How to Take Your Own "Senior Portraits" During Quarantine

If you’re thinking of taking your own Senior Portraits at home, good for you!!  Here's a complete set of tips and tricks to help ease your stress, and get you off to a great start!  If you think your friends or family could use this tutorial, please share it.

Use Your DSLR:

To make this tutorial shorter, if you need to know how to set up your DSLR for your Senior photoshoot, check out my previous tutorials on Facebook: “Understanding Your Basic Camera Controls Better!” and/or “10 Tips Get The Best Results From Your Digital SLR Camera.” 

Use Your Smartphone:

If you don’t have a DSLR, smartphones have enough image quality and features to take great portraits . A typical smartphone can easily capture the summer sun with all its bright colors and preserve your happy memories, in one click. Most smartphones have enough megapixels to get a terrific 11x20 blow up of your images.  Use your smartphone “Portrait” feature. It’s done the work for you without you having to think about it. “Portrait” Mode will put your subject in sharp focus while blurring out the distracting background. If you want the entire background in focus with your subject in it, then put it on “Photo” mode. Check out my other tutorials here: “6 Tips for Great Photography with Any Camera.”  

Lighting Your Subject:

First thing about taking nice portraits is you need to evenly light your subject. You don’t want them in partial shadow or light.  (Unless you're looking for a more dramatic look.)   You want them in the same light - head to toe.  Also while lighting up your subject, MAKE SURE you have light in your subject's eyes. This is something often looked over by non-pros.   If your subject's eyes aren’t lit up, they will appear dark, black and lifeless. This is a tell-tell sign of a snapshot vs. a portrait. 

Use Your Camera's Flash:

In low light conditions a camera will produce poor quality results. Many people are afraid to use their flash to light a shot, but modern DSLR cameras do this very well.  Many cameras offer a variety of options allowing you to mix flash with natural light and this produces very pleasant results.

If you are using a smartphone, turn your camera’s “flash mode” on, and set it to Auto. The smartphone has a great built-in lighting. Long ago, cellphones were judged by their sound quality, now they are smartphones, and it’s by image quality. They have a flash or LED lighting system built into it, to help wash your subject in even light.

If you have an external flash for your DSLR, then use it. If it's too bright or sunny, external flash can be your best friend, especially if you are shooting portraits outside. This kind of flash can evenly fill in the dark areas around your subject.

Use A Reflector:

This is my number one, go to lighting item, I bring to every shoot. It has multiple uses. It is also one of the cheapest and most portable accessories you can own. It is foldable and lightweight. A reflector can deflect light from overly lit areas and even out the light on your subject. It can help you add light when your flash isn’t doing enough, or you don’t have a flash. Best part, you can buy reflectors for under $20 or you can make one from scratch using cardboard wrapped with aluminum foil.

Use A Light Colored Sheet:

To REMOVE harsh overhead light from your subject in bright sunlit areas, use a light colored bed sheet draped over your subject’s head to give you a nice, even light. You don’t want to use dark or colored sheets, because it will cast that same color onto your subject. You will need an additional person with you, to hold the sheet over them, but it’s worth the extra effort.

Use A Tripod:

Using a tripod may slow you down, but the results it delivers are worth it. A tripod ensures no movement of the camera during exposure and results in crystal clear images. You can buy basic ones for cheap right now on Amazon for $20-$30.  If you DON’T have a Tripod, then learn how to hold your camera correctly. The camera should be held firmly by the grip in the right hand and elbows should be kept close to the body. The other hand should support the weight of the camera underneath or support the lens.  

Shoot In The Late Afternoon:

Taking portraits during the day can result in harsh shadows and highlights that typically are present in bright, sunny settings such as a backyard or park. If you want to avoid sharp shadows under your subject’s eyes, or blown out highlights of their blonde hair, shooting in the afternoon is a simple fix. The “golden hour” is usually 1-2 hours before sunset. Shooting in the late afternoons can give you an evenly lit portrait, softer natural light for better exposure.

Creatively Frame Your Shots:

Creative framing can help you take interesting shots that will add variety to your Senior portraits. Use your subject’s cap from their graduation and frame it next to their face or body. Maybe considering taking photos of them posing with their class ring, etc. Have fun looking for framing options because you won't run out of them. 

Experiment with different vantage points and angles to create different styles of pictures. For example, shooting down from a higher vantage point, gives you a chance to capture more than just their face. Laying on the ground and shooting up at their faces exaggerates their expressions, and creates a more unique style of shot.

Use Fun Props:

When photographing your Senior, consider using props that highlight their hobbies or activities. For example, if they are into horses, pose them on their horse, or if they are into guitars, pose them with their guitar. If your Senior wasn’t able to go to the Senior Prom because of the quarantine, take a picture of them wearing their prom outfit. Other great prop ideas you can pick up on the cheap are glitter, confetti, and posters. 


Despite having to be quarantined, you can still find some great places just in your house, yard, or nearby park. Scout your spots for composition. Identify the lighting sources. You want an evenly lit area, mostly shady spots for mid day. But, using the tips above, you can overcome a lot of obstacles wherever you go.

Have Fun!

Indoors or outdoors, wherever you choose for your shoot, the important thing to remember is to have F-U-N with your Senior. These moments are fleeting!! It’s more important to enjoy this solitary time you have with them, then worrying about capturing perfect images. Soon, they will be off and away, and you will have these lovely memories of spending this time together!! 

the author

Tracy Heschong-Mccrackin

Tracy Heschong-McCrackin is an award-winning writer and photographer, who has had her work recognized across the country. Several of her images have been Editor Favorites at NatGeoYourShot. 

She started her photography studio 20 years ago and specialized in portraits, landscapes and commercial photography. Tracy draws much of her inspiration from her travels. She has a passion for investigating off the beaten path locations, cultures and individuals. It is those moments of exploration that her creativity is ignited and much of her artwork is born. She is an Artist, Photographer, Designer and Blogger. Her Gallery can be found at: You can also follow her on social media by clicking any of the links below:

If you found this tutorial helpful, please share it!  Also, to receive future tutorials, simply click here: