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Bravo! You've got that nice camera and a great lens, why not put it to good use? You can have some fun, and perhaps, maybe even save a few bucks along the way. However, here is a secret you may not know. It's not as easy as it looks. It doesn't take a whole trunk-load of gear to get great results. What it does take is a little time, a small investment in materials, a good sense of humor, and a willingness to work with your subject.
No problem! Right?
So, what do you need to do to capture your senior in a way that proves fruitful to you and them?
Here's a checklist to get you started.
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- You need a location.
- Clothing and perhaps props.
- A camera and lens. A DSLR with a selection of lenses would be nice but it's not mandatory. You can also do this with a point-and-shoot camera as well.
- Simple lighting and light modification gear.
- A few extra human bodies will come in handy.
Let's look at these one at a time.
How to Choose a Great Location
There are basically two types of senior portraits: the close-up which is commonly referred to as a headshot and the half-length to full length body shot. We'll assume you have no access to a studio so essentially we're talking about a location shoot, whether it's indoors or outdoors. If you've never attempted this before, an outdoor shoot will provide an easier time for you.
A common location for portraits is a park area. Parks are fine but remember, kids are often looking for something different. Try to think outside the box.
A grunge look is very popular. Ask your child's opinion. Do you have an accessible old warehouse near your home? How about a boat harbor? Perhaps a junkyard? Or an abandoned house? (Just keep it safe, folks.) Try to tie in your child's interests. Think stadium if your child is athletic. A theatrical stage if they're into the arts? Or, a racetrack if they love motorsports – you get the idea.
No matter what location you choose, you should be able to get your headshots and full-length shots at the same spot.
Scout your location prior to your shoot day. The best time of day for portrait work is early hours or late in the day. Given that you're working with a teenager, we suggest late in the day; start about an hour before sunset. Avoid midday light as it creates harsh shadows. Visit your location at the same time of day you want to shoot. Make notes about the location of the sun, possible backgrounds, and general conditions. If it's a controlled area do you need permission and are there set hours? Try to answer as many questions as possible so that there are no surprises on shoot day.
What About Clothing and Props?
Here is a big piece of advice. Let your senior choose the clothing. We're not saying that you should give them carte blanche, but remember these pictures are for the them, if you dress them in a way they hate, those photographs will never see the light of day.
As for props, that should be a lot simpler, what does your child like to do? Bring a football, baseball glove, soccer ball, painting easel, motorcycle, the family dog, etc.
How About Camera Equipment?
The dream outfit would be a DLSR with lenses ranging from wide-angle to moderate telephoto. However, senior portraits can be accomplished with a simple point-and-shoot camera that sports a 3x to 5x optical zoom.
Use a telephoto for the headshots and a moderate wide-angle to normal lens for the full-length.
Don't overlook a good tripod. Not only does it provide stability for sharp images; it also frees you up from burying your face behind the camera. Good portraiture results from a connection between photographer and subject. Frame your subject then interact with them.
Lighting and Light modification
While it's possible to produce good results with no additional lighting, or light modification, it is very limiting. You'll find a good external bounce flash an invaluable tool for creating directional light. You'll also want some bounce cards. These devices will vastly improve your senior portraits by filling in the shadows with bounced light. That light might come from your flash, the sun, or even just the sky. A bounce card can be as simple as cardboard painted white on one side and tinfoil glued on the other side. Generally you will use the white side, but if you need a little extra “pop” flip it to the shiny side.
Here's a good rule of thumb: with guys some shadows are okay, with girls you want to lighten those shadows as much as possible.
If you don't have any bounce cards try to position your subject close to a white wall. If you're indoors place the subject near a large window with indirect light.
A few extra bodies
We encourage you to invite a few of your senior's friends to the shoot. Hopefully, they'll lighten your load by carrying some gear and holding bounce cards. But even more importantly, they'll provide a young eye to the posing process.
Here are a few final pointers:
- When doing your headshots, surround your subject's face with bounce cards to provide broad even lighting.
- When posing girls stretch them out long and thin. Boys like to appear strong and masculine, so lean them forward toward the camera.
- It is best to light girls with little or no shadowing. The opposite is true for boys.
- Keep the ISO setting on your camera as low as possible for minimal noise and use manual settings for consistency.
- Focus on the eyes.
- When outdoors, shoot in the shade with even lighting. Then add your own lighting for modeling. Try to avoid harsh light and shadows unless going for a special effect.
- Finally, and most importantly, have fun with it. It will show in the final product.