I love senior portrait sessions. It is so fun to see the excitement in my clients eyes as they talk about their plans for after high school. Graduating from high school is such a pivotal transition into our adult life and such a wonderful moment to capture and remember. It is a celebration of the culmination of all those years of hard work.
When photographing seniors, I think it is very important to make each session as unique as possible. I think for high schoolers, in particular, it is important to highlight different aspects of their personalities and make them stand out from their peers. They don’t want their senior pictures looking the same as everyone else’s. It is a time when they really want to be recognized as individuals.
I think the first step when beginning any photo session, but especially with seniors, is to make sure you communicate with your client. Sometimes you will have a senior client who is full of ideas of what they want for their shoot. Other times, you may find that clients that age are still a little shy and unsure of how to convey what they really want. Make sure you talk, email, text, with your client and find out what makes them unique. What are their hobbies, what did they like to study in school, do they play an instrument? All of this will be valuable information when planning their photo shoot.
INCORPORATE A HOBBY
This leads me perfectly into my next suggestion which is to incorporate your client’s hobbies into their photo sessions. If your client plays soccer make sure she brings a soccer ball for a couple of poses. Or if he plays the violin you can get some nice shots of him playing. Incorporating a hobby will help to highlight your client’s personality in their photographs. And years from now when they look back at their images, they will be able to fondly remember all the time they spent working on that particular hobby. Whether it was hours spent practicing on the soccer field after school with team mates. Or playing in a band with close friends.
I did a senior portrait session with a lovely young woman who rode horses. This horse was so special to her and they truly shared a close bond. She knew she absolutely couldn’t do her senior pictures without him.
As I have just mentioned, you can use equipment from your client’s hobby as props in your senior portrait session. But there are other props you can use as well. Maybe they want a chalk board or something similar to display the year in which they are graduating. I had one client who brought her cap and gown because her mother wanted to use the photo on her graduation party invitation.
Do they want to wear their school colors, or maybe their future college colors, or logo, in a couple of shots? There are all different kinds of things you can do to really commemorate this time in their lives.
When is the best time to shoot senior portrait photographs? I usually start getting inquiries in early spring for senior portrait sessions. Sometimes my clients want to get their photos done right around the time they graduate, while others want to get them at the start of their senior year of high school.
I always ask my clients to think about what colors they want in their photos. Do you want the bright green colors of spring and summer or do you prefer the warm orange, red and gold of fall?
We live in Virginia and the summers are HOT and HUMID, whereas the fall is generally a really lovely time of year temperature wise. So I also always have my clients consider that factor as well. Do they want to wear sweaters or a cute summer dresses in their photos? This usually helps them make a decision about when they would like to book their senior portrait session.
So once they have picked their season, I like to plan a location. Now I think for senior portrait sessions it is very important to find as unique a location as possible.
Like I said before, it’s important to high schoolers that their photos are different from their friends’. You don’t want to shoot all your senior portrait sessions at the same pond, on on the same bridge, or the same train track.
Really take some time to think about your individual client’s needs. If you have a soccer player then maybe you need to be shooting near the soccer field, or on the bleachers for some of your session. Maybe your violinist would look amazing playing on a cool street in your town.
The young man in the image above was an avid hiker and outdoor lover. He loved the mountains and so he picked a spot that could incorporate this aspect of his personality into his photographs. I love the mountains in the background of this shot. Pick a location that is going to further highlight your client’s individuality.
Ok, so we have picked a season, a location, and we know what props to use and hobbies we are going to incorporate into our senior portrait session. Now we need to think about what outfits our clients are going to wear!
I always, always, always recommend that my clients bring two to three outfit changes to a photo session. Definitely a minimum of two! I suggest that they bring a casual outfit and a dressier outfit. This way their final photographs will have some nice variety.
If they have a hobby for which they wear a uniform or a letter jacket they can always bring that too. I always tell clients to bring plenty of options. Then I will usually have a quick look through them and help with their final choice if they need it.
If you need help putting together outfits I have written a complete post here all about what to wear to a photo session. My clients find this info immensely helpful when they have no idea what to wear. It can be difficult to know what kind of clothing is or is not going to photograph well. And this gives them clear guidelines to follow.
Depending on where we are shooting, I always prepare my clients for the fact that they may have to change in their car. If we are shooting in town, then they can always pop into a nearby store to change. But if we are out in nature, they may have to hide behind a tree or change in their vehicle.
TALK TO THE PARENTS
When I first started shooting senior portrait photography, I made the mistake of not communicating well enough. I forgot that while I may be only photographing the high school senior, it was usually (not always) their parents who were footing the bill.
You may be communicating directly with the senior, or the parents may be the ones to handle all of the details. Or you may end up communicating with both.
You have to be sure to make them both happy! Most of the time, when I do a senior portrait session, one or both of the parents attend as well. I always take a few minutes to talk with EVERYONE and find out their expectations for the shoot.
One time I had a high school senior who did not want a lot of smiles in her pictures. She was amazingly mature for her age and wanted something a little more serious and ethereal. She told me this very clearly before we started shooting.
After they received their photos, her mother contacted me asking for more pictures with smiles! If I had known that the mother wanted some pictures with big smiles I would have been sure to take more. I should have checked with the mother before the shoot.
If a parent and child have very different ideas about what they want for a senior’s portrait session, then I will usually suggest a compromise. Let’s do some of the photos like the high schooler wants, and some that will make the parents happy as well. The high school senior wants to show her photos to her friends, while the parents want to send pictures to grandma. These are two very different audiences!
As you have just read there are definitely some unique things to consider when planning and shooting a senior portrait session.
- Be sure to communicate with your client
- Incorporate your client’s hobbies to highlight his or her unique personality
- Use props that will create lasting memories of this time in their lives
- Pick a season that works best for your client
- Choose unique locations so that your client’s images stand out from all the rest
- Make sure your clients have plenty of outfit changes
- Be sure to communicate with the parents as well
So there you have it! These tips will help set you up for your next successful senior portrait photo session. I hope this puts you one step ahead of the game and gives you the confidence and the know how to create wonderful images for your clients.
Ruth Young is a professional portrait photographer based in Culpeper County, Virginia. She spends her days homeschooling and documenting the lives of her four (soon to be 5) children. To learn more about Ruth and her journey you can follow her here on Instagram, where she posts daily!
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