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The Evolution of Senior Photography

The Evolution of Senior Photography with Sal Cincotta

High school senior portraits have evolved over the years to some incredible new heights. Gone are the days of sitting in the studio and posing behind a fake ivy wall. Today’s seniors want style, fashion, hair and makeup. They want an experience that they will never forget. Remember, we are living in the experience economy. Consumers are willing to shell out big bucks for that one-of-a-kind experience. We have been shooting high school seniors for almost 15 years now. In order to stay relevant, we have to adapt to today’s consumer. We live in a Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram world. These teens want to live that influencer life, and my job is to give them amazing images that make their friends jealous, but most importantly to provide them and their families with an experience they want to brag about.

So what does the Senior Experience look like for us?

Stop selling photography

If you believe you are selling 8x10s or canvas or any other product, you are living in la la land. In addition, you are not selling your photography prowess. Yes, of course, we need to master our craft, but increasingly its becoming more and more subjective. “Good enough” is what will win people over. I’m sorry to break it to a lot of you—99 percent of your clients have no idea what broad or short lighting is. They don’t understand color theory. Bokeh, what?

Seriously. You need to get this through your head. They either like your pictures or they don’t. This is where it begins. So yes, work on your craft. Master it. Learn lighting. Learn posing. Learn sales. You and your business will benefit from it. But you have to realize, and I am sure many of you have seen it already, that customers don’t see what we see. They see social media. They see movies. They see magazines. They either like what they see or they don’t.

Get consistent with your work, your editing, and your website, and you are well on your way to attracting the right clients.

Create an experience

We live in an experience economy. We have to give clients something to brag about. Believe it or not, in many cases, that’s more important than the actual final product. Think I’m kidding? If you have kids, you have probably had a birthday party or attended a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. Do you want to tell me that the product they serve in the form of pizza and cake is top shelf? Of course not. You are not going to these places for the pizza or the cake, you are going for the overall experience for your kids and their friends.

Experiences can range from the low-end to the ridiculously high-end. This is up to you to define. For my studio, we have created a luxury experience for the kids and their families. When they show up, we have a dedicated hair and makeup station. We have music playing. We offer everyone drinks. Everyone on my staff is super high-energy and excited for the kids to be there. This becomes something memorable for all involved.

On-set or on-location, the experience continues during the shoot. Don’t confuse experience with expensive. When it comes to creating an experience, everything matters. How long does it take to return their initial phone call or email? How long does it take for them to see their pictures? In our studio, we show them pictures in two weeks or less. That is an experience, and a great one at that. Are you taking four weeks or longer? That too is an experience. It’s just not a very good one, and it’s one most people won’t brag about in a good way.

Offer some style

Remember, we live in a social media world today. Today’s teens are just as likely to list a career choice of “social media influencer” as they are to list any of the professions we are all so familiar with. To that point, kids want to be larger than life in their pictures so they have something to show online.

In order to achieve this, we rent dresses from EnceptionRentals.com. We offer this to our teens, and they love it. It creates a truly one-of-a-kind set of images for them. These are dresses and stylized shoots that they will never have a chance to experience again. Mix one of these unique dresses with outfits they bring to the shoot, and you have a recipe for success. And when their friends see their pictures all over the internet, they will be banging on your door for the same type of shoots.

Parents want unique. Teens want unique. And in the world of photography, it’s going to take a little more than a 50mm 1.2 lens to give them that. Stylize their shoots, and it will go a long way in creating an unforgettable experience.

Do something different

Stop shooting the same shot, in the same place, with the same lighting. It’s boring! Do something different. Find a way to bring out the personalities in all your clients, and that will take you down the right path. There is nothing wrong with experimenting. Some of my best shots are happy accidents. I find that teens love to try new and different things. And if you nail it … they are equally as ecstatic. Why? Because they know that no one else will have a shot like that. And guess what? That will translate to bigger sales and more referrals.

For us, I love finding out what our seniors are into. What sports they play. What extracurricular activities they are into. Music? Equestrian? These are all unique activities that—if shot with any uniqueness—will be gold for them.

Engage social media

You have got to learn to embrace social media on your shoots. We all have excuses, but again, this is the world we live in. During our shoots, I use Instagram for behind-the-scenes shots. We feature these on our stories, and we know they will expire in 24 hours. And that’s the point! The kids are using Snapchat, Instagram, and yes, Facebook. (Side note: yes, I know I keep referring to them as “the kids”).

Want to take it to the next level? Grab a kid’s phone and start hamming it up on their social media channel. Not only does this show your personality, it shows how much fun the kids are having on the shoot. We have found this to be extremely beneficial to the overall brand and again, it screams “experience.”

You have to figure out your social media strategy. How will you use your Instagram feed? How will you use Insta-Stories? Facebook? You need a strategy. You can’t just wing it. So many photographers still can’t figure out how to use social media to their advantage. You have to invest some time in this and be diligent and consistent with your strategy. This is where your customers are, and you must be there also, leading the way. It’s the easiest way to generate free leads for your business.

Get the full story

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