More than any other time in life,teenage is about self expression. Teenagers crave acknowledgement for who they are. So, if you can persuade a teenager to be photographed, make sure you keep their attention. Give them the license to dress and do the things they want. Praise them for who they are and what they want to be. That way you will develop the rapport you need. Here are some tips to make sure your shoot gets results…
Teenagers often have completely different ideas about clothes to you – especially if you are a parent. They may want to dress just to annoy their parents. To get the shots, get with the programme. The more outrageous the clothes the more you will excite the viewer. Concentrate on the character of the person wearing the clothes rather than the clothes themselves. In the expression and actions of the teenager you will find the emergent personality – encourage it.
Try to catch your subject with something that tells a story and characterises them. Think of a skateboard, some sports equipment, a musical instrument, perhaps a book. Catch them in the act of practising their interest. The shot is not about what they are doing but how they are expressing themselves. A stance of defiance, a pout of annoyance, a fist-shake of triumph… these are expressions of their actions and character. These are the things that convey them as unique and expressive people with their own character. They are also the things that people find interesting and which make good shots. Teenagers are self-conscious about themselves. If they are doing something with a prop, and especially if expressing an emotion too, this is when they will be most natural in their pose and reactions.
Experiment with environments
A teenager out of their preferred environment is an uncomfortable person. The best candid shots are when the person is completely relaxed about the shots you take. Take them where they are happiest. Teenagers love to ‘hang-out’ – mixing in the company of other teenagers. This is where they will express themselves best. However, you may need to be creative in your shots. You might want to capture them with their friends. Otherwise you may need to be creative to separate them out.
Be prepared to pepper your shots with captures that are not at the moments the teenager expects. Then you can be away from the others if that is the shot you want. A clever shot is often to shoot between friends to get your subject, but shoot very close to exclude the others. The active teenager will not even notice you taking these shots if they are doing something fun. Anything that involves concentration is a great way to pick up the best expressions and actions – particularly if they are successful, winning or doing it right.
Remember, that some great expressions can be had when they don’t get it right too! Strong emotions come out in disappointment and defeat. These are still important expressions of character. Work with the teenager in a variety of situations. Don’t make sessions too long. The idea is to engage them and get them working with you. It may take several shoots to get what you want. Teenagers love to be acknowledged. Capture them as they want to be seen.
Face to face may work. However, teenagers like the ‘different’ approach. Go with it. From above, from below, from the side, behind… they love something different. Ask them how they want shots done. They may be silly about it. Go with that too. Once they see you are serious and not judgemental they might have useful suggestions. A wide range of angles and your shots are more interesting. If they help you make it interesting and unique then your shots will capture the viewers imagination. A comfortable teenager is a cooperative teenager.
On Their Level
Teenagers are often smaller than you. Don’t be tempted to take all your shots from above. Get down to their eye level. This puts you on equal terms with them. They love that they can then express themselves directly. It’s much easier to build a rapport with eye-to-eye correspondence. It is always more engaging in the final picture too. On their level you are in their world. This is where you will see them as they are. Do something silly down there. If they join in you have the shoot under control…
If this is one of your first portrait sessions you might want a space between you and the subject. Wrong – get in close! Really close. Get the subject to fill your lens. Use a long lens, or draw in close-up and shoot. Either way the visual impact will be much greater. Nearly every branch of photography benefits from getting in close to the subject. Nearly every photographer takes time to appreciate that the close, big shots are the best. Close up it’s easier to lose the background and along with it the distractions. You will penetrate right into the expressions of your subject. Your viewers will get the full visual impact of the study.
Remember, most of your work with teenagers is about building a rapport. Go with them, go with being silly, go with the flow. Then the shoot will begin to roll along once they get comfortable. Have fun with teenagers, and they will give you a great shoot!