Just the mention of the word “teenager” can send shivers down a photographer’s spine. As difficult as it is to photograph newborns and children, teens give their younger counterparts a run for their money when it comes to difficulty. The angst and self-absorption that is the hallmark of the teens years makes breaking the ice with them a potentially harrowing task, let alone getting them to pose for a portrait in a way that mom and dad will like.
Granted, these descriptions of teens are quite generalized, and many teens make perfectly fine portrait subjects. Nonetheless, have a look at these simple tips and keep them in your back pocket for when a teen terror arrives for their portrait!
Treat Them Like an Adult
Teens fall into that awkward category of not really being a child anymore, but also not having all the capabilities of an adult either. But, regardless of their mental or physical maturity, teens just want to be treated like adults. Don’t break out the stuffed animals or tell them your lame knock-knock jokes. Even worse, don’t try to communicate with them by using their lingo or slang.
Instead, teens will appreciate you far more if you talk to them like you talk to their parents. Be tactful and respectful. Ask the questions about who they are and what they like to do. Work quickly to minimize the time they have to hold a pose or force a smile. Do that, and they will appreciate you all the more, and give you more to work with as you take their portrait.
Capture Their Youthfulness
Part of being a teenager is having fun with friends, so why not suggest that your portrait subject bring a few people along with them to their portrait shoot.? Having friends there will help your teenage client relax, and the dynamic between friends makes for an excellent portrait subject. Their youthfulness and energy will be on full display, and makes for a memorable photograph.
Another aspect of capturing the youthfulness of a teenage client is to set up the shoot in a way that doesn’t take away from their young energy. Avoid busy backgrounds or flashy wardrobe suggestions. Instead, place your subject in front of a nice, blurry background, a muted-colored wall, or another backdrop that doesn’t distract the eye. A teen’s vibrancy is all the energy the portrait will need!
Use a Longer Lens
Teenagers are extremely self-conscious, and having a camera and strobes shoved in their face will only serve to make them feel more self-aware. Ditch formal shoots in the studio in favor of more candid shoots outdoors, if at all possible. Head to a park, or even their own backyard, put an 85mm lens or even a telephoto lens on your camera and start snapping away. Putting some distance between you and your subject will help them relax, and the images you take will be better as a result.
Closely related to the notion of using a longer lens is to take a few steps back and use a shorter focal length lens to capture an environmental portrait. Again, the purpose here is to give the teenager some breathing room to allow them to feel more comfortable in front of the camera. Except, with a shorter focal length, the angle of view will help you create less of a close-up and more of a wide-angle shot of the teenager in his or her surroundings.
As noted above, it’s helpful if you can make the photo shoot seem less formal. To do that, go for an informal look that makes use of natural lighting and an outdoor location. Lose your tripod, speed up your shutter to avoid camera shake, and select shady, yet well-lit locations that give you good light without the need for a flash, using a reflector if need be to get nice fill-in light. If photographing girls, avoid recommending makeup. And whether your model is a boy or a girl, let them decide what they want to wear. In this case, comfort trumps style, so apart from a few vague guidelines regarding colors or patterns that should be avoided, just let your client wear what they naturally like to wear.
In the end, photographing teens is more about being laid back and taking a less formal approach than anything. Refer to the guidelines explored above, and see how they impact your ability to take a high-quality photo of a teenage client. You might just be surprised at the difference it can make!