When May rolls around, most people celebrate the warm weather, colorful flowers, and abundance of green. But for photographers, late spring means something else: senior photograph season.
There are lots of articles and online galleries that offer examples of creative, out-of-the-box senior photography. But let’s start with the basics. For photographers who have less experience with senior portraits, or for experienced photographers looking for new tips and inspiration, here are 9 tips for photographing graduates.
1. Capture their personality.
Not everyone you photograph will be as fun and silly as Gaitry, above, but if you spend time getting to know the person you’re photographing, you’ll begin to understand who they are and how to capture that. Learn their quirks, what makes them unique, and then find a way to capture that with a photograph. If they’re introverted and prefer to spend their time reading a good book, ask them to bring one of their favorite books with them. If they’re high-energy and active, consider a photoshoot with more movement and adventurous poses. Each photoshoot should be tailored to mirror the personality of your graduate. It makes the photos more special to them and more interesting for you.
2. Try different angles.
When I was photographing Erika and she lied down on NC State’s Brickyard, I originally took all her photos from above. However, in those photos, her red gown blended into the red bricks. I decided to lie down myself and get the colorful trees (perks of photographing a December graduate) in the background instead of the bricks. This created a much more visually appealing photo, and Erika stood out nicely against the colorful fall leaves.
3. Look for special moments.
Especially when photographing multiple people, oftentimes the candid photos look much more natural than the posed ones. When I was photographing Garrison and Nigel, the unposed photos ended up being the best ones. Then you’re capturing real moments, real emotions, and real reactions, which give a better sense of who a person actually is.
4. Highlight their future plans.
Find ways to document where someone is going. Did they just get into college or grad school? Take a photo of them with a stuffed animal, flag, hat, etc. from that university. Did they just get an awesome job offer? Photograph them with their acceptance letter or company business card. Are they taking a gap year to travel the globe? Have them bring their passport to the photo session. Did they get accepted into the Disney College Program? Ask them to wear their Mickey ears during the photoshoot.
5. Find out what’s significant to them.
I wouldn’t choose to photograph every graduating senior at the Campus YMCA. But for Garrison, the Campus Y was a place he spent a majority of his undergraduate career in, and he felt very connected to the people and experiences that the Campus Y led him to. Find out what places are significant to the person you’re photographing, and make an effort to photograph them at the most important ones.
6. Zoom in.
Getting a few detailed shots helps capture intimate details about a person and who they are. Zooming in on the tassel, or a person’s jewelry, offers a unique angle and perspective on a person and shows objects that would get lost in a normal photo.
7. BYOP (Bring Your Own Props).
Props are great, because they make your photos more interesting, and they also give your subject something to hold, which will make them feel less awkward. Have them use props significant to them: band members can bring their instrument, athletes can bring their equipment, etc. Also, if you’re photographing them before they actually have their diploma, just roll up a piece of white paper and tie it. Then you have the illusion of a diploma without getting the actual diploma rolled up/dirty.
8. Don’t be afraid to be artsy!
Shoot through the grass, shoot through the trees, shoot upside down, shoot underwater. Try new things to get unique photos. It’s always better to try and fail than to never try at all. And, when you’re rolling around on the grass trying to find the perfect blade to photograph, you might get some good candid photos of your subject laughing at you.
9. Don’t forget your cliché shots.
Yes, your laughing shots and poses holding a basketball and grass angles are cool, but don’t forget the typical photos, too. Your creative bone might hurt, but there are landmarks at any high school or college that people want to be photographed with. And every college student wants a photo in front of the building their major is in, most likely while making a victorious pose. These photos are just as important as the unique ones, so make sure you set time aside for the cliché shots, too.
Use these tips to get great, unique, and memorable senior photos. If you’re interested in photography and want other tips, check out my blog posts about sports photography and zoo photography.