Senior Portrait Photography: Natural Light Techniques

If you think you need a ton of expensive equipment to take high quality senior portraits, you may want to reconsider. As Michael Sasser demonstrates in the video below, all you really need is a camera and reflector. Using this basic setup, Sasser was able to take some gorgeous shots of the soon-to-be high school graduate as you can see in the photographs following the clip. Take a look and perhaps get some fresh ideas on how to approach your next senior portrait gig:

On his Nikon body, Sasser used all Nikon lenses which included 85mm 1.4, 50mm 1.4, and a 35mm 1.4 though he adds that the 50mm is not a lens he uses often. No filters were used during the shoot as Sasser said he compensated for bright light by using a shutter speed of 1/4000th.

using a reflector for portraitsnatural lighting

Sasser kept his editing simple with some minor tweaks. He says all he had to do in post was “some skin smoothing, curves and levels for contrast, vibrance boost in lightroom, and some local touches for the eyes to make them pop. Outside of that, its mostly just great light, and she had great skin!”

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20 responses to “Senior Portrait Photography: Natural Light Techniques”

  1. Leon Barnes says:

    I got nothing out of the video because of the blasting music. Are you making a music video or a photo technique video. It was terrible as both.

  2. Jo says:

    This is not telling you anything about the process, it’s all about a music video. Really, photographer and senior dancing down the sidewalk? Give us something worth watching and to learn from!

  3. Senior photography… where’s the senior? I agree the music is simply irrelevant and distracting.

  4. Mouse says:

    Maybe it’s because I’m such a learner but this was so good. Simple obvious things that I overlook – like if the background’s rubbish blur it out – while worrying about getting people to look natural. I do agree that I thought the seniors would be seriously older. Don’t know if I could get my old granny to sashay on her gammy leg! Have you one for real seniors?

  5. Aravis says:

    That’s seniors as in high-school graduating seniors… or college…. not old people!

  6. Chris says:

    Pretty music vid. Instructive? Not so much at all. Just made me jealous of the D4.
    He shot straight into the sun and used the reflector for fill, gold side for skin tones.
    Oh really good he stopped down to 1/4000 s on the shutter speed not to overexpose the images…So that is all you have to do? Stupid comment and tip.
    Also he used the reflectors inbuilt diffuser for the harsh overhead sun light. That is what I got out of this 2 min video.

    But hey, it was kind of pretty!

  7. Helene says:

    I don’t take ‘people’ pics…mainly because I don’t have enough knowledge/experience/special equipment. Watching this made me rethink this. Liked the fact the there were so special backgrounds, interesting how he got her to ‘naturally’ pose (through the walk) and not force a pose, great that there was no special lighting/booms/backdrops/etc. and just one reflector. He had a great subject…the model was gorgeous. I would love to see how this would work with a high school senior who is not as confident and beautiful. Bottom line…I enjoyed the video, I got something out of it and, remember people, you can always turn off the sound. Just sayin’

  8. ConnieE says:

    I didnt think it was bad. I think he has the gal walk to get different poses. The images he shows are really good. Great use of light. The girl seems relaxed. I am jealous he has an assistant to hold the reflector.

    (I do agree re music- I bit distracting,. It can be fixed by your volume button though)

    Thanks for sharing your tips!

  9. Ann Courtney says:

    Could we have a definition of “Senior” please. I was really looking forward to instruction on how to cope with shadows created by wrinkles/beards/glasses etc etc.

  10. SteveZ says:

    How to pose, how to light, how to interact, how to keep the model interested. Got more out of this than the usual instructional/ego trip videos that get posted. The ‘senior’ portraits comments are comical. I get the confusion to some degree, but come on.

  11. Leon Barnes says:

    It was obvious to me you were photographing high school or college seniors, not oldsters like me. Once I turned the music way down and rewatched the video, I learned some techniques for getting lively shots. I wonder, did you use music during the shoot? That might be a good idea to energize your subject.

  12. David says:

    Pretty misleading description: “If you think you need a ton of expensive equipment to take high quality senior portraits…” Where are these ugly seniors!? :P Heh, it’s about a shoot session with a make-up preparation + spare cloths + some assistant for the reflector. + 5000euros or more for a professional Nikon D4 camera + 3 different lenses (2000euros??)…. If this still belong to an non expensive shoot session. Then it’s maybe time to stop my amateurs dream with my gadget Nikon D5100 :D It would be seriously bad if you fail to make nice pictures with a D4. I expected some tips and tricks with such a description in the article. But indeed, very very nice non-instructive commercial video.

  13. Jody says:

    Disappointed with the lack instruction, and clicked on the article hoping to find some useful information. Not terribly useful for me when I am about to take my kids out for portraits with the fall colours now. But agreed, great music vid.

  14. Ryan Caffery says:

    Not sure about the haters in the comments, but I got a lot out of this video. It not only highlighted some nice posing and positioning tricks, the cinematography was well done and it made the photoshoot a fun experience.

    Cool music too.

  15. Maryanne says:

    This is a BTS video of a shoot Michael did with a model using next to no gear. Its nothing more.

  16. I’m a natural light portrait photographer and was actually very impressed and inspired by this video. It’s a wonderful reminder of the beautiful results we can get with simple inexpensive reflectors and sunlight (which is free). Your technique is lovely and your portraits are beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  17. Mohan says:

    Liked one tip about the walk.

  18. Chris says:

    I was expecting something more than a highlight reel with music. One can certainly garner some useful information from observing the video, but this could have been much more informative had the music been dropped in favor of some actual instructional content.

  19. Ron P says:

    Come on Photogs! Seniors… As in HS seniors. It’s a huge category and great demographic in which to market your portrait business. Video needed only to tag video with settings and equipment utilized. Nice photos but I think peeps want to know about your process. Good job.

  20. john says:

    “doesn’t cost a lot of money” uses a $1300 lens…..

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