Photographing Portraits of Seniors

There was a time in photography when the word “seniors” meant people near or over 50 years in age.  Today photographers refer to senior portraits as high school graduation photos. But it is those in the aging demographic that don’t get much attention during discussions on photography that I want to write about this time.

When one does a search about portrait techniques or checks published books on portraiture I doubt there will be much, if anything at all, about photographing people whose faces are starting to, or have already, aged.  After all, our society is obsessed with youthful beauty and we don’t want to be reminded about aging. Despite that, baby-boomers make up a large segment of our population and they will still want portraits by photographers.

Attend a class, or buy a book, on how-to portrait techniques, and you’ll find it’s all about angles of light with discussions about off camera directional light to create drama and dimension to a subject’s face with highlights and shadow.

Shadow on the smooth face of some 18-year-old can be flattering and sexy, but when a sidelight creates deep shadows on a face that has a few more years of life it is anything but flattering, and certainly won’t be sexy on most.

Lighting manuals instruct us not to use a flash from the camera’s position, and are critical of straight-on flash. However, using a diffused flash straight-on reduces shadows and wrinkles, and a soft, direct light makes it easy to reduce any age lines easily during postproduction.

Retouching, or postproduction as it seems to be called now, has always been part of the process with those that do portrait photography, especially with seniors. I can remember hours with magnifying lenses, fine tipped brushes, mixing dyes and reprinting for final photographs. Now, I have computer programs to remove blemishes, creases, and bags under eyes. I brighten eyes, and sometimes whiten teeth, and always make sure there isn’t loose skin under the chin, or on someone’s neck.

Some of this I have done for years, only now I do it more, and it is a lot easier to retouch with computers and digital cameras. I know there are many photographers that say with misguided pride they do everything in the camera. In my opinion, that’s all right for sports and wildlife photography, but it would never do with a portrait client, they deserve more.

My advice for those photographing seniors is to take the time to choose a flattering perspective that hopefully shows some of their personality, and remember senior portraiture requires direct diffused light, retouching, and more relaxed poses than when they were young. Don’t choose low or awkward angles and tell your subject what you are doing. Remember these senior clients have been having their picture taken for a long time and in my experience are helpful in producing their own photograph.

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

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