"Photographing Seniors: Tips and Tricks for Dealing with Teen Esteem" was first published by Maddie on Photoprentice, on Nov. 6, 2014.
Seniors can be some of the hardest people to shoot when it comes to self-esteem. I’ve been lucky in that for the most part, my girls are confident. I absolutely love that about them! But once in a while I’ll get a girl who doesn’t quite think she’s as beautiful as she is, or has insecurities about her image, or is just leery about being in front of the camera. I get it! That was totally me. I see it as my job as a photographer to make them aware that their insecurities aren’t warranted and they’re gorgeous – inside and out! Here’s how I do it.
Do your homework
The first thing I do to get ahead of the insecurity monster starts before I even meet with the senior girl in person. She fills out a questionnaire for me that helps my process/business in many ways, one of them being it gives me a deeper dive into who the senior is. What are her feelings about the upcoming shoot? What has she seen before in senior photography that she likes or doesn’t like? She spills, and I address these concerns immediately, either with a quick chat or email, or first thing the day we are shooting.
About 75% of the time I have girls tell me they are nervous about posing and have no idea how to behave in front of a camera. I was getting this response so often that I actually put it in my senior magazine (which I use to book potential clients) to put their minds at ease immediately. If a girl still brings it up, I tell her not to worry AT ALL about posing because that’s my job! I spend time researching the best poses and how to pose young girls in a flattering way so they look their very best. If the senior wants to help with ideas, great! If it’s totally overwhelming, no worries. I make sure they know they will never be wondering, What do I do with my hands!?
As soon as we start working, I take total control of the situation. I start with an easy pose/direction that will make the senior feel comfortable and at ease. I really think this sets the tone for the whole shoot! This means I’m there before the senior, or I’ve scoped out the location before so I know what to use first, and how, and how the shoot will proceed. If I have a plan, I feel better, and I know the seniors are immediately relaxed knowing they can just sit back and smile pretty.
Right off the bat I want her to trust me and my photographic eye, so I will make sure I’m asking for exactly what I want. For example: If I ask her to put a hand to her cheek but her fingers are too stiff, I have her shake out her hand and put it back with “soft, pretty hands.” I demonstrate what I mean by telling her to connect her chin more to her shoulder. I gush when she nails it. I tell her that pose is PERFECT and hold right there while I move this hair out of your eye. I physically move her into a position if she’s struggling a little. I once read that subtle and gentle touches during a shoot can do wonders for the trust and comfort the senior feels towards the photog and I have 100% found that to be true.
After a couple frames, I show the back of my camera to her and rave about how gorgeous she is. This. Is. A. Game. Changer. I’ve only ever had one senior girl who didn’t respond positively to this (she didn’t respond negatively either…she just was super shy and quiet). Usually, this is when she’ll light up and Ooh and Ahh over how the image looks. I love this part!! You can really see her come alive and get more confident with how she looks and how she acts. It’s seriously my secret weapon.
Embrace your Weird
The whole time I’m shooting I’m acting like a complete idiot. Weird noises, happy shrieks…nothing is off limits! This puts the senior even more at ease because 1) I’m obviously getting great images because I’m acting like a lunatic, and 2) they are definitely the coolest person in the room It’s OK to be silly!
Be a Friend
During the entire shoot, I work extremely hard to maintain a solid level of professionalism while also being a pal. We talk about school, extra curriculars, my dog, our favorite TV shows…whatever! This always helps them come out of their shell a bit more and relax.
Part of what I sell with my senior session packages is the experience. It’s so important to me that the senior (and any parent or guardian tagging along) has a FABULOUS time at the shoot. I want them to feel beautiful and important and wonderful, and remember the shoot for years. These tricks have definitely helped me build my senior business so I’m constantly receiving the feedback that the session was “so fun!” and I love that. Hopefully it will help you, too!