Help! I’ve got a teenager!
Shooting teenagers can be tricky because they are at a stage in their life where they are self-conscious and can be easily embarrassed, particularly by their parents booking them a photo shoot! Their parents often want them to look young in the photos, whilst the teenager wants to look much older. It’s a case of getting a balance, shooting for both the parents and for the teenager themselves.
The ‘Before’ picture is a typical everyday ‘snapshot’, lit with flash – but with a little bit of careful composition and the right light and backgrounds, we can create much more interesting pictures.
The key to getting good shots of a teenager is in how you react to them when you meet them. Most teenagers think their parents are pretty uncool, and if you are a similar age they will think that about you too. If you are a young photographer however, it can work the other way as they may worry that they are not cool enough – it’s a no win situation!
Basically you need to come across as if it’s no big deal – you’re just going out to take a few photos. If you ask them what they want to look like, they will usually shrug their shoulders and say, “dunno”. Understand that this is only because they are embarrassed – they actually want to have some good photos of themselves, they either think they won’t be good enough, or they think you won’t be good enough! So you need to take control, by just getting on with it – they will soon relax if you involve something they like – with 14-year-old Jack we used his bike and his skateboard.
We found a local industrial site that was quiet at the weekend – no one around to embarrass him by watching! Because it was close, he was able to ride his bike there, while his father and I went in the car – which gave him independence and stopped ”the embarrassing car journey to have his photo taken.”Arriving in the right frame of mind makes a lot of difference to the shoot.
We started on his skateboard so he had something to do, and I was merely watching him at first – asking him to show me what he does on it. I then positioned him in consistent light so as he skateboarded towards me the light and background would always be good. If he was constantly going in and out of sunlight, it would make it very difficult to shoot good pictures quickly. Similarly if he ran out of background this would alter the shot too. Tilting the camera to the side gave the shots more of a feeling of movement.
Once I’d done the shots with his skateboard and bike, he was into it and willing to try all sorts, because he was now enjoying it – which makes all the difference! I just chose different backgrounds and asked him to change his clothes several times to create variety.
10 Tips for Photographing Teenage Boys
- Find something that they relate to such as a bike, or skateboard and shoot them on or with these first – that way they will feel relaxed because they are doing something that they do everyday. Once you’ve worked together with something that feels natural (bike/skateboard), they will be much happier to pose for the camera.
- Find your local industrial site or look for buildings with metal doors, interesting colours, shapes and textures. There are so many backgrounds in this kind of location that you’ll be spoilt for choice.
- Try not to go to a pretty field, or river – teenage boys will just feel embarrassed and silly, which will make them tense in the shoot.
- Take a variety of shots at different angles – try tilting your camera slightly to the left – it makes the picture more dynamic.
- Use a zoom lens so you can quickly compose wide and close up shots, without being intimidating by actually being close up.
- When shooting close ups, stand above your subject and shoot down – it’s more flattering, and makes their eyes look bigger.
- When shooting wide shots, try crouching or lying down on the floor and shooting up at your subject – this gives more strength to the pictures, as it allows the subject to dominate the shot.
- When shooting someone skateboarding, decide on your background composition first and then let them come towards you within that composition – that way your background will always look good. Don’t focus on the subject without doing this or they will constantly cross into areas which don’t look good behind them.
- Allow for the fact that some of your shots won’t work because the subject is moving – just do it over and over again, and keep the shots that do work!
- Once you’ve taken some shots, move your feet! It’s amazing how many different angles you can get without moving the subject – move around him to find the shots where he looks best.
Jack is a superstar! Digital SLR magazine got in touch after reading this blog and asked if they could use Jack on the front cover of their April issue! Oh dear – more embarrassing moments for a teenager (though I suspect he’s secretly quite chuffed!).