Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It's that time of year - Here are some tips on taking senior portraits.

Yikes! I have shooting a lot of photos lately, and I am backlogged on blog posts. For those of you who saw the recent photos of motorcycle racing and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on Facebook, those are coming soon. I promise!

But, since it is that time of year, I wanted to write a blog on how to take good senior portraits. About a month ago, we had a family friend ask if I would take some senior portraits for them. They have been really helpful with my daughter, since mom works at Ali's school, and we were happy to do this for them. Mom is also taking photography classes and wanted some photo tips.

As I was shooting the photos of Jennah, and telling her mom about my camera settings and my thought process, it occurred to me that these same tips would be good to share on the blog. So...here you go, my tips for taking good senior portraits...

Let's start with the importance of the shooting location. You want to find a location which compliments your subject. If you are photographing someone who is into sports, maybe you would want to shoot at a local field, or on some bleachers. In this case, I was photographing a young lady who likes fashion and style. My wife suggested that we shoot at a local upscale shopping area. They have really colorful walls and flowers, and I was excited to shoot somewhere new. So off we went!

(Canon 1DX, 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II, Canon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/200 sec)

Our first stop was in one of the alleys, where they have these pretty faux-painted walls. This area worked well because it was shaded, with no harsh light falling on my subject. I placed Jennah in between the decorative grillwork and started to take some photos. I used the Canon 1DX with my favorite lens, the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II. My wife and Jennah's mom took turns holding a gold reflector at a 45 degree angle to my subject. I had the Canon 600 EX-RT flash on my camera, but pointed the flash at the reflector so that the light would bounce off the gold reflector and onto Jennah. As soon as we started shooting, I saw how Jennah lit up with that big smile in front of the camera. Awesome!

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/200 sec)
I liked the photos we were getting, but felt that her arms were in an awkward position. So, we moved to another area of the wall, and after shooting numerous photos, I asked Jennah to lean back and cross her arms. This gave her arms a "home".

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/200 sec)
Once we were done shooting photos by the colorful wall, we decided to walk along the street to see what other location might work. As always, I was doing my best to keep a nice even background, without too much harsh light. I saw these pretty flowers up ahead of us and asked Jennah to walk ahead and peek out in front of the flowers. For this shot, we did not use a reflector, but I added a little bit of light with the flash (turned down by one stop - since I don't want the overpowered flash look on her.)

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 400, f/3.2, 1/160 sec)
After shooting by the flowers for a minute or two, we moved on to another wall. This wall had more muted colors, which made Jennah stand out even more. As you can tell from this photo, the wall in front of her is out of focus, and the wall behind her is soft as well. I shot this photo at f/3.2 to make sure that her face was in focus, but that none of the surroundings would draw attention from this pretty girl.

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 400, f/3.2, 1/160 sec)
Posing of your subject is important. You will notice in all of these photos that Jennah is changing her position, sometimes facing directly to me, and sometimes sideways to the camera.

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 400, f/3.2, 1/160 sec)
I saw this small area where Jennah could move behind the wall a little and peek back out at me. I like using "props" like this since it is different, and it gives Jennah a place to place her hands.

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 400, f/3.2, 1/250 sec)
While walking to find other locations, I spotted these pillars covered in ivy. Again, I asked Jennah to go around the pillar and peek back out at me. I had her tilt her head a little to her left, which let her beautiful hair fall nicely down off her shoulder. I kept the camera at f/3.2 and made sure that my focus point was right on her eye.

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 160, f/2.8, 1/250 sec)
It is nice to have at least one outfit change, to get a different look in the photos. After shooting for 30 minutes, Jennah switched to a more colorful outfit.

We were walking along the main shopping street, when I saw Jennah walk into the sunlight. Since it was late in the day and the sun was low in the sky, it was a perfect time to use that light to our advantage. I had Jennah turn her back to the sunlight, which created a perfect hairlight. I turned my flash on and set it to full TTL mode, thus overpowering the bright background. Without the added flash, this photo would have been more of a silhouette shot than what you see here. (Note: Normally I would not shoot a portrait with cars in the background, but the light was so nice here, and and I liked the plants in the foreground giving me a natural frame. It was took good to pass up.)

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/250 sec)
My wife spotted these chess tables, and we asked Jennah to sit down. Having her in a sitting position gives us a different pose, adding to the variety. I moved so that I would have a solid wall of ivy in the background. I moved back a little farther and shot this at f/2.8, using the flash at -1 stop.

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/250 sec)
I have always loved Birds of Paradise, and when I saw these flowers, I wanted to see if I could photograph Jennah with these. When I got close to the flowers, I noticed that they were past their prime and not looking so great. But, I knew that I could move Jennah into the background and use a wide aperture to put the flowers out of focus. This let me use the colors and shape of the flowers without showing any details. It also let me put the focus on Jennah, where it should be.

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 250, f/2.8, 1/250 sec)
Walking back to our car, we passed the flowers again, and I asked Jennah to do another shot through the flowers. Why did I do this? Because it was fun, and I love having a lot of different photos to choose from.

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 3200, f/4, 1/200 sec)

Jennah then changed into her third outfit, this time going very casual. (Note: it is VERY important that the seniors are comfortable with what they are wearing. If you force a teenager to wear something they don't like, you will not get good photos. You will likely end up with a frustrated and uncomfortable subject and not much more.)

As it turned out, we were parked in front of this store. My wife looked at the window and said "we should put her in the window with the mannequins" and I loved the idea! While I looked at the best angle to shoot the photo, they walked into the store and asked the manager if it was OK for her to become part of the store display. They were nice enough to let us do this.

The toughest part of this shot, was trying to avoid all the reflections coming off the window. I moved so that I was off center, and did my best to avoid the reflection of cars and window displays on the opposite side of the street. I shot this and then removed some of the distracting reflections in Adobe Photoshop.

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 3200, f/4, 1/200 sec)
After working on this photo for a while, I thought it would be fun to convert it to a monochrome image. I used Google's NIK SilverEfex Pro to make the change, and liked the final results.

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/1600 sec)
Just before leaving the area, we had Jennah stand in front of this garage door. I shot some photos of her leaning against large door, but I didn't like the results. Then we had her jump, and had some fun grabbing these photos. (Note: For action shots, you should make sure that you have a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 sec to freeze the action.)

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/20 sec)
Since we were having fun, I decided to kick it up a gear. I slowed the shutter of the camera to 1/20 sec and asked Jennah to walk back and forth in front of the garage door. She added the thumbs up and the big smile. This is a great example of me leading the subject and then Jennah making it her own!

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 640, f/3.5, 1/200 sec)
We were at the end of the day, and the light was dropping quickly. My wife decided to drive to our local park to grab a couple more photos.. Again, going for a different look.

(Canon 1DX70-200mm f/2.8 IS IICanon 600 EX-RT flash, ISO 640, f/3.5, 1/200 sec)
Even though I love the colors in the original photo, I decided to convert this photo to Black & White. I think that the monochrome version, without the contrast of green grass and her outfit, draws more attention to Jennah.

As you might be able to tell from the photos, we had a great time taking them. Not only is this more fun for the senior, but it is more fun for the family and the photographer!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.


Kiel from Kairu Photography said...

Very fun blog post. The more I see from you, the more I am convinced that you are THE person to follow for great ideas, good tips, and unique perspectives on photography that I can apply to my own practices. As an 'amateur' photographer, it's been fun learning from your updates so far and look forward to more!

Anonymous said...

Great tips and I really appreciate you posting these pics.

Unknown said...

Hey Jeff you have great tips and I respect what you do. The only thing I really dislike about these pictures is the amount of skin softening that was added. I guess it's a matter of preference but for portraits like this if I can look at it and notice it right away I would pull it back a bit. Just my 2 cents. Good stuff!

rcortinas said...

Hey Jeff

great tips, thank you. I am just starting on photography and I have a question. On the display window shot, can you use a polarize filter to remove the glass reflections, or it is better to do it in post production ?.
Thank you so much for your photography tips.

Unknown said...

As usual, a great post! I am sorry though, I wont be able to use your referral on a lot of gear since I shoot Nikon!

Thanks for your hard work on this blog!

Greetings from Montreal

Jeff Cable Photography Blog said...

On the filter question, a polarizing filter might have helped a little, but would have made it even harder to shoot in low light since I would have lost a full stop.

And Guillaume - you can click on the link and then purchase ANYTHING from B&H and I will get credit.

rcortinas said...

Thanks Jeff on your answer about the filter.
Appreciate you posting for us.

Robert Blanchard said...

Thanks, I really appreciate your blogs.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the blog post Jeff. I just got asked to shoot Senior photos for someone. I am nervous, but I think I'm going to go for it. I typically shoot action sports (dogs typically - http://clicksbychris.com ). Any additional tips/pointers would be greatly appreciated!