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

Photography in the Garden on a Rainy Day

     

Two weekends in a row have seen me climbing up steep, loose, shale-covered cliffs to photograph eagles where they live high above a long, green, lake-filled, British Columbia valley.  However, this last week the weather has been cool, pretty wet, and certainly not good conditions for climbing or wildlife photography.  Oh, well, I had intended to stay away from those eagles until the chick was ready to fly later in the summer anyway, and I expect the interior of this province was getting a bit dry so the rain is welcome.

As I drank my morning coffee to a forecast of another day of rain I forgot about those birds and instead decided to go out into my wife’s garden to do some photography of her very wet plants. Hmm… I seem to make a lot of decisions over that first cup of coffee.  Just after a good rain is a favorite time to do garden photography and the dripping, spring morning was perfect.  When I mentioned I was going out, my wife, Linda, grabbed her camera and rubber boots and joined me.

Linda placed a ring flash on front of her 70-180mm macro lens and I used a 200mm macro and included a stand-mounted, off-camera flash. Adding light on the overcast day gave our images contrast and “pop” in the otherwise flat and limited lighting conditions of the rainy day. We both used monopods to steady our cameras as we moved around in the wet landscape.

When photographing plants I meter much the same as I would if I were doing an out of doors portraiture of a person. Selecting the camera’s manual exposure mode, I meter for the proper ambient, or existing, light exposure of my subject, and stop down to reduce the overall exposure. Then I add light. If the flash is set to TTL, then I use its exposure compensation feature to increase or decrease the power. If the flash is set to manual I move the flash closer or further away from the subject (in this case, the flower) until I get the illumination I want.

We enjoyed our photography in spite of the steady drizzle and I’ll mention that it is a good idea to keep wiping the slowly accumulating water off one’s flash. I don’t worry about my camera because it’s weather sealed, but the electrically charged flash is another matter. I know many photographers would opt for the dry comfort of home on a day like this, but sometimes we need to make our own photographic opportunities and even though this isn’t as exciting as hanging off a high ledge photographing eagles, I personally can’t think of any kind of photography I find more enjoyably relaxing than ambling through a garden capturing interesting light on interesting shapes, and the addition of rain drops on leaves and flower petals makes everything all the more creative.

We don’t have to go far to find something interesting to photograph. For my wife and me that location is just outside our front door and on that rainy day we would walk back to the cover of the porch to view and discuss the images on our camera’s LCD, and then we would step back into the garden and continue. There were no camera bags to be packed, trip planning, or driving of a car to a distant destination.

I am sure that is why I got interested in garden photography in the first place. It isn’t so much that I am fascinated with flowers, however, as a photographer, I am interested in colours, shapes, shadows and how easy it is to access all that. When I first started venturing into my wife’s garden, I would do it as a way to relax after a day of work.  Now it’s just fun photography that I recommend to any photographer wanting to be active with their camera.

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See my personal website at www.enmanscamera.com