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How to: Photograph High School Seniors



Christie Jae Rice’s connection with her teen subjects shines through, thanks to her Tamron 35mm F/1.4 Di USD prime lens.


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By Jenn Gidman
Images by Christie Jae Rice



When Christie Jae Rice began getting serious about her photography four years ago, she quickly discovered that although she enjoyed taking pictures of people, weddings and newborn photography didn’t draw her in as much as she’d thought they would. “Then I started taking portraits of high school seniors and realized: This is it. This is what I want to do,” she says. “This type of photography gave me the chance to spend time with one person and really get to know them.”

Today, the Oklahoma photographer takes her senior portraits and group shots with the Tamron 35mm F/1.4 Di USD prime lens, which allows her to capture both her subjects and their environment for compelling portraits that tell a detailed story. “I love to isolate my subject, and that F/1.4 maximum aperture allows me to do that,” Christie says. “I can photograph a senior outside at the park or in the mountains and get those mountains in there, but as part of a beautifully creamy background, with the focus still on my subject. The sharpness of the lens can’t be beat—I like my images to feel as real as possible—and I also love that with the 35mm, I’m able to work close to my subjects. I can brush a strand of hair out of their eyes or fix their collar if I need to.”

Christie leans toward images that exude happiness, not the stereotypical moodiness many associate with adolescents. “There are so many things teens are struggling with and have anxiety about to begin with,” she says. “Add in social media, then add in the pandemic—I want to take them away from all that for an hour or two. I want these kids to look back at these photos in five, 10, 20 years and remember their senior year as a happy time.”

© Christie Jae Rice
35mm, F/2.8, 1/160th sec., ISO 250
Click image to view larger

Before each session, Christie does a FaceTime consult, where she asks questions to gauge as much as she can about her subject’s personality. “I’ll ask what they like to wear, what they like to do in their free time,” she says. “I also try to get a peg on their sense of humor and their ‘vibe,’ as the kids say. That helps me strike up a rapport, as well as figure out how to approach taking pictures of them.”

Christie photographed the girls seen here, both in groups and in individual portraits, at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Indiahoma. “These seniors have long been best friends, and they’ve all played basketball since the third grade,” she says. “They’re super close and have so much fun together, so I knew we were going to get a lot of terrific images out of this shoot.”

© Christie Jae Rice
35mm, F/2.8, 1/160th sec., ISO 250
Click image to view larger

Part of Christie’s photographic process is her hair and makeup artist, Jillyn, who helps set the relaxed tone for Christie’s subjects as she’s prepping them for their session. “The six of us were at the salon for two hours as the girls got their hair and makeup done, hanging out and getting to know each other,” Christie says. “Jillyn loves to get to know the seniors I photograph. She wants them to feel comfortable in her salon chair and also when they leave it, so that by the time we’re ready to start taking pictures, everyone is already in a good mood and ready to go.”

Heading up into the mountains for a pre-sunset shoot, Christie didn’t have to do much to prompt the eventual poses and laughs, especially when she was capturing the girls’ group photos. “I had them hold hands and walk around together, or sit in a circle really close and interact,” she says. “It took on a life of its own from there. It would’ve been impossible to not have that genuine connection among the girls shine through into the images.”

© Chritie Jae Rice
35mm, F/2.8, 1/160th sec., ISO 250
Click image to view larger

The feel of the individual portraits was guided by each girl’s personality and features. “Take the girl in the plaid shirt,” Christie says. “She’s actually the most outgoing and goofiest of this group, but she has such a sweet, pretty face and a pensive feel about her. And she loves taking portraits, especially ones where she gets to look away from the camera or show off what we did with her hair and makeup. Meanwhile, the girl in the green sweater and brown skirt has a very infectious laugh and smile, and the girl in the yellow shirt has a beautiful long-legged look, so those are the aspects I wanted to focus on for their individual portraits.”

© Christie Jae Rice
35mm, F/2.5, 1/160th sec., ISO 100
Click image to view larger

© Christie Jae Rice
35mm, F/2.5, 1/320th sec., ISO 250
Click image to view larger

© Christie Jae Rice
35mm, F/2.8, 1/160th sec., ISO 250
Click image to view larger

Other times, the background or the outfit itself comes into play in Christie’s composition. “For the girl you see here in the burnt orange dress, I couldn’t instruct her to do anything that would’ve had her squat down, for instance, because of her dress,” Christie says. “The color of her dress was such a brilliant shade, so it made sense to have her stand on those rocks with the water in the background, just so you could see the color contrast.”

© Christie Jae Rice
35mm, F/2.0, 1/200th sec., ISO 400
Click image to view larger

The most important part of the shoot to Christie is the bond she forges with her young subjects. “I feel like I still remember high school,” she says. “I remember the pressures of those four years, of how people sometimes treat you like a kid and sometimes like an adult. I want to constantly validate my seniors’ feelings. I know it can be hard to have your soccer season or prom canceled during COVID, or to be left out of a group text. I hope I can make that connection with my subjects during our sessions and give them a chance to show their light in my photos.”

To see more of Christie Jae Rice’s work, go to www.cjaestudios.com.






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