How to take awesome photos for web & social: A pro photographer dishes his secrets


Magic Makers! I am SO excited because I have the most amazing resource to share with you today, and that is the creative genius and kind heart of photographer Claude Charles of Shots by Top Notch.

Claude and I connected through the ‘gram in winter 2017 when he’d just moved to LA and was building up his photography business. I had just left my day job and was starting to transition from acting into more writing. I was feeling so scared about taking the leap, but on the day I met Claude we talked about EVERYTHING relating to creativity/fear/scarcity thinking/and attracting abundance by going for your dreams. We shot pictures rogue on the streets of Silverlake in LA (see below), and tried not to get kicked out of places as we told our stories. He, like me, had come to LA not really knowing anyone, and the love of his life was still in San Francisco, but he knew he had to follow his gut and pursue his creative dreams.

A “Top Notch” shot from my first-ever photoshoot with Claude back in Winter 2017…

A “Top Notch” shot from my first-ever photoshoot with Claude back in Winter 2017…

Cut to today: Claude now shoots MAJOR accounts, events, celebrities and influencers AND he’s started an amazing business finding, sharing the history of, and re-selling vintage clothing. His love moved down to be with him and is about to quit her day job to pursue her dreams full time (more on Angie of Top Notch Bod, soon!). Literally all of Claude’s creative visions are crystallizing because he has helped SO many other people out that now they want to help him in return.

Moral of the story: If there’s ever an opportunity to share your expertise with someone who’s pursuing their creative passions: DO IT. It always comes back, usually amplified.

Speaking of which, in this interview, Claude is sharing his expertise on some of the best tips, tricks, questions, and answers for how to take amazing photos. Whether you’re looking for new website shots (he did ALLLL of mine that you see on my website, and most of my Instagram and Pinterest shots, too!), or want to elevate your social media photos…

Here is everything you need to know about working with a professional photographer, even if you’ve never done it before!

KELSEY: Claude! I’m so grateful you’re sharing this info with my readers today!

CLAUDE: Happy to help!

KELSEY: Alrighty, I’m just gonna start asking questions and you let me know anything you feel is important for someone who’s looking to take some professional photos for their business or brand.

CLAUDE: Fire away.

Credit: Claude Charles, @shotsbytopnotch

Credit: Claude Charles, @shotsbytopnotch

Q: Okay, so my first question is about: questions! Haha. Claude, what are some good questions to ask a photographer when you’re looking to hire a professional?

A: For me, I feel that getting info as far as rates, number of looks, time, and edits out of the way first is best. That way the remainder of the time leading up to the shoot can be spent on the creative part of things. 

Q: How can a first-time client learn the best, most-flattering poses? Can a photographer help direct them on how to pose?

A: YOUTUBE!!! There are some great videos about posing on YouTube. I actually am starting to watch videos made by some of my favorite photographers about how to pose models. Posing should be a collaborative effort. Some photographers can see a pose that they want to get and some clients can have a pose in mind that the photographer can help them do. Pinterest is also great. I have a board I made dedicated to poses. 

—> Tip from Kelsey: this is the exact video I used to learn how to pose in pictures:

Jenn Im- 10 Easy Poses for Instagram

Q: What should a first-time client do to prepare for their shoot?

A: Have all their looks chosen, ready and steamed, have a clear understanding of what they want the photographer to capture for them, and have some sort of visuals (if possible/necessary) that they’re inspired by. Not every photographer needs these visuals because you’re booking them for their eye, but some clients are very specific about what they want, so for those clients it helps me. Either way I will set up shots that I fell would be best for them and they usually like it. That way they have both. 

Q: Should you make a Pinterest board for your photographer beforehand? Is that helpful or annoying?

A: I find it super helpful! That way the photographer has a clear understanding about what you are looking for. When I do collabs with people on creative projects I make a board myself and we can pick and choose styles and looks from each others boards to help curate some awesome ideas. Other than that I am a visual person so when I can see exactly what the client wants it makes it easier for me to capture that for them. 

Credit: Claude Charles, @shotsbytopnotch

Credit: Claude Charles, @shotsbytopnotch

Q: Is shooting lifestyle different than shooting for a website or blog?

A: Well it depends, because now a days people want lifestyle photos for their website or blog and in addition to that they can use the images for social media.  There are also clients that want specific types of looks just for their website branding. There is a lot more freedom with lifestyle. I love times when I am doing a lifestyle shoot with a client and we get creative on the spot.

Q: What are some of the BEST things someone can/should bring to their photoshoot?

A: This is random, but I found recently that women who bring a variety of lipstick shades is a huge benefit. Thats something that I never really payed attention to. When we are doing multiple looks it really aids in creating completely different moods. Other than that bringing positive and creative energy is my number one. Those photos always come out the best when a positive vibe is created from the beginning. 

Q: What are the WORST things to bring on a photoshoot?

A: Bringing a friend that wanted to sneak in some shots and it wasn’t discussed previously is a huge pet peeve. It just throws everything off and takes away from the shoot we have been planning. We had ideas that we brainstormed on capturing and on shoots I feel it takes a bit to build momentum and get into the groove. Once that magic is sparked we start to get some great stuff and that can be interrupted when the last minute friend wants the client to stop and help go through outfits. I guess that’s a case-by-case thing, but I’d rather plan a group shoot.  

Number 2 is having the cellphone in the pocket to constantly stop and post to Instagram. Some people are cool about it and will do it while I’m changing lenses, fixing lighting, or just walking to the location. But there have been times when I was just standing there camera in hand waiting for them to choose the right photo or record the perfect video to post. Sounds ridiculous to complain about, but there have been times when it took fifteen valuable minutes of the client’s time, haha. Also like I said before, it’s about getting that creative groove going. Stopping to post to social media interrupts that flow.

Credit: Claude Charles, @shotsbytopnotch

Credit: Claude Charles, @shotsbytopnotch

Q: Is there a time of day that looks best for shooting outside of a studio? Like, in a home (my apartment, for example) or outside lifestyle shots?

A: For me anytime before about 10am and after 2 or 3pm.  The famous “golden hour” is always the best lighting. The 12 noon harsh light is never really flattering, but sometimes it works. I have portable strobe lights that I use for cases like that.

Q: Do you have any tips on shooting content for different social media platforms? Instagram vs. Pinterest vs Facebook? (Like, always make sure to get vertical shots for Pinterest or shots that can be cropped in a square for IG…)

A: They are all so different, so just depends. Clients usually tell me what they want the shots for, so I will research what’s the best for that platform. Majority of the time though I’m shooting for Instagram, so most of the time I’m shooting vertical shots. I always leave a little extra room for Instagram crop, and if I need to, I can crop in post for their website. As far as tips go I notice that when Pinterest is the main focus we put a lot of effort into the set design/ambience. Props are a huge bonus. After the shoot I did with you (see every banner photo on this website!) I realized having room to add text is important for website and Pinterest. That was super vital information I took away from our last shoot that I feel would be cool to share.  

Q: How much do professional photos cost? What are some ways to keep costs down while still being fair?

A: There is no definite answer I can give for that as everyone varies as far as experience goes. You usually pay more for more experienced photographers. To keep cost down I would suggest going to beginners that want to get their foot in the door. Also, try to do less looks. Some photographers incorporate the number of looks in their pricing. If not, see if you can crank out more looks in the time frame you booked. That way you have more varied content you can utilize.

In the social media age you have to continuously put out content, so to save money get more looks in that you can spread out for the week/weeks. The downside is that may mess up that creative groove if you are trying to do too much.

Remember you are paying for the photographer’s eye, and if you like the work that they do then they should be worth the price they give. They are artists that want to create, so I’m sure you will be able to work out something that fits your budget.

Another way to save money is if you plan on being a repeat customer work out a long term deal. Thats always great because since this is a freelance job have a consistent client is huge so it is worth it to give that client some sort of discount. 


Q: Music on a shoot- yay or nay? (LOL , I know your answer here!)

A: OH YEA!!! Music always sets the mood and helps get that creative energy going! Sometimes I will play music that fits the mood of the shoot we are trying to create. I have various playlists I’ve made for different vibes. 

Q: What’s your ideal client like & why?

A: Fun, positive, doesn’t have to be creative but that’s always cool, knows what they want but can also be open minded. Understands that photography is an art form and is not easy. That’s very important to me and not even just photography, but that all artists are appreciated. If a client understands that, I feel the whole experience is just better for both parties. 

Q: This is a big one…Talk to me about “photography” versus “editing”; what’s the difference between delivering raw vs. edited photos, why editing costs more, etc…

A: The most debated question in the photography world!!! I battle with this all the time. I feel that this is the most important question you’ve asked.

I was always taught to NEVER send raws with out a watermark. The client can pick the ones that they want or should trust that you know which photos are the best due to composition, pose,  lighting etc. Photographers are trained to see what the average person can’t and should know what’s best.

It depends on what the deal worked out before was. Sometimes I do send out raws but it kills me! Some photographers will send out raws but won’t edit anything, and some will charge you extra to give you the raws.

What some people don’t understand is that our photography is our art. So, whatever is floating out there is a representation of you and the work you can do. This could cost the photographer major gigs. Some clients will take a raw, throw a filter on it, and post it. The raw photo has had no color correction, no adjustments or anything. It’s the rawest form of the photo (hence the name) so you can manipulate as much detailed info as possible in post production. That’s why raws will look dull.

Editing takes hours and it’s not easy. Getting the right skin tones and colors is hard and requires lots of practice and studying. Also, the editing programs are not cheap- so between that and the time it takes to edit photos that’s where the price comes from. People expect fifty edited photos overnight when sometimes you can spend over an hour maybe even two on one photo.

Once again it depends, some people take solid raws and will just send that over but if you want anything done, it’s going to cost. It can save a ton of time though, so I see where that is a huge plus for giving out raws. Some clients will book the photographer, take all the raws and that’s it for months because they have hundreds of photos to use for social media. That can hurt the industry as well. 

Also, some clients take raws and send them to big companies and that’s the photographers name on that picture. I’ve had that happen to me which is why I do not like giving out raws. I ignored every photographer’s advice and thought it wasn’t a big deal, haha. Well, the client was supposed to pick the photos they wanted but instead sent them out to a company I really wanted to work for in the future. The edited version was a thousand times better, but it was too late.

Editing is another layer to the creative process and is very beneficial to the final product. That edited photo is our final masterpiece and after the hours spent on the photos, it’s something we are proud of.

Credit: Claude Charles, @shotsbytopnotch

Credit: Claude Charles, @shotsbytopnotch

Q: Thank you so much, Claude, this is SO helpful! Any final thoughts?

A: Bottom line, the best part of photography for me is seeing the reaction of the final product from the client. More than the money, that’s when I know that what I do is appreciated. There is satisfaction in knowing that I was able to capture and bring to life what the client envisioned. That’s the magic of photography. 

Claude Charles, Photographer, @shotsbytopnotch

Claude Charles, Photographer, @shotsbytopnotch





PS- Claude also has a BALLER Vintage Clothing company: Retro Candy!

Claude’s eye and style is greatly inspired by feelings of different decades. His work evokes eras gone by, whether it’s 1930’s Hollywood glam, 70’s retro rock, or 90’s looks fly enough to be seen on the “Fresh Prince of Bel Aire”. He uses real, authentic vintage clothes and props in many of his shoots.

Claude and his partner Angela LOVE thrifting and collecting vintage clothes for shoots (and real life!) so much that their collection of rare vintage finds got too big for their house! Now, they’ve launched a website RETRO CANDY to share those amazing finds with us!

On Retrocandy you’ll find everything from crazy rare vintage band and concert t-shirts, to the windbreaker you saw on Kelly Kapowski on Saved by the Bell, to new vintage-inspired screenprint tees…

Whatever era you’re into, you’ll find it on

You might recognize one of the models! ;)

You might recognize one of the models! 😉

PS- If you don’t already have it, be sure to download your copy of my super helpful freebie: 3 Copywriting Tricks to 3X Your Profits!