My top tips for taking senior portraits

by Connie E Posted on September 07, 2011

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You have been asked to take a friend’s senior pictures and said yes. Don’t panic. Here are a few tips and tricks to get you through the shoot.

Tip 1 – Do your homework

You are doing your homework already by reading this article. Another suggestion would be look everywhere for inspiration. The Shutterfly Gallery is a great resource to see what others are doing. Search the term senior to find senior year photo books. Take a look at magazines and advertisements to see what kids are looking at. Before I forget to tell you, one thing I am totally against in any picture is “Glitter”. Glitter shows up as little white spots on skin because they reflect the flash.

Tip 2 – Fill the shadows

I use a reflector to help with “raccoon eyes”. Raccoon eyes are the dark circles below the eyes that are shadows. Reflectors also create wonderful “catch lights” in the eyes. Without catch lights you won’t have that sparkle and the subject can look lifeless. Flash will also help fill in the shadow area. If you’re using an SLR camera, most have popup flashes on the camera body itself. You will need to lower the flash’s output. Read your manual, but in general if you press the button that pops-up the flash two times, the camera will go into a mode that allows you to set flash output. You can often reduce the output in half or third-stop increments.

Tip 3 –  Poses – let them be themselves

Let them be themselves, then tweak the pose to suit the camera. Set your senior in the right light and make them feel comfortable. You might need to remind them to sit up straight. Don’t use the same pose with a different face. Seniors want to have unique images. Remember this is their chance to shine. Have fun with the poses but remember grandparents and parents want traditional photos so don’t leave those out. Make your subject laugh. When people laugh they relax and have a better experience.

I choose to have my subject sit for a couple reasons. One because I’m short and it brings them down to my eye level. And two, they feel more comfortable because they aren’t just standing there alone in an empty space. When the subject is seated have the weight of the subject on one hip with their feet extended one behind the other. Legs can be crossed at the ankles but not at the knees Always pose the subject with the lower torso pointing away from the camera. This creates a leading line and helps avoid a direct shot of anyone’s midsection. Avoid cropping at joints. It makes the subject appear truncated and incomplete.

Tip 4 – Talk to them

Talk to them and make them feel comfortable, make them laugh. But remember if they have a huge smile on their face their eyes will look squinty. Did I tell you I’m totally against glitter makeup?

Tip 5 – Make clothing choices ahead of time

Consult them ahead of time and find out what they are wearing. Suggest colors that will complement their hair and eyes. Try to stay away from clothing with “designs”. You want their face to command attention, not the design of the clothing. Remember little things like wrinkles in clothing, clean shoes and clean/groomed nails, etc. I also suggest they bring a shirt with their high school logo, a letter jacket if they have one, their class ring, college shirt to show where they will be going and anything important to them – cell phone, books, etc.

Guys need to be clean shaven. If they tend to get red spots after shaving, tell them to shave early enough so the spots are gone but late enough to avoid a “five o’clock shadow” look. Sun glasses also give them red areas on the bridge of their nose. Try to remind them of this so they can remove them in time for the red to disappear.

Tip 6 – Choose a clean background

You want a clean background. Be careful if your subject is in front of trees. You certainly don’t want to have him or her looking like a deer with antlers. Remember to create depth between your subject and the background to get that pretty blur (aka-shallow depth of field). You can achieve this blur if you have a lens that will allow you to shoot at a very low f-stop (example 1.4- 3.5). For location portraits, if you shoot wide open you have to shoot when it’s overcast, otherwise your images will be overexposed and unusable. Remember also to focus on the eyes unless you want something else to be the main focus.

I like to change my angles when shooting. It is not uncommon to see me lie on the ground and shoot low or stand on a ladder and shoot down on the subject. This adds interest and originality.

Tip 7 – Consider post-production effects

If you are into manipulating images in post-production, play around with presets and actions. You can find free or for-purchase plug-ins on the internet. Below is an action effect I use for my senior shots.  I usually give my clients the before and after and let them decide which they like better.

Without action

With action

Tip 8 – Photo book

One of the most important items I create for seniors is a Shutterfly photo book. This is such a keepsake for them and their family. You can even create a guestbook for their open house and have family and friends sign it. Talk about a wonderful gift. Remember you are not “just taking pictures” you are creating lasting memories that that will be looked at years from now.

My photo books can be found in the Shutterfly Gallery.

Have fun and I can’t wait to see your senior portrait photo book in the Shutterfly Gallery too!

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  1. AnnAbbott Says:

    Great tips! Thanks Connie….

  2. Joey Says:

    Great tips and article Connie! Your Senior pictures are quite impressive. I like the part of letting them pose themselves so they are comfortable.

  3. petiam Says:

    Fantastic tips for how to achieve the best photos… I did not know about the flash output change, but now, I’ll look up my manual to learn more. Thank you. Great article!

  4. BarbaraJ Says:

    As usual you have a wonderful and informative article. We all love taking photos and the more we learn the better it is for all of us. Thank you for sharing.

more about Connie E

I am in love with life, my family and photography. In 2007 while working as a Detective on the Indpls Metro Police Dept., I injured my right shoulder and had to retire. I do believe this was God's way of letting me be a stay home Mommy. It was also at this time I began my passion for photography. I love creating memories and smiles with my photos. I love the challenge of making each photo beautiful. I am a big fan of a narrow depth of field in my photos. On a technical level this is called "Bokeh". I have been a member of Shutterfly since 2006 and a Shutterfly Gallery Guru since 2009. I am also ADDICTED to digital scrapbooking. (YOU MUST TRY) haha. Please stop by my shutterfly share site and take a look around! http://etterscreations1.shutterfly.com/

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