9 Tips For Photographing Graduating Seniors

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.

garrison 0100

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.


Good luck!

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.

When Animals Don’t Smile: 10 Zoo Photography Tips

Taking photos of animals at the zoo is a lot different than photographing your pet dog at home. You can’t spend hours getting the right lighting and angle, you can’t change the background, you can’t position the animal differently, and you can’t put quirky objects near the animal to get a funny picture. In zoos, you’re stuck with what’s in the exhibit. But this challenge is what makes the outcome so rewarding; taking a stunning photograph despite the obstacles that come with zoo photography is a difficult feat, but with a little practice, you can become an expert. Below are some tips to help you achieve the best photographs possible. All these photos were taken at the North Carolina Zoological Park in Asheboro, NC.


1. Look for special moments.


Especially when there are multiple animals, look for intimate moments where they interact with one another. These shots end up looking very special and unique, as the interaction between two animals is never going to be exactly the same.


2. Get in close.


Zooming in is crucial. Many animals prefer not to sit right in front of the fence, so zooming in makes the image look more like you’re just hanging out with your bear friend and less like you’re far away with a fence dividing you.


3. Don’t rule out any animals.


I’ve never had any particular desire to photograph ostriches, and I had very low expectations when I arrived at that exhibit. To my surprise, however, the ostrich ended up being my favorite animal to photograph. I was able to get very close to it, and it was extremely expressive and engaging.


4. Go to all the exhibits, especially the butterfly house.


A lot of zoos have butterfly houses or aviaries. These are great, because they allow you to be in an enclosed environment with animals that you normally would never be able to get close to. But, as pointed out in this blog, remember that these areas are often humid, so you need to wait for your camera to transition to the climate change as to avoid condensation on the lens.


5. Focus on the eyes.


Just as with photographing people, the eyes are essential for telling a story with your photo. Focusing on an animal’s eyes will help create a more personal connection between your subject and the viewer of your image.


6. Use the surroundings to your advantage.


Reflection in the water making your shot look less like you originally planned? Find a way to use that to your advantage! You can’t control the animal’s habitat, but you can control how you photograph it.


7. Be patient.


People spend an average of 28 seconds at each exhibit. The chance of having the perfect, most photo-worthy moment in those 28 seconds is highly unlikely. Be a little patient and you’ll capture a unique, interesting moment.


8. Crop images to help tell a story.


Showing just part of an animal often tells a better story than showing its entire body, especially if this means zooming in on the face. You can do this in post-production, but look for different ways to frame the same shot when you’re in the field, too.


9. Get low.


Oftentimes, zoo visitors are above the animals, so photos are taken at a downward angle. As explained here, this distorts features and creates boring compositions. You can fix this by kneeling down to be at the same eye level as an animal; this creates a much stronger photo.


10. Be creative!


Zoos present a lot of opportunities to be creative. Play around with different types of compositions, use the background to enhance your subject, and use the rule of thirds to make your images more dynamic and engaging. And, above all, have fun!

The Best and Worst Parts About Photographing My First College Basketball Game

My first year at UNC Chapel Hill, I worked as a photographer and graphic designer for The Yackety Yack, which is UNC’s yearbook. Through this organization, I was able to photograph a variety of sports and events, the most notable of which were the men’s basketball games. It’s been a while since I photographed my first game, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Here are the best and worst parts about my experience.


1. You’ll get on TV!

The first time I photographed a game, my parents watched the entire game on TV and paused it every time they saw me, every time they thought they saw me, and every time a white female was shown, just in case. Turns out, the person sitting under the hoop taking pictures gets on TV a lot. It’s easy to let the fame get to your head. I began to wonder if people were watching the game to see basketball or just to get a glimpse of me. Is it even a basketball game or just a bunch of subjects for me to photograph? Were sports invented just so I could get good pictures???

2. …except you’ll look like this.

Unfortunately, my dreams of becoming a celebrity shattered when I realized that my Very Focused On Taking Pictures face was slightly different from my Supermodel Face. I promise I enjoyed taking the pictures, it’s just that my focused face looks alarmingly similar to my unamused face.

3. The Media Entrance.

Ah, the media entrance. A glorious, glorious way to enter the Dean Dome (UNC’s basketball stadium). After spending hours waiting in line in the cold/rain/wind as a student, walking confidently through the media entrance and getting in immediately was very satisfying. You also get to wear a really cool badge and feel super important. And nobody questions you. It’s wonderful. Plus, then you get all the perks that come from the media entrance, such as…

4. Free Food!

Perhaps it’s the college student syndrome, but the idea of anything free, especially food, is one of the best things in the world. I was told beforehand that there was food, but I was expecting peanuts and maybe chips. Imagine my surprise and pure joy upon discovering an entire Bojangle’s (aka delicious fried chicken and Southern delights) spread in front of me.

5. The Press Room.

The Press Room is a room where all the photographers talk about photography and important things. If you’re a little punk like I was, you just stand there in awe at how calm everyone is despite the fact that they’re about to sit on the court at an important basketball game.


The first time I photographed a basketball game, the whole first half I just sat there, completely starstruck. I was so close! When the ball went out of bounds I saw it! The players were inches away! I could see everything! I was right there! I was part of the game!

7. The Ball.

Ah, the ball. Some might argue that it’s a crucial aspect of the game, but to me, it was an orange sphere of paranoia. It moves so fast, and you’re so focused on getting a good shot, and it’s very difficult to monitor the ball and ensure that it does not smash you. There’s no fence or protective wall between the photographers and the court, which means an out-of-bounds ball is your worst enemy. Which brings me to the next problem…

8. Constantly debating whether potentially having your fancy lens getting smashed by a basketball is worth getting a good shot…

The answer is always yes.

9. You can’t cheer.

Three pointer! Slam dunk! Win in OT! We beat Duke! These are all normally very exciting events, but not for a photographer. When the whole stadium erupts in cheers, you can give a half smile at most. You are NOT allowed to jump up and down and celebrate, but rather must uphold a steely demeanor. “Oh, did my team win in overtime against our biggest rivals with a shot from halfway across the court? That’s cool, I guess.”

10. AMAZING photographs.

Of course, all the paranoia about being squashed by a basketball and lack of cheering is worth it, because your pictures will be fantastic. And you’ll stare at them for hours and think about what a great experience that was. Plus, it’s pretty awesome bragging rights for a college student.