By Michael Moya
It has been a little more than a year since our daily lives have shut down because of COVID-19. Our senior high school students are feeling the isolation as their last year of high school is put on hold. What used to be a year of graduation preparations and activities may never be the same, even more so those memories of graduation. Normally these senior students are sharing their senior portraits, but photography studios that rely on senior portraits as their livelihood are not offering these services because of COVID-19 safety restrictions.
When I was asked to assist the faculty at Madison Park Academy in photographing their senior portraits this year, I jumped at the opportunity. Photographing senior portraits for the past 25 years, I experienced the jubilation and anticipation from each student as they complete their senior year. These photographs are more than mere photo ops, but the validation of each student’s last year of high school.
Knowing the complexity in production setup for senior portraits I volunteered my services for this project. As part of my vocational curriculum at Laney College in Oakland California, this project was perfect for my advanced photography students. One of my advanced students Susan Bradley has been interning with me at MOYAfotografx as my leading photographer for the past 5 years. Susan is also our first Student Governor at NATAS and completing her photography degree at Laney. My other photographer Sherry Munguia is also one of my advanced students and an Instructional Aide at Laney. As working photographers on this project, the preparation for COVID safety and the practical skills required for senior portraits took precedent in the three days of shooting.
Following the COVID safety guidelines, including wearing masks, social distancing and adequate outdoor ventilation, appointments were scheduled every 15 minutes and only the student was allowed on set. We had two sets operating from 9am to 3pm every Wednesday for three weeks. Susan and Sherry photographed a total of 104 smiling seniors.
Despite the wind blowing over one of our tarps, the three days went off without a glitch. Looking back at production and the job fulfillment, we are anticipating next year already. Great job Susan and Sherry!
Bradley acknowledges that: “Mike Moya has been my mentor both through the Laney College Photography Department and NATAS since 2017. He has been a great resource for an actual on-the-job training/internship, consistently providing real time experience. As a freelance photographer with over 40 years’ experience, his generosity in walking us through the ins and outs of a photography job has been invaluable.” Bradley goes on to say: “I jumped at the opportunity to again work with him. This time it was High School Graduation Photos, something I had not done before.
An important element of that instruction has been the business side, which we do not usually get in a classroom environment. The basics of client communication, fees, attire, equipment, asking the right questions, dealing with a variety of locations, post-production, etc. have all been a part of this experience.
This type of experience is something that most students do not have access to and is one that I am passionate about promoting. It is like he is telling his younger, inexperienced self about all of the potential pitfalls and little tricks he has learned along the way. This is something that cannot be taught in a classroom. It has to be experienced in the real world. And for this one we had the additional benefit of being paid a stipend, which he arranged.”
Munguia adds: “To be honest, having this experience was great. I enjoyed having some field work for a change. It taught me what the real world would bring when dealing with different people. Not to mention, the setting was different from the usual indoor studio I’m so used to, so I also had to be mindful of on location setups. I’m very grateful for this experience because it definitely reinforced some of the materials I learned in school. That got me energetic and ready to keep pushing forward. Up until now, I haven’t had a portrait shoot in a year. And we all know how skills and abilities could be forgotten if not worked on constantly to keep them sharp.
When I think about it, day one was the longest and most challenging when it came down to gaining a sense of rhythm, stability, and control with setting up, directing the seniors, making sure that they were comfortable, and then tearing down. As mentioned, I don’t normally shoot people, so there was a pause in finding a nice flow. If there’s one thing I would change about this shoot would be my ability to be in control and relax a bit more. I take this as a means to grow more. It helps me to branch off from the usual still life I normally shoot. I can see myself switching over to this type of style in the future. What else can I say? I am an aspiring photographer so the exposure is much needed. It’s one thing to be in school and have the lectures, but these events give the hands-on experience to accompany all the lessons.”