From Average to Awesome: Surprising East Valley Locations That Will Make Your Senior Pictures Shine
If 2021 (or even 2022!) is your graduation year, it’s time to talk photos. How do you want to capture the memories of your high school years? What things and places spark special memories? When you’re planning outfits, make-up, and the setting for your senior portraits, every detail is important—because everything that goes into your photo shoot is a reflection of the person you’ve become and the places you’re going.
The importance of location
There are lots of reasons to talk about location. It’s a pretty big deal. After all, aside from you (the star of the show), the locations you choose for your photos will garner a good amount of attention from anyone who sees your pics. But when I talk about location, I’m not talking about national landmarks or vacation hotspots. Instead, I’m talking about photography hotspots!
What’re those? Those are the secret treasure troves, the hidden gems, and the out-of-the-way locales photographers discover and add to their library of shooting locations. Oh yes, serious recon work goes into building the ever-changing knowledge base of perfectly-photographic places that are recommended to clients.
Here’s why my clients don’t need to stress. I’ve had years of experience in the East Valley, and I’ve tromped through ditches, hiked trails, and scoured city streets in search of the very best places for photographs. In fact, I look for new places to shoot every day! I’m not saying I’m Frodo, but I could lead you on quite an adventure around the city—and suggest any number of picture locations that you’re sure to love.
Fantastic locations are all around us
The great news is that we don’t have to travel far to get awesome senior pics in a location you love. Just step outside and look around! We are lucky enough to be surrounded by mountains, trails, trees, cacti, and trendy urban centers if you’re looking to highlight your city-loving style. We even have lakes and waterfalls nearby! Whatever your personality, however you want to showcase your fashion, interests, and hobbies, we’ll find the perfect setting to accentuate the things that make you YOU.
Ditches, diners, streams & streetlights
With a bit of creativity, just about any location can look beautiful. In fact, one of my favorite local destinations for photo shoots is in a ditch. Yep, a ditch. When I first tell my clients this, I get anything from dubious looks to nervous laughs—but when I pull out images of some of my previous clients in “the ditch,” new clients are convinced. That’s because in the art of photography, in focusing in on the beauty in the details and in leaning into the personalities of my clients, I am able to capture unique moments that can’t be replicated with anyone else.
This is no ordinary ditch. Savannah poses among wildflowers and desert landscaping, drawing on her natural beauty—which shines inside and out! This location works great for senior portraits as well as graduation photos.
Just add water
If you’re sticking with the nature theme, there are some great locations where we can get your feet wet, literally. Not to far from my office, we have this lovely stream and lake. If you saw it in person, you’d likely walk right past it and never give it a second look for a photo shoot location. Yet it’s a favorite of many of my seniors. I remember this afternoon perfectly. I asked Kaitlyn if she wanted to be in the water or just splash her feet from the side. I turned around to this…pure joy, pure heaven as she played in the water! If you know this girl, this is just her personality. It just fits!
Now, not everyone jumps in to splash like Kaitlyn–that was a first! However, it’s just as awesome to sit on the edge and splash or enjoy the natural beauty like these two beautiful young ladies. It’s all about your personality and what makes you the most comfortable. That’s the top priority! Alynna had the perfect dress hidden away in the back of her closet, never worn, but was absolutely perfect sitting by the water waiting for me to catch the perfect splash!
At a nearby lake in Chandler, we created one of my all-time favorite images ever with Adrienne. By Arizona standards, it was really cold that day, but she was a trooper! Don’t let the warmth of the image fool you though, she was covered in goosebumps but “it was so worth it” I say from my warm, dry spot on the rocks. LOL! Nah, I know it is Adrienne’s favorites too!
On-Location doesn’t have to mean outdoors
Local businesses can be fun venues, too, but this a tricky one, because we’ll definitely want to plan ahead and get permission from the owners before making concrete plans. Love cafes and sidewalk eateries? How about bookstores? Totally into the ‘50s? Check into taking pics at a local retro diner to show off your personality. Rae’s personality shines in the photos below as she poses for her senior pictures at Chase’s Diner in Mesa, AZ. Not only is this charming restaurant a step back in time, it offers up hearty and delicious portions, along with hospitable service. (Pro tip: Arrive hungry and order the gigantic slice of chocolate cake!)
It didn’t take five minutes for Rae to feel comfortable and in her element at Chase’s Diner in Chandler. Before long, our group was laughing, having fun, and I was clicking away catching fun candid pictures of Rae as she enjoyed an old-fashioned shake and a fun evening with her mom.
It’s not all sunshine
That is to say that not all of your pictures have to take place while the sun is shining! Even to the untrained eye, things look different at night, more mysterious, more magical. The same goes for photographers. Some of my favorite photo shoots have taken place in the evening, allowing me to use light in a different way and capture things like shadows, stars, silhouettes, and more.
I love that more dramatic lighting we get too, plus we can include the city lights!
And yet another fun look in Downtown Scottsdale. We’re so lucky to have beautiful locations in every part of the Phoenix area!
Your pictures, your style
When I go out with a client on a photo shoot, my main objective is fun. Here’s why. If you’re having fun and you’re excited about your senior pictures, if you’re energized about the setting, your outfits, and your look, then you’ll be more relaxed and natural in your pics. And that’s the look you want in your final images. Just look at this post! Many different seniors, all different personalities and looks, but each gorgeous and matching the personality of the senior. That’s the winning ticket!
That’s why so much work goes into your senior portraits on the front end. Part of that work is scouting new and fun locations around the Phoenix area. I’m always on the lookout for interesting backgrounds, unique props, and scenery that would do justice to your photos. Sometimes it’s a funky wall. Other days, it’s a retro soda bar or a neon chair. The great thing about where we live? Our backyard is full of variety, adventure, and beauty. You’d probably be surprised to know that the photographs below were all taken at the same park, mere minutes from home, with a different focus, and with creative takes on lighting and composition.
Creativity is the only limit when it comes to planning the perfect senior portrait photo shoot, so day or night, sunrise or sunset, indoors or out, it’s all about your personality and preference. From there, it’s a wide-open road—and trust me, it’s a fun trip!
7 of the my favorite locations for senior pictures in Metro Phoenix and East Valley
Downtown Phoenix near Roosevelt Row & Heritage Square
Downtown Gilbert, almost anywhere, lots of options
Downtown Chandler along Arizona Avenue, especially at night
Have you ever met someone who’s all personality? No fluff, no falseness – just 100% themselves? Over 10 years of photography, I’ve learned to relax when I see these people coming. No matter which way they turn or twist, what faces they pull – the camera will be all over it!
Well, I’ve known that certain someone since they were only just 8! So, essentially from when she was just a youngster to well, … a slightly taller youngster. I’ve taken Kaitlyn’s family photographs, but I first ran into the energetic gal when she was bouncing around in gymnastics many years ago with our daughter, Alex. So, I knew what I was in for: a brilliant evening of fun, laughs, and good times!
Even during the Covid-crazies in the spring of 2020, we still tried our best to celebrate graduates! If you couldn’t tell, Kaitlyn was very happy about it, and why wouldn’t she be! Of course, we had to grab some fun moments of her showing off her finest graduation gear. I loved her poses and playing with her tassel; if that doesn’t say “bye-bye school, hello world!” I don’t know what does!
If you’d like to see more of Kaitlyn, all you have to do is head on over to the main page here. There she is posing proudly in her cap and gown!
Capturing authentic good times
Kaitlyn was just bursting full of personality throughout the entire shoot; I could barely keep up! You might wonder how Kaitlyn managed to pose so effortlessly cool in the photo below. Truth be told, she wasn’t posing at all! That’s Kaitlyn in all her glory, goofing around and blowing adorable kisses to her mom. What was supposed to be an outtake ended up making it’s way into her final gallery of gorgeous images.
Style closet favorites
Is it really a photoshoot if we don’t make use of some of its treats? Kaitlyn opted for one of the favorites – the (almost iconic by this stage) blue and white flowery dress that looks like it was made for the photo shoots by the water! Even the funky heart-shaped glasses made an appearance, and they suited Kaitlyn’s fun style.
And just as eager as Kaitlyn was to dive into the Style Closet without fear, she also grabbed every photo opportunity, hesitation be damned. Perhaps that’s how she ended up almost waist-deep in the lake, splashing to her heart’s delight. Who cares if your legs are wet if you look beyond fabulous and the camera’s loving every moment!?
A winning smile and perfect poses
Marilyn Monroe smile is an understatement to describe Kaitlyn’s beaming smile! It’s almost impossible not to smile right back; I mean, just look at the twinkle in her eye! Are you surprised to find out that the elegant navy sun hat and trendy romper are both right out of the Style Closet?
In the midst of all the fun it can be surprisingly hard to gain control over your own facial muscles, believe it or not! It’s just so natural to smile when a camera’s around. However, with just a few tips Kaitlyn tried a ‘serious’ pose and crushed it!
Figuring out the Style Closet
The Style Closet is a regular guest on here. If you’ve read more than two or three of my blogs, you’ve definitely heard mention of its famous goodies! Kaitlyn made good use of what the Style Closet has to offer up. If you’d like to follow in her footsteps and try out some of the inside the Style Closet, here’s why that’s a fantastic idea.
Not many senior photographers have this wide selection of accessories, clothing, and props available for clients. You might be apprehensive about diving in, but it always pays off, so give it a try!
It’s all suited to your shoot! I don’t just pick this stuff up and bring it along willy-nilly. You can be sure that these are tried & tested pieces that they know look FANTASTIC on camera. I don’t accept anything less!
It’s fun! Have you seen my “hello boys” sunglasses? Some of my props add a touch of humor to your images, and that’s what graduation photography is all about – laughs, fun, and good times.
One size fits most! Many of my clothing pieces are flexible and can be adjusted to fit most sizes. Moreover, my accessories are the perfect fit for everyone!
Let’s face it…being a teenager isn’t easy. Take a sec to count up all the times you’ve gotten stuck in the middle of a picture without getting the chance to fix your hair or touch up your make-up. No one wants to be the one with their eyes closed or with a wonky chunk of hair sticking straight up in the air when the shutter clicks. But we’ve all been there.
Luckily, selfies came along to save the day. Those handy little self-portraits make it possible to look your natural best in just about any setting. Restaurant bathroom? Check. Roller coaster right before take-off? Check. Impromptu photo shoot with your bestie? Check. Selfies capture all those in-the-moment memories you want to hold onto and share.
And if you don’t look great in a selfie? You simply delete it and take it again. (Try talking Grandma into getting rid of those one-of-a-kind prints from 1995 that show off your gap-toothed grin and the spaghetti-sauce smile you acquired at lunchtime. She’ll never give them up.)
The Allure of the Selfie
There are a few reasons we’re ALL in love with selfies (yep, even the professional photographers among us.) Here’s why they appeal to us so much:
They’re deletable & retakable. (Note: don’t use ‘deletable’ or ‘retakable’ on college entrance essays; totally made those up!) You can take hundreds of selfies from every angle. You can add filters and maneuver lighting until you arrive at the ultimate pièce de résistance to share on social media. We love the flexibility of selfies because we can keep taking them until everyone in the pic is satisfied with the outcome!
They are unique & show off our personalities. Whether you’re goofy, serious, fun, or flirty, selfies capture every side of what makes you…YOU. They are quick little glances into life in motion, as opposed to the stopped-in-time feeling some pictures deliver. And we all love being able to capture life in the moment.
They’re fun & funky. From filters to frames to stickers, there are a billion different ways to jazz up selfies and give them your own unique twist. No two people are alike—and nobody wants their pics to look like anyone else’s. That’s pretty easy to do when taking selfies, and that’s why we love them!
Selfies Are OLD News
Did you know the concept of selfies has actually been around a LOT longer than our cell phones? Many people credit the idea to a man named Robert Cornelius, who took the first example of self-photography in history in 1839. A much different type of photo, this was a daguerreotype which required him to uncover the camera lens, run into photo position, and then hold his position for at least a minute.
Thank goodness we don’t have to do that now!
Then & Now: All About Self-Expression
Whatever kind of selfie, the idea is the same: self-expression. We all love to capture moments in time, and what better way than a quick snap of a pic to share emotion, feelings, and experiences? After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?
Check out these side-by-side pics of Mavery. She’s undoubtedly beautiful in both of them, but each image does a different job! The image on the left is an adorable selfie that captures an in-the-moment expression. With just a quick snap of the cell phone camera, voilà, you’ve got a fun and casual keepsake to remind you of whatever you were doing that day. The image on the right was professionally taken (and the one she’ll want to send to Grandma and the rest of the family). Notice the attention to lighting and shadow in the professional photo. There is no glare on her face, and there are no random flecks of light playing across her face and hair. Even individual strands of hair have been corrected just enough so that her face is framed perfectly and there are no fly-aways. Selfies are fantastically fun, but when it’s time to get that framable keepsake image, be sure to go with a pro!
Wanna be a selfie-snapping guru? Here’s what you can do to get the most sharable, likable selfies out there:
Kick self-doubt to the curb. Be sure to summon a super dose of confidence because however you’re feeling when you click your pic, that will shine through in your photo.
Shake things up. Remember when everyone was doing the “duck face” in their selfies? Yeah, don’t do that. Try to change your expressions, poses, and backgrounds so your selfies don’t end up looking all the same.
Become a geometry buff. Ok, not really, but it IS important to know what angles are good for your selfies. For example, when you angle your chin slightly upward, it’s usually better than a downward angle. (Nobody needs to add extra chins in their pics!) Know what angles make you look great and use them to your advantage.
Leverage natural lighting. Be aware of your location before you start snapping away. Natural lighting is best, but avoid things like the glare of direct sun, direct fluorescent light, or other harsh lighting settings.
Filters can be fun. If you’re feeling blah or just want to add a little spice to your look, play around with some of the many fun filters that are available. You can go for silly, sassy, wacky, or wild—whatever suits your mood that day.
Loosen up. Most of all, have fun and roll with it. Selfies are supposed to be low-key and enjoyable, so don’t stress too much over how they end up turning out. You’re going to end up taking gazillions of them anyway.
Selfies Are for Fun. Photographs Are for Keepsakes.
No matter how great your selfies are, there’s no reason to get too worried about them. After all, when it comes to capturing ginormous moments like high school graduation, you’ll want a professional portrait photographer working with you to get the very best images!
When you’re relaxed and feeling your best, you can snap share-worthy pics all day long. In the above set of pics, Erica does a fabulous job of taking a winning selfie that’s casual and reflects her laid-back personality. In a buffalo plaid shirt, she rocks a refreshing natural look and doesn’t even look like she has to try! On the right, she glams things up for her professional photography session with a nod to perfection in the hair and make-up department, and details like texture and lighting pop when a professional photographer takes over behind the camera.
The Bottom Line
Enjoy every picture-taking opportunity…fabulous selfies and framable mementos, too! Just know that the ones on your wall and the keepsake moments you send to family and friends will be cherished for a long, long time, so be sure they are the professional pics you want on display for everyone to see.
For now, kick back, have fun & selfie the day away! It’ll be great hair, make-up, and confidence practice for mega days…like the day of your senior picture photo shoot.
If you’re like EVERY other SENIOR getting ready for senior pictures, you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about venues and outfits and hairstyles—plus about a million other things. You’ve planned and prepped, and when the big day finally arrives, you’re ready to shine in front of the camera!
Considering daytime and nighttime pics?
If you’re thinking about doing a crossover session that includes both daytime and nighttime images, this is the blog you want to read! I couldn’t think of a better example than Bren’s photo shoot to show you how we can use outfits, lighting, shadow, and texture to completely change the look and feel of your senior pictures.
When I first met Bren and her family, I knew hers would be a photo shoot for the record books. With a sharp eye for style and a defined sense of what she likes (and doesn’t like!), Bren was able to articulate exactly what she was looking for in her senior pictures. I immediately gravitated toward a day-to-night photo shoot so we could show off all the facets of her personality.
We began in the late afternoon, with plenty of sunshine to give us the lighting we needed for some great shots that incorporated sassy shades, sunny smiles, and breezy hair tosses. The day was beautiful, and Bren was able to show off her casual chic fashion sense in billowy tops, a cheeky off-the-shoulder top, and on-trend sunglasses. Pro tip: You can always wear your sunglasses the normal way, or you can spice things up by propping them on your head, twirling them in your hand, or just letting them rest casually beside you for a cool and classy look.
Bren’s easy-going, fun-loving personality made the day a fun event, and nobody even felt tired as the sun started to set!
Of course we had to get the photograph that every graduate and parent loves—the cap and gown picture! Bren rocked this one, too, looking effortlessly glam with nothing but sun and blue skies behind her.
Sweet treats & a quick break
Sometimes I get the opportunity to capture a perfect moment—even when we’re taking a quick break. Hey, when you look this sweet enjoying a piece of chocolate, it’s gotta be captured in a photograph!
There’s a lot to notice in this pic, too. Bren was getting ready for her evening photos, so she changed into a lovely neutral sweater with just the right amount of accessories. The cable-style sweater adds texture to the picture, making minimal accessories the perfect choice. Just a few nice pieces are enough to accent her hair, make-up, and outfit perfectly!
Plus, take a look at those picture-perfect lashes, brows, and nails. This is a great pic to share because it shows exactly why I always tell my clients to focus on the little details, because they really DO show up in your photographs. Of course, edits are possible, but when you show up to your photo shoot with every little detail taken care of, those things add even more to your pictures.
Polka-Dot perfection for sunset pics
I’ll hand it to Bren…she knows exactly what outfits work for her and how to rock them for the camera. (You’d never guess that this dressed-to-the-nines girl loves four-wheeling in her downtime!)
She cleverly dresses up denim with a pretty polka-dot tie-waist blouse and tops it all off with a belt and floppy hat. Once again, just the right amount of accessories to put the spotlight exactly where it belongs: on Bren. P.S. Don’t miss the back of her adorable sweater…we had to get some shots of that, too!
Light up the night: outside pics after dark
When the sun started to go down, we turned to lighting of a different kind—and boy did it let Bren show off yet another side of herself. Leather jacket and mini in tow, she made a quick change and was ready take advantage of the setting sun, and later, the glow from overhead lighting. We were able to capture a bit of her more serious side. A royal blue top is the perfect complement to make her blonde curls stand out, and it glams up the evening with subtle accents like ruched sleeves and a flattering v-neck fit. Talk about the perfect pairing of denim with a sophisticated top!
Bren is graduating in 2021 and plans to study to become either a chef or a forensic psychologist. The first option sounds delish, and the second sounds seriously intriguing! Whichever she chooses, her determined and adventurous spirit, combined with her smarts and drive for success, will definitely get her there. Can’t wait to see everything this young lady ends up accomplishing!
Ready to plan your senior pictures?
Whether you’re a fashionista, a flutist, or a field hockey player, we can plan a daytime shoot or even do a hybrid day-to-night shoot like Bren’s to capture ALL of the things you love. If you’re ready to start putting your ideas into action, check out my Senior Portrait Experience, plus get tons of tips to help you get started!