Lighting…Posing…Clothing…Expression…Brand

You may countless hours learning every possible thing about marketing, pricing, funnels, Chatbots, Social Media etc etc. BUT FIRST you must know the necessary specifics of what people buy.

Working on your business includes working on your photography.

From my perspective as a photography business coach, working on your photography means not only improving your technique with your camera equipment, but also your lighting, posing and learning what people buy.

Once you know what the consumer considers salable, you will be able to reproduce it again and again for your clients, producing bigger sales.


“Salable” is an industry term every photographer should be aware of to distinguish between the everyday reality of making money versus creating “artistic competition” or “award winning prints” which don’t earn the money.

I have been a photographer for many years and sold millions of dollars worth of photographs and I know one thing….. most of the time people don’t buy the award winning prints that you see at professional photography conventions. 

They buy the happy faces that are the most salable prints. 
When clients are faced with the choice of buying an artistic pose of their child being demure and not looking directly into the camera or buying a pose smiling straight into the camera, they buy the smiling close-up 90 percent of the time. 

I believe there are 5 Basic Elements that each photograph you take needs to make it salable.


1.   LIGHTING
The quality of light people prefer for portraits is soft light, whether it be from an artificial source like a flash umbrella or a natural source from the sky at sunset, but other than a soft quality of light they want to SEE the face of the person clearly.

Light the eyes so you can see the COLOUR of their eyes. This means you have good lighting, and that the eyes are sparkling, of course making the image more salable.

If photographing outside you must use an auxiliary light source like a silver reflector, an off camera speedlight or studio light with a soft box.

Get the right light on the faces of your subjects so that you flatter them and then you will create salable prints.


2.   POSING

The word posing may send shudders down the spine of some of the photographers listening to this. They will say “ My photography is natural and free. I just get the kids and parents to interact and let them do what ever they want. They don’t like posed photographs.

My response is “so how is that working for you? Are you getting $2-$10,000 portrait sales?

 To be out of control of your subjects also doesn’t show a very high degree of professionalism. They expect you to direct them. They don’t know what they are supposed to do.

So turned the shoulders slightly to one side so that you are not photographing square on. With groups get heads at different levels and learn all about photographing in such a way that you create triangles with each head in the photograph. Like joining the dots.

Just google Photographing groups in triangles.


When you’re photographing subjects waist-up or full length you’ll have to understand other aspects of body positioning that makes people want to buy their pictures.

Getting the hands right can make a big difference. They should always be turned slightly so they are seen from the edge with fingers together, or hide the hands altogether behind your subject or somebody else next to them. Never position hands straight on with open fingers, or closed fist.

Simply put, anything that minimizes how much hand you see works to make it a better portrait. Placing hands correctly is more flattering in a portrait and the more you can flatter someone the more people buy. 

I can’t stress enough how basic, but important, it is to look for these details. 

When photographing people full body standing, seated or reclining on the ground, noticing body angle, hands and feet is the way to “fine tune” your portrait and separate it from just a “snapshot”. 

Simply by photographing a woman tilting her head just slightly in either direction will make a more salable portrait. A man’s head can stay straight up or tilt slightly away in the opposite direction from his most forward shoulder but never back towards his most forward shoulder. 

Good posture is also a key for portrait photographs.

Whether your subjects are sitting or standing, make sure they are sitting with a straight back.

It is also a good idea to stretch their head forward a little to stretch the neck and skin on the face.

The forward position will decrease the chance of neck wrinkles or a double chin.

Once you have practiced the technique, it is easy to make a better portrait than someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing, by the head tilt.

In most cases, don’t photograph people upwards. For the most flattering results, shoot from eye-level or looking downward. Of course there will be cases where an upward angle provides a unique and creative photographic effect. In this case, the people may be more of a prop and not the main focus. Experiment with various angles and you can pull the best results from those. For standing shots, the most flattering angle is rarely straight on or completely from the side. If you photograph your subject from a 45 degree angle, it’s the most slimming shot. People appear thinner from that angle than straight on.

So here’s the rule of salable composition: 

Keep everybody’s head at a different level.

You will stand some people, seat some in chairs, seat some on the arms of chairs, seat some on the floor, kneel some, crouch some, lay some down, but you will achieve staggered head heights and salable compositions. 

Tip heads inward toward one another for unity when photographing a family group.

Note that men are usually positioned higher than women. 

Not everybody wants a masterpiece. Most people just want to remember their loved ones as happy.

 It’s not hard to capture that with your camera, just don’t stand them in hard sunlight, or standing in a straight line facing straight toward the camera.

Early in my career I leant very quickly how to take photographs that once I knew what the consumer considers salable, I was able to reproduce it again and again for other clients.

You just have to know what works and be able to easily repeat it for the referrals that your clients will give you, and also to use the right photographs in your marketing.

In most cases, don’t photograph people from a low upward angle. For the most flattering results, shoot from eye-level or looking slightly downward. Of course there may be cases where an upward angle provides a unique and creative photographic effect, or adds drama to the image, but it is unlikely that it will flatter the subject.

For standing portraits, the most flattering angle is rarely straight on or completely from the side. If you photograph your subject from a 45 degree angle, it’s the most slimming shot. People appear thinner from that angle than straight on.
It does take a little bit of practicing to turn an ordinary photograph into a professional salable portrait.


3.   CLOTHING

Being a photography business coach, I notice that there is a lot of misguided information on the internet about advising your clients what to wear. Most of it that I see is misguided and will not help in producing professional salable photographs.

A salable portrait will have non distracting clothes which leads the eye to the subjects face.

You should choose the clothes for the client and not the other way around.

Just because the client thinks they look good in the mirror with a particular piece of clothing, doesn’t mean that it will photograph well in it.

I learnt this very early in my career as a studio owner.

I would get women coming in with short sleeved dresses that exposed and highlighted their overweight arms. Needless to say they didn’t find the photographs very flattering and so they didn’t buy.

After that I got my clients to bring along 3 or 4 different pieces of clothing, with specific instructions. At the time that I was photographing against a textured dark canvas background so my instructions were…dark clothes, no patterns, long sleeves, for the adults plus an extra couple of tops that they liked and three or four co-ordinated pieces of clothing for the kids.

Then when they came in for the photography session I would choose the clothes that I felt would photograph to the best. 

4.  EXPRESSION

Expressions must be genuine and spontaneous.

They must still flatter the subject.

Some people may look awful when they have a great big smile…their eyes go small or they show bad teeth, or their face wrinkles up.

Not the sort of features those people would want to be highlighted, and certainly it’s not giving the photographer the best chance of a sale.

5.   BUILD A SALABLE BRAND

If all photographers charged the same prices…WHY should people book YOU?

If you say it is because of YOU then you are not creating a BRAND but rather a job for yourself.

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photography business coach Bernie Griffiths has had over 40 years of experience in proven, profitable, photography business solutions.