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The Truth About Yearbook Photos | Class of 2025

One myth that seems to confuse and frustrate seniors and parents every year is whether or not they're required to use the school photographer for senior photos. Usually, if they want to get into the yearbook, the answer is yes. Most Phoenix area schools will require you to use the contracted photographer if you want your picture included in the yearbook, but that definitely isn't your only option for senior photos!

The Truth About Year Book Photos: School Contracted Photographers

It’s time to say what’s usually left unsaid: The photography industry isn’t a strictly regulated industry. Like any other artistic profession, there’s always some wiggle room for expression, innovation, and just pure creativity. But what that freedom leaves behind is a lot of grey areas and some divergent practices. So, it’s no wonder I’ve been asked approximately 2.5 million questions since the start of my career. One myth that seems to confuse and frustrate seniors and parents every year is:

“Do I have to use the school photographer for senior pictures?” 

For senior students, that means: are they obligated to use the photographer that their high school has selected? Usually, if they want to get into the yearbook, the answer is yes. While many high schools across the country allow students to submit their own yearbook photo, most metro Phoenix area schools will require you to use the contracted photographer if you want your picture included in the yearbook.  That used to mean getting something better than the school pictures that you’ve had taken since kindergarten. You went to their studio and had a few choices of photos for the yearbook, sometimes even an outdoor portrait. In recent years, the Gilbert School District has started having “senior pictures” done in the auditorium.

Speaking from experience with my 2019 grad, it was nothing short of awful. The incorrect times were given, there is no retouching, and it is the same basic background as all the underclassmen. You’re a number, that’s it. Smile, click, done. No personality, nothing that makes this milestone even a little special.  I hate doing this, but with his permission, I wanted to share my son’s “senior photo” from 2019. Keep in mind, this wasn’t the first attempt during school picture day! If you can imagine, that one was even worse! The 2nd attempt was a complete lack of communication and frustration that lead to the 3rd attempt (pictured) which required him to drive to the studio anyway. So in this case, nobody else was there so they they had at least a few minutes to get a decent picture. And they still botched it. I want to mention that the majority of these issues are not in any way his fault. The fake smile? Ok, maybe. But a good photographer can even help with that! As a professional photographer, two of the biggest mistakes that stick out is the horrible lighting and the fact that the edge of the background is showing. Where is that eye-roll emoji when you really need it? 

Just a quick note, I did ask Trevor’s permission before sharing this picture on my blog. He absolutely hates it and was more than happy to let me share hoping that seniors will realize that there are so many better options for senior pictures.

High School Senior Yearbook Photos Mesa

Don’t worry, you might have to take a picture or two with the contracted photographer (especially if you’re on a school team). You definitely aren’t required to have all of your senior photos with them. That doesn’t mean they won’t try! In fact, most parents and seniors have their own unfortunate stories about forking out unexpectedly for photos they never asked for. Contracted photographers could even try to convince you that they’re the only option for senior portraits while attempting to sell their packages.  When in reality, you can choose your own senior photographer and have a gorgeous gallery filled with images like this. Same kid, different photographer.

Think it’s because I’m his mom? Heck no!!!! Ask any photographer who their most difficult client is and each will say their own children!  This image was taken within a few weeks of the school pictures. Yes, we did several sessions together including cars and other outfits, but this is standard in all my sessions. A beautiful headshot of your teen. Sometimes smiling, sometimes not, always a beautiful portrait of your soon-to-be graduate.

high school senior yearbook photos gilbert

You Don’t Have To Pay 

In the last 13 years of business, I’ve heard many parents complain not about the cost, but of the quality. They don’t even like the pictures, yet they feel obligated to pay for them! 

You see, while some photographers take yearbook photos on the school’s premises, others host senior photography sessions in their own studios. In the latter case, the photographers generally have a little more time to deal with each student and go above and beyond capturing a basic yearbook photos. But remember, you DO NOT have to buy these images. In fact, it’s not even your job to pay for your senior yearbook photo. It might take all of your strength to say no. Still, truthfully, that money can be spent better elsewhere – like on a professional senior photographer who’ll invest in getting photos that really showcase you, your talents, and your personality! 

Trevor has a love of cars, in particular sports cars. Arranging to borrow this 1965 Shelby Cobra was a special treat for both of us and this is definitely a favorite image!

Professional Senior Pictures Yearbook Photo Graduation

You Have The Freedom To Pick Your Own Photographer!

It’s crazy to think that one background is enough for thousands of students! They’re all bursting off in different directions with their own interests, experiences, and preferences. That can’t all be contained or captured in one generic shoot. Also, your senior year has numerous milestones leading up to graduation. Magical Memories by Michelle strives to create a senior portrait experience that will be a milestone and one of the best memories of senior year!

You see, independent photographers (ME!) are not bound by any school district. So, I have the right to fully customize shoots for my clients, and I’m not afraid to use it! I’m free to collaborate with my seniors on their shoots. So, we can either focus it entirely on what they want or spend our time hunting down great locations while brainstorming fun pose ideas – mainly a mix of both! I’m also there to help with outfit ideas (ahem, Style Closet,) retouching your images, and offer a helping hand when you’re picking your favorites for designer products.  

Custom Yearbook Photos

For a select few lucky students, they can hire a professional photographer and submit their own yearbook photo. I require the specs from the school, but here are a few yearbook photos I’ve taken. In both cases the girls were allowed to sort through and choose their favorite to submit. So they are still simple, but still so much better than the standard. 

Best Senior Photos Yearbook Mesa AZ

Plea to Parents of High School Seniors

Please do not wait until a week before your yearbook photo is due! I know there is a lot going on, check the dates now and be prepared. Yearbook photos are super easy, even outdoors, and can be done in less than 10 minutes. If you’re prepared, the entire process can be done in under 30 minutes.

The Process is Simple

  1. Contact your professional photographer to pick a date
  2. We’ll shoot for about 5-10 minutes, some kids take awhile to warm up to the camera
  3. Return to my office to select your favorite(s) for full retouching
  4. Your final image typically be ready within 48 hours.
  5. Cost is $275+tax and includes 1 fully retouched digital image

Get it touch soon and let’s have fun and capture some great moments – I look forward to shooting getting an amazing yearbook photo!

Find a Photographer for Yearbook Photos

If you’re a 2025 grad it’s important to research your senior portrait photographer be 100% sure you find a style you love! If you’re interested in learning more about Magical Memories senior portrait experience, I’d love to share my Senior Client Welcome Guide with you! Just click below to sign up and the guide will be delivered to your email!

Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest for creative senior picture ideas, as well as tips and tricks to look your very best for your senior photos!

  • What a great educational post for senior’s and their parents! It always drives me crazy when the school contracted photographers “trick” parents and students into thinking they can only use them for their senior photos. Those yearbook pictures your took for your senior girls don’t even compare to the standard school issued photos! Beautiful images!

    • It’s so frustrating. I’ve now seen it first-hand since my kids are Class of 2019 and Class of 2021. They trick people into ordering pictures, announcements, and other items that aren’t required.

  • LOVE THIS! Thank you for sharing the truth about yearbook photos. We have the same issue here. The school pushes this “contracted photographer” and parents get letters that make them think that they HAVE to use them and pay their crazy prices for a cookie cutter experience! I had it this year with my own senior and we loved the image I took of her so much more. We have to wear that stupid drape here!

    • Oh yuck, we don’t have the drape thing here. But honestly, have you ever heard someone rave about their kids’ school pictures? Of course not! Senior portraits should be a milestone for senior year, an event all by itself, and I really hope all my seniors remember how fun their senior portrait experience was!

  • This is awesome! I’m so glad you said this because we all want to!! Thankfully where I am, the Seniors can choose and outside photographer that has a few guidelines to follow. But just knowing the difference makes ALL the difference…

    • You are so lucky!!! I’ve done senior pictures in Colorado too, and it is so nice that the seniors can submit one of their professional senior portraits for the yearbook!

  • This 100%! The contracted photographer doesntt get to know the Senior, or focus on what makes them UNIQUE! what you showcased here does exactly that! You have found a way to capture the senior in revolutionary ways that showcase who they are! I love this!!

    • Hey Kelly! Thanks so much for commenting! I really hate how they do yearbook pictures in Arizona, but I guess with such large high schools it probably is easier. I just want parents to be aware, you know? I have so many clients that find out after the fact that they didn’t have to buy a package from the photographer or announcements from Jostens. There are lots of other options!

  • You are so right! There is so much more to Senior photography than the cookie cutter photos the Seniors have to get through their High School. What a great article you wrote to explain this so nicely. Love the absolute great images you captured on this handsome Senior.

    • Hi Kim, thanks so much for commenting! I really hope parents of seniors have a chance to read this so they won’t make the same mistakes as my previous clients. And I agree…he is pretty handsome. I was so frustrated seeing the horrible school pictures. The original photo came back with a huge sweat stain down the front of his shirt. Of course there wasn’t and option to retouch it!

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