3 Tips To Getting More Qualified, Better Paying High School Senior Portrait Sessions

My daughter brought home her high school year book yesterday. As a photographer, the first thing I did is pick it up and start scanning the senior portraits. I know things are different now, but I’m always amazed – and a little shocked too – at how many truly “bad” photographs are within the pages of this keepsake.

Twenty years ago, you had to use pre-established photographers that had the measurements of the specified image, and would conform to the requirements. When you looked through a yearbook, the seniors’ images were all relatively the same. Which meant you focused on looking at the kids.

Now anything goes. Around one third of the kids use the image taken for their school ID. You can tell by the “infamous” blue background and the lackluster smiles. Then you have another one third with quality high school senior portraits – you can tell they went to a professional, and in some cases I can even tell who the professional is by the props and poses. Then there is the final one third.

  • I saw images with overexposed backgrounds and dark, washed out faces.
  • I saw images that were out of focus.
  • I saw snapshots from family vacations where the senior was so small it was hard to see.
  • I saw some of the craziest poses and angles – I couldn’t believe anyone thought they were good images.

Yep, many of them were truly bad.

In today’s society, people are forgetting what real photography is all about. Real photography is now associated with “new”. The last picture you snapped goes up on Facebook, and that becomes your newest image to share. Chances are it will be “good” – you wouldn’t put up a bad one. But it isn’t great. It isn’t beautiful and it won’t stand the test of time. Look at it a year from now and it will simply be a snapshot marking a moment in time.

Dig Deeper: Filling Your Portrait Studio With High School Seniors
A real photograph is more than that. It not only marks a moment in time, it captures the essence of who the person is. And that’s where a professional comes in.

by Sam Attal
Professionals learn a lot of things over the years.

  • They spend thousands of hours learning to pose.
  • They spend thousands of hours learning to light every situation.
  • They spend thousands of hours studying composition.
  • They spend thousands of hours learning to operate equipment without “thinking” about it.
  • They spend thousands of hours researching locations/backgrounds/sets/props.
  • They understand how to slim people down with different angles, how to minimize large noses, make eyes larger and more symmetrical (90 percent of us have one eye larger than the other), and give everyone a “wow” experience, no matter what they have experienced before.

Will everyone understand that? No. Many parents today are too busy to focus in on the senior portrait experience. They leave it up to the kids, and in many cases simply don’t care about the final product.

But some do. And that’s where you need to spend your time, your energy, and your marketing dollars.

If your goal is to be a high school senior photographer, you can easily build your business by doing three things.

1. Create your target audience. Whether its one local high school, or multiple high schools within your city, focusing in on the community will help bring in clients. My daughter’s high school has around 850 juniors that will be needing high school portraits this summer. Even if you worked your way up to gaining 10 percent market share, that would be 85 seniors just from this one high school. And if you build up an even bigger reputation, it would be very easy to gain several hundred from this one school alone. The key is focusing in on what you want, and working for it year after year.

2. Focus on your target audience all year long. If you target high school seniors, the more they see you, the more they will use you. A local photographer works with many different groups within our local high school. She photographs all of the kids in the theater department, and her name and images is always front and center in the play programs. Which means she’s with the kids several times per year. The theater is just one group – there are dozens of different groups that are looking for support and willing to give you exposure along the way.

3. Tell the families. Its easy to get a mailing list of kids that attend local schools. Start up a mailing list and let the families know how you participate in school activities. A postcard every month is a definite attention getter. Then bring it online as well. You can always ask people to follow you through your blog, Facebook or even Pinterest. And some will convert along the way. The important key is to let people know who you are and what you are doing. Remember, it’s a cycle. If you start as freshman, they may use you several times over the next few years, including family portraits and multiple high school senior portraits, depending on their family size.

As photographers, we could easily photograph our daughter. Yet we’ve watched over the years, and know and are friends with some exceptional portrait photographers. She’ll be a senior next year, and we’ve decided to let her have the “senior portrait” experience by hiring what we consider to be the best in town.

Yes, we already have our portrait photographer chosen. Now we’re deciding the details. But in the end, its up to the photographer we’ve selected to do her magic. We trust her. We love her work. And we want her to capture the essence of our daughter from a professionals point of view.

Are there more out there like us? Yes, we’ve already made several recommendations to friends.

The key is knowing how many portrait sessions you need to build a healthy income, then finding the clients who are willing to pay for that experience. Don’t focus on the people that don’t “get it”. Focus on the people that do. And cater to them exclusively.

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