C & G photographers share tips for taking perfect prom pictures

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published March 25, 2015

 Center Line High School students face away from the sun for an optimal sunset prom photo shoot.

Center Line High School students face away from the sun for an optimal sunset prom photo shoot.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

METRO DETROIT — Let’s face it: When it comes to snapping prom photos, seniors are probably more concerned with what their Instagram feed will look like than how the actual printed photos will turn out.

But chances are that Mom and Dad will want to capture that special milestone with an actual camera, so those special shots can be preserved in frames and albums for years to come. And when you’re working with a camera instead of a smartphone — you know, which doesn’t have a face finder or photo editor built right in — it could be helpful to get a few tips from photography pros before the big event.

We asked some of the finest photographers around — the staff and freelancers of C & G Newspapers’ Photo Department — to give us their best advice for capturing prom day excitement. Here’s what they had to say:

Sean Work, C & G Freelance Photographer
For Work, the priority for a prom photo session is lighting. Luckily, the time when students are typically heading off to prom — about 5-6 p.m. — is what’s known in the photography world as the “golden hour.” His advice is to take advantage of that hour or two before sunset and head outside, when possible.

“Position your subjects so that the sunlight falls on their face, but don’t have them face directly toward the sun — they’ll squint,” he said in an email. “Make sure there aren’t any shadows falling across your subjects.”

Once the light is right, the setting is next to be considered.

“Background counts. Look for a clean background without a lot of clutter, such as cars, trash cans (or) lawn toys. Be especially wary of brightly colored objects in the background,” said Work.

Composition also makes a difference and can add important variety to photos, Work said, explaining that not all shots of the prom couple should be taken from a distance.

“Avoid cropping at (the) joints. It’s better to crop midway between joints, like midthigh. You’ll want at least one head-to-toe shot to show off the dress. Then get a close-up of the couple cropped midtorso.”

Deb Jacques, C & G Staff Photographer
“Learn to use your camera: Read the manual and take your camera off automatic everything. Experiment before the big day with location, lighting and compositions,” Jacques suggested in an email. “Plan ahead. Do a little research. Pray.”

Jacques added that parents should be prepared with extra camera batteries or phone chargers, as the case may be, for unexpected situations.

“The day my first child was born, my husband’s camera’s batteries died. It was 4:03 a.m. No stores were open; lesson learned. Some things you just cannot reshoot a little later. The excitement and glamour of prom is definitely a moment not to be missed because you ran out of batteries.”

Those little tips can, of course, be left up to the pros if you hire a photographer for the big day. Jacques said hiring a professional photographer for a prom shoot is more common than you think, and when split between a group of parents, it can be quite cost-effective, too.

Donna Agusti, C & G Freelance Photographer
Agusti has been photographing proms and senior portraits for more than seven years, and she has plenty of sage advice for parents.

For instance, while she agrees with Work that background is important, she feels that a fancy location isn’t necessary for a great photo.

“People are always looking to go to a location with water, like a fountain. It doesn’t matter where you’re at because you’re not looking at the background,” she said. “Find a nice tree line or a solid background. Fountains can actually be distracting, and they throw off the metering in your camera.”

Another suggestion that Agusti has is to keep things natural. Don’t head to a fountain when you’ve never been there, or a park if the couple isn’t particularly outdoorsy. Let the kids put their own personality into the photo planning, from background to posing.

“I’ve done prom pictures where all the girls were in tennis shoes, and they were arm in arm and kicking up their shoes. It was really fun,” she said. “Also, get some close-ups. You want to see their eyes and faces. You can get that basic prom pose picture at their school.”

Agusti’s last suggestion is for parents to pay attention to what their kids are wearing that day — so parents can dress accordingly, believe it or not.

“If your girl is wearing a pink dress, don’t wear an orange sweatshirt. You’re going to want to take your picture with them. You don’t have to be formal or anything, but your kid’s all dressed up, and it’s a great opportunity. So put your keys down and wear something neutral that will look good in a picture,” she said. “Whenever I’m hired to shoot a prom, even when parents say they don’t want to be photographed, they always end up ordering it.”

Edward Osinski, C & G Photo Editor
For the final tip, we went to the big guy himself — the editor who oversees all of C & G’s photo operations. His favorite suggestion is one that he would give his photo staff: Treat the day as if you were on assignment, and let things happen organically.

“I’d try to capture it like a journalist,” he said. “You’re going to get more real-looking photos with more spontaneity. In any assignment, I try not to get fake, posed shots. There’s a place for that with prom because you want to get the clothes, but I’d rather get action shots — talking, dancing, anything besides just standing there.”