Top 5 Tips for Portraits

SJP's Top 5 Tips for Portrait Sessions

1) Choosing a Location

Read this first part carefully as it is a two part answer!

First, Los Angeles is a goldmine of cool locations. As you can imagine, that is one of the biggest reasons why the film industry calls it home. Within the Thirty Mile Zone (aka TMZ) you can find everything from sandy beaches to snow-capped mountains, from urban cityscapes to the rural wilderness. One of the reasons I moved to Los Angeles a decade ago, was for the opportunity to photograph outdoors practically all year round.

Before you start scroll down and read all of my favorite places I have listed, I should mention I feel 100% confident I can pretty much take good pictures anywhere! I believe a portrait location should not only be pretty but also meaningful! I suggest thinking of places that you like to hang out. Where might you take guests who are visiting from out of town? Where is your "happy place"? For some, this is at home, maybe your neighborhood, or even a local park.

If you're stuck on ideas where to go, here's a few of my favorite spots:

Indoor Studio

  • FD Studios - A great indoor space in the heart of downtown Los Angeles with MANY different sets to choose from. Art 3, Art 1 are a couple of my favorites, but feel free to explore their website to see 20+ different options. Studio rentals starting at $60/hour.
  • LAVish Studios- another great indoor space in Los Angeles. Stage 1 is perfect for a bright, white, and clean set up with tufted bed, chanileres, and a white seamless paper backdrop perfect for soft portraits, boudoir, or glamour session. Stage 3 is also very unique with black walls and cool fluorescent lights recommended for high fashion or more edgy photoshoots. Studio rentals starting at $50/hour.

Outdoor Locations

Griffith Observatory- 2800 E Observatory Rd. Los Angeles, CA 90027

  • 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 clear days.
  • My favorite features at Observatory include big arches, detailed doors, winding staircases, and even grassy fields, evergreen trees, and hiking trails. For more lush trees and trails, the bottom of the park also offers beautiful spots near the Trails Cafe. Professional photography is allowed, but with limited use of additional light modifiers as to not to disrupt other guest. There is free parking on the street leading up to the top of the hill and paid parking available in lot at the top. Public restrooms on site allow for easy wardrobe changes. No permit required.

Walt Disney Concert Hall- 111 S Grand Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90012

  • 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. There is paid street and lot parking. Suggested time for shooting at this location is during the daytime. No permit required.

Los Angeles Arboretum and Botanic Garden - 301 N Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007

  • This is one of L.A. best-kept secrets. It is a unique 127-acre botanical garden and historical site located in the city of Arcadia, at the foothill of the San Gabriel mountains. Some highlights include a wide variety of flora including large agave, a bamboo forest, and citrus grove with lots of walking trails, waterfalls, and peacocks. Parking is free and admission is $9/person. The garden is open from 9am-5pm with the last admission at 4:30pm. Photo Permits are available from 9am-3:30pm at the front office for $50. Groups over 5 subjects will require an additional $200 refundable security deposit. No outfit changes allowed on site.

Santa Monica Pier- 200 Santa Monica Pier. Santa Monica, CA 90401

  • 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 +$60.

Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden- Earl Warren Dr, Long Beach, CA 90840

  • 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.

2) Professional Hair and Makeup

For your session you'll want to look and feel your very best. One of the biggest things that will make a huge impact on your portraits is professional hair and makeup. It can do wonders to highlight your best features and help make you feel super confident putting your best face forward. Below is a short list of hair and makeup professionals specialize in special events and offer services on location for your convenience.

3) Personal Props

Personal props are a great way to express your personality. It also helps break the ice of awkward posing and gives you something to do with your hands. Here are some of my ideas for cute, romantic, and unique props.

  • Snacks: Cupcakes, Candy, S'mores, Cotton Candy, Ice Cream, Popcorn, Picnic
  • Hobby: Football, Surfing, Yoga, Board Games, Tandem Bikes
  • Numbers or Signs (maybe include your wedding date for an engagement session?)
  • Things that would tie into your wedding theme
  • Jumbo Balloons (36" with streamers!)
  • Sparklers / Lanterns / Candles (best for night shots)
  • Vintage Chairs or Sofas (might need a truck)
  • Smoke Bombs
  • A Giant Frame
  • Bubbles
  • Flowers (bouquets or petals)

4) 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 most natural light portrait sessions. To capture this kind of lighting, you will want to schedule your session close to sunset or 15 minutes before sunrises.

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

Feel free to ask me about your specific location for best time for a natural light session.

5) What to Wear?

The more time you invest preparing for your photoshoot, the happier you will ultimately be with your portraits. 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 tips to help guide you in outfit selection:

  • CHOOSE 3: Limit your color selections to 3 complimentary colors. I suggest taking inspiration from your location or thinking of how you might be displaying your images in the future. For example, if decorating your wedding reception with engagement pictures you can incorporate your wedding colors into your wardrobe. If you're hoping for a large art canvas for the living room maybe match some of the accent colors in the room. For couples and families, try choosing outfits with colors that complement each other rather than exact matches.
  • FABRICS: Flowy long dresses, like maxis, elongate the body and brings a romantic element to engagement sessions. Create textures and layers with statement jewelry, layered knits, bold prints, and interesting fabrics. These things always look great on camera.
  • THINGS TO AVOID: Do not wear oversized loose clothing, solid white on white outfits, logo tshirts, tops exposing the upper arm, athletic running shoes, and shorts/capris as they tend to make the legs appear shorter than they are.


  1. Try on your entire outfit. Look at yourself in a full length mirror. Adjust as needed.
  2. If you have new outfits, they may require additional steaming or ironing before wear.
  3. Make sure to get proper undergarments.
  4. Create interesting details with accessories and layers.

If you would like suggestions for styling, please contact me at least 2-3 weeks before your session for plenty of time to shop, order, and get alterations if needed.

Where to shop


  • Anthropologie
  • Nordstrom / Nordstrom's Rack
  • Macy's
  • eShakti - custom dresses made to order (make sure you order ahead of time with plenty of time for shipping)
  • Rent the Runway (Great for special occasions- you can try on outfits at their shop in Topanga Canyon!)


  • The Black Tux (rentals)
  • Nordstrom / Nordstrom's Rack
  • Macy's
  • JCrew
  • Ties.com