Planning Outdoor Photography Sessions for High School Seniors by Peg Buckner
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Saturday, June 15, 2013
By Peg Buckner
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At our studio, Picture This! Studio and Gallery Inc., we offer many styles of photography sessions. The outdoor locations are very popular with high school seniors and families. These are my favorite sessions, because there seems to be so much more I can do artistically, with all the space and the available light! Even though we have a 3000 sq. ft. studio, outdoor photography, is my forte’. Discovering all the important interests, close to our clients’ heart, is critical in creating a memorable heirloom portrait for the senior and their family. We learn so much during our initial appointment, called a design consultation. This is where we plan all of the amazing things that are about to be photographed, and coordinate clothing ideas. We also ask our seniors to bring their clothing for the session, to the studio, one day ahead for approval. This helps our seniors remember everything ahead of time and we can check to see that they have a variety of clothing. Some seniors think black and grey outfits are enough variety! We help them see, that other colors are important too! In the case for Mikala, (our senior highlighted in this article), we knew all about her special interests because we have watched her grow up. This is certainly a great advantage in a small town. High school varsity volleyball was a main activity in her life. We wanted to document something “cool and fresh” to show off her determination and power on the court, so lighting and color was key.   

  We went out into the desert (North Western Nevada), and photographed the volleyball theme first. Mikala had three outfits to use outdoors and timing was critical. Choosing the volleyball uniform first, I knew that I could use the stormy desert sky as the background. We wanted to convey a tough look for this fierce player. We focused on a wide open space with a sky that was facing east, after the light storm. We used two Nikon SB901 flash units. One flash was on a camera bracket, and one was for fill, off-camera, on a stand (camera left). The sun was very low to the horizon and providing a warm, soft light. I used the 70-200mm 2.8 Nikon Lens, at 1/1000 of a sec, 4.0 aperture and 250 ISO to achieve this fantastic image. Just a “kiss” of light from the -1/3 flash settings provided added sparkle to her green eyes! Next we turned around and used the setting sun as a backlight for her hair and rich glow of rim-light around her body. She changed into a satin gown that was a fuchsia color and I wanted that color to coordinate nicely with the beautiful warm coral tones of the sunlight. Even the rusty tracks picked up the glow and backlight. (Be very careful when photographing on RR tracks and have 2 spotters at all times). Knowing that our light was slowly waning, we wanted to use the same gown on the crumbling building behind us. Now the sun would be a main light and we could use it to our advantage while we added a little “kiss” of light for sparkle. I really think the fuchsia in her dress makes a statement in the decaying rubble.

Late day is our preferred time to photograph in Nevada! We are lucky to have this old dilapidated, in ruins, school house, nearby. Within a twenty minute drive it looks like we are in an old ghost-town! It was also convenient that the railroad tracks were next to it!

Quickly knowing that our light was disappearing it is always fun (if the client has paid for this extra amount of time), to maximize the last light for those final poses. Because Mikala works for our studio, she has some great advantages! We took one of our studio sofas with us to use in front of the old building. It’s great to have a sofa or chair to use for additional posing options. The black and lace dress was perfect with the dark background, as I was certain it would pick up the similar patterns in the structure. These are the decisions it takes to keep the session on track and create images that color coordinate and harmonize. The chandelier was also borrowed from our studio and we placed it on a light stand, and later removed in Photoshop. The cord was stretched and the light bulbs were enhanced to add glow and saturation to give a warm feel, as though it was “on!” This image is one of my favorites from the year. I used a wide lens, 35mm at a wide aperture of 4.0 and an ISO of 6400. I love using the high ISO and then in Photoshop, I apply one of our plug ins to reduce a bit of the noise. With these settings and this equipment I was able to achieve the “ghost town” look, I had envisioned!

We included an add-on session for Mikala (a gift from the studio, because she and her family have been clients for 16 years) and did another outdoor session too. She mentioned that her sister’s ball dress was really special to her. We photographed her on a small roadway that had beautiful autumn leaves, gently falling along the fence line. We used the same lighting methods and created some stunning results.  

  Stay tuned for our indoor studio session with Mikala. What?! There’s more?! Yes, we actually start our seniors indoors first in the afternoon. If they chose the outdoor session, during their design consultation we accommodate both. We have a minimum purchase for outdoor sessions. This really helps eliminate going to extra effort if our client only needs or wants a 5x7. Our clients understand the effort and extra time we put into our art. They appreciate it and reward us greatly!  

Until next time,  

 Peg Buckner M. Photog Cr.

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