A portrait is about capturing the subject’s personality. Senior portraits take it a step further, capturing a specific moment in a teen’s life. If you are not familiar with the teen, ask them questions. I know Courtney and I know she’s a free spirit. She loves playing guitar. As she was relaxing playing a song, I decided to switch gears. I cracked a joke; something about if she has life figured out after high school. She stopped and started laughing. I quickly started ripping frames, capturing a candid shot. This is how I got the shot.

Quick settings overview

  • Nikon D700
  • Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens
  • Shot at
    • ƒ/2.8
    • aperture priority
    • ISO 200.

We shot in open shade at about 5pm using Florida’s sun as the key light. An assistant held a large 1 stop diffuser between her and the sun to create soft shadows and even light. A white reflector clipped to a light stand bounced a little fill light to her face. I knew I wanted a shallow depth of field to keep the focus on Courtney so I shot wide open at f/2.8. I kept the ISO at the lowest native setting of 200. The final element to create a proper exposure was shutter speed. I had more than enough light so I didn’t care what speed I shot at. Selecting aperture priority mode allowed the camera to intelligently select the best shutter speed when the lighting conditions changed.

This freed me from thinking technical and enabled me to be creative. I shot at a lower angle to keep her at eye level. The final image was processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom using a preset I created for this style of shoot.


What I would try different.

It’s always important to learn from each shoot. Here are a few things I would want to try or improve on for the next shoot:

Although the client was happy with the outcome, I wish I shot both portrait and landscape of each image leaving room to crop. This would have allowed more choices when printing.


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About Vanelli

After a successful career as a three time Triple Crown Karate champion, Robert Vanelli turned his attention to teaching. As an educator for over 30 years, Vanelli has created several photography and digital workflow program including a special program, Click for Kids. Borrowing concepts from the martial arts, Vanelli instilled values such as integrity, and goal setting using photography as a vehicle to motivate children. As the lead photographer for Exposure Photographic Art Studio, Vanelli has had the opportunity of capturing images of special VIP’s, including the President of the United States, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former president of Toyota, Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, CEO’s of companies such as Yahoo,the Oakland A’s and several martial arts legends.


Inspiration, Lighting, Photography, Portrait, Shooting