Top 5 Tips for Portraits

SJP's Top 5 Tips for Portrait Sessions

1) Choosing a Location

Traveling to locations in Southern California is always an adventure!  Within the Thirty Mile Zone of Los Angeles TMZ you can find sandy beaches, urban cityscapes, rural wilderness, to everything in between.  If you're stuck on ideas where to go, here's a few of my favorite picks:


Griffith Observatory is an iconic landmark of Los Angeles and one of southern California's most popular attractions. Built in 1935 with classic Art Deco style, it lays on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, just above Los Feliz. It is 1,134 feet above sea level and is visible from many parts of the Los Angeles basin. The Observatory is the best vantage point for observing the world-famous Hollywood Sign among mountain tops and even sometimes a peek of an ocean view on the luckiest days.  For more trees and trails, the bottom of the park also offers beautiful spots near the Trails Cafe.  Notes: free parking on the street leading up to the top of the hill and paid parking available in lot at the top, also public restrooms on site.  No permit required.

A modern masterpiece located in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles designed by acclaimed architect Frank Gehry.  Exterior walls are made of brushed metal and some are mirrored, full sized trees with lush greenery, and a beautiful rooftop garden with large blooming lotus sculpture.  This location provides a perfect neutral background for modern portraits.  Notes: paid street or lot parking.  No permit required.  Suggested time for shooting at this locaiton is during the daytime.  No permit required.

Giddy-up! In 1927, Paramount Pictures purchased approximately 2,700 acres of land in the Malibu Hills to create a "movie ranch." The land served as a focal point for several films, including MASH, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, and most recently HBO's Westworld with the addition of the "little white chapel."  Even though you can't actually go inside the buildings, the textures and colors make fun backgrounds for portrait sessions.  Additional features in the ranch include bridges, tall California Oak and Eucalyptus trees, grassy fields, and a babbling brook.  Note: pet friendly- dogs must remain on leash.  Restrooms on site.  Travel and permit fee +$175

Solstice Canyon is another great park within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Malibu, California. Located off Corral Canyon Road from Pacific Coast Highway, the canyon runs north-to-south about a mile east of Point Dume.  This is a great locaiton for grassy trails, mountain views, and a cool stone wall.   Travel and permit fee +$175

City Hall was designed by John Bakewell & Arthur Brown who were influenced by the early Renaissance style of 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio.  The location offers grand hallways with tall arches, a beautiful rose garden, and romantic winding staircases. Recently featured in NBC's Parks and Recreation as the exterior of Pawnee City Hall and also shown in the background of the window of Leonard and Sheldon's apartment in The Big Bang Theory.  Notes: metered parking and lot parking at 330 E. Union Street. No permit required.

A great beach location at the end of Historic Route 66 with sandy beaches, chilly Pacific views, the Pier with light up Ferris Wheel and roller coasters, the original muscle beach, and lots of shops a couple block away at 3rd Street Promenade. Photography is allowed on certain parts of the pier, other areas off limits.  Paid parking available on both sides of the pier.  Travel fee +$50

The Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden encompasses 1.3 acres on the campus of California State University, Long Beach. A perfect romantic setting for weddings, portrait sessions, and special events. The site’s privacy and impeccably maintained grounds attract discerning couples seeking a unique outdoor setting surrounded by tall trees, a lush green landscape, arched bridges, shimmering koi pond, and sparkling waterfalls.  Permit fee +$200 per hour

Indoor Spaces

  • Your home, neighborhood, or favorite hang out spot- all great ideas for lifestyle portrait sessions!
  • FD Studios - Art 3 , Art 1: A great indoor space in the heart of Los Angeles with MANY different sets ready to go.  I have linked a couple of my favorite sets, but feel free to explore their website to see all of the different options!
  • Peerspace: Unique and Creative locations


2) What to Wear?

The more time you invest preparing for your photoshoot, the happier you will ultimately be with your portrait results.  Waiting until the last minute to throw something together will cause stress and takes the fun out of your day.  Here's a few of my ideas to help guide you in outfit selection.

  • COLOR PALETTE: Bold and bright colors look lovely.  For couples and families, try choosing outfits with colors that complement each other rather than exact matches.
  • CHOOSE 3: Limit your color selections to 3 complimentary colors.  I suggest taking inspiration from your location or thinking how you will be displaying your images.  For example, if decorating your wedding reception with engagement pictures you can incorporate your wedding colors into your wardrobe.  If decorating your home with a Canvas Prints, consider bringing in some of the colors and mood from the room.
  • ROMANTIC Flowy long dresses, like maxis, elongate the body and brings a romantic element to engagement sessions.
  • Create textures and layers.  Accessorize with jewelry, textured scarves, faux furs, knits, bold prints, and interesting fabrics.  These things always look great on camera!
  • THINGS TO AVOID: wearing large loose clothing and items that detract from the scene like solid white on white outfits, logo tshirts, tank tops and shirts exposing the upper arm, and shorts/capris as they tend to make the legs appear shorter than they are.

SJP's Favorite Clothing Stores

3) Golden Hour

I just love all the colors of a California sunset.  The periwinkle blues, candy pink, and soft purples.  It definitely sets a mood for romance, with soft lighting and a warm glow.  Golden Hour is my preferred time for natural light portrait sessions.  To capture this kind of lighting, you will want to end your session right at sunset or start 15-20 minutes before the sun rises. 

Click HERE to check sunset/sunrise times for your session date.

tandem yoga

4) Professional Hair and Makeup

One of the biggest things that will make a huge impact on your portraits is professional hair and makeup. For your session you'll want to look and feel your very best. Hair and makeup can do wonders to highlight your best features.  You can save money and schedule your wedding makeup trial with your artist the same day as your engagement pictures.

Preferred Vendors

All of these hair and makeup professionals specialize in special events and offer services on location for your convenience.

hair and makeup by something new

5) Personalized Props

Personalized props can be a great way to express your personality, gives you an activity, breaks the ice of awkward posing, and gives you something to do with your hands.  You can also use props to show off your hobbies and talents!

  • PETS- if you choose to bring a pet please also bring a friend to help wrangle them during the shoot or take your pet home after the first 30 minutes of shooting.
  • FOODIE LOVERS: wine/ champagne/ cupcakes / candy / s'mores / cotton candy / ice cream / popcorn
  • SPORTS: footballsurfboardyoga / bikes (tandem?)
  • GAMES: board games / lawn games / picnic / bubbles
  • THEMES: movie inspired / travel - luggage / oversized frames / dress up as your favorite character
  • TRENDS: smoke bombs / jumbo balloons (like the 36" ones with streamers!)
  • NUMBERS: like your wedding date?
  • LIGHTING: lanterns / candles / chandelier  / sparklers (location pending)
  • MIGHT NEED A TRUCK:  furniture / chairs / sofas/ full size bed

Some of my favorite places for cute props

  • Etsy- for all things handmade and crafty
  • Aaron Brothers- great place to get frames!  They have a buy one, get one for a penny sale on frames two times a year.
  • Homegoods
  • Hobby Lobby