The Senior Experience | How To Get Started With Senior Photography

The Senior Experience

The Senior Experience with Sal Cincotta

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.

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.

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.

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