoot, for example, a park or garden might be the perfect location. For a professional portrait for business use, on the other hand, a sleek and modern location might be more appropriate.
  •  Accessibility: Consider the accessibility of the location you choose. If your clients will need to hike for an hour to reach your spot, it might not be the best choice (unless they’re avid hikers, of course). Make sure your location is easily accessible and safe for your clients to reach.
  •  Lighting: Lighting plays a crucial role in photography, so make sure you choose a location that provides the lighting you need. If you’re shooting in the afternoon, for example, you’ll want to choose a location that provides ample shade to avoid harsh, direct sunlight.
  •  Weather: Of course, you can’t control the weather, but you can definitely plan for it. Make sure you have a backup plan in case of rain or other inclement weather. If you’re shooting in a location prone to wind, be prepared with items like hair ties or clips to keep your subject’s hair in place.

woman looking at camera and touching her hat at golden hour

How to create a relaxing photo shoot experience for clients.

Capturing beautiful images of your clients is a top priority. However, remember that the experience your clients have during their photo shoot can be just as important as the final product. By creating a relaxing and fun environment, you can help your clients feel more comfortable and capture even better photos. 

Before the shoot even begins, make sure your clients are relaxed. Often, clients can feel nervous or self-conscious about being in front of the camera, which results in stiff or awkward-looking photos. Encourage your clients to trust you and let their personalities shine through.

Tips for comfort.

To help your clients feel more comfortable during the shoot, consider using some of these techniques:

  • Get to know your clients: Prior to the shoot, take some time to learn about your clients’ personalities and interests. This helps you tailor the shoot to their specific needs and make them feel more at ease.
  • Provide clear instructions: Give your clients specific instructions on poses and positioning
  • Take breaks: If your client seems to be getting tense or tired, take a short break to chat, share a joke together, or stretch to help them (and you) relax and refocus.
  • Use music: Playing some upbeat and fun music during the shoot can help create a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.

Have some fun.

Finally, don’t forget to just have some fun. While capturing beautiful photos is important, it’s also essential that your clients enjoy the experience. Consider incorporating some fun and quirky elements into the shoot, such as props or unique backdrops. This helps everyone involved feel more engaged and excited about the experience.

With a bit of planning and flexibility, you can create a relaxing and enjoyable photo shoot experience for your clients, resulting in beautiful and natural-looking images.

Perfectly styled photos in a photographer’s portfolio.

In the world of photography, a photographer’s portfolio is their most important tool. It serves as a visual representation of their skills, style, and range. As such, creating a portfolio that is visually stunning and impactful is crucial. One key element in achieving this is through perfectly styled photos.

Perfectly styled photos and portraits are not just aesthetically pleasing images. They are carefully crafted compositions that showcase the photographer’s ability to bring together various elements: lighting, angles, props, colors, and more. The goal is to create a cohesive and visually striking image that tells a story.

First impressions matter; and with photography, the first impression is often the only one. Clients and potential employers will often judge a photographer’s work based on their portfolio. Styled photos showcase a photographer’s attention to detail, their ability to plan and prepare for a shoot, and their competent artistry, all which goes into creating a visually stunning image.

Take what you’ve learned here, elevate your work to the next level, and make a lasting impression on potential clients and employers.

Bonus: resources and inspiration.

We’re not going to leave you hanging with just the practical, “do-this, do-that” tips. Here are a few more places to check out for ideas and even more motivation to start making your very own stylized portfolio photos.


  • Cheryl Dell'Osso

    Cheryl is the Director of Content Strategy at Zenfolio and the Owner/Photographer at Portraits by Cheryl and Seniors by Cheryl in Raleigh, NC. Cheryl has mentored countless new photographers looking to build successful photography businesses.

*Promotion valid until November 30, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. PST. Promotional discount off the subscription price of a new PortfolioPlus or ProSuite annual plan only will be automatically applied at checkout with code CYBERNOV75. Discount applies to the first year only. Cannot be combined with any other promotion.

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