Every year Albany High School gives juniors the opportunity to sample careers they think might be interesting by spending a few hours with someone who does that job. A dedicated committee of parent volunteers works hard to place students with mentors in their chosen fields. I was honored to be selected to spend time with three young people who wanted to learn more about photography.
I wanted to make our time together as engaging for the kids as possible. I decided to walk them through the decisions a photographer might have to make at a typical on-location photo shoot. You might find that information useful too. This post will contain more photographs than usual because we had a really good time.
I did two important things to prepare. First, I emailed the students to let them know that I would be taking pictures of them. Nobody wants to be surprised by a photo shoot. I asked them to wear clothes they liked and felt comfortable in, and to have their hair and makeup the way they like it. I was well aware that our starting time of 9:00 in the morning was way too early for any teenager to be expected to actively — much less pleasantly — participate. I thought the photo shoot would be merely an exercise. But these kids really came through.
Perhaps that was in part because of the second thing I did to prepare. After some introductory chitchat, I took them in the kitchen and offered them brownies.
It’s good to build a friendly relationship with your photographic subjects. Let them know you are on their side. In this case, the brownies were unexpected and they did the trick. While the students relaxed, I began snapping and talking through what I was doing. For instance, if you are shooting indoors in natural light, place yourself between a window and your subject. In this case, the morning light gave interesting dimension to Taylor’s face. And converting the picture to black and white eliminated distractions in the background.
Thankfully it wasn’t raining or too terribly cold, so we moved outside. The deck was shaded by the house so Giselle didn’t have to squint, and there was some lovely morning light behind her. Very flattering. The two most important elements of a pleasing portrait (after the subject, of course) are lighting and background. If you give some thought to these elements the next time you photograph your loved ones, you’ll be miles ahead of most snapshots.
One of the least productive directions you can give is to insist that your subject smile. Forget about “Say Cheese!” That usually results in a forced, unnatural expression. If your subject has permission not to smile, and you continue to engage with him or her, eventually you might get a genuine smile that reaches the eyes. Christina has such warm eyes.
Next we took a brief field trip to Terrace Park. If you really want your subjects to forget about the camera and just be themselves, arrange for a goofy dog to show up doing his goofy dog thing. Poof! You’re invisible! Seriously, a prolonged photo shoot can get tedious. It’s great to have something to break the tension. Sometimes it’s just a matter of stopping for a while and waiting for that unguarded moment.
Some other favorites from the day:
Thank you Christina, Taylor, and Giselle! Good luck to you in whatever your future holds.