5 Senior Portrait Techniques That Will Bring Repeat Business

senior portrait photo

Getting new photography clients can be hard. Especially since so many people seem to be offering their services now.

You can make yourself stand out from the crowd and get more referrals and repeat business by ensuring that your senior portraits are superior works of art.

These techniques work for all types of portrait work, actually. Creating awesome senior portraits can open the door for family sessions, corporate head shots, even engagement and wedding photography.

Here are 5 great techniques for awesome senior portraits:

1 – Selective Focus

american backdrop

If you were to examine portraits you love and wonder why they look so much better than snapshots, selective focus would likely be one of the major differences.

With selective focus, we endeavor to have a sharp subject stand out from a blurred background. It’s also effectively used with a blurred foreground framing a sharp subject. While this can done in post processing, I think it works best when done in camera.

Opening up the lens aperture (f/stop) is how we achieve this.

Using longer (telephoto) lenses is also part of the equation.

You can do this manually, but you can also set your DSLR to aperture priority automatic. There’s nothing wrong with using an automatic mode, as long as you know what it’s doing and how to control it.

This technique is especially useful in environmental settings, such as a park, a lake, or an interesting downtown area.

2 – Hold It Steady

senior photo

Unless we’re going for a specific look, camera or subject movement often results in images we won’t ever show to a client.

Several methods can be used to steady your camera for better portraits. A tripod can help steady our camera and also gives us some freedom in moving around with a remote release.

You want to have an engaging senior portrait session.

This let’s you interact with the subject, suggest poses, and maintain a feel for what’s going on in the session.

Hand held is fine, too. Instead of using the camera’s view screen, use the viewfinder at eye level. This let’s you steady the camera better.

Hold the lens with your left hand, elbow tucked in against the body, and use the right hand to hold the camera, again with elbow tucked in tight to your body.

3 – Use Fill Light


Whether in a studio, or on site outdoors, or at a client’s home or business, your portraits will benefit from controlling the lighting.

A fill light can make your subject look so much better than just hoping the exposure is correct.

Outdoors or on site, a reflector can be easily used as a fill light source. If you have an assistant, use them to hold a reflector and have them direct whatever light there is back into the subject’s face. This brightens the eyes and eliminates unwanted shadows from hair, hats, or harsh direct light.

No assistant? Have the subject hold the reflector as you direct them and zoom in for head and shoulders or full face cropping.

On camera flash can also be used as a fill light. If your camera has an auto setting for that, try it out ahead of time to see how the results look. Otherwise, manually adjust flash power and exposure settings for the proper balance.

With practice, you will get used to this technique quickly.

4 – Use a Short Telephoto Lens

telephoto lens

There’s a reason that 85mm and 105mm lenses on full frame 35mm format cameras are called portrait lenses. It’s because they offer a pleasing perspective for portraits, when used properly.

Using a wider angle lens and filling up the frame with a subjects face gives results that many people will find unflattering. A large nose, receding forehead, and a generally unnatural facial appearance is not considered a pleasant look by most portrait subjects.

But, standing back a bit, and using lens focal length to fill the frame, often will create a more pleasing perspective. Whether a zoom or prime lens is used, a slightly telephoto focal length is invaluable.

This also helps with point number one, selective focus, since a slight telephoto has less depth of focus at any given distance and aperture than normal or wide lenses.

5 – Make It Fun

senior portraits

Yes, this actually counts as a technique.

In a senior portrait session, being stiff and formal generally won’t let you get the best portrait possible.

A relaxed subject, one that is enjoying the session, will tend to naturally fall into facial expressions and poses that give good results. And if that isn’t happening, a relaxed atmosphere gives you more freedom and opportunity to direct them properly.

For senior portraits, a natural facial expression will more often be chosen from your proofs than expressions that look posed.

True, photography has a lot of technical things to keep track of, but don’t let that interfere with the rapport you want with your subject. You don’t need to be a comedian, counselor, or their best friend, but if a subject is comfortable with you, they are more likely to become a repeat client or recommend you to others.

Finding new clients is part of being a professional photographer, full time or part time.

Creating senior portrait images that impress the client will give your business a boost with repeat customers, referrals, and recommendations.

Add these techniques into your senior portrait sessions and see it happen for you.

Stephen Harker is an avid travel photography enthusiast as well as being a professional portrait, small product, and commercial real estate photographer since the late 1970s. Assisted by his wife Marnie Ann (an artist and crafter), they can often be found on rural highways and back roads throughout the South and MidWest, looking for interesting architecture to photograph. "I work at what I love doing. How much better can that be?"


Related Posts

Search our store