10 Tips to Help You Prepare for Senior Pictures

Senior portraits aren’t at all like you remember.  

What was once a quick session, is now anything from a full on multi-hour photoshoot, to a luxury experience with a top-notch photographer.  And what was once a few photos in a studio with some super-lame props and backdrops, is now a photo session complete with multiple outfit changes and beautiful outdoor locations. 

With a select few photographers, like myself, it becomes an experience that goes beyond the beautiful pictures captured.  It leaves your senior with new-found confidence and a more positive self image. 

So forget the stiff poses, boring outfits, cheesy props, and dull backgrounds of the past.  Today, seniors are going all out, showcasing their personality, and expressing their individual style and creativity.

If planning your senior’s photo session is leaving you or your teen feeling stressed out, I’m here to help.  You can relax and breathe easy knowing that I’ll be there to help you through the entire process, planning out every last detail to ensure their senior portraits go off without a hitch.

Let’s get started with this list of 10 tips to help you prepare for your senior portrait session.

1. Know the deadline

The last thing you want to do is put their senior pictures off until the last possible minute. Avoid panic by making a note of the yearbook photo deadline (most are in Nov), so you can rest easy knowing you have plenty of time to plan their session, and don’t book during a busy time for you or your senior.  And keep in mind that after the photo session, it can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks to receive the final images or products.  Note that the best senior photographers start booking the winter of your teen’s junior year, so if your heart is set on a particular photographer, be sure to reach out to book them right away. You can find less experienced photographers pretty easily at the last minute, but know that you’re sacrificing the overall quality of the images as well as your experience.  A word of caution: avoid scheduling your session for October.  Yes it’s beautiful (and my favorite!).  But know that the best color time frame varies from year to year and only lasts about two weeks.  Not only that, it’s also the rainy season, which means a lot of rescheduling and possibly waiting until Spring, which means creating a time crunch or missing the deadline completely.  For an average photographer, that’s only about 8 senior sessions.  However, for those photographers who provide a luxury service and spend more than 30 hours per senior experience, that’s only 2 seniors during the prime colors in October!  There aren’t many spots to go around, so that’s why booking early for prime fall spots is important!  Pro Tip: A more experienced photographer can work in some Fall vibes any time of year.  It’s like having two seasons in one photo session!

2. Make appointments

Once you’ve selected your photographer and have the photo session scheduled, it’s time to make all of the other important appointments.  This includes appointments for haircuts or color touch ups, as well as manicures or pedicures.  You may even want to schedule them a facial for a little extra pampering. If your session is scheduled far out, set calendar reminders to make the appointments.

3. Plan and prep their outfits and important items

This could be an entire blog in itself, but in a nutshell, what they wear and the items they bring for their senior photos matters more than you may think.  You definitely don’t want to throw something together at the last minute, and you also don’t want to overlook items they could bring that highlight their passions or other things that are important to them.  That could mean sports, music, their favorite pet, a book obsession, or something to remember an important family member.  Next, they should plan out their outfits from head to toe at least 2-4 weeks before their session to make sure they have everything they need.  This includes bringing the right undergarments (this is a common item forgotten on session day), and making sure that everything is nicely pressed, free of pet hair (lol), and on hangers. Remember, the goal is to make sure they feel confident and comfortable with what they’re wearing.  Quick tip: Avoid patterns, or anything with logos or pictures - solids are the most flattering.  And strive to bring along at least one timeless outfit!

4. Plan their hairstyle

Will they get it done professionally or do it themselves? Have your teen start practicing their hairstyle at least 2 weeks in advance if they plan to style it themselves. Think about using products to help prolong the hold. For girls, wearing it down with beachy waves or curls gives the hair body and movement in the pictures, and is the current preferred look.  Avoid any big hair changes - things like changing the color of their hair or a drastic haircut - and if they need a quick trim, do it at least a week before.  These photos are meant to reflect them as they are now, so altering their look or going too formal will make the photos feel less “them”.  To ensure your style lasts the length of the shoot, girls should wash their hair a day or two before and definitely avoid use of any hot tools, while guys are OK washing the day of the session.

5. Get great skin

There’s nothing like glowing, healthy skin.  Make sure they gently exfoliate the day before - I’m talking to both the guys and the girls. Guys should trim their facial hair or shave if they’re normally clean shaven.  If needed, girls should shave their legs and armpits.  And just like with hairstyles, avoid anything that could greatly affect their skin, such as intense facial treatments, or any tanning beds or products. Myth buster:  Being super tan for your session is NOT recommended!  A subtle base color is nice, but make sure they stick to what they typically look like most days of the year - not what you look like towards the end of summer. 

6. Makeup matters

While makeup is certainly important, too much makeup is a definite no.  Your teen should use makeup to enhance their everyday look.  It’s a good idea to avoid makeup that is too sparkly or shiny.  And don’t forget to bring along makeup the day of the photo session for any last minute touch ups. Natural makeup colors are recommended, and using fake lashes can help define the eyes better in photographs. If they are wanting a bold or new trendy look, have them plan to add it at the end of the session for some photos, but not the whole shoot. 

7. Practice their smile

This may seem like a silly thing to do, but trust me, it can make all the difference.  Even if your teen is a natural in front of the camera (hello selfies!), it’s always a good idea for them to take a little time to practice their smile and expressions, because when someone else is taking your photo and you can’t see what you look like, a photo feels completely different.  The goal is for their smile and poses to look authentic, not forced. An easy way to bring out their authentic smile is to get them to let out a little laugh right before each photo. I like to call this the “open mouth smile.” It’s not a full on laugh but it teaches them to let go of the clenched teeth smile so many people do in front of a professional camera. 

8. Get some sleep

Beauty sleep is a real thing.  So make sure both of you get to bed early to ensure you get a good night’s sleep.  This means you’ll avoid puffy eyes, dark circles, and a tired complexion.  Not to mention having a good attitude and plenty of energy.

9. Eat something (besides gum and probably not a burger ;-)

Speaking of energy, starting the day with protein, and having a small meal or snack beforehand will make all the difference. Those who attempt to not eat the whole day leading up to the shoot lose momentum about an hour into the session.  And don’t forget to have them drink plenty of water!  Hydration is important for energy as well, not to mention great skin. With my full day shoot, snacks, drinks, and a mid-session meal are included for this very reason!

10. Arrive early

After all the time and planning that went into the senior portrait session, the last thing you want is to be late on the day of the shoot!  Like everything else, preparation matters.  Be sure to mark the date on your calendar, set a reminder on your cell phone, and pull up a map of the location so you know where you’re going.  That morning, check for any road delays and allow enough time to get where you need to go.  Most sessions take place around rush hour, so if you’re headed to a major city area, this is extra important.  Keep in mind, fall sessions have much shorter days so make sure to leave school or work early to get ready and be at the shoot in time. The last thing you want is unneeded stress before their big day. And lastly, being late means you’re losing daylight - you won’t look as amazing in the dark!

I know this sounds like a lot, but believe me when I say it’s all worth it. So be sure to keep these 10 tips to help you prepare for senior pictures handy.  That way, you’ll avoid any last-minute mishaps, and make sure that they have the best photos possible to remember their senior year and once in a lifetime milestone.