5 Elements of a Rockstar Senior Experience with Jaimy Ellis
Here’s how it goes—you’re being introduced to someone new and they ask you what you do. Your heart sinks a little because you know when you say, “I’m a photographer,” the response will be something like, “Oh my gosh, my sister is a photographer too!” or “I know tons of photographers!” making you feel like your passion isn’t unique and your skill is something everyone and their brother’s uncle can do. What if your response was more like, “I create killer portraits of modern seniors through rockstar experiences”? Now you’re legit! Here are five things you can do to take your senior portrait experience to the next level, whether you have a brick-and-mortar studio or not.
In-Person Styling Advice
Before I started helping my clients style themselves, I was constantly feeling disappointed with the outfits they chose. They would show up to the session with great clothes, but something was missing. I chalked it up to them not having that kind of style or wanting to look a little simpler. Turns out that’s not true … they just don’t know how to put it all together. That’s when I started including a styling consultation one to two weeks prior to the session in their own home. They already know how many outfits they need to choose, and when I show up they usually have their favorite items laid out, and I help them finish the looks by choosing pieces right out of their own closet. I always make sure that every outfit has some kind of layer or accessory to polish it off and provide interesting posing options. The senior has a sense of ownership and will be confident that they look amazing because the items they are wearing came out of their own closet. This is also a perfect opportunity to get to know them more, making them feel comfortable when it’s time to shoot.
Don’t forget to ask about hair and makeup! You might include professional hair and makeup with the session, or maybe they are already planning to make their own appointments—that’s great! In my area, it’s most common that they are doing it themselves. I give tips to prevent frizziness and ask if they want to switch up the style during the session. I always have them bring pins and hair ties in case we decide to put the hair up or braid it last minute. I usually have them choose straight or curly, not both, unless they get two sessions on different days, but you could spin this however you want. If they don’t wear much makeup on the daily I tell them that bare minimum is mascara and lip balm. A lot of my clients like my work because it looks authentic and I keep it that way by not requiring professional hair and makeup, and actually prefer it that way.
Do you feel like you don’t really get that whole styling thing? You might be thinking, “How will they trust me if I don’t even know about current fashion trends?” Send out a client questionnaire ahead of time (I use JotForm for this) and ask them where they like to shop. Then go lurk on those brands’ websites and Instagram accounts. Take note on accessories and how they combine pieces and layer outfits in the ads they use. Also study how they pose the models and how the model is interacting with the clothing. Put together a Pinterest board of outfit inspiration for yourself to refer back to when you need ideas. Maybe they’ve even sent you their own pinterest styling board in the questionnaire mentioned previously—this will help to know what they like for locations and posing too.
Don’t want to travel to a client’s home? Schedule a styling consult ahead of time and have them bring the clothes with them to your studio. Lay everything out and make a list of things they could add to each look (if needed). Make sure this appointment happens far enough in advance for them to go shopping for last-minute items if they need to.
Pro Tip: First, always make sure to remind the senior (and parent) to get proper undergarments for each outfit! Second, have a few accessory items on hand like cute blankets, oversized denim jackets and a pile of different hats. You never know when they will come in handy.
The styling consult is also a great way to get a feel for what kinds of backgrounds and locations the senior envisions for the session. For me, each outfit is a new location. Sometimes the locations are within walking distance and other times we drive around within a certain mileage range. I can usually tell what they are thinking by the outfit choices. I ask them what they are dreaming of, whether they picture themselves more urban or more natural and if there are any locations that are a hard pass or must have. I have a ton of locations up my sleeve to pair with the outfits and they usually trust my ideas. I also ask them if they have any specific location ideas so I can scout the spot ahead of time. Throughout the styling consult, I’m talking to them with confidence, taking away any doubts that the session won’t be 100-percent perfect. Since I am in their home for this, it’s also the perfect time to get pictures of walls for IPS and start pre-selling products. If you have a studio or don’t want to meet in advance, have them email you pictures of their walls before the IPS appointment.
Custom-designed sessions can be interpreted in a few different ways—all on-location like stated above, in studio by switching up backdrops and lighting, or a mix of the two. You can put your own spin on it depending on what fits your business model and client needs.
Editorial Photo Editing
Everyone wants to feel like they stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine, which is why I make sure each image is print-ready the very first time it is viewed at the IPS appointment. I want the senior to feel like they look amazing in every image, in turn making them want to order as many as possible. Figure out how you want your images to look and stick to a consistent vibe, whether you do your own photo editing or not—that way, each image is on point with your brand and people can spot your work before everyone else’s.
All of the previous tips will fall flat if not combined with flattering, modern posing and technically correct shooting. All of the elements should come together to create images that not just any Joe Schmoe could create. Take the time to further your posing and lighting skills and develop a style that you love. Invest in continued education at conferences, in classes, and through online materials. When you love your work, it’s easier to sell, therefore increasing your sales averages. You will become the most sought after photographer in your area (and you should probably raise your prices).
Offering products to your clients is the icing on the cake. Curate a product menu that fits your brand and shows off the unique imagery you’ve taken so much time to perfect. Your clients won’t be able to live without that custom-designed album or acrylic wall art grouping, and not only will your sales increase, but you will have created a product and experience that your ideal client will value and return to time and again—oh yeah, and tell all their friends about.
Combine these five elements and you will have created a life-changing, rockstar experience that your client will never forget.