Photographing the debutantes.

There is a group of young ladies you may or may not know about. If you don’t you should. You’ll probably be working for them or wishing you were soon enough. The Sarasota Manatee County Debutante program is in its 37th year. They are some of the best young ladies these counties have to offer. The are smart. sophisticated, athletic, musically talented, if there is a positive adjective you could you, it probably fits them. The debutante program is also a fundraiser for the Sarasota Youth Orchestra and since the beginning they have raised $1.2 million for them.

How did I get so lucky to be the one that gets to photograph them for the last 4 years? We’ll it goes back a little further than that. When I started my photographic en devour I was working for another local photographer and it was his first year photographing the debs. In the past the photographer role rotated yearly from a Sarasota photographer to a Manatee county photographer. This was because at the time the girls had to go to the photographers studio to get the headshots done. They wanted to keep it semi fair about who had to make the longer commute. After the first year that I was apart of photographing the debs, back in 2008 (if my memory serves me correctly) they committee was so happy with how we handled the ball, and the girls photos that they said we would keep it. Well long story short, that photographer moved out of the state. The deb committee approached me and asked me if I wanted the gig. I honestly wasn’t ready for it yet. I needed more time to gain confidence in myself and my skills to take on a job like that. The asked me if I had anyone to recommend, I did. I gave them the name of the lovely lady Maria. A stellar photographer whom I have worked with both in an assistant role and her assisting me as well .  Maria had the job for a few years and I stayed in loose contact with the debs. I helped Maria a few times under her since I had some knowledge of how things operated. A few years went by and the deb committee said they were ready to see if I was wanting to be the official photographer. This second time they asked, in 2015 the deb committee had decided it was time to change around a few things in the by laws. One of the things they changed was a rule saying the photographer needed to have a brick and mortar studio. With this rule abolished and me being a lot more confident in my skills I took them up on their request. We talked to the Sarasota Orchestra to find out if there was a space I could set up to photograph in their building. This worked out really well for everyone. The debs had a central meeting place to go to and it was at a place they will wind out frequenting a few times through the course of the deb year.

This year was the biggest amount of girls I have photographed in one year. 27! That meant two REALLY long days of photographing. I went to the orchestra on Friday afternoon to set up. I use a 4 light set up. I have a main light and a fill light to the right of the model. I have a light 45 degrees behind the model on the left side, and lastly one light above the background behind the model, to light up their hair. I also have a reflector coming in tight on the left side of the model. This is a lighting set up I saw Tim Kelly use. He is a masterful portrait photographer. I can set this stupid up in about 40 minutes, I’ve done it so many times I feel like I am on auto pilot.  (please forgive the model in this picture)BDP_1376.jpgBefore I go to much further into this I have to tell you about the other member of my team. Cheryl or as I prefer to call her Churryl.  She is awesome, she keeps me on track. Tells me when I am over shooting. She is the one that sprays the hairspray to try to lessen the amount of stray hairs that are always there. She is also the one that helps the girls pick out images and runs the sales for me. Most importantly she picks me up breakfast from Turners in the morning. 🙂

On Saturday our day started at 8:20am. When I say started I mean that was when the first girl was to arrive to shoot. I was there around 8ish. If you know me at all you know I am not a morning person. Each girl has a 40 minute to have all of their pictures taken and then pick out the one for the deb committee and if they want to purchase anything. 40 minutes sounds like a long time until we really start to get into it. After 4 years of doing this Cheryl and I have learned some tricks to save time. I know she’s going to get the girls basically ready. Pears, drape, hair, ect. Once she gets them set down then we double-check hair and drape again, then it’s showtime.

In the act of shooting I am aiming to give each girl 8 unique looks. I am going to make sure for their official deb photo they have two different hair styles to look at. I then snap a quick funny face photo. Then I grab a side profile shot. Then I try to do 2 sometimes if I have time and an idea 3, different poses with their hands in the photo. Then we end with a wind blowing their hair shot.


After this Mom and Daughter and Cheryl get to narrowing down images. On average I would said they have to go through 35 images. They have to pick one image that day for the deb portrait. Anything after that is for them. This 40 minute window is vanishing quickly. We have to have enough time to do a quick re shoot if the girl doesn’t like anything. This doesn’t happen often but it does happen.

The third member of my BDP groupies is normally one lady but this year it was quite a few. Jessica the photography chair committee member is a godsend. She does all of the scheduling with all the girls and families and then just tells me when to show up. This year she was unable to sit in with us for the two days so a bunch of different committee members sat in. It was fun for me to get to spend time with these ladies as I normally only see them the night of the ball and sometimes on the dress rehearsal.

Back to the timeline. we started at 8:20 on Saturday and shot straight through till around 5:30. 14 wonderful young ladies photographed.

Sunday we had the remaining 12 ladies to photograph. We started at 9:40! so much better than 8 whatever. Day two was a lot of fun because of the fact that I knew some of the girls. I have one who was a younger sister to a deb a few years ago, that was fun to catch up with them and mom. I also had a young lady who brought her younger sister to the shoot and it was hysterical to ask the older sister a question to only have the younger sister give me the real answer.  I also had a deb whose mom was my photography chair committee member a few years back. It was like old times and lets face it I am still a goofball who wants to have fun. Not everyone loves their picture being taken. If I can make them lose focus on that fact and laugh, and be engaged with the fun atmosphere I am trying to create you can see that come through in the images. One of the funniest moments was towards the end of the day. Having a conversation always revolves around a few questions. Where do they go to school, what do they do for fun ect. Well one young lady divulged the fact that she was a New England Patriot fan. We all know that is a horrible team to be a fan of. Awful to be exact. This is all coming from a Miami Dolphin fan so know its all joking here, kind of. Marissa (the NE fan) had quite the banter session about sports and why the NE Patriots are awful. It was all in good fun and some really hard laughing moments were shared. At the end of the day Sunday we finished up a little late, around 7:30.

Now for the arduous task of editing all of these images. The amount of time spent in photoshop over the next few weeks to edit everything will most likely surpass the amount of time I actually spent photographing. Well worth it thought. I have been lucky enough to make some really close friendships out of this group along with photograph some beautiful weddings from this group as well. Like I said at the beginning these are the ladies you want to surround yourself with. They are remarkable. When they come back as post debs to the ball and you hear their names announced with either the university they are attending or the job they now currently hold. It is a list of whose who is D1 colleges and don’t be surprised to hear the surname of Doctor or Master quite a few times. debs.jpg


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1 Response to Photographing the debutantes.

  1. Robin Serbin says:

    Another fabulous article, Billy! Thank you for the great coverage and explanation of the Debutante Program. We are so very fortunate to have you as our partner.

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