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Teenagers in the Photo Studio

The latest family photography session saw two teenagers in the studio. One keen, one not. What did I learn? Read on...

A young girl makes a heart shape with her hands in a white studio. Portrait photography by Paul Phipps-Williams

It started with a Facebook message from someone in Coventry - 'We have this wall at home and we'd love a portrait of the family to go on it!'

We started discussing some really exciting ideas of the things we could do - but it screamed 'studio session' at me. One phonemail to a partner studio later - thank you Lucie Johnson Photography - and we had a whole day, and four families, each of whom were being treated to a gallery package at a special offer.

Until the Pingdemic struck...

One by one, the families, all of whom knew each other, began to drop out until only one was left. Neil and Heather. And boy did we have a good time.

Neil and Heather have two girls, Amelie (13) and Eden (12). Eden is extrovert and loves her make-up and drama. Amelie is more reserved, shy, and self-conscious. So how do you get a successful family photoshoot wrapped when one of them doesn't want to be there? Here's what I learned.

1. Preparation is Key

Two young girls hold hands whilst looking at each other wearing masks.

When someone looks at your price list, they only see the hour to ninety minutes they spend in your company. They don't see the hours of preparation that goes into the photo shoot. For this shoot, it involved:

  • researching the studio location,

  • negotiating with the studio owner and placing the booking.

  • understanding who the different personalities are in the family - each of my clients fill in a questionnaire which tells me how I can engage with everyone. The pre-shoot consultation coffee is also vital here.

  • time spent composing a set list of poses to try - hints and tips not only for myself, but also to show the family on the day.

  • time to prepare the setting before they arrived - crucial if you've never visited a location before.

This meant I was comfortable before the session and could immediately concentrate on making the family relax. Each of the girls had their own mood board I could point to and suggest what to try next. A picture tells a thousand words, after all, and once they could see what ideas we had, it was easier to get results they could get excited about.

2. Take your time

When you only have a limited time with a family, a set list which is about seven pages long, and a studio which charges by the hour, it's easy to want to rush. Don't. Everything about a photoshoot should scream laid-back and relaxed, but keeping the energy and excitement a tangible thing. If there's negative energy in the room, because Mum's stressed, or the baby's crying, or both, then the photographer should be the calm swan, always there with a smile or reassuring word. It doesn't matter if your teenager isn't enthusiastic at the start, if you keep the energy high they'll be enthusiastic by the end. Which brings me on to...

3. Read the Room

So to keep the energy high, you spend time with the person who's the most excited, first.

We had such a good time at the start of the session with Eden, who we got posing in all sorts of different styles that the energy became infectious.

Giggles in the room do wonders for those there under sufferance and by placing Amelie third or fourth in the set list meant it gave her time to relax, see how it works, and eventually relax enough to want to have a go herself.

It's also important to remember that many people (myself included) feel very awkward about having their photograph taken. I'm exceptionally self conscious about how I look - and its natural for your families to feel the same. Constant positivity, encouragement, and showing the photos as they're taken can really help your client understand that they are beautiful, and these images will show them at their absolute best.

4. Remember you're photographing a teenager!

Yes, this one sounds obvious, but bear with me. A family portrait is a glimpse of one afternoon in a family's life. And yes, that does mean that sometimes your teenager won't want to smile in photos, or wear what Dad asks, or do what you suggest.

That's fine!

It's a snapshot of life at that moment, and ten, twenty years down the line, the photograph is a reminder of a chapter in someone's life story. The photograph will prompt memories of life at that time. "Remember when you never used to take off your hat," will probably be one of those here...

5. Facebook isn't a thing

Finally, Dad will laugh at you if you go "we're going to give you a Facebook Profile photo that'll make all your friends jealous. And then you will feel old.

Thank you to Neil, Heather, Amelie and Eden for a wonderful couple of hours. If you would like to book family photography in London, or a family photoshoot in Lewisham, Deptford or Greenwich, then please get in touch.

Do you have tips on how to get the best out of teenagers in the photo studio? Pop them in the comments below. Would love to hear from you.

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