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Portraits and Stories of High School Seniors in Pandemic | Rangefinder

Miami-based portrait and commercial photographer Mary Beth Koeth has photographed the likes of Iggy Pop, Venus Williams and Rod Stewart for ad campaigns and magazines such as Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter. But as the pandemic hit, she found herself focusing on a different portrait subject: the high school seniors of 2020.

[Read: Inside The Hollywood Reporter & Billboard—Q&A with Photo/Video Director Jennifer Laski]

Koeth had flown to Dallas to stay with her sister and her family in the beginning of March to see her niece and nephew—then stayed three months, homeschooling them while her sister and her husband worked from home. Having packed a camera, she reached out to graduating seniors to find out how they were feeling about missing their expected milestones like prom, graduation and other specialty ceremonies.

Koeth’s sister was able to connect her to the Boys & Girls Club of Dallas, who put her in touch with some of the seniors she’d go on to photograph. Many of the subjects were first-generation high school graduates, “and some were immigrants from Burma, Thailand, Nigeria and Afghanistan,” Koeth says. “I was so moved by their stories and by their determination.”

She borrowed light stands and modifiers from a photographer friend and strobes from her high school photography teacher. A photo gear store in Miami, where Koeth is now based, put her in touch with people at Tamron, who sent her two more lenses to add to her Canon 5D Mark IV and Sigma 50mm f/1.4.

“Maintaining distance was important—I wouldn’t say it was a challenge, but it made me see things differently,” says Koeth, whose photos went on to be published in Texas Monthly. “The subjects are a lot smaller in the frame. I would say that’s different from how I normally shoot.”

Scroll through the gallery of portraits above for Koeth’s exposure settings and abbreviated interviews with the seniors.

Check out more Photos of the Day, and email submissions to RF’s senior editor at

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