Viewing Senior Photography

8 Simple Lighting Tips for Dynamic Senior Portraits

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


8 Simple Lighting Tips for Dynamic Senior Portraits with Michael Anthony


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It’s no secret that high school senior photography has changed over the last five to seven years. As with all genres of photography, our style of shooting must always adapt to the trends. Our studio has grown in the wedding market, but this year I set out to grow a new line of business for us: senior portraits.


Running a senior portrait session is a big departure from how we typically run a wedding shoot, but the lighting principles are the same. Our approach is very similar to how we photograph brides. The big difference here is that during a wedding day, we are photographing primarily for our clients; during a senior session, we are photographing both for the senior and her parents.


The thing about a senior session I love (as opposed to a wedding day) is that we have as much time as we need to create the perfect shot. I knew that I did not want to photograph the same boring portrait sessions that I see all over my Facebook feed. Instead, I wanted our senior portraits to have the same edge and fashion flare that helps us stand out among the hordes of photographers our clients can choose from.


Now, our style focuses on our use of light, and how we use it to shape and post our subjects. Light determines the outcome of our shoot. We have seen examples in our studio how, when a shoot departs from our house style, we end up with unhappy clients, even if the shoot would be considered a success by other studios.


To impress your clients, you can use light as the anchor for any photograph. Here are our tips for creating dynamic senior portraits.


Use Profoto for Speed and Efficiency


This is not a sales pitch. Here’s why I love Profoto’s B1 and B2 systems more than any other lighting option.


When setting up a shot, nothing can kill the interaction you have with your client more than taking 35 test shots to dial in your lighting. One reason I love Profoto is that it is the only lighting company that offers a hybrid manual/TTL mode on strobes.


This is how it works. First, dial in your ambient exposure in camera. This should take all of five seconds. Next, zoom in close and fill the frame of your viewfinder with whatever you intend to light, typically the subject’s face. The entire frame needs to be filled.


Now, with your Air-TTL remote in ETTL mode, take a test shot. The air-remote will dial in the power automatically and accurately. Switch the remote over to manual mode without touching anything else, and you are done. The variances in the scene will not affect your flash, as is common with shooting in TTL. You need to have the latest firmware installed for this to work.


Always Be Aware of Light Direction


This applies when you are shooting natural light. If you pay attention to the direction of light and find a background in your scene that is darker in tonality than your subjects, you will instantly create an environment where your subject is the brightest part of the image. This rule can be broken; one rule that should never be broken is that your subject needs to be at least as bright as the brightest part of your image.


All natural light, even open shade, has a direction to it. Once you find that direction, you can use it to light the face of your subject, specifically the eyes. To determine the direction of light, put your hand in front of your face. Pay attention to the grooves between your fingers. As you turn your hand left and right, watch how the light changes.


Find the Right Light for Your Subjects


I have used directional light as one of the key elements of my style of photography, but directional light isn’t the best for every subject. Directional light, or light coming from the left or right of your subject, emphasizes texture. If you pose your subject correctly, you can use this to create a slimming or three-dimensional effect. With seniors come blemishes, so you may be better off using flat light or beauty light.


One of my favorite tools for getting the must-have headshot from every senior session is the Westcott Omega Reflector. The reflector, designed by Jerry Ghionis, features a hole cut in the center that allows you to shoot through. This creates incredible catchlights in your subject’s eyes and hides any imperfections in their skin. The design of the Omega was well thought out, the placement of the cutout carefully considered. Don’t try making one of these at home—in my experience, it won’t work.


A reflector is my best friend on a senior shoot. One of the most liberating things for me, coming from a wedding background, is that we are working with one subject. This allows much more flexibility in light placement. You will often see me directing my assistant all around to different sides of my subject to find the best placement.


Vary Your Modifiers


I love soft light. I use the Profoto or Westcott 3-foot softboxes on many of my shoots. With seniors, I use bare flash for dramatic portraits. The key in choosing a modifier that looks appropriate for any scene is to match the natural light. On an overcast day, the natural light is soft, so use a soft light modifier. When shooting in the California sun, you will find us using Profoto’s Zoom Reflector to match the hard light in the scene. This rule can be broken, but if you are in a pinch, it is a good one to follow to create natural-looking images.


Watch Your Light Spill


The first thing that screams amateur about off-camera flash is light spill. There is nothing worse than a beautiful image with bad light placement. Remember, your eyes are drawn to the brightest part of an image, and if you are lighting the floor in front of your subjects, it takes the eyes out of the scene. Grids offer the easiest way to control light spill. Profoto makes grid options for monolights, while Magmod owns the market for speedlight grids. Both high-quality tools are always in our bag.


Make Sure Your Color Is Accurate


If light spill is the best indicator of an amateur strobist, unbalanced color is its little brother. If you are shooting at sunset, the light temperature will be very warm. You need to use gels to match the color of your flash to the scene. As above, this rule can be broken, especially in the case of color shifting (see my article in the 2015 Lighting Edition of Shutter). Overall, though, it should be followed if you want to create natural-looking photos.


Balance in Lighting Is as Important as Location in Real Estate


Using the proper ratio of ambient light to flash is critical to creating images that look natural and not too “flashy.” Properly balanced flash looks like natural light and appeals to most eyes. Everyone’s aesthetics are different, and even if a client hires you because they love your style, to create sellable portraits, your images need to appeal to them. Natural images appeal to a broader spectrum of people than images that are more stylistic. Have you ever submitted images to sites like The Knot or WeddingWire and been turned down because the images didn’t fit their style? It happened to me a lot when I started in photography.


I could not figure out why we continued booking clients while every magazine was turning us down. This is because the magazines publish images that appeal to the broadest set of readers, rather than smaller groups that like our colorful style. Just this week, I was asked to resubmit images to a large publication with a more natural-looking style of post-processing. No thank you.


Go Big to Create Your Standout Image


This tip seems obvious. Unique images equal happy clients, large sales and more referrals and social media engagement. On every shoot, focus on creating one image that is portfolio-worthy. This means that everything needs to come together—light, pose, scene, clothes, expression. Once you have this shot, double- and triple-check it to make sure it’s perfect before continuing.


Our signature shots are done with a wide angle, 12mm or so. They are lit with two off-camera lights, and usually showcase the scenery. If we get great attire or incorporate something special to the senior, even better. Just remember, light is the anchor to your photo, and even if all the other elements come together, if your light sucks, the image will too.


Summing Up


Good light allows you maximum manipulation of your images in post-production, where the magic happens. We have Lightroom presets for every image that will become one of our signature shots, and they require perfect light to work. This helps us create a consistent product that we can deliver to every client, which has fueled our referrals to help us get this new line of business off the ground.


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.

Session Types for Seniors

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


Session Types for Seniors 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.


Before I opened my first studio, I was still coaching football and shooting out of my house, so most of my sessions were on location. That first year of shooting was all about trying to get better in hopes of making photography my living.


I remember like it was yesterday my first paying high school senior session. It was with one of the high school kids I was coaching. We had a great session, took lots and lots of images, and at the view session, his mom picked out 20 images.


I was not selling any products other than digital files on a disk. I would edit the images, burn them to a disk and head over to my client’s house to deliver the images and collect my cash. I was charging $45 for the session and a whopping $10 per image.


I had my disk in hand with the 20 images and was on my way to my client’s house. About halfway there, it hit me that I was charging $200, and felt certain there was no way they were going to pay it. So I took $50 off. Three years later when I shot their youngest son’s senior images, my clients dropped $1,900 on them.


I have had my studio open for seven years now, and, since day one, high school seniors have been a huge part of my book of business. In those seven years, seniors have changed quite a lot, but the way I shoot them, process them and structure what I sell them has changed even more. One of the great things about photography is there are a million ways to achieve results. This month, I talk about the five biggest changes in shooting styles and business philosophies I’ve experienced.


Inclusive Packages


Since I started shooting, I have gone through three types of session and package structures. The first type I tried was what I would call an all-inclusive. I had a number of set product packages, and the session was built into the package. The larger the package the client purchased, the longer the session time, product offerings and clothing changes. I had four options for my clients. The structure of the options was to drive business to the middle options. The smallest package was set to not be a good value at all. It was built to have less of a value for the time and product options you got when compared to the other options. The largest package offered the greatest value, and the largest price tag. The largest option was a very good value, but it was priced so high that not many clients would go that route. The smallest and largest packages were really just built to be bookends to the middle packages.


With the inclusive package, you are not defining the cost of the session or goods, so you have the ability to assign value to both. Inclusive sessions make it a very easy choice for the customer, as there are fewer choices for them to make.


But you are locked in to a degree. You do not have the latitude as with other session types. The biggest downside to offering inclusive packages is understanding the conversion values of products when a customer wants to do a substitution with the products or the shooting time—which, without fail, they always do. After a while of using the all-inclusive sessions, I was finding the downside: I was too locked into a system that did not give me the latitude to customize what I was offering and to make substitutions in the packages. So I decided to make a change.


Packages With Separate Session Fees


One of the things the all-inclusive clients always wanted to change, other than the products, were the session time and the clothes changes. So I decided to break the shooting times and the clothes changes out from the products. I still had product packages, but it was your choice as to how long you wanted to shoot and how many looks you wanted. I had four sessions you could buy. Each one moved up in coverage and clothes changes. Session 1 was an hour shoot on location or in the studio, and you got two clothes changes. Package 2 was a two-hour shoot, you could do half on location and half in the studio, and you got four clothes changes. Package 3 was a three-hour shoot in the studio and on location, and you got six clothes changes. Package 4 was a four-hour shoot with unlimited clothes changes.


I also added an à la carte menu. There were a couple reasons for adding it. One was to offer more products. I was very limited in products with the all-inclusive, and there were products I wanted to offer as options, but not include them in my sets since they were very specific items and not everyone would want them.


With separate session fees, I had a system that better fit my clients’ needs because I was not as rigid. The value was more definable as the session was broken out. Adding the à la carte portion gave my clients two options to choose from. They could choose one of our packages and call it a day, or they could add some products we did not offer in the packages they wanted.


I found that some of my issues from the all-inclusive carried over. One issue was the shooting time for the larger sessions. When you are shooting three and four hours, you wind up with a shitload of images. Because I was an in-person sales studio, I would show 200-plus images at the view and order session. This made for a two- to three-hour session. I also realized that I was overwhelming my clients. Instead of thinking they were able to buy 20 killer images, they left thinking they had to leave 180 images on the table that they loved.


The biggest negative with this system was the same negative I had with the all-inclusive. Even though I gave my clients à la carte options, they still wanted to do substitutions for the package products. It was at that point that I made my biggest switch.


Pick Whatever the Hell You Want—No Mess, No Fuss


After using the separate session fee system for a few years, I have moved to a completely à la carte system with one sitting fee. I don’t offer any packages. I made the change when I moved into my new studio. I wanted to reinvent the way I was doing a lot of things.


First, I decided I needed only one session. I have a shooting routine, and it is not a three- or four-hour shoot. Why sell something they don’t even want? I have no idea what I would do with a four-hour session. My sessions are about an hour and a half long, or two hours if we have to do studio stuff with the location shoot. We move really fast. The shoots are guerilla style these days. My seniors, especially the guy seniors, love the pace. We get in, we get out and we are off to the next place.


As far as clothes changes go, whereas in the past I had limited the number of outfits, today it is unlimited. I tell my clients to bring at least five clothes changes and more if they like, and we will shoot as many of them as we can in the time we have. Because I mostly sell books and albums, it makes no sense to limit the looks. I tell guys they can just change a T-shirt or shorts so they don’t freak out on the outfits. Girls can come up with five looks without blinking. Because of the fast pace, I’m able to get to five locations with five outfits in the new session time.


As far as products go, I have about everything under the sun. We offer paper prints, canvas, acrylics, metals, books, folios, albums, standouts and even the dreaded digital files. We have so many options, I felt it was much better to go to an à la carte system where clients could choose exactly what they want and spend as much or as little as they desire. And, finally, no substitutions.


While I can’t think of a lot of negatives with the system, one is getting past clients used to the new anti-package system. When people think of getting a package, they think big savings because they are buying in bulk, and à la carte carries the stigma of having to pay more.


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.

Underwater Portrait Photography for High School Seniors

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


Underwater Portrait Photography for High School Seniors 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.


Thriving photography businesses adapt to the changes in the market they specialize in. We wanted to do something different within our senior market that would create a lot of buzz and momentum for client referrals. After many hours of brainstorming and deliberation, DigiSmiles Splash Week was born.


Our idea was to shoot underwater with all our senior reps as well as any prebooked clients who were interested in participating. They would share their experiences with their peers heading into their senior year. We had never attempted a promotional shoot so far out of the box to attract new clients, so we set everyone’s expectation that they will have fun during the experience, but we weren’t sure how many quality images we would be able to deliver.


We felt strongly that being transparent with our clients was going to be appreciated. If we did succeed, it would be a massive boost for our business. We thought that boost alone was worth the risk of failure. In a few short weeks, we researched all that we could to make DigiSmiles Splash Week a success. We are so excited to share with you all the tips we learned from our experience during 150-plus hours shooting under the surface. This includes session planning, the gear you’ll need, posing in an underwater environment, makeup, props, editing and several tips that you must know to maximize your underwater productivity.




The most important hurdle to overcome when hosting an underwater event is everyone’s safety. Delegate a responsible individual, an assistant or parent, to monitor the body of water like a lifeguard, ensuring that no one enters the water unauthorized. Additionally, if a model wears a costume in the water, it will weigh them down when saturated, and one or two assistants will need to be in the water to help the model return to the surface. Creative minds seeking out-of-the-box results may overlook the dangers of their craft and forget these life-saving details. Planning for these details will add to the value of the experience you are providing your clients.


Our first goal was to find a pool that would accommodate our creative scenery. Not all pools are the same. We wanted a pool that was not too blue or overly chlorinated. We learned that a “salt pool” would possibly be gentler on the eyes, allowing us to stay in the water longer without getting prune-like skin. We also wanted a private pool to avoid interruptions and distractions. Because we already planned for safety measures to maintain everyone’s safety, we did not want to deal with the rules or liabilities of public pools.


We don’t do anything minimalistic. So, we quickly realized all the supplies and props required would be more of an investment than we originally expected. At one point in the early planning stages, we actually called the whole thing off because of the initial budget requirements. After a few days of deliberation, we took a deep breath and decided the investment and risk were worth the potential payoff.


As with most on-location shoots, you will need to plan for whatever will make the experience exciting and memorable for your clients. There may be some downtime for your clients while they wait their turn to get in the water; providing poolside snacks, drinks, seating, extra towels and music are some important considerations you’ll want to address if their entire experience is going to be a positive one. Taking care of your models in this manner will add value to their overall experience, and they will promote your business to their friends because of how much fun they had throughout their session. But giving your clients a schedule of the session day is particularly important to keep progressing along your workflow and prevent prolonged downtime for your clients and yourself.




If you’re reading this, then you are already doing your homework to prepare yourself with the right equipment. Investing in the best underwater camera housing is highly recommended to keep peace of mind about the safety of your most valuable gear, your camera. By investing, we mean renting. With technology changing every year or two, owning this equipment was not the right fit for our business. We rented an Ikelite camera housing with underwater strobes. Ikelite’s website offers video tutorials and support articles. Our online research found too many reviews on several different sites about underwater camera bags that leaked; water-damaged equipment was simply not a risk we wanted to stress about.


We also recommend using a wide-angle lens. Shooting at short distances
underwater helps prevent distracting floating particles in your shot and allows the strobe lights to properly expose your subject and minimize the “bluing” that occurs when shooting distances over 10 feet through water. Don’t forget your GoPro or other action camera that can capture behind-the-scenes footage both above and below the surface. Even a flying drone camera can capture a unique view overhead of the fun experience out of the water.


Under the surface, we used a scuba diver’s weight belt to keep the shooter from floating uncontrollably out of the perfect shooting angle. If you want to change the background color of your underwater shot, simply hang a heavy nonreflective black fabric over the side of the pool and turn a baby blue wall into a deep, vast ocean black. Have several bricks or iron weights around to hold the fabric on the pool bottom and the edge above the water. Other items we recommend having on hand are safety pins, heavy-duty paper clasps (not paperclips) and fishing line to suspend props at different depths.




Consider your environment. Everything is different underwater. Think s–l–o-w.


Underwater movement can be a serious challenge. It can make your subject look as graceful as a mermaid or awkward as a newborn giraffe. Coach your models before getting in the water and again just before dipping below the surface. Models need to understand how to move underwater. We asked our models to spend several minutes submersing themselves while working on staying as calm and relaxed as possible, and to keep their eyes open as if they were in a normal environment.


Instruct your models to descend slightly deeper than your shooting depth; as they rise, their hair and loose-fitting wardrobe will flow downward and appear as if they’re in above-water gravity. If you shoot during descent, hair and loose-fitting wardrobes will awkwardly and chaotically be floating out of place. The model’s face should be leading the rest of the body’s directional movements to keep the flow of hair out of the face.


If a model is having difficulty looking relaxed underwater, take artistic shots where the model is not looking directly at the camera. To maintain a graceful, floating look, point the toes so that the feet don’t look like they are standing on flat ground. Releasing a small amount of breath during descent allows the model to stay under the surface without floating upward and keep air bubbles from escaping out of the nostrils, thus ruining a beautiful shot.


Each dive lasts, on average, 30 seconds or less, depending on your model’s ability to hold her breath without looking like it’s her last. That feels like eternity when beneath the surface, but you’ll easily click the shutter button 10 to 12 times per dive.


Seniors who are on a swim team are much more skilled at looking calm underwater, staying submerged for longer periods, and changing poses for multiple looks during each dive. Swimmers are also skilled at breathing techniques, keeping them well below the surface without the tendency to unintentionally float back up before getting into position.


Shooting up at the model floating underwater near the surface makes an excellent backdrop with varying textures and reflections. Splashing the surface adds a unique effect that may enhance the backdrop if it fits the look you’re going for. Don’t forget that shooting from several angles gives you more vantage points you may find creatively useful.




Waterproof makeup is a must. Highly pigmented oil- or wax-based makeup works best. Application should be heavier and a bit more dramatic to showcase a brighter, more impactful look underwater. We found several great options to choose from. Sephora’s Makeup For Ever aqua line was designed for the Parisian Underwater Ballet. MAC offers an aqua line that does not smudge. Maybelline Color Tattoo pods offer an inexpensive and effective way to build many colors at about $6 per color. These pods come in eyeliner, shadow and blush.




Don’t be alarmed when all your images have a blue or green colorcast from the pool water, walls, reflections, etc. Image editing workflow will primarily consist of correcting colorcast, popping color, sharpening and removing distracting objects (pool drain, filter box, tile edges, bubbles). Correcting colorcasts can be done using many methods. Adding more magenta and red using the curves tool is very effective. You might create composites in Photoshop to change the background environment to add your artistic skills to your underwater portfolio, inventing different underwater worlds to pose your clients in.


Other Tips


Water clarity variances significantly impact image quality. Consider whether it is more beneficial to have the pool filters running during the session, or only during breaks. Limit the occupants entering the pool, as more contaminants from sunscreen and other particles will cloud the water. A high-flow filtration system can create a subtle current that disrupts suspended props or backdrops.


Even a heavy downpour did not slow us down, but your available light does change significantly throughout the day as the sun treks across the sky. If you spend several hours in the water shooting as we did, you’ll notice changes in shadows, “tiger striping” on the surface and ambient light fluctuations from clouds or structures.


For us, an extension ladder and some plywood made convenient scaffolding across the pool to stand on and hang larger props from.


The experience is pure fun for seniors who get to play in the water while you get to make your own splash in your senior market.


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.

Creative Senior Portraits That Sell

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


Creative Senior Portraits That Sell 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.


The March edition of Shutter Magazine is all about seniors, one of my favorite subjects. It’s about the ability to create with a client who, for the most part, actually wants to be there, wants to be photographed and is willing to try new locations. Senior clients tend to be more trendy, a bit more made up and all about showcasing their own style. They appreciate cutting-edge products like metal and custom albums and books.


I have several favorite products for my senior clients. We sell a ton of canvas wall portraits. My goal is for their images to showcase their personality and style. Remember to show what you want to sell, because you will sell what you show.




Metal is sporty and edgy. These extreme sports images are a huge hit at our studio. The metal has a grungy appearance, enhancing the overall feel of the design.


Canvas is classic but modern. These are my favorite style of wall portraits. Because I photograph mostly outside, the canvas allows the texture and color of the locations to add to the overall look and feel of the portrait.


Framed shots are classic. I don’t include the glass with the frame. I prefer the image to shine through. We mount and luster-coat all our framed images for durability and quality.


Albums capture a variety of poses, expressions, outfits and backgrounds in one product.


Brag books are fun and small, showcasing a variety of images. Moms love these because they fit in their purse and display nicely on a desk at work, allowing them to show off many images in one creative design.


Announcements showcase a variety of images for graduation and other milestones. We sell these in 5×5 and 5×7. We suggest that extended family members can frame them if a client’s budget is limited.


Signature books are our version of the yearbook. They allow family and friends to answer fun questions about their favorite times together.




Another way to make a senior feel great is through posing. Be mindful of your posing. Think about portrait standards with the S-curve and the C-curve. Pose females on their back leg. Be mindful of body frame and curves. This curve slims the client. Other slimming methods are to pull the arms away from the body and “turtle-necking”—the neck helps slim the client, thus avoiding rolls underneath the chin. A C-curve is more masculine and used mostly with males. Females can pose with the C-curve, but males cannot pose with the S-curve, which is just too feminine.


Most photographers have issues with posing clients and their hands. I’m constantly asked what to do with them. I tell all my clients, both male and female, to put their thumbs in their pockets and keep their fingers relaxed. It’s always the standard pose for my clients unless the client is sitting. In this case, I have them rest their hands in their lap, usually crossed at the wrists. I ask males to appear causal and relaxed.


For expressions, I strive for a smile in the eyes, or a more serious look. I have conversations with my clients while photographing. The camera is my eye, ready to capture that interaction that comes only from responding to whatever it is I am saying in the moment.


Being a fast and intentional shooter also helps with my senior portraiture. These young adults often come into the studio nervous about how they will look in their photos. When I take photos with intention and show previews from the back of my camera, it lessens their anxiety and allows them to relax. Here is when personality comes out and real smiles are shown through pictures. Making your seniors feel beautiful and special makes them look good, but also makes you look professional.




The following locations each offer a different vibe and style.


Urban alleyways, stairs and brick walls offer an edgy style. We utilize the natural environment around our studio. One of our alleys is even labeled “Anderson Alley” because of how much we frequent it. The great thing about our location is that we have a variety of alleys, each with different colors and shades of bricks and natural textures, giving seniors options and us a choice when matching clothes to backgrounds.


A field, park, weedy backlot, lake or ivy-filled area offers a boho and carefree approach to senior photos. Female fashion trends all go for this look, so these environments are very hot now with our senior models. We accompany these photos with sun rays or bokeh to enhance the beautiful light.




Outfits are important. We tell our seniors to pack their whole wardrobe. Girls bring suitcases and guys bring backpacks. We match outfits to personality, background and even emotional attachment. These are photos they will have for the rest of their lives, so the outfit they are wearing can make or break a photo. We tell our seniors to bring solids, casual outfits and a few dressier options. This allows me and my staff to choose from a variety of outfits for any situation.



Action Plans


  • Create an extreme sports metal piece as a “sample” to begin showcasing this style.
  • Be intentional with your posing.
  • Try new locations.


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.

Alternative Marketing & Branding for High School Seniors

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


Alternative Marketing & Branding for High School Seniors 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.


Alternative Marketing and Branding for High School Senior Photography – David Beckham

Branding: The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product or business from other products or businesses in the same market.

Branding requires investing in someone to help you create and design a logo and then tie that logo into all of your packaging and marketing, with perfect colors and text fonts, ribbons and bows and fun little things that identify you. Is silver blue glitter and AvantGard BK BT text how you really want people to identify you? Yes, you should have some consistency in all of those things, but let’s examine what is most important. We’re going to look at big-picture branding and how to use it in marketing to seniors and their parents.

First, you need to decide how you want others to identify you. Think about that for a minute. What is it for you? Fun experience? Beautiful art? Traditional and timeless? Or is it “I don’t know yet. It changes all the time”? Once you decide what it is, you need to make a plan to ensure you achieve and complete your brand.

Recently I stopped branding my social media posts of my senior models with my watermark. I soon received many text messages and comments like, “I knew that was your work before I saw who posted it.” Ah, success. For me, the most important aspect of my brand is top-quality photography with natural, clean edits. It’s posing that flatters the subject with fashionable, cutting-edge style. I want people to say, “Beautiful” and, “That has to be Beckham” when they see my photos on Instagram or Twitter. There are some other things I want them to say about me, too—that he is involved in the community, genuine in character and his work is the best.

Quality Photography – Because you are reading this and attending events like ShutterFest 2017, you are already on the right path to improving and defining your art. I teach and speak nearly 10 times a year, but I also attend classes to improve my craft. The second you think you are good enough, slap yourself and seek someone better than you for help. Quality photography is an ongoing process.

Fashionable, Cutting-Edge Style – A couple of years ago, I stopped at a magazine rack because I’d seen an article about the new homecoming fashions. (I opened it and glanced around me to see another man my age with a College Football Preview and another guy with a hunting magazine.) You need to stay on top of it. If you are thinking about doing flower crowns and parachute skirts, you have already missed the chance to be cutting edge. I use my senior models all the time to get new ideas. Follow local and national fashion photographers, and see where they are going. Better yet, get on Instagram and see which photographers your senior models are following, liking and commenting on. You will be surprised and may be inspired.

Natural, Clean Edits – My goal with editing has been that the photo in the camera is so close to what I want the finished image to look like that I can pay a high school photography student to do my edits. I strive for the five-minute edit. That means a complete understanding of lighting and my equipment. It also means attention to the details of the pose and surroundings so that I never have to fix it in Photoshop.

Unique Locations – My top four locations this past year were wildflowers, waterfall, country and urban. Find places. Get permission. Be unique.

Beautiful – You can bring out the beautiful in everyone by understanding body language and posing, by knowing your clients and by knowing what outfits work best on different body types.

Be Involved, Be Genuine – My senior model program gives back. I talk about that later in this article. You need to be yourself with young people. They can see through fake faster than our new president claims he can.

Be the Best – I started competing in contests like SSG Hot 100 and PPA print competitions a couple of years ago. There is no better way to get better than by putting yourself out there, even if it means getting torn down. In the process, you build yourself back up again. You can’t count on your friends and parents of the seniors you photograph for unbiased, growth-promoting feedback. It can be a punch in the stomach when you see work that is better than yours and hear why yours isn’t that good. But realizing the flaws and correcting them will make you a better shooter. Hearing your peers say that you have created something extraordinary is the ultimate compliment. There will be nothing more rewarding for your senior models than to be published in a national magazine or to win a national contest. The buzz that comes back to you on social media is immeasurable.

Marketing: A form of communication between you and your customers with the goal of selling your product or service to them.

Now, how do you market this brand you’ve created? Google is still the number-one way to be discovered. That means getting to the front page of Google is still the ultimate goal. There are many elements that go into the formula to make that happen. The largest is getting people to your site. So, simply put, every item of marketing needs to get people to your website to increase your chances of being on the first page. The old Rod Stewart and the Faces song “Every Picture Tells a Story” is my mantra (EPTAS). I let my work do most of the talking on social media.

Website – There are many easy-to-use webhosting services that can make your website look professional. For me, it’s Squarespace. When you go to my website,, you see photos. When you click on a photo, it takes you to even more photos—EPTAS. No slideshows, no music, just what I believe is my best recent work, in an easy-to-navigate format. The site gets updated often since active sites get more attention in search engines.

Video – Every year, I make a promo video. I hire an excellent video guy who guides me through its creation. My latest one was made to look like a music video with Jessie singing a cover of “Photograph” by Ed Sheeran. She sings. I do a voice-over that is a conversation with the potential client about all of the elements I am building into my brand. The video has lots of excellent drone footage, great locations, beautiful imagery and fashions, but the hook is in the last 60 seconds. That’s the part that makes Mom get teary eyed and realize I am the right person to capture her daughter’s senior portraits. The last thing you see is the images that we shot while creating the video—EPTAS. The video is the first panel you see on my website, and my YouTube channel links back to my webpage. Here is the direct link:

Direct Mail – Yes, direct mail. Would you spend $1 to make $4.31? Of course you would. How about $5,100 to make $22,000? That’s a tough call there. I have a 16-page 8.5×11-inch, full-color magazine that is packed full of photos—EPTAS. The mag, of course, has a link to my website, and I also dedicate a page of it to the video that’s released the same week. Not only does the mailer attract new clients, but it builds my brand as beautiful high-quality photography, cutting-edge fashion, natural, clean edits, unique locations and being the best. I ask every client how they found me. Fourteen of them listed my mailer as the only reason, and another 20-plus listed it as one of the reasons. I will gladly drop $5.1K to reach 4.7K potential clients to get that kind of return. I’m not ready to spend that on a web designer or someone else to create my brand.

Apps – I use MyPhotoApp. It has a call button and a link to my website right on it, and the apps are so easy to share. There are others, too, like Sticky Albums and ShootProof.

Social Media – Build a presence on all social media. Reach the parents on Facebook. Reach the youth on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest. There are so many things written about when and what to post; you don’t need this article for that. But for me, 95 percent of the time, I post my best work—EPTAS. Each social media profile has a link back to my website. And since Squarespace makes it so easy to update, I often add a page there with multiple photos of the shoot I just posted about on Instagram. Then I mention, “For more photos from this shoot, see my website! The link is in my bio.”

The Best Friend Shoot – I offer my senior models an opportunity to bring their best friends in for a session while they are still sophomores and juniors. This allows the friends to see how fun it is to be photographed at David Beckham Photography before they’ve chosen a photographer. I photograph them as a group and one-on-one with each friend. I take one photo of the friends individually and edit it the way I would if they were my client. The photo is watermarked and resized and I gift it to them. I make a separate page for “Sydney’s Best Friend Shoot” on my website. I post a photo on Instagram and tweet another, and tell them there are more photos on my page.

Sports and Groups – This is an excellent way to meet new clients. When I shoot sports posters, I follow my same guidelines of clean edits and not a lot of Photoshop magic. What I do differently is take some fun shots of the athletes with their teammates. I capture the shoot on Snap Story and send out one or two photos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. In these posts, I direct them to my website for more great photos from the event. A couple of years ago, I started taking headshots for the musicals at two high schools. This has been huge. I print 8x12s at no charge. They offer me a full-page ad in their programs. I get to meet all of these great young people, and actually hand-pick the best of the best to be my senior models when they are still freshmen and sophomores. So, many of the actors become senior clients as well.

Senior Model Program – I wrote about my program in my last article. I use photos of my models for most of my social media posts since they get digitals as part of their package anyway. One of the big draws of my program is that we are very active with promotional shoots and social service projects. We raised over $10,000 last year to purchase food for the homeless. I took groups of models to shelters 13 times, and we purchased, prepared and served over 2,800 meals. We raised so much last year that we were also able to donate pots and pans and other equipment to soup kitchens. I don’t overpost about these activities. I want the people who donate to know we are using their money correctly, but more importantly, I want to show that giving back isn’t about accolades. You can read all about my program at

All of these marketing practices will help get you to the front page of Google without blogging or paying Google for an advertised spot.


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.

Diversity in Your Business

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


Diversity in Your Business with Skip Cohen


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With this month’s theme being “Seniors,” it’s the perfect opportunity to talk about diversity in building your business. Seniors can be an incredibly strong revenue component, and they can push your creativity.


Photographing a high school senior is all about personality. While the yearbook might require a standard pose and Mom wants a more traditional portrait of her little angel, the market is all about defining the subject. From their hobbies, friends, sports, music and special interests, you’ve got an opportunity with every senior to capture so much more than a well-exposed headshot.


There are plenty of writers and educators on this issue to help you work with seniors and get great images. I want to talk about it as a building block in your business.


Let’s start with my regular reminder of why people hire professional photographers. The top three reasons are brides, babies and pets. This data comes out of a Kodak survey from over 20 years ago, but I don’t believe it’s changed.


Here’s what I think today’s list looks like. Beyond the top three are children, family, seniors, business and boudoir. This month’s theme is in the top eight reasons for people to hire a professional photographer.


A lot of photographers and educators believe you need to be a specialist in just one category. I don’t totally disagree, but there are some incredible opportunities you leave behind if you take that approach. Every photography business owner needs a few secondary specialties that logically connect to your core business.


Let’s talk about a specialty in wedding photography to start. To be a great wedding photographer takes a unique personality and a comfort level in knowing you have minimal control—over your subjects, the environment and the clock. You’ve got no opportunity for a second chance with most of the images you capture. You either get the shot or miss it, and another magical moment is coming up almost as fast as you can click the shutter.


But that’s only part of the challenge. You’ve got to know how to tell the story. A wedding photographer needs to have excellent editing skills and be an outstanding storyteller. The wedding album isn’t just a book of photographs, but the first heirloom of a new family.


And there’s the keyword: family. The average age of a bride in the United States is 25.3 and the average age of a woman when she has her first child has risen to 26.3. Statistics on the average age of a bride are all over the place, so the data may be a few years old, but it doesn’t matter.


Think about your experiences with friends and relatives. It’s likely that within two to three years after marriage, there are some new members of the family being born. That means the status of your bride and groom is going to change, and new photographic needs are on the horizon.


Families mean babies and children. Families often mean pets. Babies grow up to be children and seniors. During the process of the family growing up, Mom and Dad might have a business, and their photographic needs expand beyond the immediate family. There are needs for updated headshots, along with publicity for events, real estate and even insurance photographs. And somewhere in the process, they may want a boudoir shoot.


I look at the cycle starting with the wedding, but wherever your skill set fits, you can diversify and expand into other specialties. If you did a great job on the wedding, why not be there for the photographic needs of the family as it grows?


Let’s go back to seniors. What I love most about the senior market is the potential for you as the artist to be creative. Every senior is a blank canvas waiting to express herself and share who she is.


Great senior photographers are relationship builders. They don’t just come in, grab the headshot and move on. There’s an opportunity to bring out the very best expressions with each subject, but only if you focus on building the relationship.


As I’ve written before, great senior portraits are about the photographer’s ability to listen. It’s about building trust and then capturing images that showcase the personality of the senior.


Senior and school photography are not easy to get into. There are contracts for underclass photography that can go back years in a community. It’s a tough market.


But senior photography has changed so much over the last decade. It’s more like lifestyle photography when you look at the finished results. A senior photographer isn’t limited to just a headshot. Because it’s a younger audience, you can get creative with a high-impact slideshow with contemporary music, and even hybrid slide shows with video.


Breaking into the market takes time. A good starting point is to get a few seniors in front of your camera. These first subjects are going to be your ambassadors and help get the word out, but your work has got to be the best, and sittings need to be fun. This is where your relationship skills come into play.


Look at what everybody else in your community is doing, and then do something different. Great slideshows play a role, especially if you’re capturing the personality of the senior, their interests and the fun of the session.


Put together the story the same way you’d do a slideshow of a wedding. Include still images and short video clips all put together with great music. Remember, each presentation you put together is also a marketing piece.


Think about offering a day-in-the-life shoot as part of your package. Day-in-the-life shoots capture the story so much better than just a few images. It doesn’t have to be an entire day—just four hours, during which you capture images that tell the story of who they are, their friends, interests, family and hobbies.


The images, when put together in a small album, will give you something different to share as a finished product/service. This is storytelling at its very best, and who better to tell the story than you as an artist?


And that brings me full circle. Seniors become adults, and another cycle starts. They get married, start families, build careers. There are logical connections for every photographer in the portrait/social world to step into the cycle wherever it makes sense—as long as your skill set matches the needs of each specialty.


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.

High School Senior Photography for Boys

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


High School Senior Photography for Boys with Phillip Blume


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One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting on my mom’s lap listening as she sang “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” to an audience of one. The audience was me, her biggest (or, more accurately, chubbiest) two-year-old fan. The 1984 Footloose hit lives on today as an anthem for momma’s boys everywhere. And I was most definitely a momma’s boy.


My family never had much disposable income, so my sisters and I had few professional portraits made over the years. Sure, a school photographer shot our annual portraits, but even those fell outside the rigid family budget. This year, my mom actually tracked down the daughter of our old school photographer, and, fifteen years after I graduated, finally placed her order for my senior portraits.


There was nothing flashy about my senior portraits—well, perhaps the borrowed tuxedo top I wore over plaid shorts against a blue backdrop. (The image, of course, was cropped above the shorts.) Yet my mom remembered and coveted those portraits throughout my life. Fifteen years and 14 grandchildren later, she still cares and finally owns them. And I’m still her momma’s boy.


Are you fully tapping your senior market by attracting boys? They and their mothers value the product you offer. Or do you, like most photographers, notice a huge surplus of female subjects? Come on already. Let’s hear it for the boys.


Here’s my list of strategies to help you appeal to more male senior clients. If I have the ratio right, adding boys to your bookings may nearly double your senior business.


  1. Direct mail


For most of our clients, direct mail is not a good marketing option. Blume Photography specializes in weddings and newborns. For all his snooping around, the postman still can’t predict wedding dates or due dates. But for seniors, it’s a different story. There’s a lot of information available about household makeup, and through direct mail you can target households that have kids in school within a particular district. How powerful is that?


There’s a huge benefit in marketing to boys this way. Even though you can’t know the gender of kids within a household you market to, I guarantee you boys are more likely to respond to your mailer than they are to the marketing pieces they see at school. Why? Peer pressure.


Even if your marketing pieces look fantastic, no kid will dare pick one up if it isn’t “cool.” And it ain’t “cool” for boys. First, their friends are mocking them for even entertaining the idea of a photo shoot. Believe me, kids in high school are even more aware of the female trend in senior photography than you are. Senior portraits are “for girls.” But if you can reach a good momma’s boy at home, he (and his mom) can unabashedly view and consider your call to action: Book now.


Search the Internet for easy direct-mail services offered by companies like infoUSA or even USPS. They’ll help you get started. Then make sure your marketing photos feature a male subject, even if the picture is secondary to one for your target female audience.


  1. Stylized portraits


When I was studying photojournalism in college, we called these “conceptual portraits.” As photojournalists, we steered clear of Photoshop. There was no tolerance for modified images; they had to be 100 percent “real.” But once in a while we got the chance to work on conceptual portraits, imaginative photo graphics to illustrate ideas. What fun. My favorite was a portrait I created of a local coffee roaster, whom I Photoshopped buried under a mountain of coffee beans.


Stylized portraits may not represent your typical brand or personal style, but it’s always fun to branch out a little. Fewer guys than girls are interested in a “vanity” shoot, to look cute or improve their self-image. But a lot of guys are obsessed with the sports they play, the bands they’re in, the cars they drive.


Make a presession questionnaire part of your senior workflow, and find out what your subjects are into. It doesn’t have to be the main thrust of your shoot, but take some time to feature what’s important to them. If you typically don’t touch off-camera flash during your bright, airy senior sessions, take the leap and start creating a few edgier high-contrast shots on the football field in front of those Friday night lights.


Remember, boys aren’t the only ones obsessed with sports, music and cars. You’ll probably start to see demand for this type of session from a whole new segment of the high school girl population you didn’t even know existed.


  1. Business partnerships


The most direct inroad to reaching a new client is often the most obvious. Don’t miss what’s right under your nose. What physical businesses do your target clients already visit? How can you reach those clients in those places by offering value to that business? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask before building a marketing strategy for any service you provide.


In reaching high schoolers before their senior year, we realized kids that age all go to the orthodontist. So we created a business relationship with an orthodontist that makes the doctor look good to his clients and adds value to his practice. We create high-quality gift certificates through the terrific Simply Color Lab, which we then gift to the orthodontist. He gives the certificates to his patients (well-qualified leads with disposable income) as a thank-you gift after removing their braces. And guess who receives that gift certificate directly? You got it: Mom, the holder of the purse strings and the lover of her baby boy.


As a result, we photograph as many, or more, boys than girls. It’s an introduction to our process, and we load their mommas up with information about Blume senior sessions while they’re here.


So what’s on our certificate? It doesn’t say, “Enjoy this free headshot from Blume Photography.” The certificate reads, “We invite you to enjoy this personalized session with award-winning Blume Photography Studios, compliments of Dr. X.” It’s from the doctor. This kind of marketing gives us the chance to talk ourselves up, but gives the good doctor all the credit while adding value to his services. What business would turn that down?


These are simple 10-minute headshot sessions at our studio. (Before we built our studio, we took headshots in front of a simple backdrop in our living room.) The sessions book up easily. We include a free 8×10, get additional sales via our amazing ShootProof online galleries, and tend to book a lot of senior and family sessions afterward.


  1. Male-focused products


Notice I didn’t say “masculine” products. I’d like to think I’m as tough as the next guy (or gal), but many of us can probably relate to not fitting the mold of “most masculine guy in high school.” I don’t think you need a completely different product line for the guys. But it does help to be aware of items that may appeal to guys more than girls.


The foundational products in our studio are senior coffee table books (from Graphi Studio and VisionArt Books) and gallery-wrapped canvases (from Simply Canvas). Favorite add-ons are personalized mobile apps (created easily right inside ShootProof) and graduation announcements (from WHCC).


Follow the trends in your sales. Boys seem more interested in leather book covers, whereas girls want photo covers. We offer both, but it helps to know when we’re creating a sample book for show.


Although boys seem to be less enthusiastic about sharing mobile apps with their faces plastered across them (you can view exactly how many downloads your apps get from ShootProof’s admin side), they do seem to order more graduation cards than our girls. During in-studio sales sessions, moms often force their girls to order announcements, while our boys more often seem excited about this product. I’ve wondered if the difference relates to the culture of sports card collecting and trading. When it comes to designing cards with a stylized portrait, they definitely take on that feel.


You can bet we’ll be experimenting with new print products (maybe something closer in size to a baseball card, maybe with stats on the back) for guys. How could this help you market to the whole sports team? Never stop thinking or innovating.


  1. Customize the experience


I never want any portrait subject of mine, boy or girl, to feel awkward. Even more than the finished images, I believe the way they feel about the experience in front of my camera is what matters most. That is what will sell your business: not just your portfolio, but the emotions clients carry away with them and talk about to their friends.


For girls, there are several go-to methods of creating an experience they won’t forget. Providing hair and makeup, for example, makes girls feel pampered and fulfills the expectations that magazines plant in them about what a professional photo shoot should be.


What about boys? What will make them go away talking about you? I tend to guide them into things I myself enjoy. We climb to out-of-the-way locations (whether it’s really necessary or not). I force fewer smiles and ask for more of those confident “James Dean” expressions. They aren’t wearing heels, so I get more active and shoot a faster shutter speed while they jump or run for action shots. If it suits their personality (do they go mudding or play football?), don’t even hesitate—make a bucket of mud and plan to get dirty for the last shot of the day.


Finally, don’t forget to create at least one good portrait of Momma and her boy (preferably before the mud starts flying). She’ll refuse, but remind her it’s a rare opportunity, and no one is going to force her to use it if she doesn’t like how it turns out. That alone can guarantee an extra sale for you, and an extra-meaningful image they’ll both cherish all their lives.


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.

Building a Successful Senior Model Program

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


Building a Successful Senior Model Program with Curtiss Bryant

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The biggest obstacle we face as senior photographers is keeping ourselves in front of our target audience, the seniors. There are so many photographers out there vying for the same business that we can get lost in the masses. We can create amazing images and provide an amazing service, but sometimes that is not enough. In a digital world, the seniors are bombarded with hundreds of images a day, so they are becoming immune to good photography.


To them, it is just another image. We need to do more than take pretty pictures to stand out. Enter senior model programs.


Senior model programs have been around for ages. The old paradigm of doing free shoots and giving free prints for referrals no longer works. You have to create a program that they want to be a part of. We have created a model program that provides clients with an amazing senior experience for an entire year. They no longer get just a single session and rep cards to pass out. They get a year of pictures and a senior experience to remember.


Let’s look at how we do it.


Step 1 – Create the Framework


The framework you create is the most important aspect of building your model program. This is what sells your program to the seniors. Create a program that they want to be a part of.


Our program includes their senior session with hair and makeup during the summer. The senior session is the main reason they are doing the program. Mom wants those senior portraits, but we need to do more than that to create that amazing experience.


Starting in September, we do monthly themed shoots. These are essentially mini-sessions, and each of the models gets a 20- to 30-minute time slot. The shoots are creative, and are meant to provide them with a fun experience. We offer our models a variety of shoots, including underwater, powder paint, newspaper/trashbag dresses, pumpkin patch/fall sessions, ugly Christmas sweaters, black light, stylized sessions, sports, night shoots, cold weather shoots and wildflower shoots.


Be creative and think outside the box. The more creative and fun the shoots are, the more interest you will bring to the program. These images are purchased in addition to the senior images at the end of the year.


Step 2 – Create a Rewards Program


The one thing we loved from the traditional paradigm was the opportunity for the models to earn rewards for sending referrals to you. It is not required, but when they do it, we want them to know they are appreciated. We created a points system by which they can earn points not only for referrals but for other tasks, like sharing images on social media, tagging friends in comments on our flyers, taking selfies while wearing our T-shirt to different events and posting them on IG with our hashtag, or even bringing their sports teams to us to create sports posters. We do not restrict referrals to only seniors. We allow them to refer people to us for any genre of photography we shoot.


At the end of the year, they can cash in their points for various prizes. We have found that cash is the biggest motivator with seniors, so we have reward levels that include cash payouts starting at $25 and going up to $200 (cumulative). If they reach the top level (1,000 points), they can earn an iPad, plus all the cash prizes.


It takes 10 referrals to reach 1,000 points, so it is a goal within reach for all of them. The way most get referrals each year is by referring the current juniors to us for the next year’s program. We host our meetings in November, with signups due in December. Our program is exclusive in the sense that they have to be invited by one of our current models to participate. Rather than our having to market our program to everyone, the model team members are the ones who build it for us. We just send out the invitations once we get the names, and in return, the models get the referral credit for anyone who signs up.


Step 3 – Offer Something Big


Add something big to your program to make it more enticing. Each year we give away a cruise to one senior model. We are located in Florida, so cruises are plentiful (and cheap). If you cannot do a cruise, maybe do a weekend getaway and shoot in another city. If you cannot do that, maybe a VIP experience to a concert or theme park. The options are endless. The idea is to offer something that is a big reward that they all want to win. This ends up being a huge marketing tool for us because we post images and videos to social media while we are on the cruise, which builds excitement in the community. Plus, it’s a vacation and tax write-off.


Step 4 – Make Them Pay to Play


The biggest error with model programs is that photographers don’t charge for them. They do all the work for free in hopes that the models bring in paying clients. If you go to a restaurant, will a chef cook a meal for you for free in hopes of you telling your friends? No. So why should photographers be any different?


Charge to participate in your program. Models are much more active when their parents have paid for them to be in the program. They come to the monthly shoots, they refer people, etc. When they have skin in the game, they are much more active. We have four participation levels they can buy into. The only difference in the levels is the bonuses we include (a second cruise entry, a day at the spa, a destination shoot, etc.). The amount they pay is returned as a product credit toward their senior session, essentially making it a minimum order amount. If you don’t want to do that, fine. Make it your own and do what works for your studio.


Step 5 –Offer Destination Sessions (Optional)


The future of senior photography is destination shoots, so why not start now and get ahead of the curve? It is a lot simpler than it sounds. Just ask them to notify you of any trips they are taking. Many seniors travel throughout the year, so you can maximize those opportunities to provide them with an amazing experience while they vacation. Each year during spring break, we offer a weeklong destination shoot overseas as an additional travel opportunity (and a vacation).


We also find cheap trips throughout the year and announce them to our model team. Whenever we find a cheap flight, we message all the senior models and their parents about the opportunity.


The main thing with destinations is to just offer them the opportunity to do portraits in another location. It doesn’t have to be far. It doesn’t have to require a flight. It can be within a couple hours of your location. Most seniors have no idea that travel is even an option, so as soon as we mention it, their eyes light up. We do a separate sales session for destination shoots to maximize our sales potential. If they travel, they will buy images, guaranteed.


Step 6 – Party Time (Optional)


At the end of the schoolyear (April), we host a huge party for our seniors. We provide a full meal, a dessert bar, a DJ and our photo booth. It is similar to a mini-prom, and we require formal dress. Guests of the seniors have to pay for their own meals. We use this time to announce our cruise winner and pass out the rewards they have earned, and we provide each with a little thank-you gift. It’s a night out they can enjoy with their friends.


These steps give you a foundation to start building your program. You do not have to structure it exactly like ours. Take what we have provided and make it work for your studio. Make changes as you see fit. There is no right or wrong with model programs. They are constantly evolving. The goal is to provide your clients with an amazing senior experience that is much more than a single session.



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 Senior Experience

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017


The Senior Experience with Sal Cincotta


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Everywhere I go I hear the same thing: “Senior photography is not a thing here.” It’s not? So, you live in a part of the world where teenagers are not rebelling? Don’t want to be cool? Aren’t going through an identity crisis of some kind? Wow. You must live in a very unique place.


Here is what I know. Teenagers want to express themselves. They watch TV. They want to be popular. They are visual. They have interests that lend themselves to visual storytelling. How do I know all this? Because, like you, I was a teenager once.


Stop telling yourself there is no high-school senior market. There is! And it’s huge! The question becomes: Can you figure out how to tap into it?


I have been photographing seniors for over 10 years, and I have to say, they are some of the most fun and interesting shoots I get to work on. The kids have great energy. They love experimenting with posing and lighting. They have extensive wardrobes. Best of all, they get into it. They are open to try almost anything, from expressions, to outfits, to locations. And that opens up a whole new world of possibility for my creativity.


Here are some ideas to help you create an amazing experience for your seniors.


Make it about them.


At the end of the day, it’s not about you. It’s not about their parents. It’s about the kids. Let them be themselves. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a session where a parent was pushing her will onto the teens. They start fighting, it creates tension and everyone is miserable. Get involved, play referee. Find balance for everyone.


Recently, I had a mom trying to force a teen into a suit. He wanted no part of it. I asked him why. He said, “This is not me. I don’t wear suits.” Now, they get limited outfits during their session, and he wanted his sports outfits and casual outfits. I said, “How about I add one extra outfit to the session and we shoot the suit for Mom?” Problem solved. Everyone is happy and our day moves on.


The parents are paying, and of course we have to be conscious of that. If the kids are having a miserable time, they will look like crap in their pictures, and then no one wins.


Make wardrobe matter.


Year after year, senior after senior, we have fallen victim to the wardrobe they walk in with. Now, don’t get me wrong, some of these kids have a wardrobe that would shock Donna Karan. But they are not always the most conducive to photo shoots. Sure, your $300 jeans and T-shirt are probably a nice fashion statement, but will that be something Mom chooses to put on the wall in a large print? Probably not.


For 2017, we have begun to offer our high-school seniors a free dress from That’s right, we are taking it to the next level. We want our seniors to have the most incredible experience with access to a one-of-a-kind wardrobe that they either can’t afford or that is too stylized for everyday wear. It’s a goldmine for photo shoots. When they come in to see their pictures and we have created something so unique, something they know they can’t get anywhere else, it leads to larger sales and, of course, an incredible customer experience.




This is the perfect opportunity to try something outside your comfort zone. The kids love knowing that they are going to be part of something new and different. I clue them in to the fact that this next shot may suck, but that it could be the coolest thing they’ve ever seen.


I get what I need to ensure the shoot goes off without a hitch, and then I pull them in and I say, “I have always wanted to try this new shot—are you down for experimenting a little?” Never once has a teen said to me, “No thanks, I am good.” They eat this shit up!


What do you want to try? There has to be something you have seen online, something the people you look up to in our industry have done and you have always wanted to try. I have been at this 10 years, and I still want to try new things. So, I guess my point is, stop making excuses and try it. You will become a better photographer for it—and, who knows, you may create magic and your client will be blown away by how the shot came out.


Get the beauty shot.


The number-one selling shot in my studio is not the big dramatic shot, it’s the beauty headshot fully retouched. I guarantee I am going to sell a 16×24 of this every single time. Parents love it—they are seeing their child in the most gorgeous of situations. Perfect pose, perfect expression, perfect light and flawless retouching. They are not having a friend do that. They are not getting that at the mall. This is an art form. Your job is to create the perfect storm. This will be the shot they are looking at for the next 10-plus years. In fact, if you nail it, you can pretty much guarantee you will book their wedding.


Now, just so you know, there is timing to make this all work. I don’t take this shot right out of the gate. A teen who just met you 10 minutes ago is probably not going to give you the expression you need—a natural one—when they just met this weird guy with a camera. They are not comfortable yet. I like to work through their first outfit and then, once they are comfortable with me and with being in front of the camera, I start working on a nice portrait. This has become something of a staple shot for the studio. Put the time into this, and it will pay dividends to you and your clients.




If you think what we do is a job, it’s going to suck the life out of you. Sure, saying something as simple as “make it fun” sounds obvious enough, but the reality is, so many professionals just act annoyed by the entire process. If you are that person who thinks clients are stupid and they should just do what you want, or that their ideas are dumb because they don’t understand photography, then you are the idiot.


Make it fun and collaborate with your clients. Once they have bought into an idea, the session becomes about something so much more than an image. The stories behind the image are so much more powerful and moving for our clients. I have had client after client come in to see their pictures and say something to the effect of, “Remember when you were taking that picture and XYZ happened?” This becomes the story behind the image, and that story will live in legend. They will tell their friends about it and remember it years later. That story can be good or bad—you control your own destiny here.


I love collaborating with clients on ideas. It doesn’t have to be overly complex. It can be simple things like a location or an outfit or a theme.


I will never forget many years ago when a mother called in to book a session. She said to us, “I don’t get it. You are the most expensive photographer around, and to me, it’s just a picture. But my daughter has to have you!”


I said, “No worries. I totally understand. How about this? Tell me a little about your daughter—what is she into?”


“She plays the violin.”


“Check this out,” I said. “Does she have a white dress? If so, imagine we head to a hilltop, the wind is blowing, big clouds behind her, she is playing the violin, the wind is blowing through her hair…”


She cut me off and said, “Okay, I get it. Let’s sign her up.”


That conversation is a collaboration. I now had buy-in from the client, almost ensuring a sale before I had ever created a single frame.


It is a combination of all these items and everything else we do as photographers and business owners that creates a one-of-a-kind client experience. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of that experience and how it will impact your current sale, and also the future of your company.


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