Preparing for Your Photoshoot: The Beauty Checklist

When having your portrait taken, there are five areas where a little advanced preparation can make a huge difference. Neglect them, and an otherwise perfect photo could end up with distracting elements which take the focus away from where it should be. (*Ahem* Your beautiful eyes, of course.) The five areas are: Face, Hair, Hands, Skin, and Clothes.

The week before your shoot (or sooner, if you’ve booked ahead) is a time for planning. Decide on outfits, choose which beautification steps you will take, and schedule the appointments (even if they’re just with yourself). Remember, these tips are here to help you think of ideas for preparing for your shoot, but are definitely not required, or even necessary for everybody. Just choose what fits in with your budget, lifestyle, and current beauty regimen, and go from there!

- Face -

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Whiten Teeth. Crest sells white-strips that whiten in a week or less for a quick whiteness boost. I hear dentists can whiten teeth, too. Many even do it for free for new clients. If you’re due for a cleaning, you might consider going all out.

Don’t Pick. A pimple is very easy to cover with makeup, but scabs, wounds and flaky patches are more tricky. As soon as possible, stop picking at your skin. If you’re like me and scratch and squeeze at every bump and flake on your face, it’s time to pull out the big guns. Do whatever it takes. Stop examining your face closer than 2 feet from a mirror. If you distractedly pick while you’re doing something else, try wearing bandaids on your fingertips. Go for some with a really sassy print, like Barbie or Dora the Explorer.

Exfoliate. A nice, soothing session using a grainy scrub (or gently rubbing your skin with a washcloth) on your face and body is an indulgent way to spend an evening. Plan to exfoliate a couple times before your appointment, but be sure to allow a few days between ‘treatments’, as well as a couple days after the last one before your shoot.

Get a Facial. If you’re going to go all out into pamper mode, be sure to do your facial at least a week before your shoot. Since facials tend to cause redness, a week usually allows enough time to heal.

For those of us on a budget, an at-home facial with a gooey, florescent masque is always a fun alternative to a night on the town. Throw in a delicious book and recharge your psyche. Repeat as necessary.

Wax Eyebrows. If you decide to have your eyebrows waxed or threaded, be sure to schedule the appointment for at least a few days before your photoshoot. Otherwise, an eyebrow trim/touch up at home could be done a day or two before the shoot.

- Hair -

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Touch Up Your Roots. If you dye your hair, touching up your regrowth three days before your photoshoot is ideal. Take my advice: this is not the time for drastic changes. Trust me.

Get a Trim. Neat, healthy hair is youthful and vibrant. If it’s been a while since your last haircut, even a subtle trim can make a world of difference.

Deep Condition. Your salon can do a professional conditioning treatment, or you can use your favorite deep conditioner or protein pack at home. Toss it on with the gooey facial masque. Wrap your head, turban-style. Wear harem pants and pretend you’re a genie while you’re marinating. Or read a book. Your call.

- Hands -

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Get a Manicure. While you’re at it, toss in the pedicure. If you’re hard on your manicures, book the mani/pedi for the day before your shoot.

Minimalists can stick with neatly shaped, clear nails. Soft, neutral colors work well for fingertips. Toes can get away with any color. (Think about the outfits you’re bringing and be sure to choose a color that will compliment your choices.)

Clean Your Wedding Ring. Using a toothbrush and toothpaste is a great day-to-day way to clean your bling, but most professional jewelers have sonic cleaners that make it sparkle like the day it was born. Many will even clean your ring for free. Especially if you return to the jeweler you bought it from.

If it’s been a long time since your last pro cleaning, take the ring in right away. If there are any loose stones in your setting, they may get shaken loose, so it’s a good idea to allow a few days in case the goldsmith needs to re-set anything.

If it’s convenient, have it cleaned again the day before your shoot. Or you could go with the old toothbrush method the night before. Or even stop wearing it between the cleaning and the shoot. Just don’t leave it at home!

Him, Too. If you’re bringing your man to your shoot, make sure his nails are neat and his ring is clean. Bonus points if you can get him to wear the genie masque.

- Skin -

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Wax or Shave. If you go the waxing route, give yourself a few days to heal before your shoot. Shaving can be done the night before. Be sure to get your legs and underarms, and if you’ll be wearing a swimsuit or lingerie, go for the bikini area as well.

Spray Tan. If you usually have a faux glow, get a spray tan a couple days before your shoot. Honestly, though, I love fair skin. If I had my way, you would skip the tanning salon and embrace your inner pale.

Remember that, while Photoshop can hide a multitude of sins, you’ll love knowing that your pictures have captured your most perfect self. At the end of the day, there are some things no amount of preparation can change, (and maybe you wouldn’t want to). A couple of examples are birthmarks or scars. Some people feel that these markings are part of who we are, while others would rather have them “photoshopped” away. Which is right? Whatever you want. It’s your face, your body, your photos.

- Clothes -

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Bring 5-6 outfits. Your portraits should be a reflection of you, just more polished. Choose outfits you love. Think of those special pieces you might not wear often because they’re impractical for day-to-day use, or the go-to blouse you always wear when you’re going somewhere nice.

Something Dark. Bring at least one dark outfit or top. Black, Navy or Charcoal work best here.

Something Light. For your light outfit, think angelic. Soft, gauzy, maybe even layered and sheer. It doesn't have to be white, you could go with cream, nude, light pink – whatever.

Something Fun/Funky/Whimsical. This outfit is your chance to really show your personal style. If you tend toward more conservative tastes, choose a different adjective. Instead of Funky, try Structured, Soft, Elegant, or Formal.

Something Sexy. This one is entirely your call. You could skip sexy, and that’s up to you. But if you’d like to, you can be an understated sexy in a backless formal dress, or a more overt sexy in a pretty pinup-style swimsuit. Beautiful lingerie is lovely and empowering.

Consider Necklines. I love to be able to see your collar bone, so boat neck, scoop neck, square neck, deep V and off-the-shoulder are my favorite necklines. Whatever you choose, try to make it more interesting than the basic T-Shirt neckline. If you love turtlenecks, go for it! Feel free to bring whatever calls to you. Mixing up the necklines will add variety to your shots, so try not to bring all of one style.

Think Texture. Sumptuous textures lend a rich, tactile element to your photos. Delicious.

Avoid Prints. Patterns and prints are distracting. We want people to look at you when they see your portrait, and even the most beautiful print will steal that attention. Check out the photo above for an example. I bet one of the first things you noticed about it was her dress. It's a great dress, but she has great eyes, too - and they aren't the first thing we see.

Fit Your Form. Fitted clothing that shows your shape work best for photographs. Skip that billowy, blouson top, or anything with dolman or batwing sleeves. While they might be flattering in person, they will not be slimming in camera. This applies to any body type. Choose outfits that will hug your curves, especially your waist, hips, arms, and chest.

Forget Shoes. Unless you have a special pair you’re dying to photograph, there’s really no need to worry about the shoes you’ll wear. Most images won’t show your feet at all, and if some do, bare feet will add an organic feel to your portraits.

- The Day-Of Checklist -

  • Bare face (wash and apply your usual moisturizer)
  • Clean, dry hair (very short hair should leave it wet)
  • Comfy outfit (to sit in while you’re being styled)
  • 5-6 fitted outfits to wear in photos
  • Pretty nails (Neutral fingers, fun toes)
  • Clean wedding ring
  • Touched up brows

Emily London

Emily London is a portrait photographer for women. She's also a wife (of 10 years!), mother of two, graphic designer, ukulele enthusiast, cookie dough connoisseur, and photography mentor.