Sweet 16 – Teenage Birthday Shoot

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Thinking of doing something different for your teenager’s birthday party? A photo shoot is a really fun way to celebrate!

On her 16th birthday, my daughter Polly, asked me to do a “photo party” with her best friends – it turned out to be a really fun experience, and I learnt a huge amount at the same time.

Number 1 lesson learnt – don’t underestimate how long it takes a group of teenage girls to get ready! (It was 2 hours in this case! But they had loads of fun in the process, so allow this to be part of the party.)

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Before the day

Things to think about prior to the shoot:

  1. Locations
    To make this a fun experience, check out locations before you shoot, so you can keep up the momentum and think on your feet, on the actual day. We used our local village – incorporating a car park, field, graffiti wall, telephone box, pedestrian crossing, bus stop and kids playground. Check out your local area – and find places which are close together – it saves a lot of time if you can walk around, rather than driving to different locations.
  2. Clothes
    Talk to your teenager about the clothes she wants to wear and how she wants her friends to look in the pictures – if you can come up with some sort of theme, the pictures will look much better. In this instance, Polly asked her friends to come in tutus and garbage bags! They all added their own tops/leggings/tights/shoes/accessories, etc. – but so long as there were tutus and garbage bags involved, there was some sort of theme to blend it all together. You could also try certain colours – such as everyone in orange and blue, etc.
  3. Make-up
    Ask them to bring their own make up and get ready at the party – that’s part of the experience – all getting dressed up together.
  4. Slideshow
    If you plan the shoot and are organised, you can quickly edit the pictures and show a slideshow of images at the end of the party.

On the day

My biggest concern was how to position 7 girls and make them all look good in the pictures. I discovered that the answer was to get them to do it for me!

Teenage girls seem to spend all their time posing and pouting into their camera phones – so that’s what I asked them to do! I positioned them, and then just said, “Give me that look you all do into your phones! 1,2,3… now!” – and they all just instantly did it!

Give them some encouragement

You have to get them geared up to have fun otherwise they will just be embarrassed and look bored and self-conscious. They felt silly at first – but with some gentle persuasion, they just did it. And the more silly stuff we did, the more they started to enjoy it.

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Pep talk

The most important thing is that you talk through this with them. I tell them that they look amazing when they do their own “pouty” shots, etc. – and give them the confidence to believe in themselves – by saying how much I like the shots they do on their phones, etc. I then tell them they need to do this on these shots, so they all look really good. I also say, “if there are any you don’t like – we can always throw them out – so don’t worry about it – let’s just do it!”

You need to get them on your wavelength and wanting to do it – and the best way is to be totally honest with them – tell them that you are all doing this together, making it up as you go along. The pictures will look fabulous if they really get into it and behave as they would if they were photographing themselves at a party – they are quite used to doing that – you just have to get them to do it in front of you, so need to break down their apprehension about doing it in front of a photographer, rather than just their friends.

This is exactly what I did to achieve the looks each time:

  1. Ask them to stand in a row, or link arms, etc. – get them into the position/shape you feel looks best.
  2. Then say, “All look to your left, towards the sky – and give me the look! 1,2,3 now!”
  3. Then, “All look towards me and say ‘bananas’ – I know it feels stupid – but it looks fabulous!”
Top left: "Give me the look!" Centre left: "Say bananas!" Bottom left: "Turn and look at the sky." Top right: I have repositioned the group to put Polly in the middle (the birthday girl needs to feel more important on some shots!) - Say "bananas" Bottom right: "Look at the sky"

Top left: “Give me the look!” Centre left: “Say bananas!” Bottom left: “Turn and look at the sky.” Top right: I have repositioned the group to put Polly in the middle (the birthday girl needs to feel more important on some shots!) – Say “bananas” Bottom right: “Look at the sky”

IMPORTANT: These shots need to happen in a split second. If you ask them to look at the sky and then take 3 minutes to take the shots – it will not work, because they will get bored waiting. I get them smiling at me when I am absolutely ready. When I say, “Ok look up at the sky and give me the look” – you need to shoot the picture the instant they do that in order to get the best expression. I never ask people to hold a look for me – I make sure I am always ready for the shot that is coming next. This is why it’s so important to have your camera set up in a simple way, so you can concentrate on the people you are shooting. See Set up your camera the easy way…

Then it’s up to you to angle your camera, zoom in and out – and take a selection of interesting compositions to make the pictures look exciting and different. Plus of course you can put some effects on them later, such as black and white, vintage tones, etc. to make them look even more different.

All the effects on the shots above are done at the press of a button in Lightroom - just using Lightroom's own presets.

All the effects on the shots above are done at the press of a button in Lightroom – just using Lightroom’s own presets.

NOTE – They are not just standing straight on to the camera – I have asked them to stand sideways, move their leg forward, etc. – to get the most flattering shapes – think of the way beauty queens stand – that will help you to position girls to look their best on photos.

Keep up the pace

The key to this kind of shoot is to keep changing the locations and work fast to keep up the pace – so they don’t get bored. We walked around the village, stopped at interesting places, and made it all up as we got inspired!

Top left: Shot straight on - with no tilt Top right: You can really see the difference when you tilt the camera very slightly to the left, and zoom in - makes the shot much more dynamic. Bottom: I have cropped this later to make an even tighter shot.

Top left: Shot straight on – with no tilt Top right: You can really see the difference when you tilt the camera very slightly to the left, and zoom in – makes the shot much more dynamic. Bottom: I have cropped this later to make an even tighter shot.

The shots above are all set up – you will never get a shot like this if you wait for it to happen – it just won’t! You need to give instructions and then shoot what happens.

So in this case, I ask them all to put their arms around each other, to get their heads closer together, and then I say: “Ok, when I tell you – I want you to all walk towards me – but don’t look at me – just talk to each other.”

They usually laugh because they are feeling silly – but it looks very natural. I ask them to go back and repeat this several times – and then select the best shots.

Here, I've asked them all to stand very close together - then got them to put their legs across each other to mix up their feet! I cropped the shot later to make it panoramic - these types of shots are great for cover shots on Facebook.

Here, I’ve asked them all to stand very close together – then got them to put their legs across each other to mix up their feet! I cropped the shot later to make it panoramic – these types of shots are great for cover shots on Facebook.

In the shot above, I have positioned them first to separate them - and asked them individually to stand, crouch, turn this way or that way - then when I am happy with the shape of them all together - I then get them to "pose". At the same time I am checking that they all look good - so I might tweak them, if I am not happy with the way someone is turning for example.

In the shot above, I have positioned them first to separate them – and asked them individually to stand, crouch, turn this way or that way – then when I am happy with the shape of them all together – I then get them to “pose”. At the same time I am checking that they all look good – so I might tweak them, if I am not happy with the way someone is turning for example.

By this stage of the shoot, the girls are all feeling much more confident – and I can ask them to “give me a pose” and they just do it – I would never normally ask anyone to pose – I would always position them – but in this case, it just worked better to get them to do it, mainly because they are all friends together, and I have given them a pep talk first! They already know that if we work together, they are going to look really good, because I’ve told them!

Then we set off for the play park!

NOTE - The top left picture (before) is really a snap shot - but once it's cropped and brightened up (after), it makes a fun picture - it doesn't matter that there is a car in the background - it would be better without it, but it couldn't be moved, and the girls wanted to mess around on the bar! These are fun shots which are part of the overall shoot - so if some look more like snapshots than others, it doesn't matter to me. They are all just part of a great day out!

NOTE – The top left picture (before) is really a snap shot – but once it’s cropped and brightened up (after), it makes a fun picture – it doesn’t matter that there is a car in the background – it would be better without it, but it couldn’t be moved, and the girls wanted to mess around on the bar! These are fun shots which are part of the overall shoot – so if some look more like snapshots than others, it doesn’t matter to me. They are all just part of a great day out!

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Individual shots

Here, I decided to do some individual shots, because I had a really good area of “top shade” which gives very flattering light. As you can see from the picture above with all the girls in – the “top shade” is a roof over the picnic table.

NOTE – To shoot each girl on her own, you need to get rid of everyone else at this stage – or they will be too embarrassed in front of their friends. Send the others off to play on the swings, and call them back one by one!

Zebra crossing

Then it’s on to the zebra crossing! Obviously this could be dangerous – but the village was very quiet when we took these shots – I am not recommending you shoot pictures of people in the middle of a busy road! Where I live, people are used to me taking photographers out on training sessions, and more than happy to wait 30 seconds while we shoot crazy pictures on zebra crossings! We just kept moving every time a car came, and then doing another shot while it was quiet.

By chance, a large black storm cloud was approaching, which gave us an incredibly gloomy light and really enhanced the shots. The gorgeous blue effect here is a Lightroom preset - "colour creative - cold tone"; and the vintage look is "colour creative - aged look".

By chance, a large black storm cloud was approaching, which gave us an incredibly gloomy light and really enhanced the shots. The gorgeous blue effect here is a Lightroom preset – “colour creative – cold tone”; and the vintage look is “colour creative – aged look”.

Top left - Seeing how many girls we can cram in the phone box (looking up at the sky again!) Top Right - I deliberately asked them to look bored, because it just works with teenagers - they do it easily! Bottom - Having fun in the bus shelter - I showed them what I wanted them to do - then counted “1, 2, 3” and they just copied!

Top left – Seeing how many girls we can cram in the phone box (looking up at the sky again!) Top Right – I deliberately asked them to look bored, because it just works with teenagers – they do it easily! Bottom – Having fun in the bus shelter – I showed them what I wanted them to do – then counted “1, 2, 3” and they just copied!

Oh, and don’t worry when they see the slideshow, if they appear not to like the pictures! I thought it was hilarious when every shot that came up, they said, “Ugh! Mingin! I look awful!” Secretly I could tell they loved them, but were too embarrassed to admit it – particularly when they all begged me for a CD and posted them to Facebook the next day!

Annabel x