Small Changes, Big Impact

This post is by Andrea Thomas of Speechless Photography.

At a recent senior photo session, I noticed a few small things that I did that made a really big impact in my photos and I wanted to share them with you.

1) Have your subject turn around – I wanted to place my subject in a spot that allowed me to include the beautiful scenery of our location as a backdrop. Because the sun wasn’t too far from setting, she ended up being backlit. The sun at her back was nicely diffused by some large trees which created the shaded area where she was standing, and also caused a pleasing rim of soft light around her. After taking a few shots with her back to the sun, I had her turn around in the same spot, so that she was still in the shade but had a large open area in front of her. The light wasn’t really getting to the area behind her so she is nicely illuminated and popped beautifully off of a dark background. These two shots look like completely different locations, but my subject barely moved.

Backlit (left) and facing the light (right) while standing in the same spot

Backlit (left) and facing the light (right) while standing in the same spot

2) Use a reflector – I am always amazed at the difference using a reflector can make, but I admit it can be difficult to use one if you don’t have an assistant to hold it for you. I try to hold it myself whenever possible, but you can also draft whoever is along with you to help, no photography skills needed! Just have mom, dad, boyfriend, friend, or whoever else tagged along for the session hold it for you. Place your subject and then move your “helper” around until the reflector is where you need it to be. I usually show my “helper” how they should be able to see the reflection of the reflector in the subject’s eyes, so they can make sure they are staying where I need them to be. I have a round 44″ reflector and usually use either the white or silver side.

Same camera settings, without (left) and with (right) a reflector on the white side

Same camera settings, without (left) and with (right) a reflector on the white side

3) Create some curves – Most people do not just naturally pose in the most flattering way. Learning how to pose people can be hard, but it is one of the single most important things you can do to ensure that your subject will love the way they look in your photos. The camera doesn’t add 10 pounds, but an unflattering pose certainly can. When it comes to posing women, the object should be to create some curves! Have your subject put their weight entirely on the foot farthest from you and stick that hip out. Then have them roll the shoulder on that side back and turn their body so that they are at slightly at an angle to you. This creates the illusion of a slimmer body. Don’t forget to remind them to keep their neck long and lean and to push their forehead slightly towards you. They will get tired of hearing you tell them this over and over, but they will love you for the slimming effect this has on their neck and chin!

I told my subject to stand beside the fence (left) and then I "tweaked" the pose using the tips above.

I told my subject to stand beside the fence (left) and then I “tweaked” the pose using the tips above.

4) Don’t be afraid of shadows – The flat lighting of open shade can be very flattering for portraits, but it can be a little boring sometimes, too. While nice in color, the black and white versions of flat lit portraits can be somewhat blah. Shadows can give some depth to a portrait and make for beautiful black and white photos!

Soft directional light coming from my subject's left side created some shadowing

Soft directional light coming from my subject’s left side created some shadowing

I hope you found these tips helpful and give some of them a try at your next photo session! Sometimes it’s amazing how even a little change can make a big difference in your photos. Have you noticed some small things that you’ve done that had a big impact for you? If so, share them in the comments! I’d love to hear from you!

About Andrea Thomas

I'm Andrea. I'm a Canon-shooting mom to a little boy who runs from my camera and a baby girl born on Halloween. I'm also a wife to a husband who usually obliges me when I yell at him to pull over so I can take a picture! I love learning about photography and editing and am passionate about sharing what I've learned with others.


  1. All very good tips! Thanks!

  2. Kathryn Geddie says:

    Great Tips – Lovely model!

  3. Very helpful. The before and after photos especially good in demonstrating your points.

  4. I agree that the before and afters really helped me to get it. Thanks again!

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