"Expect the Best, Prepare for the worst."

That's a motto I like to quote for just about any area of life. As a portrait photographer, this means I apply that rule to my work as well, and like to be prepared for anything. What does that look like?

Getting clients

Before there's a need to prepare for the session, there's a need for the subject. This post isn't about how to find your clients, but that is where the booking process begins. Usually a client will contact via social messaging or email, and if it's a friend or family member maybe in person or via text. As soon as a client inquires, I try to respond in the most friendly and straight forward way possible. I have noticed many times that if I ask too many questions, I get very vague or few answers so this is an example of a way to avoid that.

Negative Example:

Client: Hi, I would like to book a family session sometime this fall. What would that cost?

Me: Hey Client! Thanks for reaching out. What time this fall were you thinking? Like October? Are weekdays or weekends better for you, and would you prefer morning or evening? How many family members will be there? Do you have any pets?

My family sessions run at $$$ per hour and that will yield about XXX edited images.

I look forward to hearing from you! Love, Moriah

Client: Hi, yes, October. There will be four of us.

That's a no-no. Yes, I need the answers to all of those questions. People just don't like to answer all of them at once, so here's a better way to do it.

Positive example:

Client: Hi, I would like to book a family session sometime this fall. What would that cost?

Me: Hey Client! Thanks for reaching out. Fall family sessions are beautiful!

My family sessions run at $$$ per hour. I usually recommend starting with that hour, but if you want more images we can always add some time!

Would you prefer to book for September or October? Love, Moriah

Client: Hi, sounds good! Sometime mid-October is best for us.

I then let the conversation continue from there, a little bit at a time, until I have enough details to make the questionnaire and I get the final details from that.

The Questionnaire

Questionnaire. Somehow I always forget how to spell that. I use Pixieset for mine. This program is great because there are templates to base the questions off of, multiple ways to answer the questions, and you can use the same template for everything or completely customize each questionnaire for individual sessions if you want to!

The templates are a good guide, but just for an example, here are a few things I always include in mine:

Date and Time. At this point I have already decided on the date and time by communicating with my client. I still include this field, and just ask them to confirm it to make sure we're on the same page.

Location. Sometimes this is just a confirmation as well, and sometimes they don't know yet what they want so I list a few of my favorite places and have them choose from that.

People involved. It may be a senior session- but odds are mom, dad, and grandma are tagging along too. It's always good to know that in advance for mental preparation's sake.

Props. Is the client bringing props, do they want me to provide props, or do they need suggestions? (especially for senior sessions, they usually incorporate props)

Playlist. I have a tiny little bluetooth speaker that clips right on to my camera bag, and for some people, having music to vibe to will make the session so much easier. I ask in the questionnaire if they want music, and what their favorite songs/artists/playlists are. Sometimes I find a fun playlist to use, and sometimes I take the time to create a personalized playlist for the client.

Referral. I always ask at the bottom of the form "How did you hear about me?" Because it tells me which marketing strategies are effective and which of my clients loved their experience and shared the word. It's just helpful as a business to know. It's also nice to contact the referral client and offer them a discount for spreading the word!

With Pixieset, I can send the questionnaire, quote, retainer fee and contract all in one email. You don't have to though, so here are few notes about those other documents:

What's in the email?

If you really wanted to, you could mail physical copies of session documents to your clients. I don't recommend it though! The questionnaire is being emailed, so along with it, I send:

Quote/Invoice. Odds are, you've already discussed the price with your client. Maybe they don't know about additional fees though, like travel. Or maybe something has changed in their package since you told them the original price. The quote is easy. You're basically just saying, "This is what it costs, you good with that?" If they've already accepted a quote, I send the invoice asap and let them know that it can be paid in full before the session, or via cash or check at the session.

Retainer Fee. Assuming the price is taken care of, I've learned that its always worth taking the retainer fee. A portrait session is not necessary the way that a doctor's appointment is, and even if its booked your client might decide to spend the money on a new pair of shoes and cancel the session, the day before. Not everyone is like that, but believe me, some are. To prevent this, the retainer fee gives the client a mental and monetary investment in working with you as their photographer. It also helps keep your cash flowing even if its a slower time for actually shooting sessions. I send this in my initial email with the questionnaire.

Contract. This one, I feel, can be done a little differently. Another thing that Pixieset offers is a contract to be signed before the session. It's probably worth having a digital copy. Thus far, I like to bring a paper contract with me to sessions. I tell the client that I trust them but I basically just need a signature to promise they won't sue me for taking and using their photos. I'll go into details if they want to discuss it, but usually that information is sufficient to get the signature. Make sure your contract incudes:

1.Blank lines for client's name, mailing address, and phone number

Directly below the lines include a note that this information is used for product delivery and contact if necessary, and will not be released to anyone.

2.What power does the consent form allow you, the photographer?

Example: "This consent form permits *Photographer* to publish the photos on the following website, publications and promotional materials: XXXXXX.com, @XXXX and @XXXX."

When dealing with young children I also include a box to be checked if the parent prefers online privacy and to opt out of using the photos promotionally.

3.What's expected of you?

Example: "Your Photographer agrees to deliver all products as determined during the booking process of this session. Failure to do so will result in a partial or full refund."

4.Signature lines for both of you

You sign and date it, then the client signs. I include a clause near their signature that says "I waive any right to royalties or other compensation related to the use of my photos."

I keep the contract in my files, but offer to mail a copy if the client wishes.

The creative process

This is where it gets fun. I believe that photography is not a career, it's a service based art. As such, I never go into a session without getting inspired first.


The props I take along for each session vary greatly depending on the location and session type. Senior sessions and engagements are especially fun times to incorporate props. I get inspiration for these in a few different ways.

1.The questionnaire.

This part of the process is a big reason why I ask personal questions in the form. It helps me learn about my client's personality and what they like. For example, if a guy tells me that his favorite hobby is fishing, and we're doing the session at a pond, we're definitely using a fishing pole.


Okay I use Pinterest a LOT. It really helps though when I need a little creative boost! Pinterest is full of portrait photos that creatively style with mirrors, frames, flowers, the list goes on and on. Sometimes I'll be overly specific and type in the search field "engagement session by pond with swing set" Just to see what comes up. More often than not I walk away with a lot of ideas.


I love to thrift for pretty much everything, and antiques are great additions to my home OR my portraits. Sometimes I just have to look around a little bit and suddenly an item will be obviously perfect for a session. Think:

-old stools

-picture frames






the list goes on and on.

Pinterest board.

Not only do I find the ideas on Pinterest, but I save them. I create a specific board for every individual session, and fill it with outfits, locations, props, and poses that are specific to that client. Then when they need ideas, I have it visually. It especially helps with posing if I hold out my phone and say "okay, now can you do this?" and then describe the prompt. Then the client can see how their pose is supposed to look.


I mentioned this earlier, but if the client has selected that they want music at the session, I make sure my speaker is charged and then look for a Spotify playlist that matches their vibe or I create one.

The session is TODAY

I have everything listed above done before the day of the session. (Or on occasion for evening sessions I get some things ready the morning of) So when its actually time to pack the bag and get in the car, I really don't want to forget SD cards. To make sure that doesn't happen, I have a list of the essentials for a shoot, and even if I won't really need them all I never leave for a session without double checking that I've got:

Charged Battery

Camera Body

2-3 Different Lenses



Copy of the invoice



1-2 Formatted SD cards

Lens Wipes

Ipad or Mac

Business Cards

Extra Battery(ies)


Allen Wrenches

Props (if any)

Like I said, expect the best, prepare for the worst! When I'm sure my gear is all together, the next step is to Check the weather forecast, and then leave early.

As soon as I'm at the location, I prep my camera setting for the light and scope out the best photo spots. This is why it's essential to be there early, and also the reason why I don't encourage my clients to be early.

Got the shots

Post session

That's how I prepare for a portrait shoot! With all of those elements in mind, as soon as the session is over I make sure to:

Log Mileage. This is important for tax purposes.

Log income and expense. What did I make? Did they tip? Did I buy new props at the location or get coffee for the client? I pop this into my excel sheet asap.

Import Photos

Backup Photos (never ever skip this step)

Format memory card (make sure photos are backed up first!)

& that's it!


I hope this article was helpful for you photographers (and an interesting read for my clients). A lot goes into being a photographer! I love checklists. (Just ask my husband, everything is written down on a list) Having things on paper or at least typed out allows me to stay organized and also free things from my mind so I don't have to try to remember them. That being the case, my handy little list for this process is right here!

My personal session checklist

Rolling with the punches

Prepare for the worst, right?

Things that might go wrong:

The client is 30 minutes early.

The client cancels the day of.

Your lens is dirty.

You drop a lens.

You forget to charge the battery.

You can't think of pose prompts.

Client forgot to bring their props.

etc. etc. etc.

And that's just how it is! I've learned from experience and now none of these things faze me, because my process has me set to deal with it.

Bottom line

The photography industry is pretty saturated. Every professional has developed their own system of sorts. This one works best for me, and I hope it was inspiring for my readers.

Jesus Loves you!