If you are looking to get started in senior portrait photography, you’re in the right place.
Senior portrait photography is a sub-niche of portrait photography. Specializing in photographing seniors can be a great way to practice your portrait skills if later on, you want to start working with professional models and take your portrait photos to the next level. High school seniors are more than happy to model, but it’s important to take the task seriously because there are quite a few challenges when it comes to delivering great graduation photos that make both students and parents happy.
I did extensive research and in this article, I’m going to take you through some of the best pro tips I found that will help you take your senior portrait photography to the next level!
What is Senior Portrait Photography
Senior portrait photography is about capturing memorable portraits of high school seniors. Someone might think of senior portrait photography just like the traditional yearbook photos. But for others, senior portrait photos are a way to celebrate this important phase of their life.
It’s not only about hiring a professional photographer to get some headshots done, today’s seniors take their portraits seriously. They are active on social media, Instagram and YouTube and unlike any other generation before them, they know how to pose for a photo shoot and have specific needs when it comes to their portraits.
After all, the senior year of high school marks an important moment in the life of young people. Is their last year in school with many of their lifelong friends, and they will move out from their parents’ house. They’re growing up and having a professional photographer catch an unforgettable photograph is an excellent way to relive these memories in the future!
Get the 7-Day
FREE PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE:
The Path to Photography Expert
Best Tips for Senior Portrait Photography
1. Plan the Shooting Session With the Client
It is crucial that high school seniors look and feel confident when they are in front of the camera. Doing a little extra for hair and makeup can go a long way in creating a memorable photograph that your subjects will cherish forever.
For outfits, you can suggest having a few of them. One can be more casual and laid-back such as jeans and a t-shirt. Another can be dressy, such as a formal dress for the ladies and a suit for men. Finally, a fun outfit such as a band t-shirt or a sports uniform can really highlight and describe their final year. With these outfit choices, you can round up the perfect portrait session!
2. Make Them Feel Comfortable
Don’t just start telling your clients how to pose. Despite being the most photogenic generation ever, these young adults are can still be intimidated by a professional photo shoot.
Be yourself, open up about your day, be relatable. Showing some vulnerabilities in a fun way may start a nice conversation about their plans for the future making them feel more natural.
Shifting their attention to something else in this way you’ll obtain the best from your subjects since they’ll feel they can trust you more and will show you their real selves.
3. Tell the Subject How to Pose
High school seniors are in the awkward age where they want to look and be treated as adults. This dual dynamic is something you should be well aware of. When you suggest poses, be mindful to give them ones that make them feel like confident young adults, without making them look overly mature.
You could suggest multiple poses, a few that are fun, a few that are professional, and a few that capture their personalities!
When you show a particular pose, be sure to physically show how you want your subjects to pose. Ensure that your instructions are easy to understand. Don’t use generic terms such as turn left or turn right, since it causes confusion.
Always remember to give them a positive feedback for posing the way you ask and let them know that they look great. It might seem obvious at first, but this will really encourage them to keep trusting and working with you through the photo session.
3. Gear for Senior Portrait Photography
- Full-frame DSLR Camera
- Sensor: 30.4 MP
- 7.0 fps continuous shooting speed
- 61 point AF System
- ISO 100-32000
- 4K video
- 24-70mm zoom lens
- F/2.8 constant maximum aperture
- Canon EF mount
- Filter Size 82mm
4. Camera Settings for Senior Portraits
I highly recommend you set your camera to either aperture priority or shutter priority mode. You don’t need to shoot in full manual mode.
To get the best out of your camera, you must learn to control the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture as the situation demands. In shutter priority, you’ll choose the aperture and let the camera set the shutter speed to obtain a balanced exposure. If you want more control over the depth of field choose aperture priority so that your camera will take care of the shutter speed.
Aperture: For a nice and blurred background, an aperture between f/1.8 and f/4 works quite well for most lenses. To obtain a perfect out of focus background also change the distance from your subject when you try a different aperture. A focal length of 50mm or 85mm will be perfect for this. You will get a timeless and classic look. If you are going for a shot that has more of the background in focus, then use an aperture that a few f-stops higher than the minimum. A 35mm focal length will give you more of the environment in this case.
ISO: Lower ISOs are better, and offer sharper and higher quality images. The best senior portraits are sharp so you have to avoid blurred images at all cost. Raise the ISO if you are shooting in low light conditions but make sure not to go beyond that threshold where you start introducing digital noise in your photos. When in good light conditions instead an ISO of 100 or 200 is the highest that you should go.
Shutter Speed: One of the ways you can avoid image blurring and camera shakes is to use a fast shutter speed. If you shoot in shutter priority mode, just choose a fast speed and let the camera do the rest. If you see that the image is too dark raise the ISO from 100 to 200. In extreme cases and depending on the quality of your camera you can also use ISO 400 but I’d try to now go beyond that. If you don’t have enough light it’s possible that you’ve chosen the wrong time of the day to take your photos. In these circumstances, raise the ISO and choose a wide aperture to keep the shutter speed as fast as possible. Use post-processing software to eliminate digital noise if needed.
Related: The Best Lens For Portraits
5. Best Light for Senior Portrait Photography
Natural light is ideal to take any portrait photos. A naturally well-lit shot wonderfully complements portrait shots of your subject. If the weather isn’t all that great, there’s no need to stress! Sometimes, cloud coverage can make for some amazing light.
You can also shoot during the golden hour when the sun is low at the horizon and the light creates soft shadows and beautiful contrasts that will make your senior portraits more appealing.
6. How to Edit Senior Portraits
Keep the post-processing and editing classic and clean. Of course, you will have your own style and niche, and you will not need to change that. Edit your photos such that they stand the test of time.
Black and white photographs are always a hit, and can really give your photos character, but make sure to not use black and white as a lazy way to not go above and beyond and find the perfect edit for your clients.
7. Send Edited Images to Your Clients
As soon as you have the first images ready, send some previews to the client to make them feel you are looking after them and that they’ve done a great job.
This is also a good way to get some free publicity since they’ll very likely share those images on social media. If they don’t, you can always ask them if you can share some of the previews on your Instagram or Facebook page.
Make sure to communicate with your subjects, make them feel comfortable, and go ahead taking great shots now that you know the best camera settings and gear to use.
With these simple tips, you can take your first steps in the world of senior portrait photography. With some consistent practice, you can work your way towards becoming a professional in this field!
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.