There seems to always be an area of interest and confusion surrounding photographing guys for senior pictures. We get asked often if we do photograph guys and is it harder or easier to photograph guys or girls for their senior pictures. I have even gotten a lot of emails recently from other photographers asking what do to with guys….”I mean they just kinda stand there”. Senior guys are unique just like senior girls. When we started concentrating on senior photography a few years back I think we had one senior guy. The next year it doubled to two, and the next…4. Until this year we had more than a dozen senior guys. In this article I want to talk about some myths surrounding photographing guys for their senior pictures and what works and doesn’t work when shooting guys.
One might assume that most guys don’t won’t their picture taken and they are only here because their mom dragged them here. I made this mistake early on with senior guys. I assumed Mom was the reason they were here and all our questions about the shoot were directed towards Mom. Big mistake. I have never met a senior girl that wants to look short and large on camera and I have never met a senior guy that doesn’t want to look good in his pictures. Now they aren’t necessarily going to admit this to you or anyone else but it is your job to recognize this. One of the keys to success with senior guys is to talk to them. If they can’t tell you what they do like get them to talk about what they don’t like. I often ask them to finish the statement “I don’t won’t to look (fill in any adjective) in my pictures. I get a HUGE variety of answers but I believe that recognizing and validating any concerns is a big initial step. Sometimes the goals for the shoot may simply be to NOT look a certain way. And that is fine too. I often joke with them that we want most of the pictures to look like Ben Stiller’s character in the movie Zoolander.
With some guys I think one of the ways to have a successful shoot is to continue to stress how “easy” the shoot is gonna be. I stress that I like shoots with the guys to be about just “hanging around” and “getting a few shots”. I try to ease the “dread” right up front. I don’t want to over plan and try to complicate things to much. A lot of times I see senior guy photography with too many props. “Props” are important but I think they are used too much by photographers who are uncomfortable with senior guys or who have run out of ideas with senior guys. In other words, it doesn’t always work to take a senior guy, prop him up against his car, have him wearing his letterman jacket while holding a football in one hand, a baseball in the other, and an acoustic guitar on the hood, while wearing sunglasses and parked in front of his school with his dog standing beside him. Too much equals not easy!
But it is important to explore the interests and activities of the senior guy. We try and narrow it down to what is important to them and their family or what activity sums up the last 12 years of their life. Obvious answers are sports, hunting, and music. But it is your job as a professional to capture these in a way that is unique to the senior. Not to get the stock shot of them holding the baseball bat behind their head while you tilt the camera. I like to bring along some tennis shoes on my shoots. I brag about still being an athlete but I love to shoot a little basketball or try and race one of our seniors. Spend the extra time to loosen everyone up on the shoot. Don’t just try to rush the shoot because he is a “guy” and “doesn’t want to be here anyway”. Explore different locations along with different angles, lenses, lighting, etc.
It is true that makeup and hair may not be as big a deal with your guy seniors as with your girls. But their looks are important and posing is a major part of this. Posing is probably the biggest concern for senior guys and for their photographers. For me I like all of our seniors to look tall and confident in their pictures. For guys make sure you are conveying this in your photos. I want guys to look relaxed but confident and a lot of times you can achieve this just by having them place their hands in their pockets. Even for great headshots this works because it relaxes the senior and makes them feel more comfortable. I try and avoid sitting guys down for a full body shot. I think it makes them look weak and not as powerful as standing or leaning. Also look for strong textures and dark colored backgrounds. Finally, not EVERY single picture has to be smiling. Not that the senior guy has to have this tough, macho, angry, look on his face but you can convey assuredness and confidence without a big happy smile every time. Remember these are not rules, they are suggestions and what works for us. It is always important to learn the rules…then break them.
If you want to be successful with shooting senior guys, the senior has to like the images…not just mom and dad. The senior guys are the ones you want to make happy and proud of the work so that they are confident enough to show it off as well. Make sure you specifically show and blog images that the senior can be proud of and images that will draw interest to your studio.
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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.