Senior Year=Photo Op!

By Tamara Jane with Donna Lee Schillinger

One of young life’s milestones is approaching – graduation, be it from college or high school – which means photo op! But not of the candid sort. It’s time for senior pictures, one of the few times in your life you get to play model—a dream come true for some, more like getting a root canal for others. Regardless of how comfortable you feel with the business end of a long lens pointing your way, you’ll want these pictures to be the best they can be, and we’re here to help!

Before we get to the creative stuff, we should make sure we can afford this photo shoot. You may have dreamed of shooting your senior pics with Hawaiian surf in the background, but if you live in land-locked New Mexico, you might need to adjust that ideal to the real. Likewise, that slick brochure or sample you got from some of the best local photographers could cost you more than a semester of college! Senior pictures seem paramount now, but if you poll older friends and family, they will help you put it into perspective. Best to find an affordable photographer who will give you the disk of your pictures that you can print out yourself through retail photography departments like those at Walmart or Walgreen’s, or online services like Snapfish. For that matter, there’s no reason why you can’t have a shutterbug friend or family member take the pictures. Digital cameras have considerably leveled the field of photography so that even amateurs with inexpensive cameras can work wonders! There isn’t as much information online as you might think about DIY senior portraits, so searching “photo ideas” on Pintrest might be your best bet. Then you can follow the links to blog posts, such as this one entitled, “The Posing Guide.” Additionally, the blog post “The Rules of Good Portraiture” is worth reading.

Ask for photographer recommendations from your budget-minded friends and do a Facebook search for “photographer” plus [your city or area]. Just about all photographers, even the very affordable ones, have a Facebook presence or Web site where you can review their work. Contact two or three possibles who you think could accurately capture your unique personality, and compare what they can offer.

When setting up your session, write down all the details to avoid confusion and stress at the last minute. If you’ve been dealing via Facebook or a website, be sure to get a phone number (for last-minute questions or emergencies). Where and when will you meet? How many outfits will you need? Where will you change your clothes? What’s your rain plan?

You may already have the perfect shoot in mind. More likely, you have only one parameter: you don’t want it to look like everyone else’s stuff! Ironically, you can generate some original ideas by looking at other people’s photos, refining your likes and dislikes, and customizing others’ ideas. Your photographer may also have suggestions based on your interests and future plans, but it’s still nice if you have an idea to help guide the photos. They are yours, after all.

A week or 10 days before the shoot, put your outfits together: clothes, shoes, jewelry, hair accessories and props. You need to think this through far in advance to give yourself time to track down that something that would make the whole thing perfect. A friend of mine had a vision to sit in a plush chair in a field, but she didn’t have a plush chair, and even if she had had one, she didn’t have a vehicle to move said plush chair to a field. Considerable brainstorming and planning had to happen to get that plush chair in the middle of the field by the time of the photo shoot.

When choosing outfits, take into account the weather and season. You’re going to look anachronistic in your favorite spaghetti strap dress with leafless trees in the background. And even if you find some evergreens as a backdrop, your bluish skin tone will reveal the chill you’ll be feeling in those unseasonal clothes.

Also, keep in mind modesty. Try to find things that are cute and fun, showing your sense of style, but not too much else. You can do it, I dare you! Just ask yourself, “Will what I’m wearing in any way keep Dad from wanting to dish out good money to pay for a lot of these pictures?” Value Dad’s opinion; of the two of you, he’s the one who has been inside the male mind…

Your photographer may offer you the option to change clothes once or twice. Keep in mind that time changing clothes and locations can mean fewer shots to select from, and less time working on poses to get great shots. Nonetheless, most people like one casual outfit and one more formal. In both cases, keep the clothes simple so that the focus remains on you. Think about the colors of your background and try to match. Solids with accessories that pop work better than busy patterns. Some things from my closet that would work well are a red scarf with a black shirt. Take those blue shoes or that green belt—whatever favorite crazy things you have in your closet—and mute them with a simple foundation.

Let’s talk about the day of. Try to sleep late (or go to bed early the night before). Beauty sleep is a real thing! Give yourself plenty of time to get ready, a good half hour more than you think you could possibly need. You’ll want to look your best and not feel rushed.

Iron, steam or tumble dry out wrinkles from your clothes, eliminating any stray strings that could come back to haunt an otherwise perfect shot. Arrive early to your shoot location and take a friend or family member with you, talking through the shoot with your help on the way there. Having someone along who makes you laugh can keep your nerves at bay, make the experience more fun and prime your face for the best, most natural smiles.

The last words of advice are actually the hardest: be yourself. This is never harder than when you’re staring at a telephoto lens! If you’re feeling hopelessly awkward, just strike up a conversation with the photographer. It will help you to feel more at ease and distract you from the task at hand. You’ll make it through the embarrassing times. Just laugh at your blunders. Laughing makes the best photos anyway!

And if all else fails, thank God for Photoshop!

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