Maybe it’s the acne, or maybe it’s the profound awkwardness, but for whatever reason, most families don’t hire a professional for their prom photos. Still, as a photographer, you might be asked to shoot Cousin Susie and her date — or, maybe, you’re not a professional photographer at all, and you’re just looking for ways to ensure that your kid’s prom photos don’t end up in a Hall of Shame somewhere. Which is a very kind instinct to have. But why not go above and beyond that and get some shots that actually really do capture the magic of the moment?
Skip the awkward poses. This is never not awkward. Somehow, his-hands-her-waist has become a necessary way for prom couples to pose together, but it’s really unflattering. Instead, have the couple sit side-by-side, hold hands, or link arms. It’s just less weird, and leaves a lot more room for fun angles. Same goes for any variation of “Charlie’s Angels.” Just say no to canned poses like this.
Look for lighting and location (anywhere!). Most prom photos happen at home, but that doesn’t mean you need to be posing two teens in the driveway in front of an unwashed SUV. Susan Stripling has some great tips for making even traditionally unpleasant backdrops look nice with clever angles. Look for the best light, then chase it down and see if you can find some greenery or another area of the yard that’s a little more forgiving.
Include the whole gang. Whether your prom-goers are partying in a group, or there’s just a proud mom on the sidelines watching her baby all suited up, include them! A tender moment between parent and now-teenage-child could make for a really moving shot.
Reconsider props. Here are a bunch of prom photos wherein the prom-goers are holding guns. Here’s a kid with a fish. Maybe that’s your thing…but does it need to be your prom-memory-forever thing? Skip props and let your subjects’ style stand on its own. If you want to add an element of surprise or something different, find a nearby park and let the young folks play on the swings.
Avoid lifting the lady. The inclination to romantically scoop up one’s date can overcome any tux-wearing 17-year-old, but it is a recipe for unfortunate facial expressions and possibly even a wardrobe malfunction. Encourage your subjects to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground.
Borrow tips from wedding photographers. Though they’re rarely handled as such, prom photos and wedding photos are actually kind of similar. Look for creative ways to capture the couple enjoying the company of their friends and family, decked in their finest. Focus on small details — the corsage, the nails, the shoes — and encourage your subjects to have fun and joke around. And if you’re really stuck, here are some tips for wedding photographers that could absolutely be borrowed for pre-prom photography.