Photographing Seniors is by far my favorite thing to do. I love their energy, willingness to try new and crazy things, fun personalities, and their hope for the future and what is to come after High School. Their Senior Year is such an exciting time in their lives, and I love to be a part of it.
Most Seniors exude a self confidence that really shines through in their photos. Some don’t, and it is my job to help them look their best, feel comfortable during the shoot, and to realize through mind blowing images of themselves, that they are beautiful or handsome. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately among photographers. It’s a trend that is destroying the self-confidence of young women and men alike. I know that we want our subjects to look flawless, and that we can do that in post processing. Photoshop is an amazing tool, but we all know it can be taken too far.
Recently, I had a young lady call me in tears. She had her Senior Photos taken by a well know local photographer. You know, the photographer we all want to be when we grow up with the arsenal of equipment, shiny studio, and hundres of thousands of dollars in yearly sales revenue. The girl was upset because she didn’t want to sit for photos again because she thought she was fat, and her mother was making her call me and schedule a session. In the back of my mind, I was thinking, “So she’s a little heavy. I can disguise that with a bit of creative posing and good lighting.” I assured her that I would make her look beautiful in her photos, and scheduled a free consultation with her and her mother the next week to get an idea of what she wanted from her Senior Session.
When I arrived at the consultation, I was shocked. The girl was BEAUTIFUL! I’m not saying that not every girl is gorgeous at whatever size they are, but this girl is 5’8”, and she couldn’t have weighed over 115lbs. She was tall, thin, athletic, and gorgeous. It didn’t take me long to figure out why she was so apprehensive and insecure. She showed me the photos from her previous Senior Session with the aforementioned photographer. I was shocked. The images looked like her, but they were an overly perfect Stepford Wives version of her. Not a hair was out of place. Her skin looked so perfect that it looked plastic, and he had thinned her face, narrowed her hips, reduced the size of her nose, and increased the size of her breasts. I’m sure he thought he was simply enhancing her natural beauty. However, what he really did was take every bit of self-confidence she had, and turned it to insecurity. Was she not good enough just the way she was?
Examples of what not to do.
Here is an example of over processing an image to the point of destroying a girl’s self esteem. The first image is straight out of camera. The second is the same image. I thinned her face and arm, reduced the size of her nose, whitened her teeth, liquified her eyes to make them bigger, and smoothed her skin to a perfect plastic appearance. Not horrible, but really, it looks nothing like her at all.
Straight out of Camera
Insanely Over Processed: Do not do this!
Here is an example of processing the correct way. I left everything about her alone. I just slightly smoothed her skin, sharpened her eyes, and enhanced the colors a bit. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Had she had a small blemish on her forehead that could be cloned out, but her skink was pretty flawless. My basic rule of thumb is that I correct anything that will go away in the next 6 weeks (blemishes, scabs, scrapes, etc.) and I very slightly soften those that are permanent (scars and birth marks are usually just lightened a tiny bit if they are red. If not, I just smooth them the tiniest bit.)
Real Perfection- Beauty is enhanced, not created!
The point of this segment is this: DO NOT TAKE POST PROCESSING TOO FAR! You may think that you are helping your client out by perfecting them. And trust me, there is nothing wrong with blemish removal, slight skin smoothing, and a little liquefying here and there if there is a bulge in clothing or on an arm. However, your client wants photos of themselves or their family, not some insanely perfect version of themselves. Real people, especially High School Seniors, are amazing just the way they are. It is our job to enhance their natural beauty and help them see themselves as beautiful, no matter their size or shape.
Atina is the owner of Atina King Photography located in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She loves to focus on photographing High School Seniors in urban environments throughout Arkansas. She resides in Fayetteville with her husband Jonathan and their two small children. Her work can be viewed on her website at Atina King Photography.
Creative photography assignments usually come from “thinking outside the box.”
Not today… Today we’ll teach you how to photograph “inside the box” and keep things fun and creative at the same time. This has been one of the most widely requested tutorials from our Facebook Group members. So have fun with this and come share your results too!
* Disclaimer – the box concept is shown on Pinterest, and we are not aware of the original creator of the concept. There are several unique ways to do it, if you cannot build your own box, such as using large moving boxes.
Creating a “White Box” Composite Photograph
Creating this composite image is done in a series of steps beginning with getting it right in camera, choosing the right lighting, maintaining a consistent look to the image, and compositing in Photoshop. This blog post will take you through the steps needed to create the final image of separate images of family members in the final composite above, including building the White Box.
Getting it Right in Camera and Using the Right Equipment
Creating the composite box series is simple as long as you get it right in camera. You will use Manual settings so you can select an aperture large enough to ensure everyone in the image stays in focus – usually around F9. The shutter speed will need to be below your camera’s sync speed – usually 125-200. One thing to avoid is a high ISO because you want to avoid noise in the image. I suggest a camera setting of F9, ISO 100, 125-200 shutter speed. You can try the different settings once you have the box and lighting set up. Select what works best for you and your setup.
In the image below, you can see the umbrella sits about 12 feet in front of the box, which gives me a good even light and reduces shadows on the back of the box. I have tried other lighting, including 2 speed lights with soft boxes, but the light was not even enough for me. You can only see part of the box because I have a small apartment, so space isn’t really an issue.
My Equipment List
- Camera with Manual Settings (F9, ISO 100, 125-200 SS depending on camera)
- 24-70 lens set at 70 mm
- 400 watt Studio Strobe with 7 foot shoot-through umbrella on full power
- Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom – and Photoshop
- Large White Box (see directions below for building)
Maintaining Consistent Image Capture and Development in LR, ACR, or Photoshop
There are a few things to keep in mind when developing your images in LR, ACR, or Photoshop. First, and most importantly, you need to maintain white balance. If your camera is set to Auto White Balance, the camera can change depending on the colors worn by the subjects or the toys or props in the White Box. Fixing color-casts in Photoshop can be time consuming, so prevention is key here. MCP Bag of Tricks has a wonderful reflect color-cast vanisher that I normally use this for faces to remove color-casts, but it works perfectly to remove color-casts from the White Box. That same Photoshop action set also has a Bleach Pen action that works great with white objects!
Next, the camera should be set on a tripod so every shot is exact. Double-check that your camera is straight on the tripod and not tilted. Having a consistent capture in your camera makes the compositing process easier, with less hassle, and quicker to complete.
Lastly, the lens selection is important because you will need a lens wide enough to shoot a 4×4 foot box, but with little cropping in post-production. I use a 24-70 lens set at 70 mm.
Building the Box
The White Box is a cube that measures 4 feet wide by 4 feet deep by 4 feet tall. It was constructed with ¾ inch plywood and screwed together. The outside of the box, facing the camera is framed with 2” x 2” wood. The paint is a white matte latex paint. You may need more than one coat of paint. After a while, the wood can warp so fixing warping in post processing may need to be done.
The White Box sits on a 2 foot high pedestal to lift the White Box up for ease of people when they hang their legs over the edge. I had a set of wheels put on the bottom of the pedestal for ease of moving it from room to room because it is quite heavy and I have a small apartment. I’ve painted it a few times because of marks made by shoes.
Taking the Images
After setting up the box, lighting, and camera on the tripod, I take several shots to double-check my settings. Then, I begin capturing my subjects in all different poses, faces, and shapes. After the session, I select the ones I want to use. Have fun with it – try different poses, faces and make different shapes with arms and legs, the ideas are limitless…shoot RAW!!!
Compositing the Images
Begin with opening all of the photos you wish to use in the composite in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. You can use 3, 6, 9, or even 12 in one image! For this instruction I have used 4 images. All the edits in ACR can be selected at one time and it will sync. This is helpful if you need to do a contrast/color change because all of the changes can be applied equally to all of your selected images. You don’t want one photo to be darker or lighter the rest. Sometimes because of bright colors of clothing or toys it can cause a color cast inside of the box, you can use MCP Bag of Tricks in Photoshop to remove reflected color casts on faces and the inside of the White Box.
Building the Composite
If the box isn’t completely straight use the perspective warp tool… Add guide lines by dragging a line from the ruler on top and on the side of the photo, line up the guide lines where the edge of the box should be then go to EDIT/PERSPECTIVE WARP and follow the steps to add the perspective points and manipulate perspective. I sometimes still need a small edit using the puppet warp to straighten the sides of the box.
When items are outside of the box (arms or legs) After the edits have been done, make a selection with the pen tool around the box and include legs or arms outside of the box and right click/make selection and feather 5px…press control/command J to make a copy of the selection, then the selection can be moved over to the new composite page. Photos that do not include anything outside the box can be simply cropped to include just the box.
Make a New Page in Photoshop to Build the Composite.
- Make a new page, I start out with a 40″ x 40″ 300DPI- sheet just to make sure I have plenty of space to work with.
- Start dragging each image over to it (add guide lines to keep the images even). With the page being 40×40 inch and dpi of 300 I don’t have to size the photos down to fit the new composite page.
- When you have all 4-6-9 or even 12 images on the new sheet adjust the layers so legs are hanging over the next box and not cut off because they are behind it.
- Line up the images so the frames are overlapping and not just side by side. For example, if you place one White Box next to another White Box and both have a 2’ frame, you now have too large of a frame – so overlap the outside frame a bit.
Layer on new composite page:
- Make the frames for the separation of the boxes
- Use the shape tool (rectangle) to make a thick line the thickness depends on your personal taste of how you want it to look, with the fill color close to the color of the White Box or whatever color you would like to try. I’ve seen it done in different frame colors for different occasions.
- Place each line in between the rows of photos.
- Placing the line in a box where legs are hanging over I turn the line into a mask layer so I can use a soft black brush to paint out the areas arms or legs are hanging over the edge of the box.
Adding frames to separate boxes.
And here’s other examples of a family collage.