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My First Senior Portrait!: No Way She's 65!

What does a Los Angeles photographer do when it's 99 degrees outside? Shoot a senior portrait, of course! A friend's daughter needed some portraits for her yearbook, so we made a day of it....a very hot, sunny day of it. Jenna and I first shot some quick portraits ( in the same vein as Peter Hurley), in my garage studio. The set-up involved 3 strip banks, all positioned around the camera lens. This creates a poppy, shadowless portrait, with a trademark catchlight in the eyes.

Aside from the relatively straight-forward portraits, we also pulled off my patented (I have no patents) light rope portrait. With my lovely assistant (my wife) helping out, I lit Jenna's face with a speedlight on a stand. My assistant spun the light rope behind our subject, and with a one-second exposure, we created the resulting halo effect. The small light source is responsible for the quick light fall-off on her hair and shoulders.

Knowing that it would be brutally hot outside (and aware of that fact that shooting in noonish, direct sunlight is the sign of a moron), we did our best to hide in the shadow of a lonely palm tree in a nearby alley way. We first shot a few images against a cinderblock wall, thereby avoiding the direct sun. I later added a strobe to light Jenna's face, just to add a little something-something.

We then found our tiny spot in the center of the alley, and shot in the shade of the palm tree. While the tree's shadow blocked the harsh direct sunlight, it also created an issue. Namely, if you shade a part of an image, you are also creating greater contrast in the image. In order to expose her face properly, I had to allow more light to hit it (because it is now in a shadow). As I do this, I am now drastically overexposing the surrounding environment or "blowing it out." Because I was now dealing with two lighting "zones," I had to control them both in some way. If I exposed for her face, the environment would lose all detail. On the other hand, if I got a correct exposure on the background, Jenna would become a silhouette. What to do? In order to balance the lighting, I exposed for the background, and introduced additional light to my subject. The light is subtle, but you can just see it creating the hat brim shadow on her forehead. An alternative would be to expose for her face, let the background go nuclear, and process the image as a black and white. Black and white printing is much more forgiving in regards to overexposed images. Imagine a color photograph with a blown-out, white sky. Yuck, no thanks.

Next, we drove a block (it was very hot) to the local school for a different environment. Our first image at the school was an idea I had envisioned months ago. Everyday I drive by the school (it is on my way home from anywhere), and I saw the handball courts. My original concept was to have a musician playing an instrument in the one of courts, but I was just happy to be shooting there. There is a fence facing the courts, so unless I was going to shoot through the fence, I could only include 2 of the 5 courts. I had a bare speelight (like the one you stick on top of your slr) on a stand, and had it just feather across her face. There is nothing natural about the image, but I think it has a certain unique feel to it.

There is a general assumption that you can typically find shade on the north wall of a buidling. Test it out! Knowing that our handball court faced north, I ASSUMED that said wall would have a rear side as well. I was correct. Not only was I correct, but that rear wall was bouncing buckets of light on to......a fence just beyond the wall. Jenna's mom had e-mailed me a Pinterst page with some ideas, so I knew we needed a fence for one image. Because Jenna only had shade behind her, I only had to worry about how much light would be needed to properly expose her visage. The wall (and the concrete in front of it) supplied us with all the light we needed. Why is it such pretty light? There are two reasons. First, the wall is enormous. Imagine for a second how small the sun is. Sure, it's diameter is 109 times that of the earth, but from down here, it's the size of a marble. The wall, (though not quite as large as then sun), has a larger relative size, giving us this delicious, wrapping light. Besides, if you used the sun as your strobe, the light wouldn't even get here for more than 8 minutes. So, what's the point? Who even suggested doing that? One of you got off topic here. Secondly, some of the light is bouncing off the ground, filling in any shadows under Jenna's chin.

Our last setup came down to dumb luck. I was looking for something colorful in the shade, and we came upon some purple lockers. I had Jenna practice some of her cheerleading moves. We shot 4 exposures, and we came up with this image. It is one of my favorites. I just removed some trash from the ground in Photoshop (c'mon, kids!), and a fire alarm from the wall behind. I would NEVER advocate removing a fire alarm in the real world.

So, there you have it. In the end, I went home with 12 different looks, and it only took about 2 hours. Oh, to be a cheerleader again!

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