Part I: What is an Environmental Teen Portrait?

Many people look at me quizzically when I say that I’m a portrait photographer who specialises in teen portraits. Why not wedding, family, maternity or kids? Well, in short, it’s because there are plenty of photographers that shoot that genre and not enough who exclusively focus on the teen years.

For the past 11 years, I’ve been on a mission to provide parents with beautiful, authentic and timeless portraits of their teenage children. These types of photo shoots I describe as “environmental teen portraits”.

These portraits pay tribute to our teens at this time in their life.  These are portraits in the very places and spaces in outfits and with props that really epitomise what they were about during high school.  These are images taken of them during this fleeting season between childhood and adulthood.

Three elements go into a great environmental portrait with me.  They are 1) the location, 2) the outfits, and 3) the accessories or props.  In this post, I’m going to discuss the first aspect of my environment teen portraits – the location!

Location, Location, Location

Our teens begin to spend so much time outside of the house as they climb up in years. From school to sports to performing arts, work and beyond, it can be a sobering for parents when they realise their son or daughter is spreading their wings and making their own way in the world. So part of my teen portrait sessions occur in some of these places where they spent time growing up. Here are some of the top locations I often meet the teens and some of my favourite images and the stories behind the image.

The Local Park

Kayla and I met at a local park near her home to do her 12th grade photoshoot. It’s a park she grew up visiting often. She has fond memories climbing this particular tree as a child. So it was special to photograph her as a young adult around this tree which has probably seen thousands of little kids climb on it through the years. 

For his 13th birthday photoshoot, I met Asher at his local skate park, a place he visited during the Covid lockdowns to get outside during restrictions. I had him zipping around on his scooter to warm up in front of the camera before doing more static poses with and without his scooter. 

Stacy and I did part of her photoshoot at her neighbourhood playground, the one she grew up running, sliding and swinging at as a child. Little did we know, a few years after this shoot, the entire park would be renovated and this playground would be replaced with an upgraded and modern playscape. Gone were the hot metal slides on a summer day, creaky monkey bars and squeaky slides. Also gone would be the memories of her childhood playground, if it weren’t for photos like these.  

The Coast

There’s something so calming about being near water. The beach makes for a great location for portraits. I met Monica at this pier in the Mornington Peninsula just a few minutes from her home. It’s a special place to her because it was where she escaped to especially during the pandemic lockdowns of 2020 and 2021.

To avoid crowds, beach shoots are best early in the day before people arrive, but sunset allows for gorgeous light if you can work around the people. It’s a nice time as well as you can see from the shots with Hannah on the California Coast. Known for its cold beaches, this San Francisco beach was a special place for Hannah and her family to escape the noise and congestion of the city.

The Hometown or Home City

It’s not unusual for high school grads to move away from home after graduating in the US.  So I love doing photoshoots around the hometown or city that a teens grew up in. Even if they don’t move away, the hometown is always a great backdrop because it pays homage to their roots and where it all began.

Sonja was accepted into a university in Ireland and wanted these images to remember the vibrant and beautiful city of San Francisco where she spent her most formative teen years before moving to Europe.

I met Jack the summer before he began university in Melbourne. He was coming from regional Victorian and we did his shoot around his future campus and the city that he would be spending the next several years.

The Sports Field

Another place our teens spend a lot of their time on the sports fields. On this photoshoot, Sabriah took me to the hockey field where she learned the game as a kid and eventually advanced to become a referee. Her mom got us special access to the field and we had a blast recreating action shots. Hockey was a big part of Sabriah’s life in high school and she especially missed playing during the pandemic. Being on the field and creating these images was particularly meaningful for her and mom as well who spent countless hours supporting the club and her daughter’s hockey career.

The High School

No where else did our teens spend so much time than at their high schools. When I am shooting in the US, most public high schools are open even when school is out. I love walking through the different high schools and having the teens show me all the special corners of the campus where they hang out, where they have a locker or meet their friends for lunch. These are a few from high schools in California. Oftentimes, with some notice, we are able to get inside the school buildings and get some great images in an empty hallway.

The Work Place

High school is the time when many of our kids start to get their casual or part time jobs. They aren’t some of the first places you’d think to do a photoshoot, but they are exactly the types of locations that make a great environment portrait. These photos with Coco were my first time shooting at a movie theatre. We were there mid-week before the first movie of the day and so we’d beat the crowds.

There’s No Place Like Home

I’ve done many photoshoots in and around homes. These images are poignant because they are taken in the sanctuary from the crazy and wild world for our teens. I loved this photoshoot with Amy which we did in various places inside her home, from her childhood bedroom to the family library to the living room sofa. Home is where the heart is.

I met Beatrice in her last year of high school and we did this photoshoot in between lockdowns during the pandemic, but people still weren’t venturing very far from home. I love these photos of her with her books in her room where she spent so much of her last year of high school doing school online. We also took some around the front and back yard of this place, her childhood home.

These are just some of the places our teens spent so much time at and played a significant role during their high school years. What are some places besides home that your teen spent most of his time at?

In the next post, I’ll discuss two more things that make a great environmental teen photoshoot with  me – outfits and accessories!

Do these images inspire you with location ideas for a portrait session for your teen? So much changes with them in a short period of time. Don’t let time fly by without capturing some aspect of their high school years through an environmental portrait shoot with me. Contact me today!

Based in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, particularly in the communities of Ashwood, Ashburton, Blackburn, Burwood, Chadstone, Clayton, Forest Hill, Glen Iris, Glen Waverley, Hawthorn, Malvern, Mount Waverley, Nunawading, Ringwood, Wantirna, Wheelers Hill, and surrounding communities. She regularly travels to the US where she serves families especially in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC, and NYC.

Christine is a portrait photographer based in Melbourne, Australia with a gift for working with tween and teens. As a mother of three teens and a tween, she serves parents by providing natural, authentic and timeless portraits of their teens - an alternative to the fun but filtered selfies our teens are accustomed to on social media. Photoshoots are relaxed where Christine quickly builds a rapport with the teens and works with them to capture natural, posed, and un-posed candid shots that reflect who they are at this time in their life. Contact Christine to book your teen portrait experience. See more of her work on her website and her most current work on Instagram or Facebook.  

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