Senior photography sessions - concept to delivery

Senior photography sessions - concept to delivery

Senior (graduates) photography is just dang fun. The youngsters are full of energy and eager to express who they are, and who they are becoming. Well, most of the time. I have had one or two in the past that made me feel on par with a trip to the dentist, but normally this is not the case. This was definitely not one of those times. 

I thought it might be helpful to those photographers looking to start, or do more, senior sessions if I outlined the entire process – from concept to completion. I’ll cover the essential pieces that have been helpful for me to create successful sessions and also to ensure that I actually enjoy doing them! Yah, that’s important too, right?!

In this post, I'll cover the thought process, planning, gear I use, lighting tips, workflow outline, software and presets, how to make the fun animated GIF in Photoshop, and how I make use of plugins for cool services to automate getting images online and shareable as fast as possible.

This session was extra special because...

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The Dungeon Master

Gandalf with iphone.jpg

The following story is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

I was in the cave, patiently observing as my Lady in Waiting researched a mysterious problem with my Macbook. I was at a "genius" bar, but this was not an official Apple storefront. It was a knock-off. The bar was more of a "Smarty Pants" bar rather than one worthy of Mensa inclusion. I waited patiently, enjoying the spartan design of the cave and the hipster music floating in the air. 

M'Lady continued to search for answers on her company Mac, while I stood on the other side of the bar, feeding her details. Next to me, a new victim approached and asked for help. He held his iPhone out in front of him, like a pet rat that had mysteriously gone motionless. He was obviously in a bad way. 

"One moment, Sir." She greeted him without taking eyes from the screen in front of her. I'll summon Gandalf, he'll know what to do. 

A wisp of smoke mysteriously appeared, and through it stepped "The Wizard". (I'm fairly certain the smoke was generated by The Wizard, but it could have been a laptop burning. I’m not 100% sure). His ragged beard was red like the layers of earthen minerals embedded in a prehistoric mountain cliff. His spectacles were thick, and battle worn with smudges from obvious encounters with dragons and other mythical beasts who spit annoying liquids on your face. His eyes, weary from many late nights as Dungeon Master, or from leading leagues of Legends. This was no amateur. 

"How may I assist, kind sir?" His said with a slightly detectable bow. 

The young man in waiting, his plain blue hoodie unzipped to reveal a plaid shirt, presented his quest, "Um, yah, my phone won't charge very good anymore."

Gandalf's beady eyes narrowed. There was intensity in them. He hath seen this before. 

“Lay it in my hand.” His outstretched palm bore fingernails stained yellow with the remnants of cheese puffs – a common war-time nourishment. The young man laid it upon the wizard's twitching, chubby fingers. 

Gandalf tightened his grip around the phone, and carefully brought it closer to his face for inspection. He turned it over to peer cautiously into the charging port. “As I suspected.” He said confidently.

He lowered the phone and looked unwaveringly into the young man’s eyes. He did not even need to clear his throat. “Fortunately, we offer a special port repair service. It is $29.95 and the work is 100% guaranteed. If for some reason it stops working again, we will service it again at no charge.” He went silent. His gaze did not falter.

The young man contemplated for a moment, then responded, “Well, um, I guess so. How long will it take?” 

As I watched silently on the sidelines, I could understand his concern. The technicians in the back were already overloaded with repairs and the neighboring advisors were quoting other customers “days” for devices they were dropping off. But this was an emergency. This was his iPhone.

Gandalf did not hesitate in his reply, “It should take less than 30 minutes and it can be done immediately.”

Gandalf obviously had some authority with the technicians in back. The young man perked up. “OK, I guess so then. I pretty much need my phone to work.”

“Very well.” Said Gandalf, and he opened the drawer in front of him, at the “Smarty Pants” bar. He rummaged for a few moments then seemed to find what he was searching for. 

“Ah!" He said, while removing the P.R.E.D. (Port Repair and Extraction Device). It looked strikingly familiar to a paper clip. I’m pretty sure it actually was a paper clip. He un-folded the device to extend the point.  

“You never want to try this procedure yourself, at home.” Gandalf warned. “You could destroy my precious…your precious.”

He proceeded to dig and scrape the inside of the power port with the paper, I mean, extraction device. He thumped the bottom of the phone on the counter top a few times and some micro crud fell out. 

“Bingo.” He said, as if he knew he would be successful. He blew some magical clearing breath in to the port for good measure. 

The young man stared in disbelief. I stared in disbelief. Gandalf smiled a gratified smile. “I’ll escort you now to the other counter where you can submit your renumeration.” He led, and the young man followed. I can only assume this fellow was elated that his repair service only took 45 seconds rather than the full 30 minutes Gandalf quoted.

I watched as he reluctantly pulled his wallet from the worn and imprinted back pocket of his jeans. He slowly pulled the barter plastic from the sheath, eyes somewhat lowered in concession, and handed it over. He did not speak. 

“That will be $29.95. Sméagol will finish you off now. Good day sir.” Gandalf motioned to the figure at the collection machine, and bid farewell to the young man while simultaneously beginning his return to the Smarty Bar. Before reaching it, he had already greeted his next target, “How may I assist, kind madam?”

My spellbinding was broken by the exclamation of My Lady in Waiting, “Ah ha! I think I found something. Have you tried to restart your Mac?”.

“Yes, I have.” I said without trying to sound sarcastic. “Please don’t charge me for that." 

Dragons happen

Dragons happen.

Lately I’ve committed to making it a habit to write every morning. If I don’t have something in mind, then I commit to write gibberish until I’ve completed at least 20 minutes of writing. Yesterday I wrote up some affirmations and goals — which included writing more. That’s where it ended. Nothing was flowing. I felt stuck — and besides, I had a good excuse: I had to run downtown to check on a photo job in progress. Up, up, and away I go.

On my way back in to the office, one of my team hands me a soft, brown, bubble padded envelope from the mail. It was hand addressed and personalized with a black Sharpie. I wasn’t expecting anything, but surprises are always fun! I laid it on my desk, hung my coat, and scratched the ears of my dog, who always comes running to my office to greet me when he gets to work before I do. I contemplated brewing another cup of coffee.

Again, I sat at my computer and acknowledged that I hadn’t written anything significant yet this morning….but wait, I can distract myself with that package on my desk! I opened it up and there was a small book and a hand-written note. The note began, “Kevin, Handwritten letters are an under appreciated & under used form of correspondence. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed seeing your letter to me...”

It was from John, my friend at CreativeLIVE. He had given me a book called, The War of Art when I visited last and I absolutely loved it. I sent him a note thanking him for it, and for the impact it had on me. Here, now, in perfect synchronicity, he gifts another Steven Pressfield book, Do The Work.

Synchronous because Pressfield is synonymous with persistence. He is the consummate advocate for fighting the dragons of fear and resistance. His words are pointed and poignant — he doesn’t pull punches. The wisdom in his prose finds its way to your heart, bypassing the clutter of your mind.

John knew the book would speak to me when he saw the artwork on the inside of the book jacket. It is a knight fighting a dragon. I have always loved dragons and what they can represent. For me, they are icons of fearlessness, wisdom, and benevolent power. And there are also the other dragons — like the dragon of fear that needs to be fought on a regular basis. This was a dragon of resistance.

And so I had another one of those amazing moments where my answer appears seemingly from outer space, from this mysterious connection we have with the world and the people in it. I tacked the cover dragon to my wall, in front of my desk, just below a favorite painting that reminds me to face fear with blind courage. I got busy writing.

When I got home I read the book through, cover to cover, just as I had the first book, The War of Art. And as before, the messages resonated with me in a remarkable way — as if I had told the Universe, “I need some answers!” and it graciously delivered.

So I put down the book and did the work. I just started to write and it felt good — not because I was writing anything mind blowing, but because I was fighting that dragon and just getting started. That is literally the most difficult hurdle for anything worthwhile in our lives. Get started.

The beauty in getting started is you now have momentum on your side and that is a powerful ally. Dragons get very discouraged when you have help on your side. Get started. Don’t quit.

The biggest realization I’ve had, from Pressfield’s illumination and from my own recent discoveries, is that getting started and keeping the momentum going is really the hardest part — and, it is all we need to do. The details, help, and “how-to” will appear soon enough to assist you, but only if you are riding the good dragon of Persistent Work.

Is there a Dragon in your way today? In your life?