10 Feb 2008

Photographing older people - part 2

It’s an old saying that a person has the face he deserves by the age of forty. Maybe these days sixty would be more appropriate. Certainly as far as photography is concerned, the older a person gets the more of their life story will be etched into their features – and this means that older people make natural and fascinating subjects for portraiture. The sensitive photographer should be able to capture the essence of a person’s personality and of course this will be that much easier if you have a good, expressive face to photograph.

Remember, an understanding of light is your most important tool and most vital asset; its direction, quality and colour. The direction of light that can most often enhance texture, shape and form is sidelight. So it stands to reason that if you are photographing an elderly person and you want to emphasise the lines and wrinkles of that person’s skin – its texture – then side light can come in very useful. However, like everyone else, some older people can be extraordinarily vain, and will not take too kindly to photographs that make them look decrepit. So a degree of diplomacy may be needed if a photography session is to go smoothly. If you want to take a more flattering picture, try using backlight and reflect it back into the subjects features with a white reflector. We touched on this simple technique when I wrote about the Quality of Light.

I love photographing children because of their natural innocence and charm – they can be very funny. Well so can older people, and often the spark of youthful mischief and memories can still be seen in the older subject’s eyes and facial expressions.

Older people tend to be less self-conscious and easier to work with than younger adults. Older people often take it as a great compliment that a photographer should want to spend time photographing them, and will usually be more than willing to give their time as a result. You will almost certainly be able to work closely with an older person in order to achieve the picture you have in mind. So explain exactly what you want to achieve at the start of the session

Top photograph

How could any photographer resist a face like this. The light is from one big window to the right of the camera. It was very important that the shepherd’s hands and his crook should be included in the composition – they told his life story

Bottom photograph

Share your enjoyment when you are photographing older people. They are naturally interesting in the photographs you have taken. This is Graham, one of my photoghraphers who joined one of my photography holidays in Menorca He's showing the old guys outside a Bar the pictures he has just taken of them – it breaks the ice and can lead to many more wonderful photographs and opportunities – it makes it all fun!

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