When we’re setting up a portrait session, we’re looking to plan as well as possible to create a shoot that doesn’t get in the way of the images. We try to shape our sessions around our clients, trying to move at their pace, and pull out the best expressions they have. For example, when we’re picking a location for your session, we discuss the places you already know and enjoy. Those are the places you’ll look the most comfortable. When you ask us what to wear, we’ll tell you to wear something tried and true—a favorite, not a fantasy. When you wear something you’re confident in, you’ll look more relaxed.

These are only a couple of the ways we actively plan to create the best circumstances for great portraits during your session. But there is far more outside of our control than within it. Almost anything that makes you tense or stressed out for more than a few minutes will complicate the quality of your images. A perfect state of self-acceptance and openness would be an ideal state to have your portrait created, but that’s not realistic for most of us.

So, here are a few of the consistent circumstances that seem to challenge the session for most people. Of course, everyone is different and you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Sessions scheduled immediately before or after work

Before work, you’re feeling rushed and perhaps preoccupied with coming tasks. And, if you’re like a lot of people, after work you’re mostly out of willpower, tired and probably hungry. During your session, the more you smile at things that are actually happening, (e.g., your children making jokes, or your fiancee pretending to pick your nose) the better and more authentic your images will turn out. The anxious, preoccupied, tired and hungry often do not smile so much.

Since your photographer doesn’t know about your work schedule, let them know if the time you’re scheduling will require you to go immediately to or from work. If possible, try to give yourself some padding. Time to decompress, and relax for a few minutes.

Sessions scheduled immediately after returning from travel

This is like the big sister of the before/after work point I was making above. When we return from travel, and vacations especially, there’s a kind of system shock while we try to catch back up on everything we missed. That leads to those tense, preoccupied looks. For a lot of people though, a day or two before leaving on vacation may actually be the best time to schedule a session. A lot of people tend to check out of their day to day distractions in the days before a vacation, which means those authentic smiles and genuine expressions we’re looking for are already closer to the surface.

If you’re someone who leaves all your planning to the last minute when you’re going out of town, this tip is not for you. Instead, take it easy and give yourself at least a week between your session and your vacation.

Sessions taking place while someone is recovering from a cold

Obviously, if you’re sick and your nose is running and you’re feeling tired and generally looking that way, you should contact your photographer and try to reschedule your session. We can’t photoshop out the flu! But that’s not really quite the recovery period I’m talking about here. I’m talking about right after that. When, from a distance you look normal, but you’ve still got a persistent mild headache, and you’re only breathing out of one nostril.

Most of our clients consider this well enough to go ahead with their portrait session, but if they’d ask me, I’d tell them we should try to reschedule. When your sick, and your sinuses are clogged, you’re more likely to hold your mouth ajar when you’re not paying attention. When you relax, your eyelids are likely to droop, and bright light might be agitating. Meanwhile, someone with a camera is trying to tease out a smile or a reaction.

A portrait session is a collaborative effort, and the more fully you can collaborate the better your photos will be.

Scheduling a time of day that isn’t any part of your normal routine

Do you remember the last time you had a one-time sort of thing you had to dramatically adjust your routine for? Maybe picking a friend up from the airport in the middle of the night, or babysitting your sister’s dog over the weekend. You probably focused on that thing a lot beforehand and you probably noticed how unusual it was while you were doing it.

Even small, but important responsibilities, can take up much more of our awareness when they must be done outside of our normal routine.

In that way, there is such a thing as being “too present” during your session. You can be too up-in-your-own-head about what’s going on and what’s expected of you. I can sometimes see clients zone out, hyper focused on executing my instructions perfectly, rather than just being themselves and interpreting them on the fly.

If you’re never an early riser, it’s probably not a good idea to schedule a sunrise session, or any session outside your normal waking life hours.

The moments right after you’ve taken on a personal challenge

Perhaps it’s beginning a diet. Maybe it’s a new set of rules and routines in your family. It could be taking up the mantle against an addiction. Whatever the case is, what you need to succeed is self-acceptance, an ability to ride momentum foreword, and willpower—a portrait session might use up a lot of that willpower.

Portrait session can be asking a lot—especially if something is troubling you (like how hungry you are, or how much you want a cigarette). Smiles become inauthentic, patience is worn down, and you’ll be less interested in waiting for your photographer to find the perfect shot. I can often guess when someone is struggling with willpower, because they will usually think our session is done before I do.

When your stomach is too full, or too empty

Much like my comments about willpower up there, being too hungry during your session makes it nearly impossible to think and act appropriately toward the higher needs of a portrait session. But there’s another side to the story too. If you just walked out of a Country Buffet or something, you’re probably too full and that has it’s own problems. Being too full makes you sleepy, lethargic. It can make your eyelids droop and if it’s especially hot out or there is lots of walking involved, it might make you sick.

Coming 2017, Puke Portraits! Just kidding, no one would want that. Before your session, you should eat something that makes you feel good. Stay away from huge portions and greasy food. When you’ve eaten well, you’ll also feel better about yourself and will carry yourself as such.