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10 Tips for Senior Yearbook Portrait Photography

With school back in session, photo days are on the schedule for many students and their families. Today, we'd like to focus on a special sub-genre of yearbook photography: the Senior Portrait. Senior Portraits are probably the most unique yearbook photos taken. Generally, throughout the US, seniors are given a particular appointment with a special photographer who will be in charge of senior portraits only at that time. Therefore, senior photos usually do not occur during the same time frame as the other yearbook photos. They may be scheduled during the summer break with the in-coming seniors being photographed one-by-one then. They may be scheduled during the latter part of the fall semester or during the spring semester. Also, these sessions run much differently than normal yearbook photo sessions and will generally come with instruction packets that request the student bring or wear certain clothing or avoid certain clothing. Pay attention to these as the photographer is not sending this packet just to be a control freak. Beyond that, follow our tips below to get the best senior photos you can.


1) Check the previous yearbook senior photos
The photos that run in the yearbook for the senior class almost always keep the same style. For most schools, this means that the backdrop will be a single-toned neutral or dark color (generally grey or black) and that the young men will all wear tuxedo shirts, bow ties, and black jackets. The young women will all appear to be wearing a gown that is off-the-shoulder. Check the style of the classes before yours and be prepared for that.

2) Prepare for the formal attire photo 
Men will need to bring a plain white dress shirt that is appropriate for a tuxedo. Women will need to bring a bra that is either strapless or one where the straps can be slipped down beneath the draping without causing a wardrobe malfunction.


3) Ladies, bring your mother, sister, or a good female friend 
The ladies' photos do not actually require them to wear a dress. Instead, they will be given a drape of cloth and sent to the restroom to put it on. It will need to go over their arms and generally closes in the back with clothes pins or another simple (yet adjustable) closing mechanism. Drape the cloth over your chest so that it covers everything decently, adjust your bra straps as needed, and then have someone else pull it over your arms and snug behind you to pin it. Unless you have magical powers, you are not going to be able to do this on your own.

4) Know the hairstyle you'll be using 
Unless the session indicates that there will be time for multiple wardrobe changes and hairstyle changes, plan to use the same hairstyle in all of the photos. If you have an appointment that will allow you to visit a stylist in advance, feel free to do that. Otherwise, make certain that you can not only get your hair styled the way you want but that you can fix it quickly on your own or with whoever you have helping you.

5) Arrive at least ten minutes early 
This will give you time to prepare for the formal photo (it's usually the first shot that is done) and to make any last-minute fixes to your hair or make-up. Speaking of which...

6) Be conservative with the make-up 
Go easy on the toner, base/foundation, and powder. Use an eyeshadow that compliments your irises (this is frequently the color that is opposite your eye color on a color wheel). Short hand is: use honey/gold/orange if you have blue eyes, lilac/lavender/light purple for green eyes, blue/cyan/pink for brown eyes (variable depending on the tint), etc. Keep your blush/rouge under control and looking like a healthy glow and choose a shade of lipstick that complements your entire face. If you normally wear flashy make-up or apply your make-up with a trowel, this is the time to visit a professional and learn a lighter, more mature touch.

7) Practice your expression 
Don't smile if you don't feel like it. However, don't scowl or try to look overly dramatic. A neutral expression or a small smile is fine so long as it doesn't look plastered on. My own senior portrait has my most natural expression which is one of quiet daydreaming and I'm happier with it than with the version where the photographer demanded I smile (I have trouble faking emotion).

8) For the informal shots, bring clothes that are complimentary but comfortable 
Informal shots can be done indoors or outdoors and will have a variety of backdrops, props, and settings. Bring something that goes well just about anywhere but that is comfortable enough for you to sit, squat, kneel, or stand in.

9) Get information on retakes 
Some people will not be happy with their first set of senior photos. Be sure that you get the information for retakes in case you wind up needing it.

10) Parents, back off a bit. Students, listen to your parents 
Senior photos are the last school photos you'll be getting. By the time a child has become a senior in high school, they are generally old enough to have a fairly large say in what they'll wear and how they'll look. So, don't force the issue too much, parents. That said, students, this is the last school photo you'll be using. This will be the one that hangs on your parents' wall. It's up there with the photos from your wedding. Don't use this as the photo to launch your full-out rebellion against parental authority. Trust me - you will regret doing that. What other advice would you offer to seniors getting ready for their portraits? Let us know in the comments below! -- da Bird
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