Teens to Twenties

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Recently someone told me they found it difficult to photograph their teenage son, because he was reluctant to have his photo taken. So what can you do to make it easier?

I find with most people it’s all about understanding where they’re coming from. If it’s your own son – he is more likely to see you as his parent than a photographer! He’s spent all his childhood smiling for your camera, and now he can’t see the point. He is probably also very embarrassed by the photos of him as a kid which you adore and keep on display! So if you stop and think about it, you can start to see why he might be reluctant at first.

How do you change that perspective?

  1. Tell him this is going to be a different experience – that you want to do a shoot for yourself as a photographer, rather than his parent.
  2. Show him some pictures in magazines or online that you would like to try out.
  3. Tell him you’re not just going to get your camera out and take a quick snap, you’re going to do a fashion shoot with him and plan it as if he was a model.
  4. Ask him his opinion – how does he think he should look – what clothes would look best in a shoot – look through magazines together and work it out. He is probably far more knowledgeable about this than you, after all he is the one that is up to date with what teenagers wear and do – so if you ask his opinion, he is much more likely to want to do this, and he will also feel much more relaxed in the clothes he wants to wear. He may appear nonchalant, but secretly he will be rather pleased you think he could be a model!
  5. Ask him to check out some backgrounds, and discuss where you could go. Get him to think about music videos and the sort of places they use to shoot them. In other words start building up to the shoot, rather than getting your camera out one morning and asking him to do a photo right now.

If you involve him and take the emphasis away from him – i.e. you are asking him to do this to help you build your portfolio, he is likely to come round to the idea.

Oh… and pay him! 

Teenagers will usually do something if you either pay them, or buy them something they really want. You could even let him choose some new clothes especially for the shoot. That usually gets them to agree to do it – and then if you approach the shoot as I suggest above, you will find that they will actually start to enjoy it.

Below are some ideas to help you get the most out of your shoot, and will work for young guys of any age.

19-year-old Chris is a friend of the family, and was staying with us in Key West. One day we decided to plan a photo shoot and go off and have some fun.

Check out this “behind the scenes’ video below.

My neighbour’s immaculate VW Beetle made a fantastic “set”, because of it’s white interior – it was literally like placing Chris in a big soft lightbox – reflecting light all around from the interior and also from the white picket fence facing the car.

Perhaps your son has a car? It’s a great place to start because it’s likely to be something he loves, and feels comfortable sitting in. It doesn’t have to be a vintage Beetle like this – you can still do similar pictures with any car, and tweak the images in Lightroom later to achieve all sorts of interesting effects. See the car as a series of shapes which you can frame him in, and use a reflector or large piece of white card to get the best light possible. He will already be under the top shade of the car roof, which should create soft light, if placed in a good position.

Drive it to a place where the background looks good behind it, and experiment with the light, by checking out which way it looks best on his face from each side of the car, before you start shooting. Turn the car round if the light looks better the other way!

I shot with the sun behind him and used the door of the car as a frame around him. I loved his dark t-shirt because it complemented the black edges of the window frames, and the orange logo looked great against the bright blue paintwork.

I shot with the sun behind him and used the door of the car as a frame around him. I loved his dark t-shirt because it complemented the black edges of the window frames, and the orange logo looked great against the bright blue paintwork.

Think about the colour of the car, when choosing the clothes he will wear.

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You are unlikely to get a wide range of expressions from a guy of this age! But that’s fine – most models look cool and moody and that will suit him down to the ground! You will hopefully get a laugh or smile at some stage in the shoot.

Next we went off to a disused army base with concrete buildings and peeling paint, and I asked him to wear his vest top because it blended with the grey concrete and also showed off his well-toned arms.

This positioning could look quite ungainly on many people, but in this case it accentuates one of his best features - his arms. He works hard at the gym and this sort of effort needs to be shown off!

This positioning could look quite ungainly on many people, but in this case it accentuates one of his best features – his arms. He works hard at the gym and this sort of effort needs to be shown off!

The patchy sunlight works well here, because he is young and has good bone structure. I love the shadow in the picture on the right, creating interest in an otherwise plain background.

The patchy sunlight works well here, because he is young and has good bone structure. I love the shadow in the picture on the right, creating interest in an otherwise plain background.

NOTE – You don’t have to place someone in the centre of a shot – it works really well to have them at one side of the picture, as above, and have out of focus texture in the space. It’s a technique used often in magazines when they want to put text on part of the picture.

Not everyone would want to take their top off in a shoot, but by this stage he was really into it, and quite happy to do so. Particularly as another of his good features are his abs - as I said, if you work that hard, you deserve to look fantastic in a photo.

Not everyone would want to take their top off in a shoot, but by this stage he was really into it, and quite happy to do so. Particularly as another of his good features are his abs – as I said, if you work that hard, you deserve to look fantastic in a photo.

Evening sunlight is often wonderful for photos, it creates an orange glow, which is difficult to emulate at any other time. If you live in the UK, it’s definitely worth planning a shoot for when you are abroad on holiday – just to have the chance to do so in light like this.

I definitely don't think he'd look out of place on an Abercrombie & Fitch carrier bag!

I definitely don’t think he’d look out of place on an Abercrombie & Fitch carrier bag!

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Make sure you also use a camera phone to shoot some pictures, as these are likely to be their favourites, and you can immediately send a shot to them. You can bet your life it will be uploaded straight to Facebook – and there’s no better way of saying you’ve done a great job!

Enjoy your shoot, and give your son a picture he will actually want you to brag about!

Annabel x


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Many thanks to Chuck for the loan of his wonderful VW Beetle, Polly for her fab video, and Chris for being such a fantastic model.

Video: Polly Williams / Editing: James Robinson

For tips on photographing younger teenage boys check out: Help! I’ve got a teenager! And for teenage girls check out: Sweet 16 – Teenage Birthday Shoot and French Vineyard Shoot.

Chris is at Reading University, UK. If anyone wants to shoot him for their portfolio – he is happy to oblige for some beer money! Contact him directly on chris_whiteside@hotmail.co.uk.

Chris also appears in this month’s SNAP magazine – Hipstamatic’s cool (and free!) online magazine for the iPad – CLICK HERE to check it out.

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