I headed down to the Back Mountain a couple of weekends back to shoot senior photos for my now-cousin (by marriage) Kimmy. She’d already had her yearbook photos done – the school made all the kids go to the same photographer for them (how’s that for a big-brother monopoly!), but she wanted some portraits just for her to give to friends and family.
It’s a good tradition, sharing senior photos this way, a good way of celebrating a major milestone in your life. I love shooting senior photos, plus Kimmy is really cool, so I knew starting off that it was going to be a great session.
Knowing that we’d be working outside, I kept the kit simple – one light, on a stand, with a shoot-through umbrella. I had a second speedlight with me, and the 24×24 inch softbox, just in case, but we never needed them. Same thing with the camera: I had the E-M5 + 35-100 f/2.8, with the 12-40 f/2.8 as a backup that I never reached for. I prefer the 70-200mm range over all others in all of my shooting, and especially for portraits.
We started in Kimmy’s back yard, a simple standing pose against a cluster of trees with the woods in the background. It was my throw-away pose, which is how I always think about the first setup on a shoot. This is the setup that doesn’t really excite you – for goodness sakes, never try to shoot your must-have setup first. Even with a professional model, you need a few minutes to get comfortable with each other, and with the camera, and that’s what the throw-away pose provides.
Kimmy turned out to be one of those subjects who is a pure joy to work with. She was comfortable in front of the camera almost immediately, she could hold a natural-looking smile, and she had an innate knack for posing.
There are some subjects who need constant direction when it comes to posing. It’s like once in front of the camera, they become so self-conscious that they forget how to move, or even stand, like a natural human being. You have to keep up a running dialog with them, providing instruction and affirmation every moment. Which is fine – it’s really okay. Not everyone is comfortable being a model. As a photographer, it’s our job to be prepared to help these subjects along, and to make great images with them.
But then there are the subjects who are just naturals, who fall into perfect poses without any prompting. My favorite thing when working with a subject is to have them strike a pose on their own that makes me call out, “That’s it – don’t move a muscle!” Kimmy was one of those. The girl just gets it.
We shot a couple of setups outdoors at her home, including two versions of her sitting in a hammock swing under a maple tree in different outfits. This was one of those setups that was a gift – the lawn was covered with fallen leaves, the foliage was at peak, and the lighting was easy.
It was a day with heavy overcast, so the light was flat and diffused. Adding in the speedlight/umbrella combo gave everything just enough pop, especially under the maple, where I had to crank it up to full power. I had Mandy, playing the role of my Voice-Activated Lightstand, jam the umbrella into the branches above Kimmy’s face and slightly to one side while I worked the angles, playing with shots that included elements of foreground foliage rendered nicely out of focus.
We took the show on the road after that, driving a few minutes to The Lands at Hillside Farms, where we finished out our session. I can’t say enough about how wonderful Hillside is, as a visual setting, as a place to visit, and in their open attitude towards photography.
We started out in the one barn, shooting a quick series on some haybales. The concept was good, but the angles were a bit tricky, and I wasn’t sure Kimmy’s outfit worked overall – although she ended up selecting one of these as her final picks for editing.
We moved in a circle, following the creek for a few setups, including a great series with Kimmy sitting on a perfectly-shaped rock mid-stream, and finally ending in the restored greenhouses, where we wrapped up with a couple of bright, softly lit shots.
We used the flash to varying degrees in all the setups, even in the greenhouse at the end. I started shooting in there without it, thinking that there’d be enough ambient light, but eventually included it for that little extra pop in and around her eyes.
The only other thing I want to point out is that I did use a ½ CTO gel on the speedlight. A bit of warmth usually helps with portraits, skin looks better with a slight warm tone. On an overcast day, the camera’s white balance is going to shift things towards warmth anyway, so blasting in with cooler light from the flash would look out of place. I did make sure I grabbed a shot with the white balance target, so I could at least get a neutral measurement as a reference point.
So there you have it – a great shoot with a great subject, and photos that she’s thrilled to share! Couldn’t ask for a better day than that.