Style Guide

How to rock your photo shoot and get photos you love

Portrait Session

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Getting Started

I’m so excited for your portrait session! Whether I’m photographing your sweet family or your graduating senior, or doing a session to celebrate a special moment in your life, like your wedding anniversary, a pregnancy or a newborn baby, I want you to know that I’m honored and humbled and SO excited!!   

My goal is simple: for your session to be as fun and stress-free as possible! That’s why I’ve created this guide just for you! The following pages will help you get the absolute most out of your photos. By the time you’ve read through it, you'll have all of your questions answered and feel ready and prepared for your session!

This guide is packed with my best tips, tricks and insider secrets for scheduling and styling your portrait session –– and everything in between. Your only job is to be yourself, laugh a lot, have fun and let me do the rest! I can’t wait to get you in front of my camera!

Scheduling Your Session

I photograph portrait sessions the way I like to be photographed myself: outdoors, in natural light, because I love images that are clean, bright, fresh and timeless. Images that look and feel like you! That’s why I begin all of my sessions 1-2 hours before the scheduled sunset –– during the magical “golden hour” –– when the light in the sky is the softest, dreamiest and most flattering.

My weekends fill up fast and far in advance, but my weekdays are much more flexible. So if you’d like to do your session sooner rather than later, scheduling mid-week is the way to go!


When you’re planning "getting ready" time before your session (scheduling your hair, makeup, etc.) please give yourself a lot more time than you think you'll need. Make sure to account for things like traffic, getting lost and parking, so you can prevent unnecessary stress, arrive a few minutes early to your session and be ready to start on time. We’re only able to shoot when light is still in the sky, so we’ll want to take advantage of every minute we have together before the sun goes down! 

Choosing the Location 

Think Outside the Box

The location of your portrait session is completely up to you! As you’ll see throughout this guide, most of my clients love showcasing the natural beauty of my home state. For most of my sessions, outdoor, open-air environments are always my first choice. I love shooting in wide-open natural spaces because the light is divine, especially during golden hour. Or in front of beautiful, bright buildings! There are great options all around the state, so even if you've never seen me photograph in a specific place before, I’m always up for exploring a new spot together!

When it comes to choosing a location, don't be afraid to think outside the box! Brainstorm unique places that you might have special access to that most people don’t. For example, maybe you (or someone you know) have access to an amazing location that would otherwise be off-limits, like a beautiful private estate, family ranch, exclusive country club or luxury resort. Spend a few minutes thinking about it and checking around with people in your personal and professional network. You’ll be surprised with what you come up with! If something seems out of reach, just remember: you never know until you ask! You can also consider Airbnb or other property rental sites. In the past, my clients have secured permission to shoot in some pretty incredible places!

 

Your portrait session includes our travel time anywhere in the San Antonio Metro area. If you’d like to go somewhere else in Texas, I’m up for the adventure! If you’d like to shoot outside of the city, like in Corpus Christi, for example, there will be a travel fee to account for the extra hours of drive time there and back, the time required beforehand for me to scout locations and the overall longer session time. For destination sessions, I allow three hours (instead of 1.5-2 hours) so we have enough time to drive to multiple scenic spots.  

Style Tips for Her

Dress It Up


Have you been eyeing a gorgeous dress, but just never had an occasion for it? This is your chance to do it up! Remember: there’s no such thing as “too dressed up” when it comes to your portrait session, so don’t be afraid to have some fun! If you don’t want to spend a ton of money adding a new permanent piece to your wardrobe, a lot of my clients love Rent the Runway for their portrait photos because you don’t have to spend a lot to feel like a million bucks. Plus, you can send the outfits back when the session is over! Some of my clients love having an excuse to go shopping and purchase a new permanent piece (or two!) for their wardrobe –– and that’s okay, too! Whatever works for you!

Say Yes to the Dress


There's nothing more romantic than a long, flowy dress. Dresses and skirts tend to look most stunning on camera because they really flatter the female body — which is probably why the red carpet is always full of so many dresses and not very many pantsuits! I recommend choosing long, flowy dresses or skirts because they’re flattering on all body types, look amazing on camera and bring extra movement and dimension to your photos. Maxi (or floor length) skirts and dresses will give us the best “twirl factor,” add more romance to your walking photos and look especially gorgeous when juxtaposed with nature, like the desert, forest, fields or beach. Cute, shorter cocktail-length dresses or midi skirts photograph beautifully as well. My clients who choose to bring two dresses will sometimes choose one of each! I recommend avoiding pants and shorts for your session, and saying yes to a dress (or skirt!) or two! You won't regret it!

Flattering Your Features

In my experience, every woman (regardless of her size or shape) has an area of her body that she’s self conscious about. Recognizing the areas you’re self conscious about when selecting your outfits is key. Choosing flattering silhouettes and colors that complement your natural features is the best way to ensure you’ll love the way you look in your photos. Three-quarter length sleeves create an awesome slimming effect on all arms, so be on the lookout for an option with a longer length sleeve. If your dress has shorter sleeves (or no sleeves) consider bringing a cute jacket, blazer, cardigan or pashmina to incorporate into your look. Skinny straps or strapless dresses have the opposite effect on arms on camera. For most women, skinny straps actually make arms look BIGGER. So we recommend avoiding those whenever possible if your goal is slimmer-looking arms. If it’s colder outside, we suggest bringing a warm coat (the longer, the better!) to wear when we’re not shooting so you don’t freeze in your dress.

For shoes, keep in mind that heels elongate women’s legs and force constant tension in the calves –– which makes them look more toned. Closed-toes heels, in particular, look great on camera because they carry out the line of your leg all the way down to your toe. You can never go wrong with a pair of neutral pumps! If your toes are showing in a peep-toe heel, you might want to schedule a pedicure before your session so you don’t regret letting your toes show. Lastly, make sure to bring a pair of flats to wear when moving from place to place. Your feet will thank you later!

Make a Statement

Pairing an accessory or two with your outfit can really help bring some extra dimension to your images. Whether it’s a necklace, belt, bracelet, earrings, hat, or scarf, bringing an accessory or two can bring great visual interest to your photos, so choose one or two that don’t compete for attention when paired together. For example, if you go with bolder earnings, you might want to choose a more humble necklace, or maybe even no necklace at all. Fresh florals in a crown or bouquet can be a really romantic touch as well!

Go Pro: Hair & Makeup

Professional hair and makeup is on the top of most of our clients’ portrait session checklists because it looks amazing on camera and removes the stress of getting ready on your own. You’ll have these photos forever, so this is the time to pamper yourself! Whether it’s lash extensions or blown-out hair, professional hair and makeup will give you an extra boost of confidence in front of the camera, and it always photographs like a dream. If you’re working with a makeup artist, have her apply your makeup in natural light (if possible) so that it looks fresh and not too heavy. Plus, that’s the type of light we’ll be shooting in, so it’ll give you the best expectation of how it will translate on camera. Most of my clients feel like their makeup is “too much” at first, since it’s more than they would wear on a normal day, so if you feel that way at the beginning, don’t worry! Good makeup artists know how to get it just right for the camera — and my clients always love the final result.

Skip the Spray Tan

Although it might seem counter-intuitive, I recommend that you do not get a spray tan before your session (even a few days prior) because it tends to photograph orange even when it’s applied subtly and by a professional. Your actual skin tone will photograph most beautifully.

Choosing Colors

When choosing colors for your outfits, I recommend selecting lighter, neutral tones and more muted shades. Bright, bold or neon colors are distracting and take the focus away from where it should be: YOU! And how much you love each other :) Plus they can cast a weird color on your face in the photos. You can never go wrong with light neutral colors like cream, taupe, camel or light gray. The camera loves shades of softer, more pastel-leaning color palette.

Prepping for Family Sessions

How to Mix Colors

The goal for coordinating a family’s outfits is to visually break up the colors and shades so that you’re not all wearing the same color on top and bottom (like everyone in blue jeans with white shirts). The more you can mix it up, the better! I encourage you to think about planning each outfit with “dominant colors” and “accent colors” in mind. A dominant color is the color that you see the most in an outfit, while an accent has a smaller piece of visual real estate. When you’re planning each family member’s outfit, if you can aim for each person to have a different dominant color, and then tie in and vary the accent colors, it’ll look great all together.

I encourage you to find one outfit for someone in the family you just LOVE and then build the rest of the family’s outfits based around that.

Coordinating the Looks

As you’re coordinating your outfit with your family, keep in mind that your outfits will look the most cohesive on camera when the color palette and wardrobe pieces coordinate, but don’t actually “match.” In fact, I recommend that you avoid thinking about “matching,” and instead think about what “fits” together. This will create more visual interest, and allow each personality to shine through.

Mixing Up the Pieces

If you have multiple children, don’t feel like you need to put them all in the same type of outfit. For example, if one of your daughters wears a dress and flats, the other can wear a skirt and boots, if that’s more of her style. If one of your sons wears a bowtie, the other can wear suspenders. Mixing up the wardrobe pieces will bring even more visual interest to the photos.

Style Tips for Him

Tops & Bottoms

The same way that a dress is the most flattering silhouette for the female body, a blazer, sport coat or suit jacket has the same flattering effect for men. You can’t go wrong with a dress shirt, slacks and a blazer, or a well-tailored suit.

For colors, I recommend neutrals and soft, warm tones that complement the woman’s look. When selecting your pieces, I recommend choosing a different “weight” for the pants and coat. So for example, navy pants (darker) and a heather gray coat (lighter). Or gray pants (darker) with a soft powder blue shirt (lighter).

When selecting a suit for photos, the most important part isn’t the price. It’s the fit. For men, it’s critical to have a suit jacket that fits snugly (but not too tight), and pants that are the correct length and don’t have too many breaks. Just like high heels make women look taller than they are, bunched up fabric stacked on top of a man’s shoes makes him look physically shorter than he really is. If you already have a suit that you like and want to wear at your session, make sure to try it on a few weeks beforehand (with the shoes you’ll be wearing) so you have time to make alterations if needed.

If you don’t have a suit, now’s the perfect time to invest in something you’ll wear for the rest of your life! The best part? It’s a lot less expensive than you might think! While custom suits can cost thousands of dollars, some of the most well-known brands sell really nice off-the-rack suits for a fraction of the price that, with a few alterations from a good tailor, can be made to fit like a glove.

Solid shades of gray or navy are a strong complement to most women’s outfits, whereas pinstripes or plaid patterns tend to distract the eye, so stay away from too strong of prints, and opt for solids instead.

Layered Looks

The next time you walk by a store like J. Crew or Banana Republic, you’ll notice the male mannequins and models are always wearing several layers at once. Layers on men look great on camera, so even when it’s hot outside, it’s worth an hour or two of discomfort for photos that will last you a lifetime. Adding extra layers will bring additional dimension and visual interest to your photos. If the temperature permits, you could even consider adding a v-neck sweater with a pop of color from a long-sleeved collared shirt and tie underneath. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative with layers!

It’s All in the Details

Long pants with closed-toed shoes is the most sophisticated and masculine look for a man. They draw attention away from your legs and feet, and place it where you want it: on your face and the face you fell in love with. So, for your session, it’s best to leave the shorts and sandals at home. Suit pants, dress pants, colored pants or nice dark-washed jeans work best. Brown leather dress shoes complement almost every look, whether you’re wearing a full suit, or a blazer and colored pants. Ties, bowties, pocket squares, colored socks, belts, tie clips, suspenders, vests, and watches are sharp complements to any suit. If you bring two suits to the session, you can start with a traditional necktie and belt, then switch to suspenders and a bow tie for your second look. If two suits are too stressful, no problem! One look will do the trick! A lot of guys wear one suit and just change their dress shirt and/or pocket square/tie. Other guys wear one pair of pants and change their jacket. You can still mix and match accessories to complement both of her dresses without doing a full change during the session. So, either way, you win.

How to Prep Your Man

Even though taking photos might not be his favorite thing... YOU ARE! Most men aren’t overly excited to take photos for two hours, mostly because they don’t have an expectation of what’s to come and why it’s so important to you, which is why I recommend sitting down together for fifteen minutes to educate and empower your man. Tell him why you chose me and my style of photography. Show him your three favorite sessions that I’ve done, explain why you love the photos so much and express to him how much this session means to you.

 

Trust me, if he loves you, he’ll bring his A-game and light up the camera for you! The most common thing I hear from guys before portrait sessions is this: because of a bad experience in the past, they don’t like taking photos or don’t feel like they’ll be good at it. By the time the session is over, though, most guys can’t believe how fast it went and just how much fun they had!

Prepping Your Little Ones

Setting expectations before your session is the key to great photos and happy kids.

Before your session, pack a bag with water and your kids’ favorite snacks. If they’re too young to follow directions, bring any objects that you think might help me get their attention (like small toys or stuffed animals) when it’s time for them to look at the camera. 

If your little ones are old enough to understand you, it’s a good idea to prepare them for what’s to come before the session starts. Explain how much the photos mean to you so they know to be on their best behavior. A lot of families pick something fun to do –– as a treat after the session –– if their kiddos are good listeners. Like dinner at their favorite pizza place or an ice cream cone!

It also helps if your kids' bellies are full and they’ve had some good rest before the session. After you do your best to prepare them, give yourself (and them) some grace! I have a LOT of experience working with kids, so if they’re “in a mood” or aren’t cooperating perfectly for some reason, rest assured that I’m not judging you (or them). I’ve seen it all and know how to get great photos no matter what! My goal is to make this as fun and stress-free as it possibly can be for you and your family! This season of life feels long right now, but in the grand scheme of things, it's short. So even if things don't go exactly as planned or as you'd hoped in terms of your kids’ behavior, one day, you’ll be so glad you took these photos. 

1 Week

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 Sneak

Peek

In the week following your session, I’ll post a sneak peek of one of my favorite photos from our time together on my Facebook page and Instagram account –– so keep an eye out for that! I’m so excited for you to see how beautiful you look through my eyes.

2 Weeks

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Blog Post

About two weeks after your session, I’ll post a blog with some of my favorite highlights at www.sarawelburn.com

 

4 Weeks

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Full Gallery

One month after your session, I’ll send you a link to your online gallery with all of your final, retouched, high-resolution images. You can share the link with your family and friends, post to social media and more! 

Your gallery comes with unlimited downloads for you and anyone you share the link with, as well as the option to purchase prints from our professional lab. 

Photo Delivery Timeline

When the heck you'll get your photos back! 

One Final Note

I know I just gave you A LOT to think about! Don’t panic :) Just take it one step at a time. I provided a Portrait Session Checklist for you to help you stay organized and on top of things!

But if you have any questions at any point, please know I’m here for you! If you’re deciding between two dresses and can’t commit, no problem! I’m here. If you love two locations but can’t make up your mind, no worries! I can help with that, too. If you need a recommendation of any kind, I’m on it! Remember, I’m just one email away :)

At the end of the day, though, the location you choose and the outfits you wear won’t matter nearly as much as the fun we have together and the memories you make. The style choices you make will definitely enhance your photos, but the most important accessory to bring with you is joyfulness –– which is the one that makes the biggest difference in your photos anyways. You don’t need to have prior experience in front of the camera. Just show up with a smile and I’ll take care of the rest :)

I’m so excited! See you soon!

- Sara

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