It’s hard to believe, but the graduation photo season is knocking on our door – and I know the preparations are getting started for each senior’s session! I’m excited to get started with this year’s group! I get a lot of questions on how seniors (and their parents) can make this the best experience possible.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty about styling, location options, and other logistical details – I’d like to talk first about the ‘experience’ of the photo shoot.
Let’s be honest, this is one of the first (of a zillion) official tasks to kick off the senior year. To be fair, the experience is very different for the student compared to the parent. The students are often excited to show off new clothes, a little nervous because they won’t know how to stand, or what do to with their arms….. But generally ready to roll and get this party started.
For the parents, the photo session often hits them smack in the face with the realization that their baby isn’t a baby any more. And soon enough, they are going to leave the nest. And oh my gosh – look how beautiful/handsome they look…. Then the tears start. I can spot it a million miles away.
My job is not only to help make this experience pleasant and enjoyable from both perspectives, but ultimately deliver beautiful, professional, and creative photos that document this time in your graduate’s life. (insert ugly cry here).
Here are a few things to keep in mind that can assist in your experience:
For the graduates:
- Plan to arrive to your first session location 15 minutes early. Getting there with time to spare allows you to relax and be ready to go before we get started. Nothing starts out a session worse than flying in at the last minute and expecting to look and feel relaxed and natural.
- Have fun with the process and instead of being nervous about the camera, enjoy the experience! Let me help you be the best possible you for your photos. What does this mean? Our goal is to get photos that reflect who you are right now and to bring out your best possible side for these pictures. This might mean me helping you with posing, facial expressions, or all out cat-walking down the sidewalk (hey, if you got it – go for it).
- Although these photos are about you, and documenting who you are right now, this is also a special time for your family. Be a little forgiving if your mom wants to hover a bit more than normal or give you extra hugs. This is tough on them and something they are sharing along side you. Allow them to enjoy this process as well.
For the parents:
- See first bullet point above. This means you too.
- This next point is a tough one, but hear me out: These photos are supposed to be a reflection of your graduate at this pivotal time in their life before they spread their wings and move on to that next chapter. The biggest source of contention I hear at sessions is the battle over clothes. Mom wants her son to wear this specific shirt, but he HATES it. She wins the argument, but son isn’t happy, which reflects heavily in his photos. No one loves the photos and both of you lose out. When the question of ‘style’ comes up, I’m always going to side with the graduate. If they love what they are wearing, and feel amazing – that will reflect in their face! And when you are memorized by their smile, the clothing becomes secondary. TRUST ME. I’m sure we can all relate to a time when our parents didn’t love our personal style in our teen years.
- It’s okay to be a little emotional. This is usually the time when it hits the parents that their babies are growing up. With that though, try and limit the hovering as best as you can. Often times, the kids feel more themselves when they aren’t being critiqued about every movement they make. Allow them some space to express themselves.
Now that we got that out of the way, here are some thoughts about location selection, clothing and overall style.
The quest for the perfect location set:
Choosing a location set (we generally hit 2-3 local locations that encompass both urban and natural textures) doesn’t have to be complicated. I’ll generally suggest a few ideas, but here are some things to keep in mind:
- The focus of the photos should be the graduate, not complicated or overly busy backdrops. I tend to favor texture and simple structures that allow for the senior to pop than have them be swallowed by too much happening in the background. Don’t be surprised if I suggest an alley with brick, or a random tree-lined street, versus the Rose Garden or Canal Park. Plus, it’s good to be different! I like to suggest places you can’t immediately identify. It’s good to be unique and creative.
- Let there be LIGHT! This is the absolute, 100% most important element of a location. Depending on the time of day, some locations are just out of the question. Like my point above, the location becomes secondary if the harsh light overtakes the photo. The ultimate focus should be the graduate with a relaxed and natural face, not squinty and watery eyes because they are looking directly at the sun in order to have something specific you want in the background.
- Choosing out-of-the-way locations allows for easier access, little-to-no people, and immediate parking. Don’t get me wrong – if you have your heart set on Canal Park on a hot summer day we can do that, but plan on a minimum of 20-25 minutes of session time will be used for parking, walking to your destination, and waiting for moments when people aren’t obstructing our views.
- I love personalized locations that mean something to the family. I often get asked if I will take the photos in a back yard or a place of business that is meaningful. If the location is in town – YES! If it’s more than 20 minutes out – then we can schedule a mini-session for later in the season.
- Don’t worry about coming up with your own locations, I have a ba-zillion location spots in my experience, and together we will develop the right plan for you!
What am I going to wear?
Styling is where the student can really show off their personality! Try not to get caught up in what your friends are wearing, or the latest trend of the minute. Think about items of clothing and accessories that really reflect who you are. For boys – this might mean one outfit in a pair of basketball shorts, t-shirt and sweet pair of shoes. (I can almost feel the eye-roll from all the mom’s out there right now; but hear me out). We want these photos to be comfortable and natural. And not to beat a dead horse here, but a reflection of WHO they are as a person RIGHT NOW. Obviously we want some dressier options too, but let’s face it – your kid likely doesn’t go to school in a suit and jacket.
Here are a couple of other tips and tricks when deciding what to wear:
- Be sure to completely try on every single outfit, including accessories, shoes, and undergarments. It’s helpful if a parent or friend photographs you from various angles in your outfits so you can see it from all sides. Most of your professional photos are taken from varying angles versus straight on.
- Choose clothes that allow for movement and flexibility. During your session, you will be asked to stand, sit, lean, walk and, on occasion, climb. Be sure you are comfortable enough that you can move around as needed.
- Don’t get overly complicated with accessories. One statement piece per outfit is best. For example: If you want to include a hat, then maybe skip the sunglasses or large necklace and earrings.
- Feel free to bring a prop or two such as a musical instrument, or a stack of your favorite books. Easier props are sunglasses, hats (if you wear them), purses, etc.
- Even though most of the grad sessions are scheduled during the summer, keep in mind our summer is short, and the time we wear shorts and sundresses is fairly limited. Think about the clothing you wear all year round, and try and incorporate at least one outfit that reflects cooler temps. This will give you more variety to your gallery. Sweaters, jackets, scarves, long pants are all good options.
- Think about choosing pieces that vary in texture, color, pattern, and style. When finalizing your clothing choices – lay them out next to each other to compare.
Finally – have fun with the process! One of the best parts of my job is getting to know new people and helping you showcase this special time for your family!