How to Get GREAT Photos From a Professional Shoot

Ok… so in the full interest of disclosure, this article is a blend of helpful advice and a rant against photographers that is born from over a decade of graphic design work where I get to work with the end results from high-dollar, company photo shoots.

I have NEVER - and I do mean NEVER - gotten photos from a photographer that did a shoot for my clients that were truly usable in any case that my client might need to use them in.  Since I can’t fuss at the photographer, I’m choosing to educate you - the guy or gal at your company that got saddled with the responsibility of arranging a photo shoot and getting the photos to me (or another graphic designer) to use in your printed products, advertisements, and website.

#1 DO NOT Cut Off Body Parts


Almost every graphic designer I know (including yours truly) has a photo editing software that can crop a photo where we need it.  Heck - even good ole’ Microsoft Paint can handle cropping a photo.

But no matter how good our software is, we can’t add body parts back in after they’ve been chopped off. Let’s take a look at what I’m talking about...

Here’s a subtle example… Chris Taylor at SolomonWood Financial Advisors had a professional photo shoot for the staff photos for his new website.  He’s leaning against the partial wall, so if I wanted to, for example, crop out the background for his photo, I would have to somehow miracle in that piece of his arm that’s behind the wall.  He’s also missing his legs, so I have no hope of getting a full-body, no-background, shot of him out of this.

Now - there’s nothing inherently wrong with this image… it’s a good casual pose.

The simple solution for this image...

If the photographer or Chris would have taken a few extra seconds and had him stand away from the wall, and stepped back for a full-body shot, right before or after this image, then he would have gotten a fantastic image that we could have used on ALL of his branding as needed.

leaning on a partial wall

partial arm removed from picture

Here’s a more obvious example.  This is a fantastic head shot of an artist.  The sunlight is amazing… the shot is amazing… it’s amazing.

Except for the part where she wanted to have the background cut out and put on the center of a header for a flyer she was doing.  When I go to take the background out… she’s missing a significant piece of her right arm, a small part of her left arm, and the top of her hat.  So she has to call the photographer back, do all the primping and prepping again  and hope for another gorgeous sunny day… and take another photo.

The simple fix again…

Take a second photo… full body!  No cutoff body parts.

#2 If you want to have the background removed - plan ahead!

Taking the background out of a photo is pretty easy if you know what you’re doing… but having it look fantastic after the designer is done starts when the initial photo is taken.

To get a good photo for background removal, follow these tips:

  • Avoid “fly-away” hairstyles as much as possible.  There is simply no way to sit here and go around every single little wispy hair and remove the background.  It’s not going to happen.  We just remove the whole hair.  Some designers will take out little chunks of hair, and not just wisps (I don’t do this, just btw).  The end result can have you looking like you have helmet head.  So pick a flattering hairstyle ahead of time that is more controlled.
  • Choose a high-contrast background.  If you have a black shirt and black hair - DO NOT stand against a dark gray wall and expect us to be able to tell the difference in the photo between you and the wall.  Unless I’m going to spend 20 hours cropping you from the background, it’s not going to be pretty.
  • Do not stand against a busy background.  I cannot tell you how many times I have had to painstakingly cut out people standing in front of desks full of paper and other random office supplies, or standing in front of brick walls or bookshelves full of books.  If you don’t have a blank wall, then simply hanging a sheet up behind you will work.  It’s going to be removed anyway, so we just really need a clean outline between you and the background to work with.

#3 Reign in the creativity

Again… If your designer is any kind of professional, they have a full range of photo editing tools.  Messing with photos and making them fun and creative is literally what we do for a living.  We spend our days dreaming of cropping, rotating, and applying fun filters to create awesome photos.

I understand that photographers like to play and enjoy being creative too - but they can’t even begin to imagine all the fun things we’re going to do with your photo.  There are stunning business cards, website collages, and fantastic billboards in your photo’s future.  So be sure to get the untouched, un-rotated, un-cropped, un-whatever’ed version of your photos from the photographer so we can do some real design work with them.

Did you learn anything new from this article or did you already know a little about how to take good photos?

If you learned anything please let me know with a comment .  And if you have any advice that is different from these please leave it in the comments.

Ashley Burnett

Web Ninja

One of my first jobs was running a cash register in my grandmothers diner. My job was to talk to customers and and to keep everything in my area neat and organized. Now years later those lessons I learned help me in managing client files and projects. Making sure our team is working to help our clients reach their business goals is what drives me everyday.

I am a strong believer that to succeed in life you have to work hard and never let roadblocks stand in your way. You have to read and study but you also have to experience life and all that it can teach you.

My mission is to help clients and our team have the materials and knowledge they need to make every project a success, while making sure to spread some of the information I learn around for others to enjoy.