5 Tips To Take Your Senior Work from Volume to Cutting Edge

cutting edge

5 Tips To Take Your Senior Work from Volume to Cutting Edge with Richard Sturdevant

Many in the photography industry know me for my competition work where I have been blessed with much success, but I am my happiest when I see a senior boy’s face light up when he sees the unique art piece that has become his senior sport art or the senior girl smiling ear to ear when she first views her themed concept image for her senior art come to life in a canvas print.

When I first started in senior work, it was primarily the standard book – location/studio – cap and gown type shots. I found that I was making more money then because of the volume of work, but I didn’t profit as much. In 2006, I began to think there had to be a better way. I started to hunger for something different and began my journey to break out of the box and stereotypical shots to launch into a bigger than life experience, not only for myself, but also for my seniors and for their paying parents.

Utilizing my background in graphic design, I had the idea to start creating art pieces to offer something different than everyone else. An idea that evolved and has taken me to new heights in my photography career.


In 2003, I decided that I needed to find a way to integrate art into my senior work, which was the basis of my business, to stand out from the crowd of senior photographers.  I believed the integration of the art would make me stand out from the crowd and get my work noticed. After all, it seemed logical that if I got noticed more, I would have more clients and therefore more profit.

I slowly began to integrate art, all of the sudden I started getting noticed and was looked at differently as a photographer. I got more clients. I made more money, but I didn’t profit as much as I thought I would due to having so many clients and having to hire others to assist me. It was the most exhausting time of my photography career. That year I photographed 350 seniors. I was working harder, but not smarter. I wanted to work less, specialize more and to be able to concentrate on speaking and competitions. I needed to do something differently to ensure that I could work smarter, not harder and be profitable.

You have to know your numbers for the your time investment, the products offered against the amount you are charging and ensure you are being profitable. Otherwise, you will never be successful. If you don’t know your numbers, how can you know if you are working smarter or harder or if you are truly profitable?

I ultimately perfected my process so I could easily create unique images for my seniors and offer a variety of high end products. The first tip for success is knowing your numbers so you can work smarter, not harder.


I strived to be uniquely creative with every senior. I pushed myself to develop art rather than a simple portrait. I developed a reputation as an artist, being known as that creative guy who came up with unique images for seniors and sports teams. My design background helped me quite a bit to be able to create unique art pieces. My clients and coaches felt lucky to have me as their photographer/artist, since at that time, no one else was doing that type of work.

I started getting calls from all over the place. I decided which schools I wanted to shoot for and then was offered other sports work from those schools. When the girls would come to the studio, they wanted to do other themed shoots, which led me to be even more creative. This increased the types of products I offered which increased sales.

I really began to push peoples thinking to be not just senior photos for the year, but rather looking for beautifully artistic images that excited the seniors and their parents as canvas art they could hang prominently in their house. All of the sudden the simple wallets and 8×10 wall photo to be hung in the hall or set on the fireplace mantle became art that they were willing to get in larger format on canvas to be a timeless piece of art of their senior.  Senior photos come down after a while, but a work of art has longevity and becomes a family heirloom. Determine to offer higher end products that are so knock-your-socks-off gorgeous that the client has no choice but to purchase.


Being able to provide the experience of a unique image specific to the individual quickly became my reputation. I was invigorated by the freedom from the mundane type of senior shots I had previously offered alone. People are interested in themselves. They light up when you simply remember their names. Being able to provide the individualized theme style of image rather than a cookie cutter cap and gown was quickly becoming the buzz about my business. I had found a way to get people excited about my work and the focus on the uniqueness of the individual was key.

This is a time to listen carefully and encourage outside the box thinking, for myself I decided to Crush the Box. You will need to help them visualize what truly represents who they are and what depicts their journey.

By doing something uniquely individualized to that one senior athlete or dancer, they truly appreciate it. It makes them stand out from the crowd.


Collaboration with your senior and their paying parent is vital. Take the time to talk to the senior about what they are excited about and what theme interests them. Get to know what they like and what their parent’s are expecting and talk about how that all pulls together. Even the high school boys get excited when they talk about their sport. Let your creative juices flow! Make sure everyone is heard and remind them that all ideas should be voiced.

This is not the time to prove your creativity, but to nurture the senior’s ability to express who they are. You are the guide in this collaborative process who will ultimately produce the artwork that they will treasure with vested interest.


Push yourself to stay on the cutting edge. If your art becomes successful, you can offer products that will increase your sales and help you to work smarter and not harder. Keeping your bottom line without losing your mind . You don’t want to feel like you never have time to expand and nurture your creative flow. As creatives, we are typically only as good as our last print. The clients are always looking for that product that is new and unique. You must feed your creative side to be able to stay on the cutting edge and produce artwork that will become the sought after product for years to come.

Strive for higher averages by continually pushing yourself to provide that different product, look or experience. Remember that the expectations grow along with the growth of your talent. Embrace growth. Stand out from the Crowd. Find something unique to offer that makes you the one they associate with being on the photographer/artist on the cutting edge. Specialize in your own unique artistic style and the clients will come to you.

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To read the full article, launch the digital version of the March 2020 magazine.

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