How to Take Great Prom Photos

Prom couple

Digital Vision / Getty Images

Prom night is the biggest night of the year for many high school students. It's their chance to get dressed up, have a "grown-up" date, and hang out with friends all night! As their parents, you want to remember this milestone and a few easy tips will help you take great photos of your prom night.

  • 01 of 09

    Watch the Background

    You've probably heard this idea a lot, but it's always true. Watch your background! No one looks good in a tux with a full garbage can behind them or an advertisement-littered telephone pole growing out of their head.

    Pick a spot where there is a relatively "clean" background or at least one that fits in with the idea of prom. Look around your home and yard and to find the least distracting option.

    Here are a few ideas:

    • A few feet in front of a shrub wall (it blurs to make a nice green background)
    • In front of the limo
    • On a staircase
    • In front of a blank wall
  • 02 of 09

    Find the Best Light

    The light will be your next biggest concern for fabulous prom photos.

    • Find a spot where the light is relatively bright but no one will be squinting (a shady area outside can work well).
    • Check your camera menu for a feature called something similar to "force flash", "flash always on", or "fill flash" to activate the flash even though the camera thinks there is enough light.
    • Tape a small piece of wax paper over the flash to diffuse it. This softer fill flash will create a pleasant light on the teens' faces even when in they're in the shade.

    Play around with your camera and flash the night before so you know exactly how it's going to work. Teens will become very impatient if you're fumbling around.

  • 03 of 09

    Watch for Shadows

    Shadows thrown across faces at odd angles can turn a great photo into a ghastly disaster. If you notice harsh shadows, move to a different location.

    • If you diffuse your flash as mentioned above, you can combat most of those shadows.
    • Sometimes, it is even a simple matter of changing the angle of your subjects to minimize the shadow.
  • 04 of 09

    Let the Couple Get Close to Each Other

    Let the happy couple get close to each other in the photo. Cheeks touching or a hug adds a lot to a prom image. Think about the formal prom photos you've seen in the past and let the couple pose similarly.

    Of course, some teens are shy in front of mom and dad or prom night may be the first date and they're uncomfortable. If that's the case, lighten the mood and get the kids laughing and snap pictures while they are interacting.

    Once they've relaxed, ask them for "one last shot" and casually get them closer. They'll look more relaxed in the photos if they don't feel too posed.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Getting "The Pose"

    How you pose in a ​prom photo can make a big difference in the finished product. Try to get the teens to turn and not stand straight to the camera, which makes people look larger than they are.

    • Have them face 90 degrees away from the camera and then turn 45 degrees back towards the camera with their upper body.
    • Finish by turning the rest of the way towards the camera with just the head.
    • Also, never tuck your head back or you will have a double chin in the photos. Instead, move your head forward a bit to elongate your neck.

    Photography poses rarely look or feel normal but they look great through the lens. You can even follow some of the celebrity secrets for appearing thinner in images.

  • 06 of 09

    Use the Program or Action Setting

    If you do not use the manual setting on your camera, then use the program setting with the shutter speed set for at least 1/150 of a second. If your camera does not have a program setting, use the action setting.

    This does go against the "use the portrait setting" advice you've heard a dozen times but there is a good reason for it. However, using action mode is a good compromise between aperture and shutter speed.

    The portrait setting uses a slower film speed and wider aperture to blur the background and gain a more fine-grain texture. The result is that the photo has a very narrow depth of field on some cameras—sometimes so small that the nose is in focus and the eyes are out of focus. It also results in a slow shutter speed that can lead to a shaky image. 

  • 07 of 09

    Get "The Smile"

    Nothing ruins a photo faster than a forced, fake smile. As the photographer, part of your "job" is to capture a genuine expression. Instead of "say cheese", try something completely ridiculous like "say purple people eater" and watch.

    There will be a moment of complete confusion followed by a laugh. In the middle of all of that expression will be a beautiful smile—be ready to click fast when it appears.

  • 08 of 09

    Take Your Time

    Grabbing a few shots before the prom is a great idea just don't wait until the limo arrives. A rushed photo session never returns the results you hope to achieve.

    Plan ahead to have a few moments for candid shots. If you are mom or dad and your child still balks at your photographing them before prom, consider a little bribery. Offering an extra hour before curfew will work wonders for the cooperation level and really isn't that big of a concession on your part.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Consider a Photojournalist Style

    Photojournalist style imagery basically captures a lot of un-posed candids. Like wedding photojournalism, the resulting images can be starker but they also show a lot of personality. Getting ready shots and even shopping for the dress are great times for a documentary style. These can be some of the most memorable prom pictures you'll get.