Last week I spent an afternoon at a local senior center, taking portraits. I've done this in the past, to mixed results. I try to be sensitive to people who might not like how much they've aged. I try to soften the lighting and get basic shots, nothing too trendy.
Typically, people have been very happy with my work. I'd say 95% of the portraits I've taken have been happy customers. In the last 15 months I've taken over 200 portraits. The 5% that haven't been happy with the results have been those taken at senior centers.
I had a shoot with a lovely couple, married 50 years. The senior center is right by the lake and the lighting was perfect. We took photos outside and had so much fun. When I got home I was excited to see how nice the pics turned out. I sent the couple a link to view the photos and waited to hear back
The response wasn't great. They thought a few were ok, but didn't really like the pics. I was pretty sad about it, and also, couldn't understand the reaction. So I got on Facebook and asked my friends for input. Asked "What am I doing wrong when photographing senior citizens?"
The responses were really interesting. Some older folks talked about wanting conservative portraits, more like you'd get at a department store. Some people talked about how hard it can be for elderly folks to see how much they've aged when they see photos.
I decided to write the couple back, and asked them if they would show the photos to their children, because I believed they would love the photos. Especially the ones where the husband was being funny and hiding behind his wife's back.
I didn't hear back until the next day. My phone rang and it was the lady asking if we could talk about the photos. I was so nervous!
She started off by apologizing, which I wasn't expecting. She said that her & her husband talked about the photos, they showed them to their niece (the photos are a surprise for their children, so the niece looked instead.) They went back and looked at the photos again, and thought they were just beautiful.
She said, "I want to try and explain to you what we were expecting, as older people. We thought we'd get a portrait standing in front of a backdrop indoors. Like a Sears portrait. We didn't understand your photos when we first looked. We didn't know how to look at them. We thought an outdoor photo couldn't be a portrait."
"Then we realized that we don't want a boring Sears portrait, and our kids don't want that either. We want the photos you took, because they are so beautiful and you really captured something about us."
Of course at that point I burst into tears (the happy kind.) I thanked her for being open minded and she thanked me for being patient. I told her that this experience has allowed me to grow as a photographer and a human being.
I asked if I could post the photos on my website, and she was of course. So here you go....