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Sarah Modene Photography | Perrysburg, Ohio | Getting Natural Expressions from your Seniors | Beyond the Wanderlust Guest Contributor

Getting Natural Expressions from your Seniors

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One of the things I struggled with in my first few months as a Senior portrait photographer was getting natural, rather than forced, expressions from my Senior clients. However, after a little practice and working on my people skills, I found that it’s really quite easy to help your Seniors relax in front of the camera, and as a result avoid the awkward “cheesy smile” poses that every photographer seems to run into at times.
Having the ability to direct your clients and in return get relaxed and seemingly candid expressions from them is an essential skill for a portrait photographer, and so I’m going to give you some tips that have worked for me over the years.
As a Senior photographer who works primarily with teen girls, I’m going to approach this article from that perspective, but keep in mind that you can use many of these tips for getting Senior guys to relax in front of the camera as well.

 First, before you can even begin working with your Seniors on their shoot, you need to build a relationship with them. Imagine yourself in your Senior’s shoes: this could be the first time having their pictures taken professionally, and they are probably at least a little nervous. However, if they were taking pictures with one of their best friends just for fun they would undoubtedly be much more relaxed and less selfconscious.
I like to get to know my Senior at least a little bit before her shoot in order to build a friendship with her and her mom, and so I believe it is essential to have an in person consultation when booking their shoot. That way your Senior has met you well before she steps in front of your camera, which means that you have already established a relationship with her. The more opportunities you have to converse with your Senior, the more comfortable they will be on their shoot.

Okay, so let’s chat about the actual session. Before I even pose my Senior, I tell her that I need to “test my camera settings” and get my white balance set, etc., etc. Which, of course, is true… but it’s also a chance for my Senior to get used to hearing the “click” of the shutter and the feeling of being in front of a camera and being stared at by me, my assistant, her mom, and whoever else is with on the shoot. It doesn’t take long for me to get my camera “set up”, and soon I am building her confidence by giving her compliments such as, “Oh my gosh, these are just test photos but they’re GORGEOUS.” At this point, I’ll start giving her very basic posing directions. For example, I might tell her to turn slightly away from me for a more flattering angle, or to bring her hand to her face in order to frame it gracefully. The more variety of poses you use, the more comfortable your Senior becomes. Make sure to constantly be praising her and giving her reassurance that she is rocking her shoot! Just clicking away behind your camera and staying silent is not a good way to get your Senior to relax.

Typically within the first fifteen minutes of the shoot, my Senior usually is close to the “happy place” I want her to be at confidence-wise. At this point she is used to me directing her, has seen a few back-of-the-camera sneak peeks to reaffirm that she looks awesome in her photos, and is starting to have fun. Now we can do more advanced poses, and her expressions are becoming more relaxed. In order to get my audience involved, i.e., Mom and her friends or sisters or whoever else is along for the ride, I will ask them to do something to make my Senior laugh while I’m shooting. This usually works before they even start doing something silly, and I get awesome candid laughing shots as a result. Other times when I’m trying to get a laughing or happy expression from my Senior, I’ll tell her to laugh on command, which is such a funny and weird direction in itself that I almost always get a really hilarious expression. Or I’ll tell them to laugh at my face–which works, too. 😉

Basically, the key to getting natural expressions from your Seniors is to put them at ease, get them laughing or giggling at different intervals, and build their confidence by praising them and showing them proof on your camera screen that their photos are looking fantastic. It’s essential to get a head start on making your clients comfortable so that early on in the shoot you are already obtaining great shots. You don’t want to be halfway through the shoot before you finally get through to your Senior and she begins to relax. At that point you will have wasted precious time, so make it count! 🙂

Hopefully these tips will help you start getting amazing images from your Seniors: a natural and relaxed expression on your Senior’s face–whether it’s happy, laughing, or even serious–is worth its weight in gold. It’s what we strive for as portrait photographers, and it’s worth the hard work to get to the point where you are consistently helping your Seniors feel comfortable and confident in front of the camera.

  • Abie Camera Straps

    I agree with what you’ve said. I used to think I had to have something funny to say to get good expressions, until I discovered that the simple act of asking them to laugh works just as well and is a whole lot easier for me. I let them know it will feel awkward at first, but that’s exactly why it works…because you feel silly laughing at nothing. I also reassure them that I will laugh with them so they won’t be silly alone! Ellen of Ellen LeRoy Photography and Abie Camera Straps

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