It's Day 2 of Senior Week. Say hi to Katy Weaver~
We love all of the different locations that you use for your shoots. (Forests! Rivers! Cityscapes!) How do you match a location to the personality of a senior? Do you give them the opportunity to research and choose a location?
Shooting outside has always been really important to me – first and foremost because I LOVE the outdoors. I grew up camping, traveling, and playing outside all the time as a kid. As I got into photography in my teens, I wanted to photograph people in all the beautiful landscapes around me, and I was inspired by dramatic, ethereal editorial images of high fashion models within their environments that I saw in magazines. That said, I also strongly believe that certain places are soothing for certain people. Some of us feel absolutely at home in the middle of a bustling city. For others it’s next to water, or under the tall trees in a forest. Photographing clients in places that are important to them personally makes all the difference. I give all my seniors a long list of location ideas to help them get started, but I also give them the option of picking somewhere else that isn’t on the list and I embrace that. I usually prefer new places to old ones, just because it puts them at ease somewhere they love and it kicks me out of my comfort zone, which is always a good thing!
All of your seniors are very well posed without having it be awkward or overdone. How do you pose your clients? Do you find that girls need different guidance than boys? (We would love a few tips or pointers!)
Posing is simultaneously the best thing and the worst thing all at once, and I try to keep that in mind. When I pose people, my end-goal is to get a shot that represents them in the way they see themselves in their own mental picture (or even improve that mental picture if I can!). I don’t want them to look posed, I want them to look natural and their best possible ever. At the beginning of every shoot, everyone, even myself, feels a little awkward at first. So I talk a lot and I try to humanize myself to make them more comfortable.
I also tell people right off the bat, “Don’t worry if you feel awkward at first, everyone always does. I’m super bossy and I will make sure to tell you what to do in order to look amazing!” Then they laugh and listen to my coaching instead of feeling weird. I explain to my client that I usually shoot with manual focus, and I tell them that I take photos slowly and often I’ll get them standing or sitting in a certain way and won’t have them make an expression until I manually focus on their eyes first, and then I have them work on facial expressions from there. So I essentially work on their body first, and then get them to smile or smirk or look confident last. This helps so I don’t get photos with the dreaded fake smile of doom. I also explain a lot of tips and tricks as I go, so people understand why I am telling them certain things over and over. Here a few tips and tricks I use on almost anyone:
-I always tell people to stand with their weight distributed on one leg. Then I demonstrate how this makes them look comfortable and at ease instead of uptight, and they laugh and understand. When people stand like this and sort of pop a hip a little, their arms can hang down at their sides pretty comfortably without it being weird.
-Pockets! For men, I always put their hands in their pockets. This helps a ton. It gives them something to do and puts them at ease and makes them more confident. Always make sure their hands are entirely in the pockets too – if they put four fingers in and leave a thumb out it looks super weird. This instruction always works for women if they do have pockets, but a lot of times they don’t. You can also try one hand in a pocket, one out, which looks good if they pocket the hand on the same side where their weight is distributed.
-Chin down! This one is SO important. For whatever reason, our natural human way of existing usually involves us smiling, laughing or posing with our chins up in the air, exposing the lovely flesh under our jawlines that often is less than perfect. News flash: everyone except insanely thin models probably hate this angle of their faces, because they don’t do this when they look in the mirror so it’s not how they see themselves. To improve this, I show an example of how bad my face looks with my chin up, laugh, and then tell them to bring their forehead toward the camera a little bit, and then bring their chin down. When I lift my camera up to get a higher angle, they usually try to bring their chin up again, and I continually tell them to pull their forehead forward and chin down so that they don’t have a double chin and the skin under their jaw stretches out a bit, making their jawline sharp and attractive. This is equally important for men and woman. Peter Hurley has youtube videos online explaining more of this and it’s SO worth watching!
-Posture is the other thing that is really important. Everyone slumps these days – including me. I explain to girls and guys that they look so much better when they bring their shoulders back and stand up straight as if they had a string pulling on the top of their head like a puppet. I also tell them I want them to think about their spine and always remember to keep the top of their spine by their neck straight, the middle of their spine straight, and if they are a girl, curve the lower part of the spine in it’s natural “S” shape to emphasize curves in a positive way. When people are sitting or leaning, I demonstrate how they can lean forward or sit forward while keeping their spines straight instead of hunching their shoulders, and that helps too. The perpetual problem is that good posture often looks uncomfortable or uptight, so you have to coach people into a sweet spot that makes their body look amazing, but keeps them looking relaxed enough to be natural.
-Ask people to do a normal action, and then coach them into making it look more photogenic. For girls, I tell them to push their hair gently off their faces, but keep their hand there. Then I tell them to relax their hand so it’s limp (no claw hands!) and I also tell them that hands always look more feminine when photographed from the side, as opposed to the front. Then I work on having them lean forward, tilt their head a bit, angle their face a bit, giggle, look down, and get natural shots of them sort of adjusting their hair. Everyone with hair has to push it back now and then, so it’s a pretty easy thing to do that looks good. For guys, you can tell them to scratch the back of their head, adjust their sleeves, or adjust their collars and it works similarly.
Your work has such a lovely look and feel. Can you tell us about your editing and workflow process? Any tips for new photographers?
My workflow is always changing and my editing style is too. I currently cull photos in Photo Mechanic right after a shoot, delete the bad stuff, import the good stuff to Lightroom, and export small jpegs as proofs from there. I put the proofs in an online gallery and email them to clients within 24 hours so they get to see them right away! This makes people happy and puts the ball in their court. From there, they get to pick which images they want me to edit. I tell them that it takes me two weeks to edit them from the date they send a list back. When I get the list, I edit the RAW photos first in Lightroom using a variety of presets, but right now I’m totally obsessed with Kodak Gold 200 from VSCO’s pack 05. I also love Kodak Portra 400 and Portra 800 from VSCO Pack 01. There’s definitely a dichotomy in my work to some extent because I do really love darker, moodier shots in addition to soft, airy ones, but it really depends on the session, the person and the location. Once I export my edits from Lightroom, I polish them off in Photoshop. That’s where I go in and clean up blemishes using the healing brush tool and sometimes even out skin a bit with a soft brush set to 10% opacity while constantly re-sampling the color of the skin. If I had to do major touch-ups I add some grain back into the skin to give the illusion of being perfect. I really don’t like any of my touchups to look like touchups, so I try really hard to keep the look clean and minimal without overdoing any softening or losing texture.
My advice to newbies is this: experiment a lot, and try not to overdo it on skin. I think a lot of photographers get lazy and sort of blur the skin instead of going in to remove acne manually, or they go way overboard and make people look like aliens (I know this because I TOTALLY did this when I was starting out and thought Photoshop was the best thing ever). Explore different edits in your spare time so you know what you like best for various lighting scenarios, and be kind to yourself when you get frustrated (I still do). Also, have fun! Editing can be a chore or it can be a joy, your attitude makes all the difference!