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11 Tips for Photographing High School Senior Portraits

11 tips for photographing high school senior portraits

Looking for some senior portrait tips to take your photos to the next level?

In this article, I’m going to give you plenty of helpful tricks, techniques, and advice – so you can capture stunning portraits, consistently. Specifically, I’ll share:

  • A handy trick that guarantees you never run out of poses
  • A few easy ways to get seniors feeling comfortable in front of the camera
  • A step-by-step process for generating plenty of satisfaction and free advertising after your session
  • Much, much more!

Sound good? Let’s get started.

What to do before the senior portrait session

When it comes to planning for sessions, seniors are some of my favorite people to work with. Don’t get me wrong, I love families, children, engaged couples, and wedding ceremonies, but seniors are close to the top of my list.

senior portrait tips

Why, you may ask? It’s simple: seniors are excited to model, seniors are some of my best marketing tools, and seniors know what they want. They also have a great sense of style, which translates well in their photographs.

When a high school senior books a session with me, I get started immediately. I don’t wait for the actual photoshoot; instead, I take several steps right away to let my client know I am excited about working with them. I have found that if you do these things, your session will not only run smoothly, but you will have a client who loves to refer you to their friends.

So here are the key items to do prior to the photoshoot:

1. Communicate your excitement

First things first, before doing anything else:

Let the senior know how excited you are about working with them. Since seniors are all about social media, I send out a tweet explaining how excited I am to work with them and to plan their session – and I make sure to do this within a few days of the booking.

senior with guitar in woods

2. Really get to know your client

After sending out the tweet (above), I give the senior a tailored questionnaire so I can get to know them better.

Some of the questions found in the questionnaire include:

  • What are some of your favorite features about yourself?
  • What do you want to remember most about this time in your life?
  • Are there any specific locations you have in mind for your shoot?
  • How would you spend your ideal Saturday?
  • How would you describe your personal style?

This helps me tailor the photoshoot to their personality, interests, and needs.

3. Give clothing suggestions on a Pinterest board

Even though seniors are on top of the latest styles, they often need help deciding what to wear to their session.

So a week before the session, I send them a link to a Pinterest board – one that’s full of clothing and prop examples. This gives the senior specific ideas of what to bring. It helps your client, and it also helps you achieve the look you want in your own portfolio.

senior portrait tips black and white

What to do during the senior portrait session

In this section, I explain my session workflow – what I do to make the hours I have with my senior memorable and stress-free (and fun!).

You can have a great experience by following these tips:

1. Have a real conversation

Many seniors don’t feel totally comfortable in front of the camera. So to break the ice, talk to them, ask them questions, and find out what their plans for the future are.

Seniors are at an awesome stage in their lives; they have their whole future ahead of them. So encourage them and invest in them when you have the chance.

They will feel appreciated, valued, and confident after hearing reassuring words from an adult who isn’t their parent.

senior portrait girl laughing

2. Praise your client (and show them photos)

Most seniors have never been in front of a professional photographer other than for the cheesy pictures their parents had them take when they were younger. So make them feel comfortable.

Praise them when they look good in front of the camera. I love to turn my camera around and show them some little peeks of how well they are doing. They love this! It will encourage them to keep up the good work, and it will give them confidence in their appearance.

3. Keep plenty of posing examples on hand

You may have some go-to poses you use for your seniors. But since each person is different, you need to have several tricks up your sleeve.

Enter the smartphone.

Before your session, simply browse the web and take screenshots of poses you like.

Then, when you hit a rut during your senior portrait shoot, just whip out your phone and look at your saved poses.

It might feel like cheating at first, but seniors love this approach. They think it’s so cool that you’re invested enough that you planned for their poses. It makes them feel valued.

senior portrait tips

4. Make sure to bring props

I love to bring small props for my seniors to hold or sit on during the photoshoot. This could be an old folding chair, a cute beach hat, an old quilt, or even some books.

Props are a great way to spice up your senior portraits. Plus, some people feel really awkward in front of the camera at first, so little props will give them something to do with their hands while they adjust to your presence.

What to do after the senior portrait session

After a session, you can keep your clients excited, satisfied, and ready to recommend your services with these senior portrait tips:

1. Post a teaser

The day after a senior portrait session, I post a “teaser” or “sneak peek” photo from their session on Facebook.

Your senior will share that teaser with all of their friends through social media, which means more publicity for you and your business. (That’s another reason why I love seniors!)

2. Send out a handful of photos in advance

The following week, after I have edited all of the images, I will send ten files to them through PASS.

The senior will also share these images through Facebook, and it will help them understand why they should purchase a disc with all of their high-resolution images.

3. Give the senior a great gift bag

As soon as I have all of the images edited, I will order a custom book and send it to the senior – along with a really appealing package.

The package includes a handwritten note, business cards, and other little goodies. My seniors always love how personal I make the gift bag for each of them (another great reason to send them a questionnaire and to get to know them well during the session).

4. Post on your blog

After you’ve delivered all the final images, blog about the session, including images you didn’t include in the original ten.

This blog post will also be shared on social media with their friends and family (more free advertising!).

senior by the ocean

Bonus tip: Edit for longevity

When post-processing senior photos, always remember that you are photographing for the parents as much as you are photographing for the senior client. I keep “fad” type editing out of the equation because I know ten years from now the parents will want a solid (i.e., not overly processed) image on the wall.

Instead of using “fad” editing techniques, I always let style come from the locations I choose. You can do this by choosing old brick buildings, abandoned farmhouses, fields of cotton, etc. The seniors love this, and their parents will appreciate the timelessness of the photographs they receive.

senior portrait tips girl in forest

Senior portrait tips: final words

It is not hard to rock a session with your seniors. It just takes some extra things to go above and beyond – so the seniors know you appreciate them.

All of these extra things will make your client feel special and will translate into those coveted word-of-mouth referrals for you!

Now over to you:

Which of these senior portrait tips do you like most? Which will you try the next time you’re doing senior portraits? Share your thoughts (and photos) in the comments below!

This post was written by guest contributor Meghan Newsom. Meghan is a lifestyle and wedding photographer located in northern Alabama. When she’s not writing for her lifestyle blog, cooking up gluten-free recipes, or taking pictures, you can find her exploring outside with her husband and pup.

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