Tips from a Teen: How to Shoot Beautiful Senior Photos

My niece Olivia is a rising college student. She and I love to get together and talk ‘photography shop’ and she is here this week visiting. It is so fun and so important to have another person (I call them Photo Friends!) to share your photography passion with as you learn  about this amazing art through the eyes of others and of course through practicing….a lot.

When I stepped-up to my ‘extra big girl’ camera I was happy for Olivia to inherit my Canon Rebel; she was doing really amazing stuff with her point and shoot and I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with a real SLR! Olivia has an eye for creative composition and style that is so fresh and ‘confident’! Your confidence level is very important with any skill but especially with photography. If you hesitate to get the shot, you will lose it every time. Confidence is required to get out of the box and learn new things, explore new ideas, try new angles, look for new emotions and create a new style … all needed for beautiful photography (unless you want to get a job taking passport photos!). 

Olivia is gifted with a few things that make her a beautifully successful photographer:

  • She has the CONFIDENCE FACTOR that so many young people have allowing her not to worry too much about camera rules or failing. She has a good balance of the technical skill and the creative skill but without the confidence factor it wouldn’t matter.
  • She has the motivation to PRACTICE a lot and try many different things till she gets it right.
  • She is an ‘old soul’ who sees beauty in amazing places and knows how to make everything more unique and beautiful with her camera.
  • Like every amazing photographer she is in love with her camera…and it shows!

Olivia had her first professional photography job this month (which means she was paid!) She shot senior portraits of a peer friend of hers. 

Here are some of Olivia’s tips for Senior Portraits:

1. Use a meaningful setting. She very smartly used their high school for the set. Why would you go anywhere else?



2. You will find great light in the most unusual places. The light was perfect on her face in this shot with the shadow behind her head; if there was more light behind the subject this would not have worked so well.


3. Look for iconic backgrounds that are unique to the school and frame your subject around them.

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4. This shoot was at 3 in the afternoon but the side of the building was shaded so she had soft light on her face. (also note: address and meaningful plaque in composition).


5. Don’t be afraid to experiment with unusual angles and multiple changes of clothes!


6. Shoot extreme distances and close-ups…. and get the class ring.

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7. Don’t put your subject in the center…your eye will naturally follow them. (Rule of Thirds.) The buildings in the background made these shots more meaningful.

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8. Not every photo needs to be serious!


9. Shoot wide angle and then …


…..a close up of the same scene.


10. A short detour to a local train yard provided yet another wonderful urban setting.


11. Don’t be afraid to trespass…(and possibly get kicked out!)…just don’t tell the moms…you will still get to keep the shots!


12. Natural and manmade textures can add a dynamic twist to your photo. And finally, have fun with your subject, that is the only way to capture their true unique candid personality!

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I wish for all of you that you will find someone in your life that inspires you to get out of your box and try new things with your photography….don’t be surprised if it is a teen! Thank you Olivia for the wonderful tips….I’m excited to see your next project!

Even though Olivia is a ‘M Girl” (manual setting), most of these shots were shot on the ‘no flash’ setting on her camera with little post editing outside of adjusting the contrast. On the Canon it is the little box that has a line through the lightening bolt symbol.

ss 1/160,  f-stop 8, ISO 400

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