One of our earliest jobs was to take senior portraits for a family member and her friend. It was a good time, and a great learning experience, especially since they wanted more than just their senior portraits done. They also bought a bottle of Jack Daniels for us after they received their images, so they were quite happy. We were too.

Senior portraits are a bit tricky. Rather, they usually have specific requirements that must be adhered too and a firm deadline. I’m sure that most of you out there already know this, but just in case you don’t: Always get those requirements and the deadline info! You might take a lovely portrait, and either edit it and turn it in too late, or you will have failed to meet one of the requirements. You only get one shot at this, so you better get it right!

Okay, it’s not quite as bad as wedding photography, but it’s a close second. And angry parents are … scary. So long as you are aware of the guidelines and get them the images at least a day before the deadline (or submit the photo to school yourself) you will be fine.

Onto the images! In this first image, we see Dani sitting besides a pleasant babbling brook:

Burble burble burble

It’s certainly not award winning, but it gets the job done. Fun fact: The ground was littered, there was nasty growths and things along the bank, it smelled like a swamp, and a few minutes after this image was taken we discovered an abundance of spiders. We left the area with haste after that.

Side note: The image you see is about a stop brighter than what I see in Photoshop or in any of my image viewer programs. I’m just gonna chalk this one up to WordPress weirdness until I learn otherwise.

That’s a nice image. I would also like to show you a few more from the same shoot to illustrate a few mistakes that I made.

Dani 8x10

I really love the back light coming through her hair in this shot. I also like the shallow depth of field. Beyond the bokeh (and for some forum posters, there is nothing beyond bokeh:) I like the drop off. Her face is nice and sharp, but by the time you get to her back shoulder it’s already starting to blur. It really brings focus onto the area we’re most interested in.

What I don’t like is that I could have been a bit better with my skin smoothing in photoshop. That is definitely a skill I need to improve upon. Tony is far better at PS wizardry than I am. Perhaps I should encourage (read:cattle prod) Tony into writing a post about an image in which he had to remove a hand from the shot. To date, that has been the most impressive thing that he’s done in PS.

I am also disappointed that I failed to use a reflector to direct some sunlight onto her face. I had to use a layer mask and brighten that area up a significant amount to get it acceptable. Again, the extra stop in brightness doesn’t show this clearly, but you can still obviously see that the background is much brighter than her face. Lesson learned.

Speaking of bounce light, one of the objectives I had while working this shoot was to use bounce light to isolate the subject in a striking way. In the next post I will have an image which exemplifies this, but for now, there is this:


While she is brighter than her immediate surroundings, the railings to either side, she is not brighter than the sky nor significantly brighter than the wood of the bridge. At this point we were using one double sided reflector, gold on one side, silver on the other. Throughout the shoot we used the gold side, because it gave a warm, natural light that fitted well with the sunlight. We had no studio lights, we were just working with the sun. In retrospect, I would have used two or even three reflectors in an attempt to brighten her up even more. In the next post you will see more of what I was going for in regards to a ‘striking light’ idea. But for now realize that I was trying to use light to separate the subject from the background more than simply bokeh would have done.

I did much better with in achieving this goal with a flower:


It’s not the greatest image, but it does show exactly what I was trying to go for: By over exposing the subject in-situ, I had to underexpose the background. This ‘popped’ the subject out of the background. In this example, I over did it by quite a large margin. However, this image clearly shows what I was trying to achieve: The subject is strikingly distinguished from the background. Fun fact: I achieved this with the cover from a tin cookie box and natural light.

Right, so that’s it for this post. We learned that it is vitally important to know exactly what you’re doing when it comes to senior portraits. We have learned that using reflectors helps immensely when lighting your subject, and that if you want to get creative with your lighting, you may need more than your standard gear. In the next post we will look at Hailey, shot on the same day in mostly the same way, some of the dangers regarding white clothing, but most especially, how the temperament of the model can affect you, the photographer.



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