Photographing Senior Pictures
I had my first chance at doing some portrait shots in the form of senior pictures and I learned a lot from the experience. My family's builder growing up has a wonderful daughter named Savana who reached out to me to take her photos. She came to my company office a few months ago to shoot product photos with us and she is a great photographer herself. I have to say I was very honored that she asked me to give it a shot.
The first day we decided to meet at Red Rocks, CO which has some incredible scenery. We arrived later in the day and had overcast weather which actually made for some great lighting. I was hoping to get a good sunset behind Savana but unfortunately the clouds were a bit too dense for anything good. However, the overcast helped create a nice soft light for the shoot.
I got there a little early to scout some locations and found some nice areas to do the shoot at. I quickly found that for this type of shoot you don't need a grandeur sweeping landscape but just small areas since the shots are all close up. I also think doing the shoot in the afternoon/evening was a good choice as the light would have been very rough during the middle of the day.
We started out by getting some shots of Savana on a local fence which made for a nice medium. Luckily Savana is a beautiful young lady and naturally knew how to pose for the shots. Admittedly I am not sure what I would have done if she didn't know how to snap into a pose. I quickly realized that when it comes to portrait shots I had a decent idea of how to get good lighting or composition but where I really lacked in was telling the subject how to smile, stand, look etc. I imagine a good portrait photographer must have the ability to make their subject relax and get into a good comfortable mindset.
I think some of the best photos were of Savana laughing. She has a great smile and I was able to get some good captures when we were just sitting around talking. One thing that worked well is getting the lighting, aperture, ISO and shutter speed where I wanted them and then setting the camera to burst mode. I then got my focal length and set the camera to manual with the proper focus. While we were talking and laughing I would set off a burst of photos. Out of each of the shot strings I managed to get one or two editable photos.
Following the fence we walked down a path until we found a few different areas and conducted some quick shots in different locations. I think the best location was on a path next to a bush of flowers.
The one thing that really stuck with these types of shoots is the importance of the close up scenery as opposed to the overall scenery. Savana ended up asking to go back out to get more close up shots and we opted to go to a creek near the same area that had changing leaves. I started out by having Savana go up against a tree with changing leaves and I used my flash to try and make up for the low light situation.
As you can see above the flash was a little too harsh and I ended up playing around with it for quite awhile. The second day was a lot darker than the first day so I kept pushing the flash to make up for it. However, at the end of the day, none of the flash photos really turned out all that well. It did allow for a lower ISO, but in the end when I turned it off I think the shots were a lot cleaner.
The image above was shot without the flash and came out a lot better. The ISO was at 320 which is still well within the range of the camera. Right now I am using the Canon 600 EX which is a great flash. However, I think I really need to pick up some filters to help soften it down.
Following our close up shots we went down to the creek bed and got some more close up shots and a few artsy shots. I don't think Savana needs the artsy shots but it was a cool river; Savana was a great sport to let me shoot a few different angles. I ended up having her sit super still and I slowed down the shutter speed to get some nice sweeping river shots.
During all of these shots I used the 24-105mm and when I took some of the close up portrait shots I found that I probably should have been using it more during the shoot. I naturally thought that a 16-35mm would be better to get close in, but the 24-105mm makes for a really nice, soft background while giving me enough of an f-stop to get her entire face in focus.
All in all this was a fun shoot and I learned a ton since it was my first real crack at portrait stuff. Had Savana not known how to pose I think it would have been a lot tougher but she made it easy to just focus on the shot.
The final piece of this was the editing. I am still getting used to having clients so figuring out what the client would think looks good vs what I think would look good takes a little getting used to. I ended up creating a dropbox and I uploaded the shots that were good to great in a RAW format for her to choose from for editing. When she chose her favorites I went in and edited them to her liking. I think this was a bit difficult overall. Next time I would bring my computer and upload the photos then and there and have the client select their favorite shots for me to edit. This might not be possible for a wedding or other large event, but it would be easy for this scenario. Either way I need to read up on some good ways to conduct this part of the shoot.
In short I learned:
- evening light makes for great portrait shots
- the area for the shots only needs to have local areas that fit well for photos, the overall scenery isn't too important
- the flash makes for a great shot but can make the subject look harsh really easily. If possible a higher ISO should also be an option before messing around with a flash for too long
- getting your subject comfortable is super important. I think next time I would bring one of the subject's family or friends that can help talk to them during the shoot and lighten the mood
- shoot with a higher zoom lens further back for good soft backgrounds