Today I want to talk about some myths when it comes to senior portraits and whether you should “just use the school photographer”. As a photographer that specializes in seniors AND a photographer that goes into schools for photos I can speak to both sides of this conversation.
There are 2 basic types of senior portraits – formal portraits (think yearbook, drapes and pearls) and casual portraits. A formal portrait is a photo you will likely need to have taken to be pictured in the yearbook and the casual portraits are usually taken outdoors and reflect your style and personality.
Myth #1 – I have to do what the school tells me
This myth is… well, sort of true. You will have to sit for the school photographer in order to be featured in the yearbook BUT depending on the contract the photographer has with the school you may not be required to purchase anything or pay up front. Companies (think big box here) are contracted to photograph students in order to put a yearbook together so they may not have sitting fees or require purchases. This means you can go, sit for your formal, and then walk away. Before we go too far though…I want to throw my 2 cents in here and say I personally think purchasing at least 1 pose of your formal portrait is worth doing. It’s such a classic portrait and down the road having that is something you will want in the archives.
Now your school may not use a big box company to take senior/yearbook portraits and this can be a little trickier. Smaller businesses likely charge a sitting fee or require you to purchase a package upfront – which is totally fine. Big box companies sling 1000s of kids through in a week so they can afford to have squatters, small businesses are a different story.
If your school is using someone who requires a fee up front here are a few things to consider before going all in with them.
- Are you “having” to use them for formal and casual portraits?
- Remember, you will pretty much “have” to use them for your formal portrait for the yearbook BUT you 100% have options for the casual portraits
- If you are considering using them for casual portraits do you like their style?
- If you don’t like what they are posting on their social media channels or website RUN. These are the places photographers post their best photos so if you check out their work and aren’t loving it they likely don’t fit the style you have/prefer and you won’t be the exception.
- Side note – photographers have style and expecting someone to alter or change their style for you isn’t the best plan. It’s like gymnastics – we all have similar fundamentals but some of us specialize in the vault and some of us specialize in the floor routine and when it comes to winning you don’t want the person who only practices the vault doing the floor routine.
- Do you like them?
- Whether you know them in person or have to get online and check them out you can get a pretty good feel for whether you like someone. This is important because if you aren’t comfortable with the person taking your photos it’s going to show.
- This is where big box can be a big eh – you probably won’t be able to suss out the person behind the camera beforehand and they really don’t care what your name is long term. They get paid whether you like your photos or not so they aren’t trying to get to know you or working to make you extra comfortable.
- Do they have a formal only package?
- Fun fact…even if they don’t they probably do. It might not be something that’s widely advertised so you may have to ask. When asking, it’s ok to be upfront, just don’t be rude. Telling someone you don’t like their work while asking for a cheaper price is rude – asking for a formal only option because you only care about the yearbook photo and don’t want to waste their time taking a casual spot is better.
Myth #2 – It’s easier to just do what the school sends over
Yeah…maybe. I mean, let’s be honest – they probably sent a link and you click it and you sign up and show up and you’re done but where is the fun in that? It’s your senior year and this is SUCH A BIG DEAL!!!
Also, a good, well organized photographer that you find online (google search – “Your City” Senior Photographer) should have a link that you can click and sign up and show up and it’s that easy too. The difference you may be wondering…well, time. A photographer who is scheduling 100s or 1000s of sessions during a summer season probably doesn’t have the time to want to answer your questions or help you choose outfits.
Side note – you SHOULD be asking the photographer about your outfits not your BFF – the photographer knows lighting and posing and if they aren’t taking emails about outfits they aren’t a good fit for you…
Ok – back to the myth. Regardless of who you book you shouldn’t have to jump through hoops or do 1000 texts/emails back and forth to make it easy. There are so many online avenues for making scheduling easy that you should be able to click a link find a date and go from there. A great business owner (note I didn’t say photographer there) should also have systems in place to make the process of working with them super simple.
Myth #3 – It’s really all the same
W.O.A.H. it’s not – especially if your school is using big box. These companies are using the same backdrops, poses, prompts, etc town to town across the nation. And IF they are going outdoors to do your causals it’s the same spot as everyone else and then while there they are doing the same thing one after the next.
If your school is using a small business there is likely some of the same locations and posing but that’s part of volume photography. It’s not easy to schedule 50-100 students in a 2-3 month window so there are things that have to be done the same. Scheduling casual portraits in blocks at one location like mini sessions is how a small business can survive the summer and your photos may look like the person who went before you and the person who went behind you. I’m not knocking it – it’s what I have to do when I do school seniors.
The thing that makes it different is the experience. When you find someone YOU want to work with the experience is different (and should be better!) You become 1 not 1 out of 50 or 100 or 1000 being photographed that year. For me, each session, even if it’s in the same location as someone else, is different. There may be some similar backgrounds or poses but each senior is different and it’s not a factory line.
At the end of the day, senior portraits are about you and celebrating your senior year NOT contracts agreed upon by people who aren’t actually worried about what hangs on the wall at your grandma’s house. Weigh your options and make the best decision for you and your family. Big box companies won’t notice and as for a smaller business owner, well if they get salty because you didn’t use them they probably weren’t a good fit. I promise when you look back you will be happier with your photos and your decision if you choose someone you want to work with. Whether that’s the school photographer or someone else – well that’s up to you!
Interested in a Senior Session?
I would love to be the photographer you choose for your senior session! I like easy so here’s a link for where you can find more information about senior sessions!
I look forward to seeing your contact form and planning your senior session soon!