“Nail that Shot – 5 Techniques for Taking the Perfect Senior Photo”
Sarah Modene Photography | Facebook
For those of us who are Senior portrait photographers, we sometimes forget that this job is not as fast-paced as it would be if we were shooting a wedding or another live event. We have the benefit of having plenty of time to get the exact shot we envision in our heads without the pressure of extreme time constraints, but this fact is often replaced by the mentality that we have to rush and get as many photos as possible in a 1-2 hour session. I’m going to show you five techniques that I use on every single one of my shoots in order to help me get shots with great lighting, posing, and good technique. Of course, it took plenty of patience and lots of trial and error, but once you get it down I can assure you that you will notice a difference in your work!
1. Use a reflector! This might sound like a no-brainer, but I still see plenty of photographers who aren’t using a reflector when shooting senior portraits. I could go on and on about how reflectors changed my life, but I want you to see for yourself in your work. Honestly, reflectors are not expensive–you can get a good-quality silver reflector for under $50, and the difference you’ll see in your photos is worth ten times that amount. When using a reflector, I use a few different techniques based on my lighting situation. If it’s a cloudy day, I want my reflector to be under my subject’s chin (especially if I’m shooting close up), or off to the side and angled towards my subject. If it’s sunny out, I’ll want to have the reflector a bit further away and angled towards my subject while bouncing light based on the direction of my light source (the sun or a natural reflector such as a white wall). Reflectors are wonderful because they fill in shadows in your subject’s face, creating a much more flattering image. My favorite thing about reflectors is the beautiful catchlights they add to your subject’s eyes, making them pop.
2. Place your subject in front of the sun This is one of my favorite techniques. If it’s sunny and I’m shooting at my favorite time of day (usually 2-4 hours before sunset), the sun is at the perfect height to create some gorgeous backlighting for your subject. I’ll make sure my Senior is standing with my light source directly behind her, and I will use a reflector to softly fill in the shadows created by this angle. The result is what I sometimes call the “halo” effect, where the sun nicely frames her hair and the reflector adds a lovely glow to her face and eyes.
3. Position your subject at an angle I very rarely shoot my Seniors straight-on, unless it’s a close-up where I particularly want that look. If you angle your subject slightly away from you, you are creating a much more flattering pose than if they were facing you directly. I also tell my Seniors to put more weight on their back foot, leaning slightly away from the camera.
4. Custom White Balance, baby! I honestly don’t know how I existed before I started using custom white balance. Don’t trust your camera to choose your white balance for you (auto white balance); it’s just not worth it. You’ll have to spend hours in post-processing trying to correct your skin tones, and you do NOT want to do that. Instead, set it yourself and you will only have to subtly adjust it as you shoot. Kelvin white balance is particularly easy to set up in your camera, and most manuals will tell you exactly what to do. I usually have mine set between 6300-6800 if I’m shooting outside, depending on the lighting conditions. Using custom white balance combined with correct use of a reflector will give you absolutely GORGEOUS skin tones.
5. Shoot from a downward angle Last, this is a technique I’ve been using for quite a while and it’s never failed me. If you position your subject so you are shooting them from above, it automatically creates a flattering angle for them. I use a small step-stool so that I am at a slightly higher angle even when my Seniors are standing and facing me. When you have your Senior positioned so that they are sitting on the ground, shoot from above while you are standing or even crouched slightly higher than them. If you want an even more dramatic angle, have them face slightly away from you and then angle their face towards your camera. Hopefully these tips will help you as you strive for technical consistency in your work; so far, they haven’t let me down! Just remember that good white balance, flattering angles, and working with your lighting conditions are all key to creating amazing Senior portraits!