Tips for first senior portrait session (next weekend)


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Sep 11, 2010
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Western New York
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Ok, so next weekend I'll be shooting my first senior portrait session ever. Actually it's gonna be my first paid portrait session ever.

It's going to take place in a local park, that has alot of good photo opportunities.

I'm looking for ANY advice you guys have to offer because I'm pretty nervous about it. I explained clearly that I can't guarantee good results and they said they were willing to try if I was. If the photos don't turn out decent, I don't get paid, but they also don't get prints. So it's not like they can rip me off.

If it matters, I'll be shooting with a nikon d40, sigma 70-200 2.8, an sb-600, flash triggers, and I have an umbrella/light stand too. I have a 50mm 1.8 that I could also use, but its MF only. Sure Its very useable since you have time to focus and are using a tripod, but is it worth the hassle?
I'm sure you've photographed many portraits before, but seniors are looking for very specific things.

Check out, and visit her blog. She gets incredible natural light portraits with strong emotion in everyday locations. She mostly uses a 50mm and one body, sometimes with a reflector.

I'd recommend borrowing a friend or spouse and practicing in park before your session.

Time of day, of course, is important. You know the best times of day to shoot outdoors.

I shoot weddings and families. I don't specialize in seniors. The only thing harder than making a bride happy is making a high school senior happy.

Good luck!
I've only done a few very informal portraits before, just messing around with friends and family. I have never actually done a photo shoot with someone.

I am bringing a friend, and going to the park a few minutes before the scheduled time. that way I can do some test shots on him, and he can help me out during the actual photo shoot (he is a pretty good videographer, who does photos sometimes as a hobby so he knows alot about lighting techniques and such).

Obviously I know to shoot in the morning or at night. However we will be shooting in mid day as it was the only time where everyone was available. That means I'll be shooting in the shade mostly, but I can work with that.

My biggest fear is getting posing right, and not having her look unnatural or stiff. Any advice on that?
Tips: Use the 70-200. Look for locations that have good lighting to work with--avoid places where the light is dappled or very strong and direct and "squinty". Open shade is an easy type of light to work with, as is open, diffused sky-light. Not light from the sun,direct, but light that comes from the sky. At the beginning of each pose or sequence, get a good close-up light meter reading at a shutter speed that will prevent camera shake, like say 1/250 second. Use an ISO value of around 320 to 400 as a slight bit of "cushion" against nervousness, subject motion, and camera shake. The D40 does pretty well at ISO 320 to 400. Make sure of your exposure for each pose, and then shoot the pose in short, controlled sequences of 2 and 3 shots. Tell your subject what the shot is going to be like, and tell them that you will shoot 2 or 3 shots per expression, and that not each shot has to be good. DO NOT ALLOW THEM to give the same,identical "Smile-smile". TELL THEM to do some serious shots, and shoot 2-3 shots, then give them some feedback, and then shoot another 2-3 shots. Then, give them some feedback, like, "That looked good, so let's try one where your eyes look past the camera lens, and to the background right behind me," and then shoot 2,3, then feedback, then again, more shots. This process allows people to realize that hey, not every single picture has to be "good".

This is not are not going to be shooting two rolls of 12 exposure 120 rollfilm, and so you need to TELL your subject how the shooting will be done. There's a huge tendency of seniors to be very nervous, and to try and make every shot a "Smile-smile." If the senior has his/her Mom around, you need to tell the mom ahead of time to STFU. Seriously, and politely, she must be advised that she needs to be SILENT. Or better off, that she needs to be GONE. Moms can ruin more senior photos than anything except horrific acne breakouts and tin grins.

It's the 50 1.0, which of course is a special lens.

Photography FAQ, 50mm f1.0L Michelle Moore

"I’ve found myself using my 50mm in about 90% of all my Senior Portrait shoots."


I usually try to get some personality out the subject right away. Maybe sit them against a tree, brick wall or someplace and talk a bit while shooting a few frames. Once I can figure out their personality and mood - and what they look like in the viewfinder - then I'll get them moving around quite a bit.

I typically use a 35-70 (in the 50-60 range) for individuals, because I want to be near them and interact with them.

I'll use the 70-200 for couples, who can interact with each other, while I move around them at a distance looking for opportunities.

Here are two photos from a young woman I photographed this weekend. She was self-admittedly goofy, so I had her make a bunch of silly faces to warm up. Probably shot 30 frames of her making funny faces. She started to have fun, and we had a successful shoot.



I put the camera down and talk. I ask them questions and let them take their time to answer. I can talk about any subject, so we'll get into a conversation. Once the rapport and trust is built, then they'll start feeling more excited and motivated for the shoot.
Thanks Darrel, good point on the mom. I never thought of that but it makes alot of sense!!

@erose86, good question about having a shy subject. I'm interested to hear the answer from someone with more experience than me!!
Moms are great to hold large reflectors, right in front of their faces. They cant ***** too much if they cannot see.

Shy teens... Really depends... I agree with the make silly faces. I usually plan for at least 10 or so extra minutes to do just that. They are usually just binable, but sometimes you get great stuff. It is a great time to make sure your settings are good. Sometimes I get those printed as 4x6 and gift them to who ever is writing the check. I love to spend a little time (as much as is needed) talking to them as well. Almost an interview type of thing. Listen and remember what s/he said. sometimes you can regurgatate some of it to make a mood - smiles if it is a boy she likes "too bad 'Bobby' isn't here, he would love you doing that *bam* sincere cheek to cheek smile with a slight blush!

Keep track of what works for you and your personality and put them in your 'bag of tricks'.
Tell the senior to bring props that represent them. If they're big into football, bring their uniform, ball, etc. Wear solid colors, if possible! Patterns and screen-printed shirts distract people from looking at their faces! And, for you... find some really amazing places to shoot. If you can find any really cool old buildings with (good) brickwork, it makes for a great background. :)
Moms are great to hold large reflectors, right in front of their faces. They cant ***** too much if they cannot see.
:lol: I laugh because 11 years ago, this is what the photographer had MY mother do...and it worked!

Tell the senior to bring props that represent them. If they're big into football, bring their uniform, ball, etc.
Indeed, from the teen's standpoint, the shots where the props are used will be their favorite; they were mine. And I still have those displayed on my mantle, 11 years later. Not the formal shots my parents requested. ;)
Sometimes (if they're lucky) they'll either have a car they're really proud of, or their parents/grandparents will have an awesome old car they'd be willing to lend for the shoot. Just an idea! Hope everything goes well!
Sketch down some ideas of poses if you aren't familiar or comfortable. Helps me to get my ideas down on paper when I'm not used to thinking on the fly

Make sure to check your gear the nigth before. Recharge batteries, reformat memory cards and check the settings in your camera. I've started shoots using ISO 3200 outside in the sun.

Remember that your attitude projects onto the subject. If you are relaxed and having fun, they will be relaxed and having fun. If you aren't relaxed, then fake it best you can.

If all else fails, get them drunk. Not too drunk, just the happy drunk :sexywink:
Thank you so very much for posting this. This weekend I will be doing my first senior portrait session. However I have insisted that there be no payment as this will be my first time dabbling in senior portraits. A lot of these answers have really helped me out in figuring out what to do. Also thank you for posting Michelle's site.

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