When I began my business, like many photographers I tried shooting everything: babies, kids, weddings, families, etc. But, as the years went, I found my true passion in photographing high school seniors. I realized I liked to shoot 1:1 with the client. Maybe this was because I am so type A and love more control. With small kids, families and weddings, there are so many factors photographers cannot control. I thoroughly love working with teens/seniors because they take direction well, are easier to coordinate schedules with, and are excited to have their photos taken, unlike some 3-year-olds.
I really stress with seniors and their parents that this is a special time in their daughter or son’s life. Professional senior pictures document an important time in their lives; it’s truly just about them!
Should I influence the location for the photos?
When I first began shooting I would pretty much do whatever the client wanted. This quickly changed when I realized the locations the clients wanted were not ideal due to lighting, scenery, cars, and other distractions. To an untrained eye, a location may look good, but most clients do not think about these important factors when selecting a location
I shoot in downtown Minneapolis about 90% of the time. Even on a windy day, the tall buildings protect my senior girls from their hair whipping all over! On an 85-degree day, if I shoot in the open shade, they are less hot/sweaty and their make up continues to look polished.
I put up my shooting schedule months in advance and I show where the shoot is being taken on a given date and time. Therefore, clients can select from those dates/times what location they want. When clients say they are not “urban” people, I stress to them that my work will still look like my work, no matter what the location. What is important is a location where you (the photographer) will be familiar with the location and lighting. If you are shooting in a comfortable spot, your clients will ultimately be happy with the final product, whether it’s downtown or in a suburb.
Clothing and Preparation
Over the years, I have become fussy with senior’s clothing choices and making sure they are prepared and ready for their photos. At this point, I have seen it all. For instance, I have had clients forget half of their clothes at home. Or, a senior girl that forgot that she was wearing her blue bra, and it shows through everything. For these reasons (and more), I really stress shoot preparation. Here are some of the tips I give my seniors and their parents when they book a session with me:
- All clothes should be ironed and hung on hangers ahead of time.
- Try clothing on for a friend prior to your session and get an honest opinion on what is flattering and what isn’t.
- Avoid short-sleeved shirts, since it deters from the face.
- Spring/summer clothing should not be the only wardrobe used. Rather, consider including a favorite winter sweater and amazing boots as well.
- Set out all accessories with the outfits. Senior boys also tend to forget their shoes, dress socks and belts.
Last year, I had one senior that had her hair make up done professionally. She was prepared, relaxed, and confident for her shoot. Therefore, I am encouraging my senior girls from this point on to hire a make-up and hair artist. Her senior shoot will be more fun and she’ll get a greater variety of looks. And, it’s one less thing to stress out about!
“Can we do a family photo at the end?”
I often get asked to do a family session at the end of the senior shoot. I do not do this type of request. I’ve tried it, and it just doesn’t work. Here is a small list of reasons why:
- The senior doesn’t feel as special. Mom is stressed about how about how she looks and not helpful during the shoot. She’s on the phone helping other siblings/dad prepare for the shoot. The senior ends up not feeling as special and often times tense during their once in a lifetime senior shoot.
- The family can arrive late. Dad is left at home to get the rest of the kids dressed and to the shoot. Brother Jimmy’s lacrosse practice or game is running late. Or, the family arrives too late due to lost or hit traffic.
- The family comes early. Family members can inadvertently disrupt the shoot with their comments about how the senior smiled or didn’t smile, etc. It’s tough to be in front of the camera for almost everyone and to do it in front of family members is torture!
Finally, if you are a photographer who does family sessions as well as senior photos, why would you do two sessions for the price of one? So, that’s why I have a rule of a family session should be a separate session. Then, the shoot can go on smoothly.
Do you have any tips for working with the parents, mainly Mom?
I have encountered all types of moms. As I have gained more confidence in myself from experience, I know I have to take more control of the shoot. Before I start their photo session, I explain to them what they can expect during our time together. I ask them a ton of questions and look through the outfits to plan out what backgrounds will look good with each outfit. Basically, I just talk so much that Mom sees it’s obvious I have done this a few times. Therefore, she trusts me and just lets me do my thing!
Also, I do insist that a parent is along on the shoot. It’s beneficial for safety reasons (to see what is happening on the streets around us), help get the senior something to drink, carry clothing and accessories, plug a meter, etc. This way, I can completely focus on their senior. However, most seniors do want their mom at a distance, not smothering, during the shoot. So, there needs to be a balance with how much Mom will help. These are all important topics to cover in the initial conversation with Mom and senior!
Many seniors like to include a hobby into their photos (sports, music, etc.). Communicate this with them prior to their session, so they can plan accordingly and allot enough time during their session. Know the yearbook requirements ahead of time! Some schools are laid-back and others are strict about what they need for the photo. You don’t want to be caught in a situation where you have completed the photo session, but don’t have one photo that meets the school’s requirements. Finally, if your senior is a holey jeans and converse type girl with a pony tail, then get that at the end of her shoot, not at the beginning.
For most parents and seniors the yearbook photo is their highest priority. After I have already captured an image for her yearbook (in a nice top or sweater) and there is still time, then we have some more fun
While the yearbook photo is priority, I stress to each and every client to allow time to capture the senior as he/she truly is. Most clients will not choose to enlarge and hang in their house a yearbook photo. If you are walking by it twenty times a day, you’ll want the fun image full of personality.
Senior season is upon us! Make sure you are prepared, as well as your high school seniors!
My name is Shelley Anderson, and I own Shelley Anderson Photography. I am a natural light photographer that specializes in high school senior portraits and also commercial/modeling portfolios. My natural light studio is in the warehouse district of Minneapolis. I shoot both inside and on location, but mainly on location, as I enjoy that the most! I feel blessed to have found my niche in my 40’s. I truly love what I do, and I hope that it shows!