The teenage years are a transitional period on the threshold of adulthood. You’ll want to capture this special time in their lives photographically, because they are learning who they will become in life, and that is an exciting time. Here are some tips on how to enhance your efforts in photographing teenagers.
Whatever the personality of the teenager(s) you want to photograph, approach them with tact and grace. You have to carefully and effectively break the ice with them, with comfortable conversation. No need to attempt to use “hip slang” or try to come down to their level. Instead look to elevate teens to your (adult) level, and they’ll feel like you’re not treating them like children. This respect is what teenagers want. Express to them that you want to capture them at this moment in their life. You’ll want to find out what their interests are, so you can compose your photographs to maximize their involvement in the process, making it a win-win situation. Work quickly and with as little (obvious) preparation as possible. This means that you must be overly prepared and ready to catch anything as spontaneously as it occurs.
Treat them like Adults
Teenagers are in a transition period in their lives, becoming adults, yet still with lingering elements from childhood. Importantly, they want to be treated with the respect you would afford an adult. You’ll want to talk with them about ideas and topics of conversation that appeal to their more mature side, this will earn you their respect and once you’ve development mutual respect you can ask teenagers to pose for you with greater ease. Effective communication is key to working with anyone, and maybe more so with teenagers. Once they trust you (be sure to show them the photos on the LCD screen), they’ll be more and more willing to be photographed and they may even have suggestions.
Use Simple Backgrounds
Teenagers are usually unblemished by complexities of the world, so you’re better off shooting them unadorned in simple settings that enable you to focus on them and their youthful energy and flair. A simple background, like a brick wall or in a park avoids having distracting elements in the photo. Try to avoid shooting with the flash. Just keep snapping pictures and they will quickly become comfortable and less self-aware. In addition, if the background is fairly neutral, this won’t seem like a formal photo shoot, and they are likely to be more comfortable.
Natural is Best
Part of what makes teenagers interesting subjects are their natural actions and behavior. You’ll want to encourage them to be themselves, and not worry about the camera or your candid photos. In fact, snap off a few throwaway images to break the ice. Tell stories and get them to feel as relaxed as possible, and let them do their thing. You’ll find the best images come with patience. Take a photo, wait, take another photo. The candid photos can’t be hurried. Unless you are very comfortable with setting the camera’s exposure, you might use P (Program) mode to get the most out of photographing teenagers in a natural (non-posed) setting. You certainly don’t want to be fiddling around with the camera’s controls and trying the patience of your subjects.
Make it Memorable!
Teenagers love to be with their friends, so why not go out and photograph them together having fun? They may actually appreciate someone being there to capture them all having a good time. Use an external flash (with a diffuser) if it is a low light event, like an indoor birthday party to freeze the action and capture the moments when they’re not so self-conscious.
Dressed to Click
The teenage years often express individual styles that reflect a teen’s changing personality. You are not going to get teenagers to wear anything but the clothing that THEY want to wear. Don’t worry about staging photos with formal attire or outfits. Just go with the casual and natural (or perhaps unique) clothes that they are comfortable with. Contrasting colors look bold and youthful; having a leafy green backdrop and contrasting t-shirt makes the wearer stand out. A telephoto lens of 200-300mm is ideal for this kind of image. Turn the mode dial to AV (Aperture Priority) mode and select a wide aperture for a blurred background.
Choose reasonable shutter speeds of 1/125s and faster, depending on the amount of available light and what your aperture setting is. Use a flash if needed, but use it sparingly because you don’t want the whole process to be perceived as being formal or grandiose. It needs to be and feel as natural as possible. Keep the depth of field shallow so that the emphasis can be placed on the subject, not the background (i.e. a wide aperture).
Have a selection of lenses; a standard 50mm lens is ideal, though the average standard zoom lens of around 28-70mm also covers this. A telephoto is useful as you can take photographs from a distance without making the teenager self-conscious. Avoid using a tripod and use a large reflector if some extra light is necessary for the shot, because highly staged photos are not usually a good option with teens. Instead work with the flash, and possibly some on-flash accessories to soften the flash if more light is needed.
Everyone wants to be treated with respect, and no one more so than teenagers as they see and feel themselves becoming adults. The key to effectively working with and photographing teens is to show them respect. Get them to trust you by establishing open, affable and enjoyable lines of communication.