My First Photo Session – Photographers Share Experiences

Your first photo session. We asked the Fearless and Framed audience of photographers to share their first photo session experiences. If you are about to start your own photography business, know that we all start somewhere. We see the beautiful images photographers create on the internet, but sometimes forget or never see all of the outtakes it took. We hope this is encouraging and lessens your fear of your first photo shoot!

 

I’m actually really proud of my first official session. It was an engagement session with a gorgeous young couple, excited about what was to come.  I’d Pinterested the crap out of poses and ideas and printed myself a cheat sheet before I left home… and when I got to the session, I realized I’d forgotten it on my printer. I was absolutely terrified. I didn’t have the first clue what to do with a couple – how to pose them, how to interact with them, what the heck to do with the blazing and complete lack of open shade at the location I let them choose…
In retrospect, forgetting that piece of paper was the best thing that could have happened. Having to completely wing it meant that, despite my terror, I was in a way fearless. I didn’t know what ‘right’ looked like, so I was less scared to get it wrong. I wasn’t sure how to pose them, so I let them hug and kiss and giggle and pose themselves. See where I’m going with this? To this day, four years later, I realized I was on the right track all along.
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My first photo session (almost exactly 3 years ago!), after I had created my business name and FB page was really not too bad.  But, my ACTUAL first session was a complete disaster!  Rewind 5 months. A good friend had her 4th baby and I begged her to let me come do a newborn session for her.  She agreed.  I went into that session thinking I would rock it, having NO CLUE that a tiny newborn baby could be such a huge challenge!  I couldn’t get her to sleep, I shot up the nose, I didn’t have a clue how to use the natural light properly, the photos were mostly out of focus, and had no idea that I should have shot in RAW…  I walked away exhausted and completely defeated.  I edited with iPhoto and was embarrassed with the outcome, but my friend was gracious enough to say she would treasure them.  She probably got better photos with her iPhone!
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My first session ever was tagging along with another “experienced” photographer on a maternity session. I think her story is worse than mine because I already knew how to shoot Manual and to shoot in RAW. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get a whole lot of say, so some of my photos were painful because of her. She had them sit down and directed me to shoot at the least flattering angle for a pregnant woman – with her looking down at us creating a double chin. Another one with the husband and wife holding opposite hands on her belly, which made for a really awkward and confusing photo with one guy hand and one soft, feminine hand. It was so late in the evening that it was getting dark fast and I was so stressed out that I had totally forgotten to change my ISO to something higher so a good portion of my photos came out blurry. When it came to editing, I darkened the corners to make this terrible vignette. It’s a good thing I kept my photos to myself, but I think they came out more interesting than the girl I tagged along with who was shooting in Automatic. Oh photography. Such a learning experience!
My first real estate photography gig was a recent event. Through Instagram, I was contacted by a company to shoot their model homes for social marketing. While I have never done any real estate or property photography, I took the gig. I was sacred at first, but with real estate work, you are by yourself and able to foci without fear of people watching your every move. Being alone in a house really is calming for me. I played my music, took my shoes off and settled into the shoot. There is so much more I want to learn about this type of photography. Now I am hooked. I hope to have more property work in my future.
first photo session
Elisha Mae:
My first session was for the partner of a guy who works with my husband. We are now friends. I charged her 50 dollars for her maternity shoot. 
I was so excited that someone was willing to pay me to take their photos. I was also so nervous. I spent the
 whole day before looking at other maternity pictures on pinterest. I so badly wanted to do a good job. 
The session went well and I have since done her newborn session, and family photos for them, so she must have liked my work. She said they were better than other ones she had done.
Oh my goodness! The first session I ever did was free. It was for a friend who had 3 boys. She loved black & white and planned to print tons of the pictures on her sons and hang them on her “picture wall” in her kitchen. And that’s exactly what she did

We went to botanical gardens and I did some posed and a lot of documentary stuff, because from the beginning, that was what I loved! 

I was so excited and felt in my element. And going through all of the pictures afterward I remember being excited. I got tons of compliments and encouragement because of that session. Even though I look at them now and know they aren’t the best pictures I’ve ever made, I can still see my heart and natural eye in them and that makes me so happy! 
documentary photography
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My first session was for a friend and her family and I did it for free. We did it in my living room and because I had ordered studio backdrops but they hadn’t arrived yet, I used a white duvet as a “backdrop”. I sat my friend’s little boy on it and had white Christmas lights on the floor beside him. I also took some family shots in front of my Christmas tree. 

Looking back I wonder what I was thinking. The duvet didn’t look very professional, the focus was way off in a lot of shots, the lighting wasn’t great (or I didn’t know how to use available light yet), I shot JPEG and edited – over edited a lot of shots – in Picnik. 

Four years later I would never want to put a family in front of MY Christmas tree or have Christmas lights near a baby. The thought of doing a session at their home didn’t cross my mind, and I felt like I had to pose them and have backdrops instead of just letting them relax and have fun together. 

But I was proud of myself. They loved the photos despite how technically bad I now know they were. I’m pretty sure they still have that first family photo framed on their wall. And I know that I had to start somewhere to figure out who I am as a photographer. 

Since then I have discovered that I don’t like studio photography, I don’t pose people and I know how to work with the location and light – not my own house and without props and backdrops.
photography tips
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It was free and it was a friend. I had one good lens – my 24-70 – and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when it came to lighting and composition. But I know I enjoyed it and I know I did get some good frames. There is one of the little boy I captured that is still sitting on the wall at his home. He had these gorgeous, golden curls and, not long after, his mom took him for his first haircut. So that photo is the last picture she has of him with his baby curls.
Marquette Mower: 
I’m having a hard time deciding what my first real session was. I remember taking blankets outside and setting them up as a backdrop and taking pictures of my sister and her friend (I was probably 11). Not really a real session but I thought I was creating some pretty awesome portraits at the time. The first time I was asked to take pictures for someone was about 10 years later. It was an engagement shoot for my sister (so it was free), and there was a whole mix of emotions but for the most part I was pretty excited. I was pretty proud of the pictures I produced for my first ever engagement session. It’s fun/funny to look at the photos now, but I still love them for the memories, for being “the first”, and for getting to start on down this road of my photography hobby.
Oh boy. My very first paid session was in 2005. It was a wedding for a ex-cousin, on film, and I was scared crazy! I wasn’t in business yet (that didn’t open until 2012) no contracts were signed and I think I only charged a hundred bucks plus developing fees. I was a nervous wreck waiting for the pictures to be developed but they turned out amazing and the bride and groom loved them!
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My first photo session was free for my teenage niece. I was very nervous. I was just starting out and you know how difficult teenagers can be. Everything went very well, except it was an outdoor shot and it was in the middle of a blizzard. But the pictures turned out amazing.
My very first session was for a family I knew. They had two children and she was pregnant with a third. I was nervous but comforted by the fact that they knew me, knew I was a beginner and trusted me as a person. Their youngest just turned four and I still photograph them every year. The best part is….they order Christmas cards through me and they order prints that she actually HANGS ON THEIR WALLS! Every year she replaces the old with the new. As I look back from our first session to the most recent I see my progress. I still have far to go, but it’s good to see how far I’ve come.
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I did a day of free shooting so I would have people to practice on (my husband was sick of me and the dogs can only take so much). It was a sunny day and I was afraid of shooting at a shutter speed faster than 1/250 (I don’t know where this fear came from?) No need to explain what these photos looked like. So. Sad.
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My very first paid Session was a wedding for an old school friend….I think I shook for the whole week leading up to the big day. I did the whole day for £150!! But was so glad she took a chance on me.
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Emily Traynor:
My first paid session was when I was a senior in high school and my friends asked me to take their senior pictures. I was surprised but I really don’t remember being nervous. I did four friends senior pictures. And I had to go to a different friends house to work on her computer because I didn’t have photoshop yet so she taught me. There are some I look back on and I see the potential in them of where I am today, but some are definitely cringeworthy as I guess I LOVED a heavy vignette and did a couple where only a certain color showed and the rest was in black and white.
My very first paid session was a sibling session and it was a disaster – three or maybe 4 years ago. I only charged $50!!
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Jason Tyndall:
I did a free session for friends – shot the whole thing in 1.8. Yep I’ve come a long way!
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My first paid session was a “pre-engament” session, (which turned out to be their only session, as they never did get engaged!). I didn’t know what to charge, so he came up with the price, $50. Used a canon rebel/kit lens, shot at the beach during sunset, and the noise in the final images was out of this world!
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Jennifer Roberts: 
I can’t even talk about my first session without doing the squirmy jig. Let’s just say I’ve come a LONG way.
My first session makes me cringe but I learned a TON from it! I did it for free for my best friends’ sisters family. I shot it with my Nikon D40 and 18-55mm kit lens. And oh my goodness I spent SO much time in photoshop trying to fix the images… worst of all I painted on a blur into the background of all the images! She still has them hanging in her house today and loves them but I am so tempted to offer another free session just to make up for it.
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First ever session was my grand’s senior pics so of course it was not a paid session …. I needed shots for portfolio so she finally agreed to humor me. It was pretty laid back because it was just the 2 of us & her boyfriend at the time. So nervous with her mom watching me download the images to the laptop. Her brother decided the pictures sucked because she wasn’t looking straight at the camera & also took it upon himself to re-edit the images because he felt her skin was too pale. Hello? We live in Ohio & winter had just ended a few weeks earlier so we’re all very pale. Still gets my blood pressure up when I think about it. To this day I have no clue what images they printed for her grad party invitations (they decided not to mail one to us since I have the original files). Click to view the session. 
first photo
My first “official” session was for a cousin. She wanted to just document her daughter as she was before she turned two. So my first session was with a toddler and a very tenacious one at that ;D. I brought tons of cute stuff like books, blankets, stuffed animals, even made a sweet flower wreath/garland to wear… but she wasn’t havin’ ANY of it. She wasn’t upset, just didn’t want to “play that game”. In the end I told mamma that since she wanted pictures of her daughter, that’s what I was going to get… so I ditched the props and I followed her around and just let her be her and boy did her fun little personality just shine through! Her mom and I loved how her pics came out and to this day they are just some of my favorite kid pics I’ve taken.
My first solo photoshoot was a family on the beach at sunrise. I made an index card the night before of all the poses I wanted to accomplish during the shoot. I spent hours and hours editing (because, of course, nothing was right SOOC) and handed over a CD with over 70 photographs….all for a $50 Starbucks Gift Card and what was supposed to be “great exposure.”
Stacy Romasco:
My first ever hired (but not paid) session was headshots and lifestyle shots for a drag queen. She had 3 outfit changes and even strutted downtown while wearing a black, sequined cocktail dress, 6 inch heels and a 2 ft tiara. I was so nervous but think I did pretty good. I was still in school learning skills like lighting and posing and still using my Dad’s old DSLR. I think I’ve come a long way since but that will always an memorable session!
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Author: MarieMasse
I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.

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