How to Capture Emotion and Personality in Photos of Your Teens

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How to Capture Emotion and Personality in Photos of Your Teens

Now that my kids are getting older, nearing 13 years old, I cannot expect them to model endlessly for me. They’ve got friends, homework, and hobbies.  While I love taking their photos, I’ve negotiated a deal that is fair for them and me. Since I get this limited time, I need to make it count.

The deal:

  1. I get to take snapshots of them on vacations – whether it’s our annual Spring Break cruise or our yearly trip to Northern Michigan.
  2. I get one portrait session with each of them separately at least once a year.

And while I do “require” them to go out with me for an afternoon, I want to make the most of it.  I want it to be fun and capture the true personality of each.  The best way to get photos of your tweens and teens that you’ll love is to get them involved.

Here’s how to include them in your shoot – from the beginning:

Step 1. Choose the locations. Find a few spots based on the personality and mood you want to create. We brainstorm ideas together of what neighboring towns, parks and areas they may like to visit.

My daughter Jenna likes a mix of nature and urban settings, whereas Ellie just wanted trees, woods and nature.

Ellie photo shoot-24

Jenna ar old gas station in Highland-6

Step 2. Choose the clothing. I start by explaining that I want one base outfit – pants, jeans, leggings or shorts plus a simple tank or tee.  I, then, allow them to pick out this base set plus a few other outfits that think are perfect for our photo shoot.  They come to me with 5-8 outfits, and I help them narrow from there.  Sometimes, depending on time or weather, we only use two or three.

Here is an example of a base outfit. Plus the added accessories (see step 3)…
jenna photo shoot-33

Step 3. Choose accessories.  This is where the fun begins.  We go through my “photo” accessories drawer, as well as my jewelry and scarves.  I love to bring a few scarves along as they are a fun, versatile accessory. Then, we pick out possible necklaces, bracelets, headbands, and more. They can help create the mood of the photos by choosing certain items.

Jenna tends to get lots of necklaces, bracelets, headbands and more.  Ellie prefers the simple scarf and maybe a thin decorative headband.
jenna photo shoot-15
Step 4. Choose a few props. If desired, we will grab a few “items” they can hold or use.  I don’t do elaborate sets as it is not in my nature.  But I’ve been known to tote around a vintage camera, umbrellas, or books, etc.

This cracks me up – Ellie was taking a faux “selfie” with an old Brownie camera.
Ellie photo shoot-96

Step 5. Get them ready for the shoot. This may be the most controversial. I am not suggesting you plaster your kids with makeup or even take them to get their hair done.  But I allow them a little gloss, powder and light blush if they want it.  Nothing crazy…  And I style their hair for them if they want – though if you prefer you could take them to get their hair done and feel special that way too.


How to capture the emotion and personality of your tweens and teens:

TIP: Biggest tip I have is to let them be themselves. Once you set the stage, of allowing them to have a say in the location, clothing, accessories and props, you are already well on your way.  When we get to the first location, we start with the base outfit. They get to pick what accessories to wear as we go in search of great light and the perfect spot.

Ellie photo shoot-15


After they warm up to the camera, let them be silly and have some fun.  Even if you do not keep these funny images, it helps them feel more comfortable in front of the camera.  And you may end up liking them because they show personality.  Here are a few examples.

Ellie cracking up:

Ellie photo shoot-5


Ellie singing a song from Frozen and this just captured her so well.

Ellie photo shoot-35


And yes, she took my phone and wanted to take a “selfie” for Instagram.  “Um, hello…  Look over here – I have a Canon 5D MKIII and a 70-200 lens…”  Nope – selfies are way better. I bet this will be one she will like a lot when she’s my age.

Ellie photo shoot-44


TIP: Another great way to get amazing images of your kids, especially at this tween/teen age, is to allow them to use a few props that show their personality.  If they play a sport, capture them with equipment.

Here are a few examples.

If, like Ellie, they love to read, catch them reading.  

Ellie photo shoot-64

Ellie photo shoot-63 crop

Or for Jenna who is adventurous, I actually did a mini session at an adventure park.  Sure, she was not dressed up, but she loved me taking pictures of her 40 feet in the air.


This is just a start.  I definitely do not have all the answers on capturing emotion and personality of my girls.  I think being real with them and involving them is a great way to start.

I hope you liked this small photographic journey and that some of these ideas are helpful to your future photo sessions with your kids or even with your customers.

Comment below and let us know your tips and tricks for capturing emotion and personality!



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  1. Teresa
    October 15, 2014 at 10:55 am —

    What great advice! Extra special, since the viewpoint is coming from a mom and a photographer. It’s lovely how you give them the opportunity to have a voice their photo session, as well as maintaining your voice as the photographer. I love how you capture their personalities. What beautiful girls.

  2. Michele
    October 15, 2014 at 10:36 am —

    Thanks so much for these fun ideas! Now I feel more ready than ever to get out there with my teen girls and capture them in a way that “they” will be happy with. 🙂 Your daughters are beautiful, and you got such great natural photos of them.

  3. October 15, 2014 at 9:57 am —

    I love this! Clearly I need to buy some scarves. Just had my first “tween” session this weekend, and boy it is not the same as the toddlers and babies I’m used to! But they were my nieces, so that helped. If only I’d read this article beforehand, though!

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How to Capture Emotion and Personality in Photos of Your Teens