Dear Mom & Dad: A Guide to Senior Portraits for Parents
For most parents, senior portraits are a distant memory. Two or three decades ago, we may have had the chance to change into a second outfit or even throw on our school jacket to change things up for senior pictures, but things have changed a lot since then.
Now vs. Then
The sky’s the limit for today’s seniors, and creativity is the name of the game when it comes to planning a senior photo shoot. Professional photographers are in tune with client needs, and they encourage individuality more than ever before. This gives graduates more opportunities to stand out and and make sure their personality really shines in their photographs. From traditional sessions in a studio to trendy urban photo shoots, the opportunities are endless.
Your kiddo has been working their entire school career at whatever drives them and inspires them. Whether it’s academics, sports, music, art, theater, or all of the above, their senior pictures are the perfect chance for them to showcase their unique talents, passions, and personality. Plus, you’ll have keepsake memories of their senior year that will last forever! (The right photographer will also make sure you have plenty of images to display around the house to comfort you when they leave for college!)
Don’t Get Overwhelmed
It’s easy to look at the available options and become overwhelmed with the choices for senior pictures, but if you focus on these 5 Super-Simple Tips, you’ll be cool and collected—and you’ll end up with senior pictures that highlight the very best of your soon-to-be graduate!
Can you believe we’re already talking about 2022 graduation? Let’s get this photo party started! Don’t get overwhelmed; stay on track with these 5 tips to ensure you get the fabulous senior pictures you and your teen are looking for:
Make a Note of the Yearbook Deadline
Knowing the yearbook deadline encourages you to schedule a senior session in advance instead of putting it off until the last minute. Depending on your requirements, a senior photo session will start with a yearbook portrait followed by creative shots that are unique to your child. In most instances, it takes at least two weeks to receive the final images, so be sure to plan accordingly. Oh, and before you schedule your yearbook photo shoot, read this! The school requires a pic of your teen for the yearbook, but did you know that you don’t have to use their photographer?
Keep Your Senior’s Schedule in Mind
You already know how frantic your kiddo’s schedule can be. Before you schedule a session, sit down with your senior to discuss a good time. When they are just as involved as you are in their photo shoot, your teen will be even more eager to make sure everything turns out perfectly! Even the specific time of day matters when scheduling a senior session. Ideally, for outdoor portrait sessions, you’ll want to take photos just after sunrise or just before sunset, as this is when we can catch that beautiful golden sunlight. The specific time varies throughout the year based on the sunset time. As a general rule, we’ll start your session about two hours prior to sunset, which means in January or February we start around 3:30-4:00, but in April we’ll start around 5:00. In the Arizona summer, most sessions take place at sunrise, which helps us beat the heat and provides some gorgeous images!
Sports, Concerts, and other Events
Keeping schedules in mind, you and your teen are the best people to assess your schedule. If they play baseball, do your best to schedule a fall session instead of waiting until spring when there will be daily practices and games. Football players, swimmers, and divers typically compete in the fall, so a spring session could work better. If your teen participates in band, orchestra, or theater, think about when those performances will be and schedule far enough in advance so it won’t be stressful.
Compromise with Your Teen
You may have a specific idea about the photos you would like to see, but this is about your teenager and what makes them feel confident and comfortable. Most senior sessions allow for several outfit changes, so use this as an opportunity to find a happy balance between what you want and what your senior wants. Be patient and hear them out before you dismiss their ideas. Their portraits should represent who they are and what they love. I make it a point to shoot images that both parents and teens love! I don’t expect you to to always prefer the same image, so I shoot a variety to make everyone happy.
Encourage Sharing and Ask Questions
Prior to a senior session, get your child to open up about their passions, hopes, and dreams. This information will help guide the shoot and ensure the most authentic photos. Knowing what your senior wants these photos to represent will also guide their outfit and location choices. Don’t forget to include your senior in the search for a photographer. After all, a photographer’s style needs to be one of the first things you look for when choosing a senior portrait photographer.
If you follow these easy tips, you’ll get started in plenty of time and ensure you have a stress-free senior portrait session for your teen. It’s all about planning and preparation.
The Good News
Once you’re booked and on the calendar, at Magical Memories by Michelle, you’ll never miss a deadline or a step you need to complete. I’ll keep you on track and make sure you and your teen are prepared for the big day! From How-To guides to What to Wear and Style Guides, you’ll get plenty of expert advice and insights. And don’t forget about the exclusive Style Closet! (Worried about what to wear or how to accessorize? Not with the Style Closet at your disposal!)
When you select your professional photographer, be sure you’re getting the clarity and guidance you need from the very beginning, and you’ll have a fun and stress-free experience with your teen!
Choosing a professional portrait photographer for your senior pictures is no easy task! There are literally thousands of photographers out there with a wide range of experience and services, and it can be overwhelming. One thing that sets me apart is the fact that I specialize in teens and seniors. I love this age and I love celebrating this special time in their lives! I feel like it gives me the opportunity to really help their confidence and self image. Have you seen my tagline? “Building confidence one picture at a time.” And it’s true! Teens are always so hard on themselves, so one goal for my senior photo shoots is to make sure that my seniors feel extra special. They get my undivided attention for several hours, with no rush. Because I’m not watching the clock, we can change outfits, switch back, move locations, and try different looks all without the stress of trying to fit everything into a 1-2 hour photo shoot. Did you know that most of my senior portrait sessions last 2.5-3.5 hours? Sometimes even a bit longer if we’re doing night shots!
What Happens During Your Senior Photo Shoot
Adrienne, like many teen girls, was excited about having her senior pictures taken but of course was still nervous about being in front of the camera. Her mom, Laurel, loved the fact that we wouldn’t be rushed, but she too was a little nervous. It’s totally normal and perfectly OK to be uncertain about this process! I deal with teenagers all the time, in fact my own two kids are Class of 2019 and Class of 2021. I’m used to their quirks, eye rolls, and opinions. How do I break through that teenage wall? All of my portrait sessions include an in-person consultation. I believe that plays a huge part in the final images! After all, I wouldn’t expect anyone to be comfortable in front of the camera after meeting just a few minutes prior to their session!
At Adrienne’s in-person consultation, we met and discussed what she was looking for and even shared some photos of her ideas with me. That sometimes worries me a little, because it requires specific outfits and lighting in order to make it work. Every photographer has their own style. ! But this time…magic! Adrienne had just the right outfits, shoes, and accessories to be sure her senior pictures would be flawless. She started out with this cute dress with just the right amount of color, and since we had a gorgeous sky that day, the tall grass made a gorgeous backdrop! Her makeup was flawless and her long curls gave her a great look for her senior pictures! The sunglasses paired with a more serious expression, helped add variety to her final gallery.
Senior Pictures at the Lake
While it looks sunny and gorgeous, like a typical Arizona day, it was actually very chilly! The day of Adrienne’s photo shoot it was in the low 60s and for us AZ peeps who are used to warm weather it was COLD!!! And yet she splashed, twirled, and waded in the lake as if it was a beautiful spring day! Then to add to the look, I got some more artistic shots playing with the sun flare which turned out to be some of Adrienne’s favorites.
Creating Artistic Senior Pictures
As a professional photographer in Chandler, I see beyond just what the eye sees. I have a vision even before shooting the image, I know what can be retouched, and what will really make an image special. This one, which is another favorite, was made into a beautiful metal portrait with a quote. Yes, everything is custom designed so we were able to use a quote that Adrienne’s dad uses for her. It has special meaning to their family, so it goes from being “just a picture” to being a beautiful piece of artwork in their home that they will cherish forever.
In fact, did you know that this portrait session right her is what inspired me to grow my Style Closet? This was one of those sessions that I knew had to be styled perfectly with the white boho dress and accessories. Not too long after this, I had many requests for images like this…but as I said, the styling can make or break the image. Can you imaging this same image with a girl in a bright colorful romper? How about jeans and a t-shirt? Some outfits work and some definitely won’t! So my Style Closet began with hats and accessories then expanded to included flowy dresses for senior girls who wanted to have portraits taken by the water.
Downtown Chandler Senior Pictures
With all the outfits Adrienne had, we were able to create a gorgeous gallery with lots of expressions that really show her personality. She loves to write music and brought her guitar along, so she looks stunning sitting on the waterfall in the sun. As an added surprise, I put the lyrics to her favorite song in her Premier Slideshow. We used a hat from our Style Closet, tried out many different locations, and when the sun went down, we kept going! Check out the variety here!!! And this isn’t her whole gallery! I see many photographers who give final galleries with images that are very similar. My job is to take only the best of the best, artistically edit and professionally retouch each photo by hand, then spend time at the Reveal and Design Session to help you select your favorites and design your artwork! It is a complete boutique experience that caters to seniors and their families.
Consultation to Plan Your Senior Pictures
As I mentioned, I offer in-person consultations with every client prior to booking. This gives us a chance to meet and make sure my services fit your needs. You’ll have time to ask questions and see lots of examples from senior girls just like you! Mom & Dad will have the chance to check out the pricing and packages so they can get some ideas of what products will work best for them. Though there aren’t any minimum requirements, most of our clients choose to spend $1500-$3500 on their senior portrait experience. If you know Adrienne, ask her about her senior portraits back then…and then ask about our plans for this soon-to-be college grad and her next graduation photo shoot! I’d love to meet you, so get in touch and let’s make your senior year a time to remember with an amazing senior portrait experience!
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!
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!