Photographing Life Stages

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One of the primary reasons that we pick up a camera is to record life events and life stages. Photographing people who are in their infancy, adolescence, prime, and old age present opportunities to capture beautiful, memorable moments specific to each age. As the photographer, we wish to be prepared for any given circumstance so that we don’t miss fleeting chances to capture a mood, a gesture, or a shining example of the person’s inner personality. To help prepare for your photography session, take the following recommendations into consideration.

Infants – Infants are warm, soft, delicate, and innocent. Photographing them should be a reflection of these qualities.

Recommended Settings: Indoors, swathed in pattern-free, solid colored blankets or clothing. Bounce a single off-camera flash or constant light source off of a softening reflective surface; light the baby from the side. Or, photograph in natural light coming from a northern-facing window. Go for simplicity rather than using busy backdrops or props. Fill the frame with the baby’s features, and concentrate on the small details (eyelashes, fingernails, etc.).

Recommended Gear: A fast lens for indoor shooting, like a 50mm f1.4
which produces lovely soft images and great bokeh. A tri-grip reflector (such as those sold by Lastolite). Solid-colored backdrops and throws. A Boppy Pillow for posing the infant.

Children and Adolescents – Children and adolescents are starting to discover their personalities. They are vibrant, in motion, curious and constantly explore the world around them. Photograph them candidly at play and in motion.

Recommended Settings: Outdoors, at a playground or park. Shoot candid shots from a distance to catch their natural movements and expressions. Capture action shots (shoot in continuous or burst mode). Photograph the children’s interaction with their peers, their parents, and their pets. Pose some shots of the children being still, but for the most part allow them to just interact with their environment.

Recommended Gear: A good quality telephoto lens, such as a 70-200mm f/2.8. A Speedlite or other external flash to use as a fill light for closer shots.

Teens and Young Adults – Teens and young adults are discovering where they fit into the world, and are defining their personal identity. Work with them to define the photographic “look” that they would find to be the most pleasing and representative of their personalities.

Recommended Settings: Life milestones, such as after getting their driver’s license or before heading off to the prom. Sporting events should they play baseball, basketball, football, or cheer for their school team. Studio portraits with both casual and formal outfits. Performance shots of the subjects participating in their hobbies and passions (dance performances, musical recitals, etc.)

Recommended Gear: A variety of lenses to accommodate most circumstances – a short-range wider angle lens such as a 17-55mm f/2.8; a telephoto lens for action shots and portraiture such as a 70-200mm f/2.8L; a prime lens for great background blurring such as a 50mm f/1.4. Pack an external flash and reflectors for location work. Speedlites, Softboxes , and Strobe Lights for studio work.

Adults – Adults are driven, responsible, and goal-oriented. They’re also busy parenting, working, and managing a home. Encourage them to fit a photography session into their busy schedules to document this important stage in their lives.

Recommended Settings: Hold a formal portrait session for those whose schedule demands the structure. Otherwise, a less formal atmosphere – at home, at an event, out on the streets of their favorite city – provides for a great memory in addition to the desired photographs.

Recommended Gear: As with teens and adolescents, choose a variety of lenses, external flashes, strobes, reflectors. Stick with a lens that has a wide focal range – like a 28-300mm – for taking pictures while out and about, so you have a single lens that will cover any circumstances without having to lug your gear bag around with you.

Elderly – The elderly have reached the point in their lives when it is time to slow down and enjoy the benefits of their life’s work. Honor their lives with a photography session that reflects their history and influence.

Recommended Settings: Choose a tranquil setting – such as in their home or garden, or at a nearby park. Allow them to choose the surroundings and placement that is most comfortable to them. Introduce whimsy and nostalgia into the photographs – include beloved possessions, pets, self-grown plants, or framed black-and-white photos of their younger days.

Recommended Gear: A 70-300mm Lens for portraits or candid shots, or a 135mm f/2.0 for high contrast and great bokeh. Avoid the use of a flash, instead use constant light sources and reflectors to achieve even and dramatic lighting without creating harsh shadows. Experiment with high contrast black and white adjustments in post-processing.

I hope you find these recommendations to be helpful! Feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments.

Photo credits:
- “Baby Oliver” by Tiffany Joyce
- “Teen Girls” by Tiffany Joyce
- “Elderly Woman” by Patrick Doheny on Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Jim

    Thank you for this very enlightening article.

  • Pikavippi Ilman Tekstiviestiu00e4

    Really nice article and pics.. i personally like to shoot people of all ages.