some things I've learned : photographing seniors!

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I know that many of you who read my blog are also photographers, and some of you are just starting a business, which is awesome!! Given that it is fall and the time of year for senior photos, I wanted to share some tips with these, which are some tidbits from the content at my workshop!

And first off, I don't claim to be a professional when it comes to shooting senior pictures, 
but I have learned some different things that have helped me over the past few years when it comes to doing them.
SO, if this post is beneficial to even one person, then it is totally worth sharing :)

My goals with senior sessions are --
for guys : make them look legit.
for girls : make them look gorgeous.
If I complete these, then it was a good session. :)

I'm going to share some general tips for both guys/girls, and then specifically for each gender with photo examples.

Adjust things when you're shooting. Don't be afraid to be upfront about stuff. I usually tell girls right away "I'm going to touch your hair a lot!" because I do. If the wind has blown some hairs across her forehead, I stop and move it back -- saves me editing time later. If their shirt is bunching up from the position they are in, stop and have them pull it straight. Notice things that will detract from the photo - hair tie on a wrist (remove it), phone in pocket, tree coming out of their head in the background (have them scoot over slightly), etc. You're creating art while you shoot and the process should reflect that.

Keep it chill. Don't act like this is stressful! People are already nervous and uncomfortable in front of the camera, so I try and keep things really low-key. Ask questions about them! Laugh together about stuff! Tell them to really relax their body, and give encouragement as you're shooting. It makes such an obvious difference in photos when the subject feels comfortable. :)

Study them. Be observant to their personality/interests, and your posing should be related to that. [i.e. if someone is more quiet I'm not going to stick them in the middle of the highway and have them do some band cover pose! :) ] Watch for things they naturally do. For example - sometimes when I am setting someone up they will naturally flick their hair and I'll say "do that again with your hair!" or "I like how you were just looking off to the side, do that again!" The more I can incorporate things they typically do, the more their images will look like them, which is the goal!!

Strive for the genuine smile. Every mom wants the 'real' smile shot of their kid, so if you can get them laughing their most genuine smile will follow right after that. Practice and train yourself to be better at catching these moments, because people laugh very unexpectedly!! :)

Keep in mind the 'standard' shots you need to get. With every senior session I know I need to at least get a solid portrait headshot (most seniors need this for their school yearbook), a full-length shot, and a couple different landscape head shots that will work well for wallets (since every senior is going to print these). For me personally what I mean by "landscape wallet headshots" are photos like these below, where their head is close-up, and on the left or right side of the frame. I just like how this looks and prints well for wallet photos.
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Use pinterest. Have inspiration boards you can get ideas from, and recreate poses with your own twist on them. This is especially helpful if the senior wants to use a specific object like a flute, violin, golf clubs, etc, and you're not sure how to pose them with the item. Some specific boards I have that I can look through before sessions are these : hereherehere.

Location. Don't freak out about having some 'amazingly perfect' location(s)! Having killer backdrops is great, but honestly you could shoot a senior session in a backyard with just grass and a few trees if you had too. Since you are just focusing on one person, and if you shoot with lower apertures like I do (I typically stay between 2.0 - 2.8 for seniors) then the background is going to probably end up being blurred, or mostly out of focus. Instead think more about the lighting, posing, and how you are making the client look. This senior session was literally shot all within a block of my house, only using a couple different neighbor yards, a few barns, and a building! I also have all my clients text me photos of their outfits beforehand, as it helps me visually plan things out and pick locations that will compliment what they are wearing.

Show them what you want. I usually act out the pose I'm going for and have them watch. For example, I'll walk up to the wall and say, "I want you to stand against the wall right here, lean your head against the wall (lean my head) and stick your right hand in your pocket with the thumb out." If I want a guy to crouch in a certain way, I crouch down and show them exactly what I am envisioning. Monkey see, monkey do -- right?! :)

Sometimes guy seniors can be more challenging in that there aren't a bazillion 'manly' poses you can put them in, but here are a few different things I do (and every so often throw in something new!).

Sit and lean forward, hands together.
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Another sitting one, but this one I had his hands under his chin, head to the side.
(also having the ribbed tin in the background and his hoodie/lid help 'make' this image)
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If you have brothers (like I do!) think about how they naturally stand and lean against things.
For this one notice his stance with his feet, arm leaning on the cement tube, other hand in back pocket.
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For this shot I had him lean against the tin wall with one foot up, one hand against his jeans, the other in his pocket. 
Also notice how his head is leaning away from the wall, not against it.
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Crouching always works great for guys, and if there is a smoking pit in the background that's pretty cool, right?! ha!
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Girl seniors are super fun because you can be a bit more creative and 'girly' when shooting..
like incorporating fields of flowers, vintage props, etc!
For girls, I often am having them turn their head towards their shoulder (see below) 
instead of their head straight on towards me. 
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I also LOVE doing the head towards the shoulder, eyes looking down.
I focus on their eyelashes and adore how feminine and flattering this always is.
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Use hands!! For girls especially this will add so much visual interest to a photo.
Have them rest them against their head, under their chin, in their hair..etc, etc.
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for this one I could have shot it with her hand down, and it would still have looked cool with the wind blowing her hair, but it just adds something to have it on her shoulder.
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Same thing here where I could have just done a serious head shot, but having her arm makes the image more interesting.
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for this shot (below) I had her one hand in her hair, and the other one holding that arm.
LOVE the angles and lighting in this.
And this was literally shot right off the road! 
Where I live all along the rural highways there are tall grasses and flowers, and so we parked on the gravel shoulder of one, and tromped through tall grasses up to this little hill.
The golden hour was gorgeous by this point, and the grasses weren't as tall up here but instead softer 
and lush with some purple flowers.
So again, you can use a very 'simple' location, and the lighting/posing will make your image!
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I hope these tips were helpful -- if so, please comment below!!
Also if YOU have any tips yourself to share when it comes to photographing seniors, I would love to hear them!

happy Thursday!
~H. Elise
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  1. Can't wait to see what you are going to do with Pierre 😉

  2. Hi Hannah,
    I sent you an email today asking you a question. Did you get my email?
    Please write back soon.
    Love in Christ,

  3. Hannah, this helped me SO MUCH! I really like these types of posts and hope you do more!! :) That last shot is gorgeous! From a recent session? Can't wait to see more!! :D

  4. Yayayay for this!!!

    1. also, can we just take a moment to appreciate this bit:

      "My goals with senior sessions are --
      for guys : make them look legit.
      for girls : make them look gorgeous.
      If I complete these, then it was a good session. :)"

      I mean, really, this is SO TRUE. I shoot {ha, there's a pun for ya} for the same thing. :)

  5. Awesome! Thanks so much for the tips! I'm shooting my sister's senior pics soon, so this is perfect!

  6. FABulous post!!! you are such an awesome photographer...and I LOVE these tips.

  7. This was a great post! :) You have some very helpful tips. Like Lydia, I also *might* be shooting my sister's senior pictures this weekend so you posted this at just the right time. :)

  8. love this Hannah!! - Kayla

  9. Wow that looks wonderful Hannah! LOVE your Blog, and wow you are crazily talented in photography, stunning photo's! I also love photography, and taking photo's, so the tips were really helpful! Love it..haha can't wait to see more! How would you take your own photo's with a self timer?? Thanks! http://walkingonsunshine.co.nr/

    1. aww thank you Riarna!! I usually just used the self timer feature on my camera, which is rare - haha! :) I know there are hand held remote's available that you can use too. :)

  10. Muchas gracias for these tips and for the awesome examples, Hannah! :)


please leave a comment -- I would love to hear your thoughts on this post!! :)