​​Top 10 tips for taking high school senior photos.

April 27th, 2023
senior girl in floral top and hat

High school senior portraits serve as a significant milestone in a student’s life, capturing memories of their final year of high school and marking the beginning of a new chapter in their journey. They provide a way to reflect on the past and celebrate the future. Capturing the spirit of your client’s personality as a photographer is important for creating timeless images that will be treasured for years to come. That is why we put together a list of the top ten tips for senior portraits to assist you in getting the most out of your senior photoshoots. These tips will guide you in capturing amazing photos that truly reflect who your client is right now, whether you are a professional photographer or just starting out. Let’s get started! 

1. Plan ahead.

There are so many factors that go into planning a senior photo shoot so it’s best to plan ahead. First, set up a schedule. This will help you manage your time more effectively, and ensure you have enough time for each client or friend. Make sure to consider factors like location availability, weather, and availability. Second, if you are booking clients, start booking as soon as possible. This will give you more time to prepare and give you and your clients plenty of time to schedule their appointments and get ready for the big day. Lastly, have backup plans in place for unexpected situations, sometimes you have a great plan ready, but mother nature can have other plans. Have an indoor location in mind or a rain date established just in case, and always bring extra equipment such as umbrellas.

Whether you’re an amateur or professional photographer, don’t hesitate to seek assistance. Having a community of photographers in your area and on photography blogs and forums can be a huge help; you can exchange tips or gain advice on suitable locations and preparation. Additionally, it’s crucial to practice capturing images before the significant event. Remember, planning is key to a successful senior portrait season, whether you’re an experienced or an amateur photographer.

senior girl standing in front of a tree with white flowers

2. Get to know your clients.

To create portraits that truly capture the personality of your clients, it’s a good idea to get to know them before the senior portrait photoshoot so you can better plan for their tastes. One way to do this is by asking about their hobbies and interests. This will give you an idea of what they enjoy doing and allow you to incorporate those personal elements into your photoshoot. Incorporating items that reflect the senior’s hobbies or interests can add a personal touch to the photo. For instance, if the senior plays the guitar have them include their instrument in some of the poses.

Additionally, you can ask about their style and preferences for things like clothing, colors, and settings. Knowing their tastes and preferences will help you tailor the photoshoot more easily. It’s also important to have a conversation with your client about their expectations for the shoot. Ask them what kind of photos they want and if they have any specific inspiration or ideas in mind. By understanding their vision, you can help create photos that they’ll really like and guarantee a better sale. Taking the time to get to know your clients before the photoshoot will help you create a comfortable environment, build trust, and capture those authentic moments that create lasting memories.

3. Location, Location, Location.

Scouting locations before your senior photos is an important step many miss while trying to plan a successful session. Not only does it give you an idea of the setting itself and lighting and how generally busy the area is, but it also allows you to be prepared with the right equipment and backup plans if needed, when scouting locations look for unique backgrounds that will enhance your portraits. A beautiful natural setting or an urban alleyway environment can completely change the vibe of your photos so choose wisely.

Another important thing to consider the lighting at different times of day. Early morning or late afternoon light can create stunning golden hour photos, while midday sun has the potential to be harsh but can be used to your advantage. Consider using a setting that is relevant to the senior’s interests. For example, if the senior is a football player, taking the photos on a football field will pull the final shot together nicely. Finally, don’t be afraid to scout multiple locations in your area to find the perfect one. Remember, the right location can make all the difference in creating senior portraits that truly capture your client’s personal style.

Basketball player standing on basketball court

4. Choose the right equipment.

Choosing the right equipment for senior photos is key to creating beautiful and professional-looking images. Here are some tips for selecting the right equipment:

  • To ensure that your camera is capable of handling different lighting and location scenarios, it’s advisable to either invest in, rent, or borrow a high-quality camera. When selecting a camera, it’s essential to consider factors such as resolution, sensor size, and ISO range. This will help you choose a camera that is capable of delivering excellent performance across a variety of shooting conditions.
  • Choose the right lens for your portraits. A lens with a wide aperture will allow you to blur the background and create a shallow depth of field, when shooting portraits, it can help focus on your subject and downplay distractions in the location. 85 mm is a favorite lens for many portrait photographers, as the compression on this lens delivers both a sharp subject and soft creamy background. Alternatively, a 35mm or 50mm lens will allow you to enhance your storytelling by including more of the location in the image when needed. 
  • Accessories! Things like a sturdy tripod, reflector, and external flash can help you stabilize your camera and create even lighting even in challenging situations.

By choosing the right equipment ahead of time you’ll be able to create senior portraits that truly showcase your client’s unique personality and style.

5. Communicate with your client.

Communication with your clients during your photo shoot is a simple way to help create great senior portraits. It helps establish a connection with your client and allows you to direct them easily and comfortably. To communicate effectively with your clients, start by giving clear directions and suggestions for posing to make them feel comfortable and confident in front of the camera, having examples on hand is also helpful.

Most importantly, be open to your clients’ ideas and preferences and adjust your approach accordingly, your client may be nervous about sharing their opinion, being as  positive and friendly as possible throughout the shoot should create a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere for everyone which always shines on camera.

senior girl sitting in a field of tall grass

6. Be creative.

Being open to creative ideas can make a huge difference in producing unique and memorable senior photos that truly capture the unique personality of your client. Look for unique locations beyond the typical photo spots and collaborate with your subject to incorporate things important to them in new and exciting ways. Experiment with lighting, reflections, and unexpected backdrops to increase visual interest and ensure your clients feel connected to their final portrait. Remember, senior portrait photography is all about celebrating the individuality of your client are they into sports? Maybe they love the color blue, embrace your creativity and let it shine through, that way everyone enjoys the final results of all your hard work.

7. Focus on expressions and emotion.

While technical aspects such as lighting and composition are important to focus on for senior photos, when it comes to capturing the essence of your client in your photos it is important to make sure you’re capturing authentic expressions and emotions. It’s important to make your client feel comfortable during the shoot and encourage them to express themselves freely a natural smile, or a laugh can make a regular image fantastic. This can be achieved by talking to your client, cracking jokes or playing music they like during the shoot. You should also be patient and allow them time to warm up and relax in front of the camera, not everyone is a natural. Encourage candid expressions, rather than overly posed ones. By focusing on capturing genuine emotion and expressions, you’ll create photos that truly capture the personality of your client and leave a lasting impression.

senior girl in a yellow and pink dress

8. Edit your photos with care.

Careful editing is a necessary step if you want to produce stunning senior photos that capture the essence of the client while still making the images look natural and authentic. When editing senior photos, it’s important to make adjustments that enhance the quality of the image without making it appear overdone. This involves paying attention to details, such as the exposure, color balance, and cropping to remove unwanted elements in the image.

When it comes to younger clients like seniors, it’s important to make sure their natural look shines through. While skin smoothing can be useful, be careful not to overdo it, as this can make your subject look plastic or unnatural. Use a light touch and blend the effect for a more natural look. The eyes are a crucial element of any portrait, so consider enhancing them slightly by brightening them or increasing the contrast. This can help to draw attention to your subject’s natural beauty. Adjustments to saturation, brightness, and hue can also be made to achieve a natural-looking color balance, which helps with things like skin tone or unwanted shadows.

9. Streamline communication and provide great customer service.

Excellent customer service is a very important part of being a photographer. Making sure you have a great relationship you’re your clients makes them more likely to recommend you to friends and family. Streamlining communication and being responsive to client needs can enhance the customer experience as well. Respond as quickly and kindly as you can to inquiries and follow up regularly to keep clients informed and comfortable. Make your website as user-friendly as possible, providing clear information on your services, pricing, and contact details.

Using an online portfolio platform like Zenfolio to deliver client galleries provides photographers with a user-friendly platform that can enhance the customer experience. With Zenfolio, photographers can share customized galleries to clients with multiple download options, secure sharing, and allow them to favorite and comment on images in their galleries. Additionally, Zenfolio allows clients to order prints and other products directly from their galleries, providing added convenience and streamlining the ordering process.

To add a personal touch, consider sending thank-you email with discount code for a future session. By consistently delivering exceptional customer service, you can generate positive word of mouth among your clients. This can help you attract more business, as satisfied clients are more likely to recommend your services to others. In addition, providing exceptional customer service can help you establish a reputation as a reliable and professional senior portrait photographer. This can help you build trust with prospective clients and differentiate yourself from competitors. Ultimately, investing in the customer experience can pay off in the form of increased referrals, repeat business, and a strong reputation in your community.

senior boy sitting on concrete steps

10. Set up a Referral Program.

A Senior Referral program, also known as a model or representative program, can be a fantastic and simple marketing tool for senior portrait photographers. By incentivizing past clients to refer their friends and family, you can increase your client base and build a strong portfolio. One popular style of program is to offer discounted or free senior photo sessions in exchange for the Senior Representative (or Senior Rep) promoting your services to their peers. Another option is to provide the Senior Rep with exclusive discounts or deals for groups.

Follow these tips to help you get started with your own Senior Rep program:

  1. Reach out to friends and families that have a Junior in high school. 
  2. Contact local high schools and ask if you can post information about your program. 
  3. Create a social media campaign to promote the program and encourage interested students to apply. 
  4. Set clear expectations and guidelines for the program, such as the number of referrals needed to qualify for discounts or free sessions. (For example: if your client gets 10 of their friends to sign up, they will receive a free session.) 
  5. Create a system for tracking referrals and providing rewards so you can manage and scale the program effectively.

Senior portraits are the perfect way to showcase the memories and individuality of a high school senior! With a little bit of planning, client consultation, location scouting, equipment selection, and effective communication, you can create amazing senior photos that your client will adore. These top ten tips will help you produce stunning portraits that will capture your client’s unique personality and style. Get ready to create portraits that your clients will treasure for a lifetime!


  • Cheryl Dell'Osso

    Cheryl is the Director of Content Strategy at Zenfolio and the Owner/Photographer at Portraits by Cheryl and Seniors by Cheryl in Raleigh, NC. Cheryl has mentored countless new photographers looking to build successful photography businesses.

*Promotion valid until November 30, 2023 at 11:59 p.m. PST. Promotional discount off the subscription price of a new PortfolioPlus or ProSuite annual plan only will be automatically applied at checkout with code CYBERNOV75. Discount applies to the first year only. Cannot be combined with any other promotion.

Create your photography website in minutes.