Oak Ridge High School Senior Photos
One of my very favorite things about owning a business is getting to give back to others whenever possible. Otherwise, what's the point?! So when my dad approached me to see if I wanted to work on a project at my alma mater, Oak Ridge High School, I immediately accepted. His idea was to take a few senior photos for a handful of students who had never had their photo professionally taken and then give them a couple prints to commemorate this time for them. I loved the original idea because I believe everyone deserves not only to have a tangible photograph of themselves, but also to be the center of attention for even just a few minutes.
It turned out to be so much more. Collectively, the teachers selected six seniors who we scheduled at 30 minute intervals in the afternoon after school and I began my marathon shoot. Initially, I think my dad had thought I would just do a couple poses of each student and scheduled that amount of time to give me plenty of leeway, but I wanted to put every last minute to good use so we could get a good range of posing and lighting for each students' collection. This proved a good idea because when finalizing the photography package for each student, we decided upon 1 8"x10", 4 5"x7"s and 4 4"x6"s so we were able to get a good variety of prints.
Because of our time constraints, we had to shoot right in the middle of the harshest light so thank goodness for speedlights! We were also pretty limited locationally; we obviously needed to take them on campus for simplicity's sake, so luckily there were a few interesting vignettes we could make use of. I didn't want to use the same locations for each student, for one because I didn't want to take the same stale images, but also because every location didn't fit each students' personality. When you're committed enough, you can make any location work so with a few composition tricks we were able to make even the dreary outside of the alternative school look interesting.
By far the most difficult but most rewarding part was getting to know the students. I generally have my clients at minimum fill out a questionnaire before each shoot so I know a bit about them going in (and ideally meet face to face beforehand to know them even better) so meeting each student and then immediately jumping into photographing them was interesting. Perhaps this might not seem important on the surface, but as I've become adept at watching for people's idiosyncrasies, I've noticed that the more I know how a person will react in conversation - what faces they make, how they hold their body - the better I can position them within a scene and then document those reactions. My goal was, of course, to capture their genuine personalities - not just take pleasant portraits - so this took a bit of guided conversation about their post-school plans, their interests and their ultimate goals. Surprisingly, where I thought they might be shy behind the camera and even more shy talking to a stranger about these big questions, every one of them opened up quickly so that we were able to make some great images.
Kieran: Future embalming specialist
Diamond: Future army broadcaster
Sean: Future teen psychologist
Ashleigh: Future in criminal justice
Alexis: Future in theater
Tanveer: Future neurosurgeon
The response from these images has been amazing. The difficult part of this post is trying to explain what we did without bragging, because the intent of carrying out a project like this is never for recognition. But the students and teachers alike were grateful to have these photos to document the students' looks and personalities in this pivotal time. My favorite story is that at an end of the year concert, they showed a baby photo then current portrait of each senior and while one of the students I shot with had a very basic hospital photo which was perhaps one of the only photos he had of himself, the next image to pop up on the screen was a characteristic portrait from our shoot. More than anything, this session reminded me not to take photography for granted because each captured memory is a keepsake in some way.
My goal is to continue this project every year, perhaps breaking it into multiple days to include more students, so that even more students and their families can have a photograph to treasure.