Gearing Up for Senior Portrait Photography

While senior portrait season is still a few months away, the time to gear up for it is upon us, with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and holiday deals just on the horizon. If you're starting out and looking to get into this style of photography, here are a few options from photographer and YouTuber Michelle Nichols.

In her latest video, Nichols discusses her approach to senior photography, and much of that includes the use of prime lenses you wouldn't expect that give her photos a little bit of a different look. Typically, photographers reach for staple focal lengths such as 85mm and 135mm lenses, or rely on fast aperture zoom lenses like a 70-200mm f/2.8. I personally am a heavy abuser of the now 30-year-old Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 IS USM.

Nichols instead relies on wider lenses, such as the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM Lens and "nifty fifty" RF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens. These are some affordable alternatives to the L versions, but they produce excellent results. Nichols switched to RF mount versions of these lenses because, she notes, the focusing speed was faster using native lenses on her Canon EOS R6. The slightly wider-than-usual focal lengths give her photos more context and can often capture more of the personality of her subjects.

The other key component for portraits? Lighting. While it's ideal to be able to control lighting with speedlights or other tools, the costs can rack up quickly. Nichols recommends starting out with the basics, a simple reflector to make good use of the natural sunlight and allow for lighting up your subjects even in difficult backlight situations. Westcott makes one that serves as a 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser combo that has gold, silver, and white sides for reflecting duties and a diffuser to soften harsh light as well as a black side to absorb light. It's something that should be in every photographer's toolbox for sure.

There are a lot of different takes on good gear for senior portraits. What do you use for shooting these kinds of images? Leave your recommendations in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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