The Senior Experience

The Senior Experience with Curtiss Bryant

The senior photography industry is constantly changing. Looking through the history of senior portraits, it seems that each decade represents a new trend in the industry. In the 80s, we saw “Glamour Shots” as senior portraits—feather boas, leather jackets, bright backgrounds, and a soft glow on the images. The 90s brought in more casual studio portraits complete with large numbers to represent the graduation year, high key backgrounds, fake brick walls, and those lovely folios that held six or eight or more wallet-size photographs. The 2000s started the trend of casual outdoor portraits in addition to the studio options. The studio portraits also included more options such as sports. The 2010s saw a big push into model programs and high fashion looks complete with hair and makeup options, with outdoor portraits being the norm.

We are now in a new decade, and we are starting to see a new trend—experiences. What exactly are these experiences, and how can we capitalize on them? We will get into that shortly. First, let’s look at some other industries to see how this experience trend is influencing consumer decision-making.

First, we will look at Disney. Why do people spend thousands of dollars to travel across the country and world to visit Disney? Is it to ride rides? Eat expensive food? Wait in long lines? Stand around in the heat? Isn’t it true that they can do most of that at their local fair for a lot less money? So why spend all that money just to go to Disney? It’s the Disney Experience.

Disney has a way of making people feel good. Kids’ faces light up when they see Cinderella’s castle. It’s the one place in the world they can see all their favorite characters in real life. Their staff is always going the extra mile to help create a magical experience for their guests. With Disney, everything is about creating an over-the-top environment, and frankly, no one does it better. Look at their newest offering at their parks—Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. This is a new experience created within Disney parks that allows their guests to enter a Star Wars world and experience what they see in the movies. They can build a light saber. They can meet their favorite characters. They can battle storm troopers. Yes, there are a couple of rides, but the rides help create the Star Wars experience. Experiences are exactly what guests are paying for when going to Disney.

Next, let’s look at the music industry. The music industry has always been about doing more than just producing music people can buy on records, CDs, mp3s, etc. There have always been concerts and world tours. Why do people go to concerts in the first place when they can just listen to the music at home? Hint: the experience.

But what trend are we starting to see in the music industry? Festivals. Coachella, Lollapalooza, and EDC are some of the bigger music festivals, drawing thousands of people each. And that doesn’t include the smaller festivals. Yes, there have always been festivals as well. Woodstock was in the late 60s and had 400,000 attendees. But we are seeing more of these festivals each and every year. Why? Because people want that experience. They want to be around thousands of other music fans. It is something that they will always remember.

So how do these things relate to senior photography? We need to create experiences for our clients. If we are just taking pretty pictures of our clients, we will begin to see a slowing business. Seniors can take their own pretty pictures with friends. The photographers down the street can take pretty pictures. We need to focus on the experience that we provide. How can we do that? Here are some options for creating the ultimate senior experiences.

1. Year-Long Experiences

We created an option for our clients to do multiple sessions a year with us. This allows them to capture the different seasons and really incorporate their entire senior year, with different looks throughout. On our end, it allows us to sell more images, since they are doing more portraits—win-win.

2. Travel/Destination Shoots 

We are big on offering destination sessions for our clients. We have been to Italy, Iceland, France, Costa Rica, Aruba, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Sweden, Ireland, Turks & Caicos, Mexico, and several places within the US. These sessions are all about creating experiences for our clients. Do you think a senior doing portraits in Italy in front of the Coliseum will ever forget that? No way. Travel these days is pretty cheap, so it’s not that expensive to the client. Truth be told, these are our easiest sales as well. They want every single image. It’s literally an experience of a lifetime.

3. Model for a Day

This experience allows seniors to do what they see all over social media and in magazines. It puts the focus on them for an entire day. They get to be front and center. Full hair and makeup styling and applications. Wardrobe. Multiple shooting locations. Add more to this experience by providing rental gowns for the client to wear. This is all about being over the top and creating a portrait experience the photographers down the street aren’t taking the time to do.

4. Teen Program

Why just limit yourself to seniors? What about juniors? Sophomores? Freshmen? Do you think they want the same type of experiences? Do you think they want amazing portraits too? This is a big market that is largely ignored. Create a program that allows those other than seniors to participate. This also allows you to build relationships with a group that will be seniors one day. Who do you think they will come to when it’s their time for senior portraits?

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Gone are the days when pretty portraits were enough to bring in clients and thrive as a studio. Everyone is a photographer and everyone can take a pretty picture, even on their phone. We need to do more. We need to create experiences that our clients can invest in. We need to create experiences that our clients want to be a part of. In the 2020s, it’s time to re-invent ourselves and create these senior Experiences for our clients.

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The Senior Experience

with Curtiss Bryant time to read: 5 min
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