Fairhope Wedding Photographer & Educator | Ellison Smith Creative- Formerly Goodie & Smith Weddings


Beach Portrait SESSION

choosing the perfect time, location,
outfit & more!




I am so excited to be working with you and can’t wait for our time together during your portrait session! It’s normal to be a little nervous about your session. I always tell people that I still get nervous before having my photos taken – and I do this for a living!

There is a lot to think about when it comes to planning a session and since we get asked some of the same things over and over again, I thought it would be the most beneficial if I put together a guide that walks you through everything you need to know.

I’ll cover what to wear, whether to bring pets & how to manage them, location ideas and more!

If there is a question you have that isn’t answered by this guide, please shoot me an email! I am always happy to help!

– Jessica

Family Beach session in Orange Beach, AL


The Guys

I get it. Having your picture taken for 1-2 hours might not be in your top-10 favorite things to do during your downtime. And at first you might feel sort of awkward being in front of the camera. But I think you’ll find that by the end of the session, it’s a lot easier than you thought, and you even had a little fun. 


Is there a "good" time to take photos?

Beach Portrait sessions aren’t as flexible as other locations. For that “good” time to take photos, (especially if you’re on a true vacation) I highly suggest the first or second day of your stay. This not only provides me with the flexibility to reschedule, should Mother Nature rain down on us, but you also likely haven’t gotten that “vacation glow” a.k.a sunburn just yet. 

Sessions typically last about an hour — I love to begin beach sessions right at one hour before sunset.  I prefer to shoot when the sun is lower in the sky to avoid harsh shadows and bright sun patches. The first hour following sunrise is also an ideal time to shoot.

I schedule sessions during what I believe will be the best light of the day – which means that it’s super important to be on time. If you’re late to an evening session, we could run out of light before we’ve finished shooting and if your session takes place in the morning, the sun gets more harsh as it rises. 

Keep in mind, those gorgeous emerald blue waters and colorful sunsets aren’t a guarantee. While I always hope its a possibility, the location of your shoot and Mother Nature have a big part to play in that.
Family Beach session in Orange Beach, AL


While I shoot most portrait sessions between March and late November, sessions can take place all year. Most G and S families and couples choose a season based on the location where they want to shoot. 

A few things to keep in mind during each season:

In South Alabama, Fall also offers cooler weather, and so sessions book quickly. If you have your heart set on a fall portrait session, I recommend you get on the calendar as soon as you can. Fall beach sessions can be absolutely gorgeous, but keep in mind it’s also storm season, and that can bring debris on to the beaches. Fall can also mean more wind than normal. While I will do our best to work with the weather, keep in mind the wind can and will blow your hair and dresses around during your session.

If you’re planning to take your portrait session during the Winter, keep in mind that if your session takes place in the evening, we could begin shooting as early as 3:30 pm to catch the sunset. I recommend dressing in layers so that in between photos you can warm up. Make sure you bring a little extra makeup and tissues in case your nose begins running. The wind on the beach can bring an extra chill so having that warm cardigan to throw on between photos can be a huge help.


Even though Spring begins in March, in South Alabama we get a few warm days even in February. The sunset time drastically changes in the spring. Daylight savings time takes place in March.  When planning the time, I will take this into consideration.


In spite of the heat, Summer is perfect for lighting! Sessions can start later. If your taking your portrait session in the summer, I recommend bringing extra make-up to make sure it stays fresh throughout your session! Keep in mind those summer sunburns may look like the perfect glow in person, but in pictures they can make you look more orange or red than you really are. Try to schedule your session for day one or two of your beach vacation. Summer time on the beaches, while popular for vacationers, is also popular for locals. If we are on a public beach, there are sure to be a lot of people sharing that space with us.


Beach portrait LOCATIONS

Beach Portrait sessions are best shot near Alabama Point when possible. However, I love it when couples and families choose a location that is special or sentimental to them in some way, so I can also shoot your beach portrait session at your home or condominium. As long as the light is great, I am good to go. If you want that beach feel but don’t exactly need the sand between your toes, there are some coastal options below as well.


Orange Street Pier in Fairhope

The Marina at the Wharf

Fairhope Yacht Club

The above locations are all beautiful but I also love exploring meaningful locations with my families!

Engagement Session at Orange Street in Fairhope, AL


My dogs are a huge part of our families, which is why I love when families choose to incorporate pets into their session. Keep in mind that bringing a pet along often means that we’ll need to choose a pet friendly location. 

Our local beaches don’t offer pet friendly options, so if we’re shooting on a public beach, I have to ask that you leave your adorable furry loved ones home. If you have your heart set on them being included, we can look into having your session at your home or condominium.

If you’re going to bring a pet, I recommend exercising your pet before the session and bringing your pets favorite toy or treats! Depending on your pet’s fur type, it might also be a good idea to groom them before the shoot and bring a lint brush!



When picking outfits I recommend keeping in mind the word “compliment” rather than “match.” It can also be a great idea to choose “color-families,” such as pastels or jewel tones.  And don’t be afraid to be BOLD!  Most Patterns are actually ok…. however, graphics are not favorable for portraits.  If you’re wearing a pattern, make sure it’s not overwhelming and distracting. I love accessories as well! Statement necklaces, scarves, and classic watches are great ways to add detail to outfits. Ladies, flowy maxi’s are always a winner with beach portraits. I also suggest being careful with white. Last, Empty your pockets! Literally.  On that note – beach sessions are almost always sans-shoes! So no need to worry about which shoes to wear! You don’t want to have key chains or phones showing through your pockets. (This is for the guys especially!). Ladies! Hair ties on the wrists, make sure you leave those behind too. 

Orange Beach Alabama Beach Engagment Session

Inclement Weather

what to do if it rains

I’ll check in the week of your session to confirm the time & location we’re meeting and the weather. I know it takes a lot of time to get ready for a portrait session and it’s the worst to get dressed up and drive out to your session only to have it rain. Let me know what works best for you – but if the weather looks like it won’t be great, I typically try to make the call at least 12 hours in advance. If we need to reschedule, I will offer our next available dates within 2 weeks of your original date. I understand you might be on vacation or be using a condo rental. Communication is key here, make sure I know your timeline and I will do our best to accommodate and work around the weather.

Fairhope Alabama Engagement Session on the Pier


champagne is always a good idea


If you’re planning to bring props to your portrait session, we recommend including them only if they’re meaningful to you. Our beaches are sacred to us locals, so please don’t bring props that could be harmful to the marine life if fragments are left behind (confetti included).

Family Beach session in Orange Beach, AL


"What do I do with my hands"?

When it comes to posing, you don’t need to worry about a thing! I’ll guide you through the entire process beginning with “poses” that are super easy and natural. If I tell you to do something that feels a little funny, it’s probably because I know it’s going to make you laugh – and that’s the photo I am actually looking for. I want you to feel as relaxed as possible and enjoy your time together!

Family Beach session in Orange Beach, AL

Family Night or Date Night

If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t get dressed up all that often. Which means that the day of your portrait session is the perfect occasion for a family night or date night (or brunch if your session is in the morning!) 

Take this as an opportunity to create a tradition and make the evening fun. Go get pizza at Ravenite (our favorite) followed by ice cream at Whit’s (also, a favorite)!

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When to Expect Your Images

As soon as possible after your session is complete, I will begin the editing process. Unless I have a holiday closure, you can expect to receive your photos between 2 and 3 weeks after your session.  While you wait, be on the look out for a few sneak peeks on Facebook and Instagram. One I am completely done editing, I will schedule your Design Session if you pre-purchased one of our heirloom albums or wall art, if not – it’s not to late! I love helping my clients create art with their images. 

Family Beach session in Orange Beach, AL


I know that this guide is long and hopefully it covers everything you need to know to prep for your beach portrait session! However if there is something we missed, or you need a recommendation feel free to email.