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Senior Picture Shoot: Heeere's Liam!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

 Senior pictures. Lots of people spend a lot of money on senior pictures. Which is nice, because photographers have to make a living, too. The best photos of humans, in my opinion, are not the ones that are produced in a ten-minute session in front of a rolldown screen, when the subject is bathed in the glare of  hot klieg lights.

Formal photos have one thing going for them. They produce predictable results. You're going to get a kid in a borrowed tux with his head slightly canted and most of his teeth showing. He's enduring the experience, doing what he's told, holding a grin until its freshness date has passed.

As for formal school photography, I side with Dwight. 
"I never smile if I can help it. Showing one's teeth is a submission signal in primates. When someone smiles at me, all I see is a chimpanzee begging for its life."  -Dwight Schrute, The Office

But what are you going to do? You're batch-processing high school seniors. You can't follow each one around grabbing candid shots. But psst!  Mom can...

 I've never been much on studio shots. Yes, each year, for both kids, I dutifully bought the smallest possible package of school photos, feeling I'd be somehow remiss if I didn't. For the big stuff, though (senior photos, prom, homecoming), I've always taken photography of my kids into my own hands. What I lack in technique and fabulous portrait lenses, I make up in sensitivity to who they are and in which settings they look their best. Which would not be against a mottled gray screen under floodlights. It would be in what nature gives us at the moment: low late winter light, weathered barn wood and the landscape in which they have grown up. I shoot them with my old Canon 7D, fitted with 70-300 mm telephoto, the same rig I use on Buffy and Flag, Jolene and the birds. This lets me get the photos I want without sticking a camera right in their faces. I'm standing 30' away; he's just doing his thing, and we get along fine.

 I give him a coat (Mine, a men's Kuhl) that I think will work with the hues of the timeworn wood.  We try a bunch of different settings. That's not the best, but it's already a lot better than the frightened chimpanzee.

We're both hugely enjoying ourselves, expending nothing but photons in a quest for a good shot.
 I'm being horrible, and he cracks up.

 I've seen something interesting in his direct stare. "Look at me like you're p-ssed off at me."
"But I'm not! I can't!"
I forget what I said to get this look out of my loving boy.  Probably something awful.

 Ooh. Now we're getting somewhere. Gravitas suits you, Liam!

I've always talked to my subjects. I talked constantly to Chet Baker, often mentioning animals with which he was acquainted. The ears would come up, the light would come into his eyes, and click!

We keep moving. The light keeps changing. I love his straw-colored hair against the hills, covered in fading little bluestem.

"Hey! You! Turn around!" Sometimes he takes my breath away. From whence came this creature?

Turn your collar up! Work it!


We keep walking to the old barn that used to shelter cattle.  I have the windows in mind.

I love the glimpse of pines and sun through its dark interior, as warm as his smile. 
In this setting, I feel I'm finally getting through to his Liamness. He's relaxed, enjoying the shoot
and all the different places we're exploring. 

And being Liam, he throws me a curve or two. Eeeek!! It's Pennywise the creepy clown!

And then he goes all Broadway on me, throwing those amazing hands wide. Hellooo world!

I ask him to pause in the doorway. "I have cow poop on my shoes."
"Nobody's gonna see that."
I struggle with the exposure. The camera's freaking out, and I'm not able to conquer its desire to expose on the velvet black interior. So they're all overexposed. I take a bunch of shots and finally give up. This is the best I could do. Gotta give that another go. There has to be a way to compensate, because I love this off-kilter shot.

The light is fading fast. We have to work our way back to the hillside where there's still a little sun. I can't resist working the Toothless Lady into a couple of shots. It's cooled down a lot, and we're fighting the natural tendency of one's nose to turn red in the cold. I'm sure it even happens to models. I forgot to bring face powder. Oh well.
I love the juxtaposition of my favorite barn, deliquescing rapidly, and this vital young sapling of a man. It would be hard to find a nicer setting. This is not the first time I've thanked the Providence that led me here, that opened my eyes to the landscapes all around me, that made me take the dirt roads and start a heart collection of such things and places.

I need a little bit of the road ahead of him in this shot, to give him somewhere to walk. The sun catches his eye, colorless but for the light refracting in it, scattering to blue.

"Stand up against that particle board there."
"But it's ugly!"
"It won't be in the photo."

If I haven't made my point yet about taking the time to let a person relax, so you can coax out his true beauty...

This one settled out as my favorite, but I love them all for different reasons. I can't pick just one. Do click on it and you can quickly scroll through them all at a larger size. So much is lost in the blog version.

 When we were all done, Liam jumped for joy! And so did my heart. Laughing my head off, feeling like the luckiest mom in Whipple, or the world.

What a guy, what a day, what a sunset, what a shoot!  This Do It Yourself Moment brought to you by Low Spring Light, Weathered Wood, Beautiful Youth, and Poverty.


Love the whole series! And I totally agree on casual poses and settings are best for portraits.

The absolute best thing about this.... I love each and every one of them and I also appreciate the memories you’ve made doing this wonderfuldeed together....egads what fun!

I have helped some friends out, doing senior pictures for them of their kids. Yes photographers need to make a living but whew! The price these days, thousands of dollars. For my friends I have them buy the memory card, I shoot it for them, in the park, and they pay me with a dinner out enjoying their company. Works really well for all of us!

These are so wonderful, love all your comments, and I always wonder, how do your kids manage to jump so high?

Great! Hired!
But you have a ringer for a model! ;o)

Time with your son = priceless! (Photos are fantastic, too.)

The best thing about these pictures is the time you and Liam got to spend together making memories for both of you while doing this. Beautiful!

Posted by Anonymous March 21, 2018 at 3:34 AM

Oh yeah, this takes me back. I took #1 Son's senior photo - in front of the rocks he spent every minute of his free time climbing. Good grief, was it really 25 years ago?? How is that even possible? And mind you, I didn't even have a decent camera then. Certainly not a digital camera! Meanwhile, #2 Son, even more of a rebel, never had a proper senior photo. When his mail order graduation form came through he was hiking the AT!!

What a handsome young man! I'm sure his personality and confidence are magnified looking into the eyes of his loving mother. Your love is practically reflected back to the camera! You sure produced TWO stunning offspring.

Marvelous, I wish you'd been around to take photos of my kids. Every once in a great while one would capture them, but a rarity.

Wow. Just wow! Can't believe we made that gorgeous young man.

Posted by Anonymous March 21, 2018 at 11:22 AM

Lovely pictures, lovely narrative, lovely young man.

Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you for describing your process so beautifully. I feel inspired. The last picture is of pure joy!

casuals are the best and what a handsome kid - LOVE the last photo! I have four adult sons and my favorite photos were always the casual ones.

My Prince does need a series to show his spirit. I see his kindness, focus, patience and love in this series. He is all of that and more. In this modern day one senior photo by a photographer just can not capture this magnificent young man like the artist, loving mom has. Thank you for sharing your day together.

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