How to Take Stunning Senior Portraits

Coaching, Portrait Photography and Children, Premium

I LOVE photographing high school seniors! I think it’s so fun to get to know the rising generation and I always leave shoots feeling a renewed sense of optimism for the future! Here are a few of my tried and true tips for photographing high school seniors that I have learned through the years. In the video accompanied with these tips, you can watch the entire coaching session with Cassie where I share a ton of other tips too. Currently there are some openings for coaching clients: find out more

1. How to Get the Most Authentic Senior Photos

When you set the stage by being open, and vulnerable, and totally YOU, you automatically give your client the permission to do the same. People can innately sense if you are being real with them, and if you are, they are more likely to feel comfortable doing the same. With senior photos, it is especially important to help your client open up so you can capture their true essence.

2. Best Tip to Get the Photo that Ends up Framed

At the end of the day, after shooting different poses, different outfits, sitting, standing, props, no props…. the one photo you absolutely MUST have is ‘that shot’ of your client looking at the camera and smiling. This is the shot that your client will likely frame on their wall, send to grandma and maybe their godmother and other relatives. Don’t get me wrong, your clients will love, and want, the variety of other shots too, but if you don’t have THIS shot, and hopefully many options of this shot, your client won’t be happy.

Here’s the story behind how I learned this. Several years ago I had two different clients hire me to photograph their daughters, who were friends, for their senior photos AFTER they had already been photographed by a different photographer. I asked them if I could see the photos from their first shoot so I could get an idea of why they weren’t satisfied. I expected to see photos that were poorly done and to be able to see a clear reason as to why the clients did not like the photos from their first photographer. To my surprise, when I looked at the photos, I thought they were beautiful! This puzzled me, and worried me a bit! I wanted to find out why my clients weren’t happy with the work of the other photographer so I could make sure I wouldn’t end up in the same boat! The clients told me that the other photographer was ‘too creative’ and didn’t deliver even one ‘normal’ photo they could send to grandma to hang on her wall. I think that had their first photographer done the exact same photos, but would have added in some ‘boring’ poses, her clients would have walked away happy. 

3. Ideas to Help Them Get Comfortable in Front of the Camera

When was the last time you were photographed by yourself? How did it feel? A few years ago I was at the Insta-Inspire Retreat in Salt Lake City, Utah and during the photo walk we would take turns posing in front of the cameras. All of the sudden I found myself being photographed and I felt SO UNCOMFORTABLE! It was like I was standing on the corner naked! I have tried to preserve this memory so that when I am the one behind the camera, I can help the person or people I am photographing feel more at ease. That being said, I have found that the photos I take during the first 10-15 minutes of a senior shoot generally do not end up as my favorites from the shoot. I think a big reason for this is that my clients become more comfortable as the shoot goes on, and in the first shots that I take, their true personalities are still hiding a bit. If things aren’t ‘flowing’ at the beginning, don’t stress it! Your client will feel your stress if you stress about it which will make it harder for them to relax.

4. Creating Meaningful Photos by Creating a Meaningful Photo Shoot

Getting senior photos taken is sort of a rite of passage and will likely be a memory your client will carry with them for many years. I usually suggest to female clients that they invest in a professional hair and makeup artist for their photo shoot so that they feel extra special and confident in front of the camera. I often ask my senior clients to suggest locations that hold meaningful memories for them which often results in me discovering awesome new locations!

5. Ask Your Client What They Plan to “DO” with the Photos

Many times clients won’t know what they want to do with the photos and they will rely on your direction and suggestions, but sometimes clients have very specific plans in mind. For example, especially in families where the senior I am photographing is the youngest sibling, there are often well established family traditions with what they do with the senior photos. One client was the youngest of TEN and his mom had a wall off their kitchen where she had 5×7 framed photos of each of her children their senior year of high school. Another client had a series of framed photos of each of her children as seniors with one main photo and 4 smaller photos surrounding it that showed the senior doing their extra-curricular activities like musical instruments and sports, so I planned the shots accordingly. I just recently designed an album for one of my senior clients and I found myself wishing I had more horizontal shots, especially from far away. Note to self! It’s definitely an ever evolving learning process!

6. Genuine Compliments Go a Long Way!

Tell your client the things you like about the way they look in certain photos. Try to add in some specifics in addition to the more generalized ‘You look amazing!’ compliments. 

7. Use the Same Lighting but Different Poses

In the same exact spot, without even having your client take one step from where they are, you can create a TON of different photo options. Closed mouth smile, open mouth smile, look to the left, look up and slightly to the right, look down, look just past the camera laughing as if they just spotted their best friend, zoom out and get a 3/4 body shot, zoom out more and get a full body shot, change arm positions, take a horizontal shot, take a vertical shot…you get the idea!

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I can’t wait to help you with your photos! 

Xxo, Rebecca Franson, Camera Mama Founder