Viewing Senior Photography

Photographing Senior Musicians and Artists with Melanie Anderson

Friday, September 2nd, 2016


Photographing Senior Musicians and Artists with Melanie Anderson


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This week, I’m in Nashville filming and teaching. As I was deciding on my topic for this month’s article, I couldn’t help but think about the musicians and that this town is just flowing with creatives. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to photograph many musicians and artists. This month, I dive into marketing and selling, locations and lighting.




My studio is located in the Arts and Entertainment District of Hagerstown, Maryland. I am surrounded by brick walls, alleyways and stairwells. My studio is directly across from the Maryland Theatre and a performing arts high school. Due to the location, we photograph with an urban flare. When not traveling, you will see me around town all day long photographing. Due to my relationship with the Maryland Theatre, we are able to photograph inside pretty much anytime. Many of the seniors I photograph are musicians who love being photographed onstage. You will also see that I use the theater as a background occasionally, most recently for prom pictures.


Lighting and Equipment


I use a Nikon D4 with either an 85 1.4 or 24–70 2.8 lens. When photographing outside, I typically use a reflector along with the ambient light. When I photograph on the stage of the theater, I use an AlienBees strobe and softbox with a 24–70 or wider lens. The theater is very dark, and I need the power of the strobe to give the effect I am looking for. I like photographing them with the theater seats and lights in the background, with me onstage in the far back to give an artistic feel, instead of them onstage in front of the theater curtain. You can view a few behind-the-scenes videos of the making of the portraits on our YouTube channel.


Sales and Marketing


We are known in our community for our extreme sports images, and we use a similar setup when we shoot the high school band. It’s pretty much the same options, but instead of sporting equipment, they are photographed with their instruments. I have a wall in my studio with about a dozen samples of extreme montages and collages. We sell these as 16×24 and typically on metal. The metal finish gives the artwork an added effect that is like none other.


Before I begin the senior session, I take the senior and parents to this wall and discuss the fees that are involved. I want to know if this creation is within their budget before I shoot. We review all the options and make a plan from there. If the extreme piece is not within their budget, I show them images of seniors photographed along the brick walls, in the alcoves and on stairways. Whatever their budget is, I want to spend it wisely. I do not want to spend time photographing and creating an epic piece only to find they are unable to or not interested in buying. Educate and sell before the photographing starts. It’s vital to your in-person sales. Be sure to print samples for your business; remember, you sell what you show and you show what you want to sell.


Not only do we photograph athletes and musicians, but creatives too. Two years ago, we photographed a senior girl who wanted to become a makeup artist. She was heavily into The Walking Dead, and asked if we would create an extreme piece for her. I photographed her yearbook and casual photos one day, and then a few days later, we took her and her friends to a vacant warehouse. I had her prepare all of them ahead of time so that our time together was seamless. I photographed them individually and as a group. You can find our behind-the-scenes of this on our YouTube page.




When photographing musicians and artists, think about the unique angles, ways that you can add sunrays and bokeh effects. Including quotes, verses and music lines is another way to personalize their creation. We don’t create just a standard senior with an instrument shot; we still photograph in an urban, artsy or musical setting. We often sell these in metal, but wrapped canvas can add a classy feel for classical instruments and metal for guitar, drums, etc.


The performing arts high school across from me showcases a new production every year. Last year, they asked us to create headshots of all their students, approximately 80. We created tight black-and-white headshots for the playbill and posted them on social media for all to enjoy. I used three ringlights with a background and my 24–70 lens set at F4, 1/160 and 200 ISO. We moved through these headshots very quickly. You can find a live video from this day showing the setup on our Facebook page.




Within our volume business, we photograph the high school band for group and senior banners. We line them up either before or after the fall sports teams, and create a unique product for them to showcase at games and events, both at home and away. The seniors get to keep their individual banner at the end of the year as a thank-you for their time and talent. We are able to donate these as a result of sponsors that offset our expenses. These banners are a huge part of the word-of-mouth at my studio. Whenever I ask how a new client heard about us, the number-one response is, “You are everywhere” These banners play a huge part in that.


Action Plans:

  • Find a theater and offer to take their headshots.
  • Post a call to action for musicians and create something epic.
  • Educate your clients on pricing and creation.
  • Contact the band director at a high school and offer to take their extreme pictures.
  • Print samples to showcase.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the September issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


The Senior Fashion Shoot with Craig LaMere

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016



The Senior Fashion Shoot with Craig LaMere


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


I have been shooting high school seniors my whole career, which started about six years ago. When I began, I was still coaching high school football, and my first clients were my players. To be honest, if it were not for my players, instead of writing this article, I probably would be asking you if you want to supersize your fries. But as luck would have it, their parents were nice enough to book me to shoot their kids’ images. As I started getting more of my players, I began to book shoots for their girlfriends. Then, once I shot the girlfriends, I started to book the friends of the girlfriends—and so on and so on.


Seniors have always been my biggest business here in Idaho. They’re also my favorite to shoot. Each one is different and every shoot is pretty much dictated by their personality and styles. The studio shoots as many girl seniors as guys, and every type of both: sports kids, band kids, outdoor kids, dancers and more. In order to be a very successful senior studio, you have to be versatile. You have to be able to shoot what the kids think is cool, but still be able to produce images Mom and Dad are going to love.


We have many options for our high school seniors. This month, I talk about one of the funnest options we offer our high school senior girls: our fashion session.


The idea of the fashion session came from shooting senior girls in their prom dresses. For most of the senior girl session, I would shoot the girls in their favorite prom dress. I used beauty dishes and harder light, and posed them dramatically. The girls really love the process. In the viewing sessions, the fashion prom dress images were some of their favorites. That’s when the wheels started to spin a little, and I decided we should see about taking it to another level. I decided to offer the whole fashion experience from start to finish. And with that, the fashion option was born.


Image-Driven & Experience-Based Shoots


These are the two basic types of shoots, in my experience. Image-based shoots are family sessions or business headshots. The images produced are the payoff. The images are where the satisfaction of the shoot comes from. Experience-based shoots, on the other hand, are not so much about the images. The images are a byproduct of the shoot. The images trigger the memory of the day and all that went into creating the images. That describes our senior fashion shoots.


Building the Experience


There are three parts to my fashion session: getting the wardrobe together, hair and makeup, and the shoot itself.




Since I’m a photography studio and not a designer studio, I had to find the wardrobe for the shoots. I’ve always used three sources: thrift stores, vintage stores and designers.


Thrift Stores


Thrift stores are pretty hit and miss. Your selections are limited by what is on the racks. They carry so many different categories of merchandise that the fashion selections are limited. I think of thrift store shopping like panning for gold or diving for sunken treasure. You may go a long time before you hit gold, but when you do, it makes all the work worth it.


Vintage Stores & Specialty Boutiques


Vintage stores are a great resource, especially if you’re looking for period wardrobe. One thing that is nice about vintage stores over thrift stores is that they are more focused, so finding exactly what you are looking for is much easier. The other thing I like about vintage stores is that I am often able to make a sweet deal with the owner of the store, whereby I can actually rent or borrow clothes, which I won’t need after a shoot. I offer the owner images in exchange.




I search out new and hungry designers both in my area and on the Internet. You would be super surprised at how eager new designers are to have their garments shot. The best way I have found to work with them is to reach out with a short email that gets right to the point. I direct them to my website or include images of my style. I have found some really cool people to work with this way.


Hair and Makeup


A few days before the fashion session, if my stylist has not already met the senior, we schedule a quick consult. My stylist takes a look at her hair and assesses what we can and can’t do with it. We also get an idea of her skin type and facial structure. We find out how mild to wild she wants to go with her look. Most of the time, the client just tells us to do what we want. After the consult, my stylist and I start to work on the look we want to do.


I have to give a word of caution to you if you do not have a hair and makeup person you work with regularly and you are going to take on these shoots. You have to make sure they understand what your timeline is and make them adhere to it, or they will run you so far behind that you will want to pull your hair out.


If you can have only hair or makeup, choose hair. If you have the most killer makeup in the world and just okay hair, your look will be okay, but if you have just okay makeup and crazy awesome hair, your images will be super sweet in the end.


The Shoot


We have the girls come in pretty early and they go right into hair and makeup. The moms love it as much as the girls do as the transformation plays out. It’s cool to see how excited the moms get.


After the hair and makeup are done, we go right into the shooting bay. The wardrobe dictates the look we use for the drop. We usually do two looks. We shoot one clean on white, and the other look we match to wardrobe colors and use hand-painted muslins. The lighting is more hard and specular. To shape the light, I use mostly beauty dishes, grids and strip lights. I tend to use broad light a lot. The posing is very edgy and deliberate: 90-degree angles, locked knees and attitude.




To be a successful senior shooter, you have to be able to change with the times and be versatile in what you offer. Seniors are looking for the experience, not the product. They are looking for something different, something unique. Fashion shoots are the way to go.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Creating Customers from Concept Shoots with Jeff & Christine Tonkin

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016



Creating Customers from Concept Shoots with Jeff & Christine Tonkin


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


Any photographer can set up and shoot a concept session, but sessions don’t guarantee referrals or produce clients who actually book a senior session. Why is that? What is the secret to making your creatively styled shoots more than just a fun time? What are the keys to turning them into valuable referrals and new revenues?


ENTICE your future clients

The phone rings. An email dings. Your next client makes contact with your business. What can you say that will pique their interest and book their session? Here’s what we say: “Book with us now and, in addition to your personalized senior session, you can be part of our popular DigiSmiles Summer Promotional Shoots and not pay an additional session fee.” This creates interest and urgency.


INVITE the early birds

Every year we invite seniors who book their session date eight to 12 months in advance to participate in at least one of our three concept sessions in the summer prior to their senior school year. Then we have them come to the studio for a preplanning meeting where they get to know our vision and us. They sort of become part of our team. After clients decide on a creative session, we encourage them to help design individual looks within that main theme or choose one of our preconceived ideas. For example, we wanted to shoot a vintage-circus theme, so we asked our clients which character style they wanted to portray. We took their creative interests and ideas, and tweaked them to fit the overall vision that we wanted in our final images.


INVOLVE your client

When your clients invest their time and creativity into the experience, they feel a sense of belonging and ownership, which is a powerful tool that you should be capitalizing on. The secret to getting your clients to talk nonstop to their friends about their creative shoot is involvement from both the clients and their parents. When we say involvement, we mean a lot of it. Give the seniors creative freedom to bring their own personality into the session, and then guide them to the final look that will best match your vision. Together, decide what is needed for their wardrobe and start the fun planning process. Seniors who aren’t part of the creative process have nothing invested. If the senior shows up on the day of the shoot with only the props and costumes you have provided, she is simply modeling for you and the images will not portray her personality. Your goal is to create ownership for the client so she will share what she is involved in and excited about.


We believe the moms are truly something special. They value the time, energy and hours of work invested in the shoot because they were part of the creative process. While the seniors might be enjoying the experience, when you get the moms excited about it, watch out! Let’s be honest. Sometimes the very excited teens do get a bit distracted with teen life and forget about their commitments. Bringing the moms onboard creates a project they can do together as they enter their senior year. The moms help them stay on task. They are so excited to be doing something fun and creative with their son or daughter that they usually do not mind contributing their time and effort. Occasionally, you will get a highly valuable mom with creative talents just waiting to be unleashed. Encourage her to participate. When they see how much time and energy you are putting into this fun shoot, it drives them to also want to help. The value of the shoot increases for them because they see your efforts and are part of your final concept. So now you have them involved, but this alone will not get you more than a couple new referrals booking with you.



INFILTRATE the media

Thank goodness for social media. Every time your client does something for the shoot with you, encourage them to put it out there on social media. Whether you are costume shopping, wardrobe fitting or assembling props, the senior and her mom need to be asked to infiltrate social media about the exciting experience they are having with you. Don’t be afraid to point out when an interesting opportunity for behind-the-scenes video or photo is about to happen so they can capture and share it. We have learned to be extremely specific about what should be included in their post so that it will promote your brand. If they share a fun video or behind-the-scenes photo with no mention of your brand or company name, that brings no branding or referrals to your company. For building hype and for your brand to grow, it is not too pushy to ask the client and a parent to type a fun comment about what they are doing in that moment and include your full company name while tagging your photography business. An effective post might read: “Look what we are doing today! Having a blast assembling props for my upcoming underwater photo shoot with DigiSmiles Splash Week.”


Who doesn’t want a sneak peek? Motivate your client to promote your company by offering a sneak-peek photo on social media if they have promoted your themed session multiple times. Even though you will post for your own followers, it is so much more effective for your clients to post their experience. Think about it. You want the friends of your clients to see why they should hire you for their senior portrait experience. The combined reach of your business posts along with your client’s posts has a much better chance to attract new clients. Betting on one client to promote you to their one friend will get you worse odds than a Vegas casino. At least half of our clients say they heard about us through multiple friends on multiple social media outlets.


You’ve already shared your behind-the-scenes pictures, so now release the final edited images with your branded watermark while you have the attention of your new followers. You need to release images while the fire is hot. Don’t wait too long, because you’ll lose the hype you worked hard to create. Once you release the watermarked images, ask your client to repost with a blurb about their experience.


Infiltrate as many media outlets as you can. Your local newspaper is probably searching for its next great story. Reach out and invite them to visit your destination to write an article on your unique senior sessions that set you apart from other senior portrait studios. Ask the reporter when the digital article will be published so you can share the link to their site and warn followers to not throw out that newspaper in their driveway next week.


INTEGRATE your brand

One of the best investments we made in our brand was a company shirt with our large logo on the back. Before we had company shirts, all our behind-the-scenes pics taken by clients showed our backs and their senior getting photographed, but nothing revealed the photographer’s identity. The shirts ensured that anyone glancing at behind-the-scenes pics would easily see that DigiSmiles was in action. In order to get that social media sneak peek, we ask the client to include our shirt logo in their behind-the-scenes photo.

In an effort to tie our brand together with the positive experiences clients will want to connect with, we started creatively naming each concept session. Our underwater photography sessions we started last summer are called “Splash Week” and our circus shoot was called “Under the Big Top.” Our fashion shoot featuring a newspaper dress, trash bag dress and a window screen dress was called “Alternative Couture.” Naming the sessions created unique and memorable marketing taglines that supplemented our brand. It is also important to get yourself in the “selfie” photos with your client so their friends see how much camaraderie is generated. Yes, they will buy prints, but don’t lose sight of the fact that they are really paying for your “services.” Your services include everything positive that comes out of the experience for your seniors and their parents.



Get real. Get over yourself. Get in front of your camera and push Record. Incorporate video into your marketing. For seniors, being personal, fun and spontaneous is much more relatable than producing a professional video message. You will want to have a parent, a friend of the client or your assistant record video during your concept session. We also use videos to announce our upcoming themed sessions, which is what starts building hype and attracts new followers. After we did this for the first time, the people who watched our video told us they loved it because they felt like they got to know us, and related to our goofiness. Be creative. When announcing our upcoming Splash Week promo shoot from our office, we wore swim goggles in our video. Silly? Yes. Memorable? Absolutely. Effective? Without a doubt! (See for yourself:


Many of us creative artists think really big and have great ideas just waiting to be brought to life in the form of a concept shoot. Your time is valuable, and creating customers from your concept sessions usually requires a significant investment of your time and money. Don’t wait. Start generating hype, gaining followers and driving revenues by booking referrals from your concept sessions.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.



Extreme Senior Composites with Melanie Anderson

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016



Extreme Senior Composites with Melanie Anderson


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


What is an extreme senior shoot? For our studio, it means photographing a senior with a unique style and feel. The focus can be athletics, vehicles, instruments, hunting, inspirational, etc. There’s usually intense light that adds a dramatic appeal to the overall concept.


We want to create a custom piece that represents a hobby or interest. This process starts with the first call into the studio. When a parent contacts us for information, we immediately begin asking about the senior. What school do they attend? Do they play sports or an instrument? We find out what their interests are. We ask how they heard about our studio, and schedule the session accordingly. If they are a referral from a senior who already had an extreme session, we discuss that creation. We explain that this is an “add-on” to their senior session. We charge an additional $49 and schedule an additional 30 minutes for their session. We discuss ideas and pricing. We want to educate the client on the cost and the process. We want all “props” relating to the specific interest. We want to get them involved and excited about their session.




When the senior and parents arrive at our studio, we begin unpacking. We have lots to discuss before I actually begin photographing. We lay out all the clothes, then discuss the extreme portion. I take them to my extreme wall. This wall is decorated with several 16×24 and larger wall portraits. We have several samples for inspiration. My main goal in doing this is to show them the size they are purchasing and discuss the style. If my client is drawn to a composite style, then I am only photographing one image. If my client is drawn to a montage style, then I am photographing several images and blending them together. We showcase samples that display one sport or many sports. This begins the process of building ideas. I photograph with intention. Once we determine the style, I know exactly what we will create. I’m sure to review pricing again to ensure we are all on the same page. (See the video for wall displays and further explanation.)


We photograph the extreme portion last. I want to keep the excitement throughout the session and end with the most creative piece. We often add eye black or spray them down for a more intense effect.




Our prices start at $450 for 16×24. Most clients purchase this size because it fits on most walls and has great impact. Our creation fee is $250, which includes the design fee. Putting all the elements together can take some time to ensure that each piece is a one of a kind. I love displaying these on metals—Miller’s lab offers two styles, a thicker metal with more of a matte finish and a thinner standout style with a more glossy finish. I show them both options, along with the choice of canvas or framed. Most of our clients choose the metal, which adds to the extreme element of the entire piece. The finish cost is $250. This gives a total of $998 for a 16×24 extreme finished piece.


The shoot


I typically use either ring lights or strobes. Let’s discuss the difference. I use three ring lights when photographing stills. I do a tight headshot, serious and intense, with the main light directly in front of my client and two lights behind them at an angle. I am looking for separation from my background and intense rim light on hair, shoulders and arms. I then move my main light to my right side so I can shoot three-quarter. I basically have them spin in a circle with different poses, capturing many different looks with props. My goal is to have four to six great images to blend into one piece. If my client is looking for a composite, I take one three-quarter pose using the ring lights.


Should my client wish to demonstrate movement within the images, I use my strobes. I need to capture the action, so I need the ability to stop motion. Only strobes can provide this. I pose them similarly, starting with a serious and intense tight shot, then have them circle around for me to get several different poses and angles. We finish by moving lights back a bit and giving them the room to swing a bat or lacrosse stick, or catch a football while landing on a beanbag. This can take several attempts to ensure the intensity in the expression is there.


We photograph these either on a white, gray or black backdrop. We can easily extract (we use Rebooku for that service) or blend the images with texture. I am more concerned with the lighting of my subject in these cases than the backdrop.


Order session


We like to have our clients come back to the studio within a week or two to view and order their portraits. We have their extreme piece completed at that time. This is the only time we pre-edit anything. We do this so they can view the final product and make any needed changes on the spot. Remember, we have already presold the piece, so creating it in time for the order session is a great way to keep our workflow on track.


The creation of these pieces is done by our senior designer, Karissa. We discuss the ideas with her, and then she works her magic. We use Woody Walters actions and designs, and Mark Bryant Streetscapes. The ability to utilize incredible products and pieces that are already created is a huge time saver for us. We integrate those within textures we have created and/or additions we have purchased through iStock.


We have several tutorials on how to create these on our education site, and are always happy to assist you with ideas.




As for marketing of our extreme product line, we have several displays at the mall. We use social media and always post behind-the-scenes photos and videos during the session. We want to create an excitement about these pieces. During the initial phone conversation, we mention this as an option and direct them to our website, where they can view samples.


You can view behind-the-scenes videos of extreme seniors on Anderson Photographs’ YouTube page. Be sure to make it to ShutterFest to see this process in action. I will teach you everything you need to know about photographing, marketing and selling extreme seniors.



Ring lights for still shots

Strobes for moving shots


Nikon 24-70 lens

Nikon D4


Action Plans:


  • Create a portfolio.
  • Contact local seniors and invite them in for a photo shoot.
  • Create several images that can be blended together for a montage, or one killer image that can be used for a composite.
  • Add extreme senior pieces to your product line.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


The New Sexy: Class and Confidence in an Age of Abuse with Phillip Blume

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016



The New Sexy: Class and Confidence in an Age of Abuse with Phillip Blume


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


She’s a very young mother. Her youthful face would make an attractive addition to any senior portrait photographer’s portfolio. If only her eyes weren’t so sad. They reveal a darker history. This girl has neither the years nor experience you’d expect from a mother of six children. Then again, she’s more experienced in life’s hard knocks than most of us can imagine.


Here in Guatemala’s slums—where I’m working at the time of this writing with our studio’s nonprofit partner, Engadi Ministries International—we refer to this girl’s victimization as the “Leah syndrome.” It’s a common tale, a true societal disease. Leah was Jacob’s unwanted, unloved wife in the Book of Genesis. After she bears Jacob his first son, she hopes that maybe now her husband will love her. He doesn’t. Later, she bears him a second and third son, thinking that surely now her husband will feel affection for her. He doesn’t. And he won’t.


The cycle played out like that for this Guatemalan girl, who sits beside me now in her cinderblock shanty. But in her case, the children at her feet represent at least four fathers. None of them is in the picture now.


What does this scene have to do with our senior portrait businesses? I came here with my camera hoping to convince girls in her situation of their true value. I want to dispel the lies this slum culture engrains into girls and boys alike: You’re worthless. Your body is just an object. You don’t deserve love.


Sound familiar? Aren’t these some of the same lies our high school seniors, especially girls, wrestle with daily? That very thought should give us pause. More than ever before, I realize I need to stop and ask myself some tough questions about the clients I serve. Sure, I’m helping overseas, but am I using my camera to dispel lies and stereotypes at home, in my own culture? Or am I, as a product of my culture, guilty of objectifying young girls through my lens?


I warned you, the questions are tough. But before we’re tempted to retreat, let’s at least consider a few practical ways we as senior photographers can begin to redefine “sexy.” After all, no matter your personal opinion, the issue isn’t going away. The results of careless dealings with young clients include loss of business reputation, a possible sexual harassment lawsuit, and—worse, in my opinion—harm to the young people we serve.


Here are four simple things you can do to both improve your business and protect your senior clients in this brave new world.


  1. Invite a Chaperone


In today’s world of helicopter parenting, I’m always surprised when a 16-year-old calls our studio to book her own shoot. Yet it’s happening more and more. In cases when it seems a parent or guardian isn’t part of the process, be sure to bring them onboard.


First, there is little doubt about who will be footing the bill for your services—and you can be darn sure it isn’t coming out of any teenage girl’s allowance. Those who hold the purse strings need to be invested emotionally in your product. Make a clear distinction between your subject and client. Of course you want to create a great experience for your senior subjects, who will become your direct marketers to their friends, your future subjects. But even if your brand becomes an object of intense desire among their friends, the buck stops with your actual client: Mom. What are you doing to earn her trust and enthusiasm?


The first thing you should do is make a personal phone call. Our contact form requires a phone number; so, even if I’ve responded already to an online inquiry, I call to make the human connection. Although I don’t find a preshoot consultation necessary for my senior sessions, I casually offer one at our studio anyway. The offer puts parents’ minds at ease, assuring them I’m a legitimate business and not some creeper working out of my car. It also plants a seed, setting the expectation that they eventually will visit the studio to make purchasing decisions.


Legally, I need a guardian’s signature for the minor child’s contract and model release if I ever hope to promote my work. But I also want a parent there during the shoot for other reasons. Having a third party there significantly reduces the risk of misinterpreted actions or allegations between you and your young subject. I love seeing how consistently moms pull out their phones during a shoot to post their experience online or to call a girlfriend and describe the scene.


“Oh, your girls would love this,” we overheard one mom raving into her phone. “They’ve got all the lights and everything. This is the real deal!” When she sees her son coming out of his shell, or her daughter dolled up and confident in front of our impressive-looking strobes, she begins to feel as proud as her child does. That’s the experience, and it sells even better than “sexy.” Just wait till Mom finally sees your impressive photos—she’s already sold on the emotions behind them.


  1. Watch Your Language


Once you have Mom or Dad on set, watch your mouth. I’m not referring to profanity (although you may want to hold your tongue there, too). What matters most is the tone and context of your conversation with a younger subject. Are you directing her respectfully?


I’ve stood aghast at the cringe-inducing lines from some photographers: “Oh yeah, just like that! You know what I like,” one photographer practically groaned as he posed his teenage subject during a conference. Even if you’re going for “sultry,” you’ll never “create the mood” that way. Sure, there’s a place among peers where off-color comments may be acceptable. I can safely compliment a bride’s form-fitting dress and direct her to “lean the goods toward camera” and jokingly say, “Yup, your husband is gonna love that one!” Intimacy makes sense in that context. But there’s a better way to communicate the same direction to seniors and younger models.


Spare the kids—and yourself—some embarrassment by using phrases that may be outside your usual repertoire. Instead of, “Show off those legs, honey!” why not try an equally complimentary (but less “fleshy”) “Perfect—yes, your leg there creates a really nice long line.” Now you’re speaking a professional jargon that maintains a comfortable distance between you and the subject.


As the photographer, verbally take yourself out of the equation. Instead of, “Look at me with those sexy eyes,” use “Look into the lens” and safer phrases like flirtatious eyes and intense stare. The right kind of physical compliments can make any subject feel more confident in front of the camera. But with seniors, I make a point to narrow my compliments to “gorgeous hair,” “bright eyes,” “smiles that light up a room,” or even “great bone structure”—never “fit bodies,” “great legs,” or “luscious lips.” In this simple way, you help a senior express strength rather than submission, and to feel attractive rather than dirty.


  1. Encourage Character


We’ve focused on how to approach a young person’s physicality with tact. There’s no denying the fact that, at the most superficial level, we are in the business of showing off physical beauty. But aren’t we as artists capable of showing something deeper?


I’m awestruck at how beautiful my own two daughters are growing up to be. They’re only three and five years old now (which probably makes me extra sensitive about the topic of protecting girls), but they already take after their gorgeous mother. Still, when I tell them, “I love you”—about 100 times a day—I make a point to encourage their character above their looks. I can’t resist telling them how pretty they look when they descend our stairs, batting their eyelashes, in yet another dress-up gown. But I spend more time on compliments like, “Your such a sweet girl” and, “Thank you for being a great big helper! You’re so thoughtful.” Aren’t these the messages we want our kids to absorb as they mature?


We have found ways to encourage character by offering educational “scholarships” as part of our senior program. We take the time to learn about our seniors’ interests through a simple questionnaire, and then incorporate those interests (not just their pretty faces) into their shoots. We take every opportunity to show sincere interest in their life ambitions. In our work, we have the rare opportunity to be adults who instill character into young people, because, sadly, many parents aren’t even doing that.


  1. Embrace Modesty


Embrace modesty for an immodestly successful business. Does the word modesty conjure visions of scowling parents and nuns? I can relate. Modesty doesn’t sound fun. But that just goes to show how limited our perception can be. We too often base our values on perception alone. It’s time to adopt thoughtful values that consider and protect others.


After all, what value is there in oversexualizing a high school photo shoot? Yes, the reasons for doing so are clear. It’s what many clients want. I was shocked when a photographer sought my advice in an unusual predicament: A mother wanted to book him to photograph her minor daughter’s boudoir session. (Yeah, you heard that right.) The mother was willing to sign her consent. My advice, or course, is to run as fast and far as possible from that situation.


There’s no denying it: Many of these kids have grown into some hot bodies. They’re suddenly subject to impulses they themselves don’t understand, and they haven’t had time to develop boundaries. Every other company out there is taking advantage of this fact, manipulating that teenage angst in every advertisement. Sex sells. And that’s where I draw the line.


The abuses that wreaked havoc on a young Guatemalan girl aren’t limited to third-world countries. Human trafficking and sexual abuse thrive right here under our noses in the U.S. and other developed nations. It all takes place against a media culture that relentlessly aims to hypersexualize youth.


I’m grateful for the many senior photographers I’ve seen promote their business as a force for good that’s aimed at building young people’s confidence and character. It’s a movement that deserves our combined efforts. Let’s create images that scream “class” and give seniors an experience that makes them a star instead of a commodity.


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Turning Your Seniors Into Couture Models with David Beckham

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016



Turning Your Seniors Into Couture Models with David Beckham


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


In 2008, I opened my studio full time and was doing every kind of photography I could get to make ends meet. At first, I thought it was unfortunate that I was located within 20 miles of two legends of senior photography and pioneers of the industry, Kent Smith and Larry Peters. I needed to find a way to separate myself from them and go after a specific client instead of “every” senior. My first thought was to go after them on price, offer the same things they do but do it for less money. Okay, that was a fail. And that was exactly what every other new photographer was doing.

I already knew I had the gifts I needed to create quality art. I just needed to get away from trying to compete, and trust that my work could stand for itself. My focus changed to becoming the Fashion Senior Photographer. Now I shoot only seniors and fashion/portfolio work. I have never been busier, and my clients come with a yearning to do something unique. As it turns out, being located near the giants of the industry was a blessing. They had already established an environment of spending more for quality photography. Now that my work has proven to be a desirable product, I am able to charge the prices that allow me to enjoy every minute of running my own business.

Let’s look at 11 ways to bring editorial and fashion photography into your clients’ senior portrait experience.

  1. Expressions
    Sure, smiles sell photographs and you will include those in their packages, but not smiling brings a whole different feel. Kat’s eyes open more and her lips are fuller, making for a captivating look. Fuzzy hoods always work, too!
  2. Stripes
    This year’s stripes theme has been fantastic and award-winning. I wanted bold and unforgettable looks. I wanted striking poses that expressed femininity without being too sexy. Jessie was perfect for this. Purchasing the socks and the hats as props for the models to wear is a minimal expense. And the models have a blast being a part of it. Stripes have exploded into multiple publications, and everyone’s asking for them, from seniors to models of all ages. This summer, I’ll be doing a show at a gallery in the Columbus, Ohio, arts district. Stripes have helped define my brand as artistic and fashion-oriented. Find something that works for you. It doesn’t have to be stripes, but do something totally different and put your work out there.
  3. Looking Away
    Fashion photography sells a product. Typically in ads, you don’t see the model’s face directly because they want you to focus on what she is wearing. In senior photography, no matter which direction your client is looking, the photo is about her. Looking away creates that fashion feel and generates some mystery in the story you are telling. Aubrey’s pose has her looking down and away. The wildflowers theme has been our most popular senior request, and the top-selling large print.
  4. Motion
    Make a few shots fun for them. In this shot, Kelsey is walking on air at a terrific downtown location. Her outfit is stylish and fun. The pose flatters her body, and her face was a blast to photograph. In this shot, I used an off-camera flash to capture the mood. Simple spins can get that flowy motion, and allow you to capture real laughter, too.
  5. Location, Location, Location
    For this graffiti shoot, I asked the models to wear combat boots and whatever else they wanted. Four different girls, four different looks. We went to a cool location that none of the other 100-plus photographers in Columbus know about. I get asked all the time where these locations are, and I respond on my posts, “It’s a secret.” When they ask me privately, I say the same thing. The Graffiti Session extra is a big draw for my clients. This is real graffiti, real art. The art changes all the time, and 95 percent of it contains zero vulgarity. You have to seek out locations like this and take advantage of those opportunities.
  6. Fashion Trends
    Using a fashion trend guarantees that you aren’t doing the same old thing. It could be one item like the combat boots above, or a style like boho or retro. In the last couple of years, kimonos, high-waisted shorts, and maxi dresses and skirts have been hot. This shoot included rompers. Having eight different girls wearing them in different ways opens up style ideas for future clients. The group shooting also generates a great sense of belonging, of being a part of something special. These kinds of opportunities can be a big draw for many high school clients and future senior models.
  7. Be Exotic
    Marissa is an incredible dancer and looks stunning in her stripes and high-waisted shorts. The socks over her pointe shoes added the exotic factor I was looking for, and she was all for trying something spectacular. We used vogue expressions and poses that show off her body. This style grabs your attention and is anything but the usual senior portraiture.
  8. Be Glamourous
    Sometimes I shoot for the sole purpose of creating. I let my MUA go crazy on Karissa and Maddi, whom we shot from a beauty perspective. The lighting and poses helped set the mood. The shoot flowed with countless, gorgeous images.
  9. Be Ambiguous
    Lauren had just purchased an adorable spring dress in her favorite color. But it was January and it had just snowed. So we added the sweater, looped the cute infinity scarf loosely around her neck, put on some above-the-knee boots that I found for $15 online, and we were set to shoot. The location has natural leading lines, and her pose is flirty, fun and perfect.
  10. Be Bold
    Who wears pants to a prom? Okay, maybe not to prom, but I have partnered with many boutiques and clothing stores. Sometimes we shoot in their shop and sometimes I take the clothes to a location or back to my studio. Morgan is sitting in the window of Be Social, a prom and pageant shop in Gahanna, Ohio. This shot has multiple fashion elements. Her expressionless face is looking away, a pose that is edgy and works only with a few body types and with a cool fashion. The shop has great window light. What the shadows conceal is just as relevant to the image as what you see.
  11. Light the Space
    Prom gowns are Be Social’s forte, and Aubrey rocks them. I brought two lights to the shop for this shoot. The lighting, pose and point of view are elements of fashion photography. And this senior loves it.
  12. Wear What’s Hot
    Blanket scarves are a thing in the Midwest this season. Kamryn wore hers with a T-shirt dress (also fresh), clunky heels and knee-high socks—which totally reflects her style.


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The Assistant’s Manual: Gearing Up for Senior Season with Alissa Zimmerman

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016



The Assistant’s Manual: Gearing Up for Senior Season with Alissa Zimmerman


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It’s that time of year again. The weather is starting to warm up (finally), the sun is starting to stay out a little longer each night and that pretty little lie known as the “slow season” for photographers is nothing but a distant memory as you scratch your head wondering how life went into overdrive over the months of December, January and February, leaving you with no time to actually experience this photographer’s fairytale.


Well, I’m here to break the news to you: It’s time to wake up and get out of hibernation. If you are reading this article, that means it is March. Which means you’re already late. Use this article as a foundation to put together a plan for the senior season ahead.


What is the first step in putting together an action plan for your business? For us at Salvatore Cincotta Photography, it’s taking a half day and doing a SWOT analysis for that part of the business to determine what we did right, what we did wrong and what new things we can implement into the experience to make things better. We typically do our SWOT analysis in December before the start of the new year so we can go in ready to take action.


  1. Strengths

What were your strengths from the year? These are the things you did right for your clients and for your business.

  1. Weaknesses

Interestingly enough, this is the part of the exercise that we spend the most time on. Our team is all wired in a very similar way. We focus the majority of our energy on the weaknesses and how we can make ourselves stronger in those areas versus dwelling on our strengths and how great we are.

  1. Opportunities

Invest plenty of time in this part. Do your research. What opportunities lie ahead for you and your business over the next year? How will you take advantage of those opportunities?

  1. Threats

Constantly stay on top of this. What is it that’s holding you and your business back from success?



The Client Experience


The client experience is everything for your brand. What is your client going to walk away with and remember most from the time spent with you and your business? We have worked really hard to fine-tune our experience, giving seniors in our market no excuse to go anywhere else. This experience isn’t just the day of the shoot. It starts from the moment the phone rings or email hits your inbox to the final follow-up call after they’ve received all of their product. Sometimes the experience goes on even past this, to that moment your senior becomes a bride and cannot even dream of having anyone else shoot her wedding because she had such an incredible time with you back in high school. The experience is everything.


  1. The initial phone call or email is your moment to shine and sell yourself and the experience you will be able to provide that no one else can. You want to be bubbly and relatable, and communicate everything very clearly so there is no confusion later down the road. Sal taught me a trick when I first started working for Team Cincotta: If you actually smile while you’re on the phone with someone, your voice will sound much more kind.
  2. After the session is booked, use this time to be the trusted adviser. In most cases, you’ll be working with the senior’s mom, who may or may not have ever been through this process with another child. It’s okay to overcommunicate. Your clients are going to want to know what to wear, where to shoot, how to do their hair and makeup, etc. We send inspiration boards with predesigned outfits to our seniors before the shoot as well as recommendations for local hair and makeup artists, and explain to them how much more they will love their pictures if they have a professional making them look their absolute best.
  3. Before the shoot starts, have your client bring in around 10 of their favorite outfits. Sal and I walk through all of the outfits together (in front of the client, usually while she is wrapping up hair and makeup at our studio) so they can watch our thought process and see how we mix and match their clothes, shoes and jewelry and end up with outfits they never would have put together on their own.
  4. On the shoot, it’s so important to just be yourself and have fun. As an assistant, I take time in the beginning to find some common ground with our senior so he/she can open up and talk a little bit about something other than the fact they’re going to have a camera in their face for the next two hours or so. As with any other shoot, make sure your client is relaxed, confident and having a good time. That’s all that matters. Call your senior out if her expression or pose is too stiff, and build trust from the beginning so she is comfortable enough with you to tell you when she feels awkward at any time.
  5. Bring your client in for the preview session. This is your chance to wow them. We run our senior previews the same way we do a wedding preview: Clients walk into our preview room with their Signature edit up on the TV to get them excited for the rest of the pictures. We show a quick Photodex ProShow Web slideshow of our favorite images, then get to the selection process. Set the tone for the slideshow with upbeat and fun music. Stay away from anything slow or depressing. You want to evoke happy emotions during this step of the process.
  6. You’re not done after the sale. Presentation is key in delivering a product to a client who has just spent a lot of money with your studio. Can you imagine going into Louis Vuitton and spending way too much money on a purse to have it just sloppily handed over to you? Of course not. Take the time to invest in good-quality packaging. Brand the heck out of everything you do, as well. We brand our bags and thank-you notes, and have metal tags with our logo cut out that goes on the outside of the wrapped boxes with ribbon slid through it.
  7. After clients receive their products, follow up. This is the time to get real-life feedback on what you did right, what you did wrong and how you can improve with each client moving forward. Take advantage of this, but, most importantly, listen to your clients’ needs and adapt to make your business better and better every day.



Now that you know how we’ve built our success over the years, carve out a day and put your own plan of attack together. Reflect back on the experience you’re providing for your clients to make sure you’re sticking true to what your brand is all about. Be the brand you want to be, and don’t let anyone or anything come in the way of achieving success.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the March issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Glam It Up with Blair Phillips

Friday, January 1st, 2016


Glam It Up with Blair Phillips


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


The general population may not agree on many things these days, but most of us agree that vanity sells. People are generally concerned with their appearance, especially when they’re having their picture made. Most of our subjects spend a lot of time selecting just the right wardrobe and accessories for their photo session. It is a real letdown when your client has the most perfect outfit, she is nailing her poses, but her hair and makeup just don’t make the cut. I have had this happen several times, so I decided to do something about it. We decided to make professional hair and makeup a step in our session flow. It’s opened up many avenues for us.


The first step in adding hair and makeup services is to find the right professionals. You may go through several before you find the right fit for you and your clients. We began by asking our followers for recommendations. We sifted through all of them and set up some test shoots. This allowed us to see their work, and also to see how they interacted with our clients.


We went through four people to find the exact fit. Discuss pay and pricing before they ever step foot in the building. Ask them to bring examples of their work. Tell them before the test shoot exactly the look and style you’re after. Take a look at all of their equipment and inventory while they are there.


Once you have the professional hair and makeup artist in place, you need to structure your pricing. We base our sessions around two simple options. Clients may choose one look or two looks. Most clients select two looks because of the way we structured the pricing. The first look takes their normal everyday beauty and simply enhances their makeup. Our goal is to never make someone look so different that they don’t like the look. We call it “photo ready” makeup. Not too much, not too little, but just right. We save the second look for the last 25 percent of the session. This is where we go a little more on the drastic side. We try to create a feeling for them that resembles a near out-of-body experience. This is where communication between your client and the stylist must be on the same page. Two looks allows you the opportunity to increase your sales by adding much more variety.


We built an entire summer full of high school seniors with hair and makeup. The key was to get a few girls in for some before-and-after photos. Not many of my seniors love the way they look with no makeup. We wanted to make a drastic difference in the before-and-after images. Once the three test shoots were done, we began hammering social media with the before-and-afters. This allowed the masses to see the drastic difference.


These images actually kick-started our high school senior rep program. The proof was in the images. We asked those three girls to share their experiences and images with all their friends. There were several incentives for the reps to refer their friends. This is what made us decide to include hair and makeup for our senior session pricing. Having clients who go the extra mile to make themselves look their best brings me added confidence while shooting. All of the images we posted during this time showed only clients who had their hair and makeup professionally done. This made it appear that there wasn’t an option to be photographed without professional hair and makeup.


If you are looking to create buzz on your social media pages, you need to be bold. From time to time, we have our hair and makeup professional go a little overboard with a couple of test shoots. These shoots are solely for the purpose of getting people’s attention. We go for a really exotic look that most people would never consider for themselves. Search for fantasy-styled hair and makeup online for examples. It is really like playing dress-up. We create these over-the-top images with the sole purpose of getting our name in other people’s mouths. Shooting something drastic and outside your norm opens other avenues for your business. People see your diversity, and it paves a road that can lead to another level of clients.


High school seniors are generally a little nervous before their session. Imagine how nervous they can be wondering how their hair and makeup are going to turn out being done by a complete stranger.


Once I book a senior, I put her and the stylist in touch with one another. They get to know one another starting with a phone conversation. The stylist is trained to say key things that make seniors comfortable and confident. The artist asks them to search the Internet for examples that best suit their style and desired look. This gives the artist some much-needed direction to ensure everyone is on the same page. There is nothing worse than giving someone complete freedom with no direction. I ask that the stylist first speak with the parent to ensure confidence and explain the nature of the call. It is very important to ask for a little direction from parents since they are the ones spending the money. Putting these phone calls together before a session makes for a much less awkward and uncomfortable environment.


Great hair and makeup should not have to stand alone. They should be complemented with the right outfits and accessories. If your senior clients are showing up to their sessions with clothing that is uninspiring, it is generally your own fault. It is a complete lack of communication on your part. After getting to know their personality, send them a style guide. This could be as simple as searching online for trendy outfits and sending them in an email. You could go the extra mile and put together a professionally designed and branded style guide from your studio.


When you make suggestions for what to bring to ensure great pictures, people will listen to you. You want customers to have freedom, but with limitations. Whatever you do, don’t forget to ask Mom to bring her favorite outfit for her senior as well. Keeping Mom in your back pocket is a must for generating a great sale. Tell your clients to bring way more than they will ever need. Don’t forget accessories like hats, scarves, necklaces and sunglasses. The more the merrier.


Offering hair and makeup has worked really well for our maternity sessions. When women are expecting, most don’t feel they look their best. Mother Nature is sometimes tough on our bodies. Nothing increases a pregnant woman’s confidence like having her hair and makeup professionally done.


This is also highly effective during a family session. Again, make sure to compliment Mom a few times during the session. I generally step in before every shot to adjust hair for a subject. Even if it is perfect, I adjust the hair right back into the place it was. My clients are put at ease when they see that I really care.


Help your clients go the extra mile by putting some of these practices in place. People will automatically share with friends and family all of the details they encountered as a result of your added work. In years past, all you had to do was have a studio and take a decent picture. With each passing day, photographers are going to have to do more and more to ensure stability in today’s marketplace. Hair and makeup may be the missing link for you.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

5 Things to know about senior photography

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015


It’s that time of year and it’s time for high-school seniors. Ignoring this market can be brutal to your summer months. All around the world, teenagers want to be cool. They want to look at feel like the celebrities, models, and athletes they look up to. Stop convincing yourself that senior photography doesn’t exist in your market. It does! I promise you. Now, whether you can capitalize on it or not, that’s an entirely different story.

Here are some things to consider when working with the class of 2016.

Experience – its all about the experience with the kids. Think about it, they can go anywhere they want to. They are choosing to spend their time and money with you. Give them the experience of a lifetime and they will talk about it to everyone they know! Give them a bad experience and watch your referral network dry up overnight. It’s all about the experience. Thing is, it’s not that difficult to give your clients an amazing experience. Just care, never take them for granted, and always give them something to talk about.

Switch it up – here is a little insight for you. Teenagers don’t want to look like every other teenager that has come through your studio for the last 5 years. Update your posing, lighting, backdrops, jokes, and whatever else you are doing to make images. Kids want something fresh. They want to be unique and create something the screams individuality.

Think about the parents – the parents are the ones with the money. Don’t ever forget that. So, while you are off having a blast and taking all these awesome shots, remember one thing, mom wants a gorgeous portrait for their daughter. They want to see their faces and their eyes. This is the perfect shot for parents to put on their walls, office desk, and wallet. Trust me, this is what sells. Everything else is just diversity.

Dial down the sexy – hey, captain. These are high-school seniors, most of them 16-17 at the time of their photo-shoot. They are not porn stars or modeling for GQ. Dial down the sexy. You know what dads don’t want? To see their daughter looking like she is 25 years old. I get it, you get excited and you have a gorgeous teen in front of your camera and want to do some cool stuff, but common sense has to prevail. Thing about sales. Think about what grandma wants. If you are a guy – this sets off all the bells and alarms down at Creeper HQ. Do you really want to be that guy?  Just find the balance between edgy and sexy and you will be good to go.

Get social – stop resisting it and start realizing that your clients are becoming increasingly tech savvy and tech demanding. We are dealing with the “instant generation”. This is a generation that will text each other while sitting next to each other in a car. Yeah. That’s our client. So, we have to adapt. Kids today are socially engaged. Tool of choice – Snapchat and Instagram. Do you even know what Snapchat is? I am telling you, you have to adapt your strategy. Teens today are your future brides and future parents with kids – what will they expect from you? How will you respond to their needs?

I hope this has helped you think about the senior shooting season that is about to be thrust upon us. Whatever you do, get out there and try something new and different. The teens will not only appreciate it, but they might actually think you are one of the cool kids.

Want to take your senior photography to the next level? Check out our senior course on the School of Photography – hands on, interactive learning.



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