We just returned from our 2011 senior portrait conference (spa) in Palm Springs California. We had our 3rd model winner in a row from across the country and she won the Top Model award! We are so proud of Kristen!
There were some great images out at spa but this year I “observed” a lot more than I have in the past. We followed Kristen and her mom around on day #3 of spa where she has session with other photographers to see them work and teach.
One of the things that spa celebrates is the best of the best in high school senior photography. And the best of the best senior photographers are all there. A consistent theme that I saw with these photographers was the “connection” they made with the subject, the speed at which they connected with them, and the ease in which they did so. This, of course, translated to a an incredible experience for all the seniors chosen to attend, the photographers, and allowed for some gorgeous images to be created.
I pride myself in this area as well. We love it and are humbled when we hear from customers (seniors and their families) that “this was one of the best experiences ever”, “this was the highlight of her senior year”, “you captured her perfectly in these images”. And at consultations we love to hear that when customers view our blog they feel like they just “know” some of our seniors from the pictures alone. I believe this comes from connecting with your subject before and during the shoot, connecting to the community, and connecting to gear you use to capture these images.
3 Ways of Connecting
1) LOOK AT YOUR SUBJECTS: We have already talked about what a unique time it is in the life of the senior, insecurities, and the challenege of wanting to fit in while being individually recognized in a positive light. Now this person is standing in front of you and you are pointing a camera in their face. The pressure is on for them to look and feel their best, and to be proud to show off these images to family, friends, and social networking sites. Now…Are you confident? Are you connecting with the senior?
Here is a little obeservation I noticed at workshops and when watching other less experienced shooters shoot. They point the camera at the subject, press the shutter, remove the camera from their face, and…..LOOK DOWN AT THE LCD. 2 seconds go by, 3 seconds, 6 seconds. No comment, no communication, LOST CONNECTION. Your subject is just left out in the cold, floundering, wondering “Do I look good?” “Is something wrong?” “Is it ugly?” “Does this person know what they are doing?” This is very awkward for everyone involved. Any connection you had with the subject is just lost. Silence, studying the screen, scratching your head=NOT connecting. I challenge you to maintain this connection with your subject. Stare at them, talk to them, GLANCE at the screen, and then eyes back on them. A professional keeps the flow of the shoot moving, keeps the energy going, and keeps the connection strong on a senior session. Once you lose it it is hard to get it back. The session is not the time to figure out WHY or WHAT went wrong on that shot. Maintain that connection with your subjects. It will show in your images.
2) CONNECT IN THE COMMUNITY: Are you networking with other succesfull businesses that cater to your senior customers. What are they doing right, what are they creating for seniors? Get involved online and in the real world by staying connected with the things your seniors like. I am not saying to “act young” and try to be “cool” and “fit in” You won’t fool anyone doing that. I am saying to know your customers…and the way to do that is to get connected in their universe.
3) CONNECT TO YOUR GEAR: As mentioned in #1 you have to maintain that connection to your subject on a shoot. If you don’t know your camera well enough to do this and do it consistently then I can only hope you aren’t standing in front of a paying customer. A session with a paying customer is not the time to scratch your head and figure out why their face is so dark but the sky is white. The camera should be an extension of you, a tool YOU use to create the image, not an awkward expensive, gadget putting up a barrier between you and your subject. I have short attention span and your seniors do to…they are texting, checking facebook, answering their cell, thinking about school, friends, etc. And if they are doing all that on a session then you aren’t doing your job to keep them connected. Again, it will show in your images.
To the top senior photographers I witnessed last week in California, “connection” comes second nature to them. And you can see it in every aspect of their sessions. From meeting the senior, to posing, to fluidly shooting the seniors. And the images reflect this. If the “connection” is missing in your session I suggest working on that before buying that new 15-500mm 1.2 lens!
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John Pyle Photography is a full time portrait studio in Columbus, GA specializing in High School Senior Photography. They are a three time national senior portrait artist (spa) winning studio.