Photographing Teens

July 3, 2020

Let’s talk about photographing teens. Not the teens who have their photo face down and are totally comfortable with a camera. Let’s talk about the teen who are less than… enthusiastic… about being at a photo shoot.

Sometimes they’re shy, or not comfortable with attention on them, or they feel awkward or self-conscious. Oftentimes their parents made them be there and they’d rather being doing a million other things. Whatever the reason, here’s a few ways that will help ease the pressure when photographing teens.

Give them time.

Give them time to warm up, to see what you’re about, and to gain their trust. Work with the other family members first, and in between, ask the teen about themselves. Help them understand through your actions that you’re not there to torture them and make them do things they don’t want to do or be someone they aren’t. The easiest way to do this is to talk with them about their interests, and be interested in them.

Meet them where they’re at.

Teens are not big kids. They are nearly adults, with legit feelings, ideas, opinions and autonomy. Talk openly with them, directly to them, and respect what they share with you. Sometimes it’s clear words and preferences, other times it’s body language. Acknowledge when it’s obvious that getting their photo taken is uncomfortable. Ask them how you can make it easier for them.

If you ask them to look at the camera and they don’t, that’s a cue to photograph them less directly. Embrace that they would prefer to look at the ground or into the distance. This is their personality and a teen will respect you more, maybe even open up to you, if you allow them to take the lead.

Photograph what makes them different.

Teens are unique and they want photos that are cool. Get outside the box, rather than making safe photographs of their face. Focus on their movements, their hands or shoes, the details in their clothing that they obviously made an effort to wear. Shooting details describes who they are, and can give them the time they need to relax before you point the camera directly at them. Play with light and abstraction so that photos have more feeling than a literal image of what they look like.

Don’t force it.

Teens may be unwilling to do certain poses because it makes them feel childish or uncomfortable. A lot of teens already know which angles to work because of social media. If you see them giving you side eye, let them do what they want, or ask them if there’s something they’d like to try. Let them know it’s totally cool for them to not to smile or look at the camera if they don’t want to.

Of course, parents might be feeling a bit anxious about their teens not “doing what you say.” If parents refer to their teens being reluctant before the session, have a conversation with them about how you’ll let the teen be themselves, and that you’ll be working directly with the teen rather than through the parent(s) to develop trust with the teen. Parents are usually relieved to hear this!

Get them moving.

Teens are easily bored. Switch up the suggestions frequently–have them walk around, joke, jump, give piggy backs, balance on things. If they’re not into big movements, ask them if to put their hands in different places: pockets, hips, fixing their hair, tie their shoes. Photograph them DOING stuff.

Make some noise.

Get them to play their favourite music on their phone as they walk around. Talk with them: hobbies, Netflix, games, sports, books, pets. Talk with their parents or siblings as you’re photographing teens to distract them a little bit from the camera. Play word games like telephone or have everyone shout out answers to simple or silly questions like “what’s your favourite song” or “who has the stinkiest armpits”.

Photographing teens means giving them a say.

Give teens some control over how you photograph them. Rather than telling them what to do, allow them space to express who they are and what they like. Letting them make a decision, however small, can help them feel like they’re contributing to the photo, rather than it being taken from them. If you make photographing teens a collaboration, you’ll make better photos.

I have two and four hour adventure sessions that are PERFECT for teens. It’s enough time for teens to get comfortable, and there’s virtually no pressure to do any particular poses. During the session, we do a bunch of activities so that the photos are less about the photo, and more about the person and family. Contact me here to learn more.