A quick look at the calendar says that between sports practices and games, your work obligations, and the myriad of school events, your family is booked solid from now until Thanksgiving- with maybe an afternoon or two free in there somewhere.
How in the world does this happen every year? And this year, you forgot to get a portrait session on the calendar! Maybe you like to get the kids’ portraits taken every autumn (when did holiday cards become such a big deal?). Or maybe your little girl is starting her final year of high school, and you forgot to get her senior portrait session on the calendar. Woops.
Either way, you’ve got portraits to take, no one to take them, and no time to fit them in anyway. What do you do?
If this is you, then this blog post can help. Take a few pointers from a pro who has done this herself a few too many times. While I highly recommend finding some flexibility in that schedule for a professional portrait session (especially for senior portraits), I can offer you a few quick tips if you’re pressed for time or on a budget, and need to take them yourself.
1. USE A CAMERA
Wait… what? That’s my first tip? USE A CAMERA? Absolutely it is. What I mean by this is do not for one second think that your phone is “good enough” here. Go grab yourself the family DSLR, and if you don’t have one, ask your neighbor or friend. Nowadays, almost everyone has a nice camera, so skip the smartphone and opt for the camera.
This is important for two reasons.
First, I don’t care how great your phone is (and some of those smartphone cameras are sweet!), you are never going to get the quality and control that a DSLR can offer you. And I’m not even suggesting that you take it off Auto. That’s a blog post for another day. No, with these tips, you can keep it on Auto, and still get some nice photos. You’ll have less grain or noise, more pixels, and more detail. So go for the quality of the actual camera.
Second, and maybe even more important, is the message you’re sending your senior (or your kids) when using a DSLR or a solid camera over a smartphone. When you shoot with an actual camera, you are teaching your daughter that she’s a portrait, not an insta pic. What do I mean by that? I explain it all in a recent blog post, which you can read here, but basically, you are pouring worth into her with a real camera. With a smartphone, you’re suggesting she’s only worth pulling that device out of your pocket and shooting. Think I’m overexaggerating? Take a moment to consider it. You’ve got your senior daughter, you’re setting her up to take her senior portraits, the portraits every high school senior girl waits for, and you pull out your phone. Hmm…
So skip the phone. Grab the camera.
2. SKIP FILTERS, FIND LIGHT
You may or may not know this, but when it comes to photography, lighting is everything. If you have great light, you can capture a nice shot, whether you’re holding the latest DSLR or your smartphone (although, remember, we’re skipping the phone!). If you can find the right light, you can create a lovely image, whether you’re on Auto or not. And let me emphasize this in another way. Just because you have your camera on Auto does not mean you can skip this tip. If you put her in poor light while on Auto, you’re going to automatically get a poor shot. Find good light, and automatically get a good shot.
So what is good light? Simply put, even light is good light. Light that covers your subject evenly and completely, without pockets of brightness or shadows- that’s good light. So look for open shade, for areas where large buildings cast even light or shade in one area, and use that light. If you can find the right light, you can capture a beautiful image.
3. INVOLVE HER, OR (EVEN BETTER) FOLLOW HER LEAD
This step is simple, but crucial. After all, these are her portraits. So don’t hijack the process. Ask for her help. Ask her to spearhead the project, and then follow her lead. If you’re like me, this might be the most difficult tip to follow. After all, I’m the mom, and so by default I know better. But not in this case. You may have more of an understanding of light than she does, but no one knows her better than she does. She knows what she wants, so let her share it with you. At worst, you can listen and gently try to encourage her to see things a different way. At best, you both agree, you’ve let her lead, and you’ve helped create a whole new level of trust between you two.
So let her take the reins on this one. You can even offer her a few suggestions on how she might begin the planning with Step 4.
4. GET HELP
The important thing to remember here is that you are not the first mother/daughter team to attempt senior portraits, or portraits of any kind. You are not the first mom to have “that question”, so let’s not reinvent the wheel here. Use the help that’s out there. Let me offer a few suggestions.
Google- seriously, Google is my favorite. What’s a good substitute for peanut butter? Google it. How many pints make a gallon? Google it. What is backlighting? Google it! Truly, if you have a question about what clothes photograph well, what time of day is best, or how to get a real smile, you can google it. It will be there.
Pinterest- now wait, I just lied. Google is not my favorite. Pinterest is my favorite. For real. To me, Pinterest is like a pretty Google. I search for everything on Pinterest, and you can, too. So create a board with your daughter and curate all the images or ideas that inspire you. This is actually one of my favorite things to do with every high school senior I photograph. In fact, this leads to my final “help suggestion”.
Professional Help- Now I know that I wrote this entire post toward the point that you can take your daughter’s senior portraits, and I still believe that you can. You can take the tips I offered, add a little Google to them, and you’ll have what you need to capture a handful of lovely images. But it will take you time. You might save money, but you’ll lose that in time. And isn’t that the age old dilemma? What do you want to spend, time or money? Because almost everything in life will cost one of the other.
So that’s where the choice comes in. It is surely more expensive to hire a professional photographer to take your child’s senior portraits. But it will also save you a lot of time.
That even light that I suggest you find? A professional is looking for that light all day every day, usually even when she doesn’t want to be. I can spot poor light a mile away, and sometimes I hate that I can’t turn that off in my mind. And googling all those questions? Been there, done that. I’d actually bet that if you googled some of the points I mentioned above, another one of my own blog posts would come up, because I’ve written about wardrobe choices, about backlighting, about the best times of day to shoot. Wow. I’m like Google but for photography!
And then there’s Pinterest. I told you, that’s my favorite. And I told you that I create a board for every senior I photograph. So I have endless pins, boards, and images to work from. I could save a mom hours in Pinterest alone.
Now, let’s return to the point here. You can do this yourself. I know you can. And I have something to help you, should you choose to go that route. I created a FREE SENIOR PORTRAIT CHECKLIST for you, to ensure you don’t miss a tip when planning your senior’s portraits. You can grab that RIGHT HERE.
And don’t forget about that FREE GUIDE I mentioned earlier. Simple steps to photographing your own teen daughter. GRAB THAT HERE.
Or finally, should you opt to save the time, you can always hire a professional. BOOK WITH ME HERE.
Autumn gets busy, and the calendar gets fuller, but that’s no longer an excuse. You have a few tools now, so you can take your kids’ portraits yourself, or you can opt to book with a professional if you want to save the time. Whatever you choose, enjoy the experience. In the blink of an eye, portrait season will be over, and we’ll be carving the Thanksgiving turkey!