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Best time for a senior photoshoot?
August 13, 2010 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Photographers, what's the best time of day for a senior photoshoot?

So I offered to do a free senior photoshoot for one of my friends, but I'm not sure when the best time would be. I've read that the best time is an hour before sunset (the golden hour), but on nights when it's cloudy wouldn't there not be enough light? If it's cloudy, should I go earlier in the day? Or should I just go midday and shoot in the shade?

If it's relevant, I have a rebel xsi with the 50mm 1.8 lens, but no external flash units. Thanks for your input!

Also, any other advice about doing a senior shoot would be appreciated as well. If you want to see some of my shots here's a link to my "people" set on flickr, though most of them are candids. (mods, if this isn't kosher feel free to remove the link)
posted by kylej to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Cloudy is good -- color balance out the blue tint -- the diffuse light is flattering to uneven skin. Careful with sunrise or sunset, as you risk "twilight of my life" implications.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:22 PM on August 13, 2010


By "senior photoshoot," do you mean shooting pictures of senior citizens, or shooting pictures of a high school senior? The "twilight of my life" thing would probably only be a concern with the former.
posted by The World Famous at 4:26 PM on August 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


An hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset seemed slightly popular in this report.
posted by Mike1024 at 4:28 PM on August 13, 2010


Golden hour
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:34 PM on August 13, 2010


Hour before sunset is the golden hour but unless you know what you're doing and how to harness the light, it can be tough.

I would shoot for the hour BEFORE that - so that when the light gets nice and golden, you might still be shooting, but you'll have better lit photos from earlier to fall back on.

Don't be afraid to use your flash, even in sun. Cloudy is better. If you're shooting and there's light on the face causing even slight shadows, head to the shade. I shoot headshots and LOVE shade and cloudy days.
posted by kellygrape at 4:51 PM on August 13, 2010


I mean pictures of a high school senior, thanks for the clarification The World Famous.
posted by kylej at 5:20 PM on August 13, 2010


Seconding Golden Hour. It is magic.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:14 PM on August 13, 2010


I also thought you meant senior citizens at first, and I was going to say something horrible like, well, if they've survived the night, take the pictures in the morning, because you don't know how many of them will still be around after lunch. Fortunately you meant a high school senior, so I don't have to say that.

Now that I've gotten that bit of morbid juvenalia out of my system, I'd suggest that, photographic considerations aside, you might take the subject's personality or interests into consideration. Most of the people I know who had a lot of senior pictures taken thought it was very important that the photoshoot captured the essence of their personality, so I saw a lot of variety in the pictures, from formal indoor pictures with subtle lighting, to pictures outdoors against a variety of backdrops, or with sports equipment, or musical instruments, or books, etc. Most were color, but I did see a few B&W pictures here and there.

I would imagine that the lighting could convey a mood that could help get across whatever it is your senior would like to "say" with his or her pictures.

When I took photography in college, my instructor was a big fan of the hour before sunrise and the hour after sunset, his reasoning being that there was still plenty of light to expose the film, but that in the absence of the sharp contrasts that direct sunlight can cause, the film could be exposed evenly with less technical fuss, resulting in better pictures (especially for amateurs like us). He was vehemently against taking pictures at midday, even in the shade, because of the contrast problem. It should be noted that we used B&W film exclusively in this class and it was real film, not digital. So I'm sure that makes a difference.

Best of luck. This sounds like it could be a lot of fun!
posted by jingzuo at 9:12 PM on August 13, 2010


Golden Hour - the hour just before sunset - is great. My formula is to start 4 hours before sunset. This gives 3 hours where you're getting good shots and getting comfortable with each other. Then for golden hour, be sure you're somewhere special & do your best to get great photos. I take around 200-400 photos during this time, and that gives the client a lot of options for what they want edited & printed.

I will recommend 2 purchase for you - both for amazingly cheap things that are incredibly light & easy to carry.

If you have an assistant (a friend of the subject? a friend of yours?) get a $25 reflector. It's silver on one side, white on the other, and it's used in a number of ways to help control light - the only limit is our creativty. You may want to spend the extra $10 on the larger size.

1. Instant shade for tight headshots (it's not big enough to provide enough shade for more than that).

2. The white side can be used close up to provide either fill light on the shadow side of the face (bring it in as close as you can w/o being in the frame on the side of the face with shadow to fill the shadows).

3. The white or silver side can be used to bounce sunlight into the face - the white side if the reflector is up close, the silver side if the reflector is far away.

4. If you're shooting straight into the sun using the camera's popup flash as fill (the sun provides great hair light, the camera flash provides good fill light for the face), you can use it to block the sun's glare into the camera lens. That's how I got this amazing shot during golden hour.

5. Let the sunset light light the subject & have someone stand behind (and out of frame) bouncing sunlight back into their hair for the same sort of effect.

I find that time spent on light control is almost never wasted - adding just a bit of extra light into the scene can do some amazing things for an otherwise ordinary shot.

The other thing you should buy is the Strobies On Camera Diffuser. It folds up small enough that you'll forget it's in your pocket, but can be used to soften up an on-camera flash. It comes in two sizes - get the large one for the day when you get a flash unit.

It make the small hard light source on camera larger and softer. You still get a bit of a hard shadow under the chin or to the right behind the subject (if they're up against a wall), but again just popping a little extra light into the scene can be the difference between a good shot and a great shot, and this softens & largens the on camera flash nicely. Just try to tilt it as far from the flash unit as you can so that the light from the unit has a chance to spread before hitting the diffuser.

It's one of my favorite tools now and you can see it in this photo and this photo and probably a few others in that photostream - just look for a strong shadow under the chin or on the righthand wall behind the model (when in portrait orientation so the flash is on the left). I use a large flash unit, but it should have a similar (and perhaps better) effect with the on-camera flash (because of the closeness of the flash to the lens - casting less harsh shadows).

Cloudy days are great for photography. Clouds are a nice large, soft, diffuse light source. Just be aware that cloudy light is actually directional & point them towards wherever the light is coming from. Then pop a reflector just outside of the frame for fill, or pop the flash with the diffuser & you're good to go.

One thing regarding the 50mm f/1.8 lens. I have the Nikon equivalent lens & it's great - wonderful depth of field. The bokeh is pretty hard edged (brighter around the edges than in the center) but that effect can be pretty - lots of little lights dancing in the background. Anyway, just be sure the focus is dead on. My camera has a bit of trouble focusing this exactly where I want it & the depth of field is so shallow (about six inches at 5 feet) that a tiny mistake in focusing means that the front shoulder is in focus, but the ears are not. While the leading eye may be in focus (at the edge of being in focus), the rear eye may not be. You may end up losing a lot of shots to ALMOST in focus pictures. So stop it down a bit to f/2.8 or f/4 or even f/5.6 and get in-focus pictures, with less spectacular bokeh in the background. When you do shoot at f/1.8 ALWAYS check the face for focus afterwards.
posted by MesoFilter at 9:28 PM on August 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also, on camera flash can be ok - as mentioned above (btw I used that diffuser to get that great back-lit photo too - on camera flash + diffuser = nice soft light - not as light a an umbrella just out of frame, but much softer than what's coming out of the camera) - but it'll run your battery down pretty quickly. You can get a cheap flash (a quick search on B&H turns up a flash that's just a step up from your camera's built in flash for $70) or a second battery pack, or just don't use on camera flash so much, or work for shorter sessions.

Be sure to charge your batteries the night before the shoot.
When I took photography in college, my instructor was a big fan of the hour before sunrise and the hour after sunset, his reasoning being that there was still plenty of light to expose the film, but that in the absence of the sharp contrasts that direct sunlight can cause, the film could be exposed evenly with less technical fuss, resulting in better pictures (especially for amateurs like us). He was vehemently against taking pictures at midday, even in the shade, because of the contrast problem. It should be noted that we used B&W film exclusively in this class and it was real film, not digital. So I'm sure that makes a difference.
Your professor was probably talking about the difficulty of getting the subject & background to look connected to each other. Expose for the foreground (your subject) and the background gets blown out to white, expose for the background (that's being lit by the sun) and the subject goes dark.

B&W, film or digital - light is light, it's the same now as it was back then.

You do get a lot of time after sunset when it's still light out, though it gets harder & harder to get steady pictures when you're hand holding, or you have to bump the ISO up to get grainy pictures, especially if you're just working with natural light.

Your professor may have had a tripod & not been taking pictures of people. Taking pictures of landscapes, stationary objects, etc. you can afford to expose for 1 or 2 seconds. Hand holding & taking pictures of people - not so much.

Follow my formula - have a few warm up hours before the "golden hour" so you don't rush things. But be sure you have enough battery power to get you there esp. when using the camera's built in flash.
posted by MesoFilter at 9:53 PM on August 13, 2010


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