10 Tips From a Portrait Photographer on How to Get Perfect Senior Photos
You. Did. It.
Have you ever taken a moment and added up how many hours of school you've completed? The average number of days in a school year is 180. The average length of a school day is 7 hours. Times that by 12 years (or 13 if you want to count kindergarten), and you get around 15,000 hours of education. If you're a soon-to-be college grad, add like a billion more because you've probably worked non-stop for years. Regardless of your exact number, that is a LOT of time!
They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, so at this point, you've mastered education and are halfway to mastering it a second time. With that crazy amount of work, you deserve to have some absolutely stellar grad photos to celebrate all you've accomplished.
From my years of shooting senior photos, I've learned a few things that can take a grad session to the next level, and I'm going to share them with you. Why?
Because you're worth it.
Like, seriously? Did you miss the whole 15,000+ hours of work to celebrate thing?
#1 Make it About You
The more your personality, style, and interests show through, the better your senior session will look and feel. Have a serious heart to heart with your photographer, let them know everything about you. What is your style? What hobbies and interests do you have? Do you have any cultural history you want to honor? What are your plans for the coming years? These are all things you should consider when dreaming up your senior session. Make it about YOU!
#2 Go for the Gold-en Hour
There's this magical time of day just before sunset (or just after sunrise if you're a morning person) where beautiful, honey-golden light shines down on the earth and every picture taken is gorgeous. If you can, plan your session to fall into this time. The exact time will depend on your geographic location and the date of your shoot, but talk it over with your photographer - they'll know what you're talking about.
#3 Use the Power of the Triangle
There's nothing that turns a senior session south faster than awkward posing. If you get uncomfortable, it will show. Your photographer will guide you through fun + enjoyable posing, but it never hurts to go in with a posing tip in mind. When striking a pose, try to make as many 'triangles' with your body as you can. Pop a leg back, run your hands through your hair, lean on something. Making triangles with arms and legs adds a ton of dimension to an image.
#4 Strive for Timeless
If you're reaching for a graphic tee when planning your look, think twice. What is super trendy now is going to look incredibly dated in a few years. Stick to simple, timeless looks. Avoid distracting patterns and busy outfits. Instead, use classic accessories like necklaces and hats to spice up your outfit. Layers are your best friend, solid color pieces that can be stacked (like scarves and jackets) make for killer shoot outfits.
#5 Wearing makeup? Go a little darker.
How you wear your makeup on a typical day: do that but just a teeny bit darker. Cameras love contrast, and going a little pop above really adds an edge to your photos. Wear a natural, subtle look most days? Go a little darker on the eyeshadow and add a neutral lip. Are you bolder in your everyday look? Do your usual, but add some fake lashes, and your eyes will seriously glow.
#6 Learn the Contemporary way to use Props
When I say "senior photo props," you might picture big numbers featuring your graduation year or fake plastic columns sized to lean on in awkward ways. Those are the old days. Today, props are on a new level. Think about what highlights your unique style + life. Play an instrument? Bring that, and a music stand, and some sheet music. Are you adventurous? Bring bubbles or colored smoke bombs. Love your pets? BRING YOUR DOG. There's seriously no wrong answer.
#7 Stick to What you Know
The day before your senior session is not the time to try out a bold, new hairstyle or decide to fully embrace a new clothing style. If you deviate your look too much from how you regularly dress and style yourself, the pictures won't feel right when you look at them. If you're going to make any major changes, do it a few weeks before your session, so you're comfy with how you look before the big day.
#8 Location, Location, Location
This tip isn't going to be what you think. I'm not going to tell you 'make sure you pick the right location, or your photos won't turn out well!" because that isn't actually true. I'm a firm believer that any location can work for a beautiful session with a little camera magic. Instead of focusing on the big name places around your city, go for the off-the-beaten-path ones that match your aesthetic. Try out less popular parks, unique neighborhoods, and even unusual locations like a cafe or your favorite store. You'll end up with some stunning + individual photos that highlight the places you already love.
#9 Plan Ahead + Do a Test Run
The day of your shoot should not be the first time you put on your intended outfits. In the days or weeks leading up to your senior session, plan out your outfits, and take them for a test run. Make sure they're comfy, flattering, clean, and that you feel good in them! Have a little fashion show for your friends and family, hype yourself up, and sleep soundly knowing you're well prepared before your shoot.
#10 Choose the Right Photographer
Believe it or not, I'm not going to self-promo myself here. I genuinely believe that every senior should work with a photographer that meshes well with their personality and style. Find someone who not only takes images you like but who you enjoy having a conversation with. If you don't get along with your photographer, they won't be able to properly hype you up and get you to relax and have fun in front of the camera. Look for image quality and personality when searching for a senior photographer. You'll end up with killer images that will look good both in your social feed and on your wall.