7 Tips for Photographing Teenagers :: Digital Photo Secrets

7 Tips for Photographing Teenagers

by David Peterson 2 comments

When it comes to photographing kids, most photography sites put their emphasis on little kids from chasing toddlers to capturing the crayon holding moments. Very few blogs focus their advice on capturing teenagers; however, technically, until they're 18 in most countries, teenagers are kids too! And sometimes they can be harder to photograph than toddlers; however, the challenges are different. These can be some of the most rewarding images because you're capturing them at a stage between innocence and loss of innocence. These tips will help you put a smile on even the kids sporting braces and attitudes.

Treat Them Like Adults

Whether you're a professional photographer or if you're photographing teens at a neighbor's BBQ, when you pick up the camera, treat your teen subjects like adults. Encourage them through respect and the kids you capture will exude confidence and will be more willing to smile through their braces and freckles and strike a pose. Making them feel like the adults they're becoming will go a long way in making the shoot an easy and enjoyable one.

Engage them in an Activity

Teenagers have a bad rap for being glued to their electronics. Yet, many of them are still throw-backs to simpler days and hobbies, such as this teenage boy playing the guitar. Before you photograph a teen or a group of teenagers, engage them in a conversation about what they like to do. Basketball? Great! Take them to a court. Hanging out with their friends in the park? Perfect! Head over to the nearest park and get them to climb trees and lay down in the grass. The more relaxed they are in their environment, and with you, the better energy and expressions you'll see from them.

Do the Unexpected to Lighten Things Up

Some kids will be camera shy and not every image of them has to be smiling and face-on. Capturing them doing what they love in an inconspicuous way might just be the ticket to opening them up. It also means getting creative. Show them a shot like this of them on your DSLR, and they'll be right back on the court hamming it up for the next round of images. With no faces showing, only their love of basketball and competitive nature, they'll forget the camera is on them and then you can change it up and include their smiles and grimaces.

Attitude about Attire

Let's face it, parents can't get kids to change what they wear, and most likely you won't be able to either. The best thing to do is to let them wear what they want, within reason, of course. First of all, it's how they are known, so why change that just for a photograph? Don't you want to capture the real kid, not the phony coat and tie one? Second of all, they'll be more comfortable in presence and attitude when wearing their favorite clothes and when they're comfortable, you get better images.


Remember that kids these days are used to being photographed a lot more than prior generations. Every cell phone has photo-capabilities; digital cameras have come way down in price. And with the internet, these kids are used to sharing and uploading pictures. So, how does this benefit you? Why can't they just photograph each other, they'll ask. There's still a difference between an Instagram image and one that is taken with a quality DSLR that can control depth of field, shutter speed, and a myriad of other things. This is one reason it's important to show the kids one of your images on the DSLR display early on. They'll see the difference between the pictures they upload to Facebook and Twitter from their phones, which are usually grainy, and the ones you're capturing. Rather than trying to convince them with words, show them a few of the pictures, because as the saying goes, "A picture says a thousand words." Let the images speak for you.

ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed

Just like any situation, adjust your camera's ISO setting to fit the lighting situation. When it comes to aperture, unless there's a compelling reason to keep your photo sharp throughout. it's best to use a shallow depth of field to keep the emphasis on the subject by blurring the background. Speaking of backdrops, you should use a simple backdrop that doesn't draw attention away from the subject, again, unless there's a compelling reason to have it included.

Shutter speeds will also depend on your lighting situation and the activity going on. It's recommended to keep your shutter speed to at least 1/25 since some teens can be fidgety. Or if they're strumming a guitar, you may want to stop the action of their hand or not depending on the effect you're going for. Keep all of this in mind when you're picking your shutter speed. Since portraits are often about depth of field, a good way to go is to use the aperture priority mode (or portrait scene mode) and let the camera do the rest with shutter speed.

Limit your use of flash if you can. It can throw a subject off, so unless you're in a real low lighting situation or if there's a lot of back lighting and you need the fill flash, keep it off.

Have Fun!

Teens usually love to have fun. This is a great opportunity to capture that. Once they loosen up, you may not be able to get them to stop! Naturally, though, not all images need to be of them smiling and laughing. In fact, quite the opposite at times. A pensive or inquisitive look can have the same appeal as a toothy grin. That doesn't mean you can't have fun capturing it. Let their personality come out. Don't have a book worm pretend to be a jock or vice versa. Kind of obvious, but worth mentioning.

One last note. Senior portraits is a thriving business for many photographers. If you find you enjoy working with teens, this might be a career worth looking into. Salvatore Cincotta nets over $1 million, yes million, dollars a year with his senior portrait business. Something to think about.

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  1. mitch says:

    I find teens often worry about their complexion and appreciate a little light acne removal etc. Opening up the subject is a difficult issue though.
    What I do is show them some of my previous work while we're having an informal chat, preferably beforehand to relax them, and slip in a line something like "this poor girl woke up with a massive spot just there" and point to her chin or wherever it was before I covered it over.
    Often their next comment I often get is "oooh, can you do that for my acne, scar etc?"

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.