We’re coming up to the time of year that’s most popular for senior pictures. In late summer and early fall I take the bulk of my portraits of the upcoming high school seniors in Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin. These high schoolers come from all over: both in the city and the suburbs and attending private or public schools.
As I’ve done more and more senior sessions I’ve started to develop a couple go to locations. Of these locations, I have a larger circle of places I’ve photographed and I can suggest, but I also have an inner list of two to three spots that I’ll always try to suggest if the senior doesn’t already have a preferred spot in their mind.
These are spots around the Milwaukee area that I absolutely know will result in beautiful photos with perfect light and interesting backgrounds.
Fiserv Forum: an artistic background in the city
Ever since the Fiserv Forum stadium, home of the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team, was built I’ve really loved choosing their outdoor Deer District as a starting location. There is a great pedestrian area outside the front of the forum where people can meet, drink and cheer on the Bucks for free during game days if they hadn’t been able to score a ticket.
Part of the Deer District includes another area that used to be a side street which was turned into a walkway and is surrounded by restaurants.
This walking corridor is the spot I love. It has a couple Bucks murals on the brick walls if you want an edgier artistic look to the photos and the rest of the brick walls are painted either forest green or brown for the Bucks colors. Up high, there are a string of lights and slightly transparent coverings.
This is perfect lighting for portraits. It still allows a ton of natural light to pour in, but the coverings diffuse it, so it’s not harsh on people’s skin. Instead it’s soft and flattering. Diffused light is the closest thing to studio light in a natural environment. If I want more light, I bring clients to either edge of the alleyway and then they’re closer in proximity to the brighter sunlight without standing directly in the sun.
Depending on the interests of the senior and whether they actually like basketball and the Milwaukee Bucks, I’ll take pictures of them sitting and standing in the 12-foot tall letters of “Bucks” standing right outside the front gate. Or, if the light is soft enough I’ll have them sitting on the concrete ledges surrounding a grassy and flower area in the Deer District.
This is where I met up with KJ to take his pictures.
He was impartial and open to taking photos anywhere, but wanted a spot where we could take portraits with his uncle’s Porsche.
Taking senior portraits with a sports car
The other best part about meeting at Fiserv Forum, is that after spending an hour in the Deer District we can head across the street to a number of different parking garages.
I’ve found that aside from game days, which I’d never pick as a day to photograph at the stadium, the garages are empty and they have a roof level where you can see the open sky and if you go to the edge you can get a glimpse of the skyline in the background.
With KJ wanting to get pictures with his uncle’s car, I thought this would be an easy solution to finding an open and empty space where we could have all the time in the world to set up a car shoot.
I’ve taken portraits of clients at various time with cars and I’ve learned a couple techniques to make the pictures pop.
For wedding portraits I’ve used a flash to illuminate a silhouette of the couple sitting and/or kissing in the front seat. Or, for the portrait of a single subject like KJ, I’ve taken flashes and set them up around the car to create streaks of light that run along the side panels.
I couldn’t really do this with KJ either, because we took our portraits in the middle of the day with bright sunlight which overpowers my small off-camera flashes.
However, I still used the various mirrors to take some fun reflection portraits of KJ while he sat in the front drivers seat and stared into the side mirror. This allowed me to shoot along the side of the car creating a leading line up to the mirror and create that lovely depth of field.
Staying warm for winter portraits
Being an on-location only photographer in the upper Midwest United States I’ve had to deal with the sad fact that I’m going to have a limited number of nice warm days that I can photograph clients outdoors. The Milwaukee weather doesn’t really warm up to the point where you can have an unlimited wardrobe until the first couple weeks of May and it starts to get cold again in late October.
To maximize the amount of sessions I can do I’ve learned a couple tricks to get the most out of the photography season.
Rule number one: Stay out of the wind. Milwaukee sits on Lake Michigan and while lakefront areas can be beautiful there are a bunch of locations that can be super windy on a given day and not give you a lot of protection. Wind can make a spot 10-20 degrees colder than the temperature reading.
Rule number two: Stay in the sun. Normally, I want to keep all my clients in the shade since it’s softer light on the skin and much more forgiving to photography. However, even if it’s in the 40s I’ve seen clients be relaxed and comfortable when they’re sitting or standing in the sunlight that makes it feel like the 60s. This make all the difference in the world with women in particular who want to wear a dress.
Rule number three: Wear layers. Bringing a cute outfit that includes jackets or sweaters (with a thermal layer underneath) is the easiest thing to do to photograph even in the winter.
I’m saying all this because we photographed KJ’s pictures on a sunny day in February. It was actually warm for Wisconsin, but it was in the 40s. However, KJ said he was perfectly comfortable The sun was shining on him the whole time and he wore a thick sweater for his outfit.
If the clients are freezing, then all the pictures will show a shivering miserable client who looks tense and like they’re trying to force a smile. It’s better to adjust the wardrobe to get a comfortable client who looks like they’re having fun.