The Art of Communion Portraits
The First Communion is first in many ways. It is the first formal event in a young person’s life, the beginning of a life of good character and a milestone in a seven year olds education. The First Communion portrait is especially treasured by the parents, showing the innocence and hope for the future in their young faces.
For these reasons, a natural, happy face takes precedence over creativity in posing. Communion poses are studies in confidence and naturalness. An ideal session starts with a standing full length pose holding the missal and rosary beads. Girls have their weight on the back foot, their front knee slightly bent toward the camera. Boys stand with legs slightly apart facing twenty degrees off center. Several shots from the left and right sides will assure a perfect expression.
While the subject is standing come in for a medium shot cropped just above the knee. Some happier expressions can be included in this variation. Lighting should be soft but modeling, say two and one half to one ratio.
Medium close up poses are the most popular, so concentrate on getting a good selection for the parents to choose from. A posing bench that simulates the altar rail places the hands and elbows comfortably at waist height. Variations include hands on missal, reading missal, looking up, smiling and serious. You should photograph both left and right sides for a good selection.
Girls allow a little more leeway in prop usage. White tulle placed over a bouquet of flowers, a white or brass candlestick with candle in the background or a small, round topped table holding the missal and gloves off to the side and behind the subject are appropriate props. If there is time, a seated pose for the girls can be effective. Boys can stand with their elbows on a raised marble column holding the missal, the other hand in their pocket.
Always check that the tie is centered and the collar fits snugly to the neck in front. If the shirt collar is too loose, place a roll of tissues behind the neck to tighten it up. Make sure the roll is not seen by the camera. Shirt cuffs ideally should show one half inch of white past the sleeve end. If this is impossible, then show no cuff at all. Too long cuffs can be rubber banded under the coat to the correct length. Veils should be checked for equal length on the sides and the crown centered on the head. Gloves look better held in the hand or on a pedestal, never worn. White dresses and accessories are a natural for high key photography. Boys in navy blue suits look better on a medium gray background with the edges darkened.
Some unusual shots can be tried for appreciative customers. A super close up with eyes raised is quite angelic. Place a small light above the lens for a nice catchlight. Profile shots with a candle and rosary are very effective for the more artistic clients. Throughout the session talk to your subject, tell them how nice they look and give them a chance to relax and look confident. At any sign of nervousness, take a break and distract them with conversation on another subject. Remember that expression is nine tenths of a good portrait.
Article by Kenneth C. Hoffman