A Stylish Senior Portrait Session

Question: What Happens When You Cross a Senior Portrait with a Fashion Shoot?

Answer: A Whole Lot of Fun, That's What!

Outdoor senior portrait of high school girl, Houston, Texas.

Not Your Standard Senior Shoot.

We’re fairly selective what kind of senior portraits we do at Image Theory Photoworks.  Our focus is on fashion photography, with the occasional environmental portrait or professional headshot thrown in.  If there’s no creative angle to a shoot, I’m not very interested. I got the sense from the first contact that this shoot would be a little different. That turned out to be right. Jenny, and her mom Lisa, had their own ideas of what her Jenny’s graduation portfolio should look like, and it had nothing to do with high school cliches.

Looking For Something More

As I do with all portrait clients who are willing to invest the time, we met a week or so ahead of the shoot to get to know each other.  Our meeting, and the shoot, had been delayed by Jenny’s mission trip to the Dominican Republic over spring break. Knowing how Jenny chose to spend her last spring break, gave me a sense that this was no party girl.  The meeting confirmed as much. I learned that Jenny was heading off to Abilene Christian University, where her studies will enable a career in counseling and teaching small children.  It’s a path she’s been on for a while.  Even now, she spends lots of her time tutoring kids.  Pretty admirable.

So, what was this shoot going to be like? Something serious?

Nah.  This was going to show a different aspect of Jenny.  She wanted photos that showed her H-Town pride, for one thing.  That’s easy enough. But I sensed she might want something else, too, because she had opted for professional photoshoot makeup from our brilliant makeup artist, Sarah Kate.  And when you get that treatment, it means you want to be gorgeous!  I suggested, that she get makeup at the studio, and we start with a brief studio session.  She and Lisa were all over that idea.  And that meant the game had changed. On Saturday, we weren’t just doing a senior portrait, we were doing a fashion shoot.

A Delay With an Unexpected Benefit

When Saturday rolled around, it was overcast, windy, and threatening rain.  That put the outdoor portion of the shoot in jeopardy.  I suggested postponing till the following Saturday.  Jenny and Lisa agreed, and went shopping for a prom dress, instead.  And, of course, when the original shoot time rolled around, the sky had cleared. Never fails.

The next Saturday the weather was great.  Cool, sunny, and breezy.  But I had failed to check studio availability before I suggested the date change, and one of my studio mates had it for a major shoot.  I called up the great folks at the Houston Rental Studio and reserved their “warehouse” studio.  It’s a huge room with terrific bare brickwork, high ceilings, and lots of tall, deep set windows. That location would make a huge difference in the first part of the shoot.

Photographers looking for a great space to shoot in should consider The Houston Rental Studio.

Beauty Time with Sarah Kate!

Makeup artist for Image Theory Photoworks applies makeup for a senior portrait shoot.

After we got situated at the Houston Rental Studio, Sarah Kate began working her magic.  It didn’t take very much magic to make Jenny beautiful.  She’s a pretty girl to begin with.  But give Sarah Kate an hour and she will always find a way to take you from pretty to radiant.

By the time we began shooting, it was already around 4:00 p.m.  We had indirect light coming in the windows, and shadows filled the large studio room.  We had Jenny stand near one of the windows to take advantage of the remaining light, and allowed the darkness of the room to create some strong contrast. We used a single studio light with a medium softbox to fill in the deeper shadows on Jenny while preserving the dark hues in the surrounding brickwork.  The shape of the window gave us interesting, very bright geometrics on the walls and the floor to frame Jenny’s form, to balance the dark spaces, and to provide interesting compositional elements.  The results are decidedly fashion-styled photos.  It helped, of course, that Jenny naturally strikes attractive poses.  (How do pretty girls just know how to do this?)  My two faves from the studio session are posted below.  I go back and forth between the two.  What is yours?

On Location with Jenny

We wrapped up the studio work at about 5:00 and headed for our first outdoor location – the Sabine Street bridge.  Photogs and sightseers love this scenic spot for its beautiful view of the Houston skyline, which rises above one of the prettier locations on Buffalo Bayou.  The bridge, itself, is distinctive for its fluted, cast iron lamp posts, and its whitewashed balustrade.

Jenny used every element of that location.  She was pretty posing beside the lamp posts and reclining on the railing with Houston’s skyscrapers rising up behind her.  But she was at her most beautiful sitting beside the balustrade.  In this portrait, the elements of the composition emerge from an out-of-focus haze near the camera to converge on Jenny, creating a luminous, soft image of a pretty young woman. This photo has nothing to do with fashion or with Houston.  Instead, it is a personal portrait in which the light gathering around the subject suggests the light within.

We stopped next at the nearby Elenore Tinsley Park, another location with an unobstructed view of the skyline.  Here, we used some concrete structures and the late afternoon light to take a few fashion-style shots.  But the best shots of that session were a close-up of Jenny (the photo that leads off this article), and another of her sitting picnic-style on the grass with the skyline behind her.  Her smile is the center of these photos.  You can’t ignore it.

One Last Stop

We had intended to make or last stop the plaza in front of Jones Hall, with its huge square columns and its view of Jone’s Plaza across the street.  That location didn’t work out.  Heavy equipment ruined the view of Jones Plaza, and the fading light left the sidewalk too dark for good portrait work.

We took a few shots there and were about to call it a day. But I didn’t want to end on a low note.  The Gowers had been way too much fun to allow that. And there was still one bit of H-Town flavor I wanted to include.  I suggested a short trip to a spot in EADO (East Downtown).  This part of Houston just east of I-45 is undergoing a drastic rejuvenation.  One aspect of that rebirth is the reconditioning of great old buildings as art studios.  My studio is in one of these.  The concentration of artists has also contributed to a proliferation of first class mural art.  One of these murals is the H-Town mural on the 713 Inc building at Canal Street and N. Burr.  (By the way, if you go looking for this on Google Maps street view, you can only see it from Canal St. If you turn up N. Burr, you get a view of an older mural that’s gone!)

We pulled up to the H-Town mural as daylight faded.  I had brought two studio lights and a battery pack in a backpack, but inadvertently had allowed Sarah Kate to take the rest of the studio gear with her –except for one stand.  Now I needed two lights and two stands to light that wall.  Lisa to the rescue!  She would be my light stand. I recommend having one LisaLightStand in your gear bag.  They are infinitely adjustable, easy to set up, and even respond to most voice commands.

With the LisaLightStand set up, we made a few pictures of Jenny vamping in front of the mural, “H-Town” blazing behind her.  No one will confuse these images with great art, but they are undeniably fun.

And that was the day.  It wasn’t your typical senior shoot, but the Gowers aren’t ordinary, either.  David, Jenny’s dad, was terrific all day, helping lug gear from one spot to the next, and just generally being friendly and helpful. Lisa, in addition to being a great light stand, drove us from spot to spot and dealt with the headache of parking in very busy locations while we set up and shot.  The Gowers’ attitude, creativity, and just plain niceness shows in the end product.  We’d shoot with them again, any time.

Call us when you’re ready to shoot your senior pics with a fashion flair!



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About Gerard Harrison

With over 30 years' photography experience, Gerard is the owner and founder of Image Theory Photoworks, a fashion and fine art portrait studio.