The Perfect Senior Experience: Step by Step

I’m so excited to start this new series all about achieving the perfect senior portrait experience. You’ll find this helpful if you’re a senior since it will be full of great tips and behind the scenes info. You will get a sense of both the bigger picture, and all the steps along the way to achieving the perfect senior portraits. There’s going to be a LOT of information, and I’ll answer some of my most frequently asked questions as I go through each step. A lot of these tips and explanations are included in my senior portrait magazine, but I will be going into a LOT more depth here!

Photographers may find this series helpful as well. Perhaps you’re looking to streamline your portrait experience for seniors, or maybe you are wanting to break into the senior market for the first time and don’t know where to begin. Or even if you’re NOT a senior photographer, you may still find this series helpful. I know tons of photographers who don’t really have a client workflow. Well, this series is for you! I’ll mostly be writing directly to seniors themselves, but I’m sure you can glean some useful info from this either way.

Alright, here we go!

Step One: Find Your Perfect Senior Photographer
I’ve written before about how to find a photographer and the most important things to ask your senior photographer, but I can’t emphasize ENOUGH how important it is to find the right photographer. All too often, people make this choice solely based on price. And while that’s obviously going to be a factor, I would encourage you to also prioritize a few other key factors when choosing a photographer:

Style
Do you envision yourself in a sleek studio setting with dramatic lighting and simple backdrops? Or do you want enhanced special effects sports photos? Or maybe you’d prefer your session take place in a beautiful field or grungy urban season. Each of these preferences speak to a slightly different style of senior photography. Do your research and check out a photographers web portfolio to make sure they feature the kind of session your interested in. It’s fairly unreasonable to expect a photographer who features all on location sessions to be the best for you if you’re wanting studio photos, and vice versa. You’ll be frustrated and disappointed when you see your final images.

I also think it’s important to see a photographers current portfolio, not just their favorite photos from 5, 7, 10 years ago. If you get a chance, check out sessions from their blog from the last year. This will help you see what kind of consistency the photographer has in terms of style. Your favorite photographer doesn’t have a blog (which, to be honest, is rare)? Then go straight to the source and ask to view a recent session. The key is to see an ENTIRE photographed senior session that is recent so you have an idea of what to expect in terms of variety and style for your own session.

Products Offered
While wallets and prints are quite popular, there is SO much more out there. Check in with your potential photographer, and ask about what kinds of products they offer. Better yet, ask if you can see samples before your session so you have an idea of how you might display and use your images.

Personally, I offer the usual prints and wall portraits, but I also offer gallery wraps, acrylic prints, storyboards, books, albums, and digital collections. I’ve sold every single one of these to seniors, and some come to me specifically BECAUSE I sell that item, and other photographers in the area do not. So make sure your favorite photographer has what you’re looking for!

The Process 
Well, I’m about to share the ENTIRE process with you of how your senior portraits experience will unfold from start to finish. However, don’t assume every photographer does things the same way. Often, I have families come to me who have worked with previous photographers that have a completely different process. Whether it’s scheduling, length of sessions, or viewing images after the seSsion. There are tons of different ways to make it work.

The most common place where photographers differ is in their proofing and ordering process. It is SO important that you ask about this ahead of time! Are you expecting to have a proof book to take home and share before making your final order? Are you expecting to order everything online through a web gallery? Are you expecting to have a formal ordering appointment in person? Are you expecting to be able to order more photos later? Each of these questions illustrate the various ways the “process” could potentially unfold. Make sure you are okay with your photographers process, because you probably don’t have a choice after your portrait session takes place!

Experience
I’m hesitant to include this as one. Some photographers that are brand new to photographing seniors or owning their own business can be a fabulous find. Everybody has to start somewhere, right? On the flip side, there are photographers with years of experience that are either horribly outdated in style or are difficult to work with. They may know how to run a business, but you might not get what you’re looking for even though you’re working with a seasoned pro.

All that being said, this is more of a personal choice you’re going to need to evaluate. Can you stomach working with someone who is very new to photography? Are you willing to give that person a chance with your once-in-a-lifetime senior portraits? From my standpoint, I think it’s worth it to take a chance on a photographer if you love their style and you’re a flexible enough person to roll with the punches. What if your photographer loses your files? Are you willing to do a reshoot if every image is lost or of poor quality? This won’t necessarily happen, and it could even happen with an experienced photographer, but it’s definitely more of risk with a newbie.

Price
Yes, price is important. I still argue that it shouldn’t be THE deciding factor, but obviously it’s still a factor. 🙂 Here’s the thing – you will only graduate from high school once. Most likely, this will be the one and only opportunity for you to have a beautiful portrait taken until the next big moment in your life, which for most people is their wedding day! I would encourage you not to chimp on this experience, and instead search for a quality photographer that you love. Save up if you have to, check in about a payment plan (many photographers offer one), or see if grandparents might be willing to chip in. The last thing you want is to look back in a year or five, and regret your choice.

Those are just some of the things you should prioritize when choosing your senior portrait photographer. There are, of course, other factors that I could mention, but I find that these are the things that will truly impact your experience and final product.

Once you’ve found the perfect senior portrait photographer after checking out their style, portfolio, products, process, experience and price, it’s time to move on to the next step – getting it on the calendar! Tune in for the next post in the series soon!

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