Killer Tips on Posing & Photographing High School Seniors

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Killer Tips on Posing & Photographing High School Seniors

Killer Tips on Posing & Photographing High School Seniors

I often get asked for tips on posing and photographing seniors, and while I can easily throw a few good tips, I feel that getting my seniors to look natural and comfortable in front of the camera actually involves a lot more than just some simple instruction at the session.  (Of course, instruction at the session is very important!).   After reading this post,I hope you will look at posing in a whole new light and for it to become much more natural for you and your client!  I want you to rethink how you give instructions to your seniors and also consider how your client receives that instruction – how comfortable they are with you!  Hopefully, you’ll never receive “photographers block” again and at each session you’ll have so many ideas you won’t want to stop!

“Before the Session”

One thing to understand about teenagers is that they LOVE having their picture taken!  (Just think about how often they change their profile picture on Facebook!) And, if you can make them look good, well, you’ll never have to worry about business again with how proudly they’ll be showing everyone at school and on Facebook!

So, we know seniors are happy to be in front of the camera, how do we make them look good in front of the camera?

The first part is being their friend, helping them feel excited, comfortable and looking forward to working with you.  When you receive that first inquiry, sound excited! When seniors call (or email) to book a session, at first they’re timid as if they’ve called the wrong number, but I quickly come back with, “You want to book a photo shoot!? Yay! This’ll be fun!”  I can tell by the tone of their voice, they automatically relax.  (Side note: perhaps because most of my seniors find me on Facebook from seeing their friends’ pictures, and their friends encouraging them to call, they are the ones who call me, not their mom’s, which I prefer because then I’m able to lay the ground work from the beginning).

Teenagers are really bubbly and positive, be really enthusiastic.  Even if your communication is through email, there are still ways to make them feel comfortable, don’t be afraid to use multiple exclamation points at the end of a sentence!!!! (<—Like that) I know it sounds silly, and frankly, I feel a little stupid telling you to do it but it works because it’s just like the old advice you always here to match the tone of voice of the person you are speaking with.

If you’ve built this friendship foundation from the beginning, you’ll already have a head start by the time the session rolls around.  They’ll greet you like an old friend – as opposed to mom making all of the arrangements, when they’d be a lot more nervous at that first encounter at the beginning of the session.

“During the Session”

It’s definitely true that some people (teenagers included) are much more natural in front of the camera than others.  But, I find with the right direction and foundation laid, your job can be made a lot easier.

Used in this project and related actions:


When I start off every session by going through the outfits they’ve brought (I encourage my seniors to bring 3-4 outfits – with variety), I keep in mind what outfits will look better with which poses and backdrops and plan from the beginning.

I think there are a lot of photographers out there that pick their backdrop, the pose and then think their job is done.  However, that formula is what makes for an awkward looking photo.  Once you get them in their pose, you need to pay attention to the expression they’re giving, are their shoulders hunched? (Are they supposed to be hunched?) What about their hands, do they look relaxed or more like claws? Is their head turned in an unflattering or flattering angle? Do they look super tense overall?  As you look through the viewfinder, find those flaws and fix those tiny but very significant details, it will make such a big difference in the overall look of the picture!

Another rule of thumb to follow (and I’m not even sure where I heard it? Maybe on this blog??), is where to draw the line as far as “sexiness” is concerned.  Never combine a sexy look, with a sexy outfit, with a sexy pose.  As long as you don’t do more than 2 of these things in each image, you’ll have happy parents.

As you go through the session, continue to make jokes, be silly, and never say, “Okay, this isn’t working, you look awkward”.  Even though they will laugh it off and even agree, it will bring their confidence down at least slightly.

I have this mental list in my head of “poses.” It’s something like this:

  • head shot
  • laying down on back
  • lean sideways
  • looking away/profile
  • candid
  • laughing
  • sitting down

I know they kind of sound like code words, but if I have that list memorized, I can reference back to it and never be at a loss for what to do next.  I pick my pose and then I work it out, here are some examples:

“Candid/laughing”, I get her posed how I want her and then I bust out the knock knock jokes and horrible impersonations.  Genuine laughs always end up being someone’s favorite pictures – whether its the senior, parent, or me!

“Looking away/profile”.  Here is just one tiny example! Making them look directly into the sun! Once again, the rest of her body is posed and you need to take into account what her hands, arms and legs are doing – don’t just focus (pun not intended) on her profile.  Hands should be soft, shoulders down and back.

“Headshot” – get creative! All a headshot means is from the chest or neck up!  A headshot can be a good opportunity to use the hands and props.

“Laying down on back”  I remember this pose was a little uncomfortable for her because of how far she had to turn her head to the side – but sometimes, the most uncomfortable poses look the best! (Seniors are at least one client that will do anything for a cool shot!)  Don’t be afraid to direct them into a position that looks good, be picky, it will pay off in the end.

“After the Session”

I have found in-person ordering appointments more effective than putting up an online gallery for them.  Sales are pretty much always much higher if the client can see and hold the product they are purchasing.  And, if you’ve worked to develop a relationship with them from the beginning, the appointment is more like a party!  I bring dessert, their images, some samples and we have a great time!  Always offer them something for sending their friends to you!  I usually ask if they have any friends that would be interested in a photo shoot.  They always do, and I let them know if they get their friends to call and book, I’ll give them a custom iphone cover (with their picture on it) or whatever else they may want.  I continue the relationship on Facebook, occasionally commenting on their status, etc.  The two seconds it takes me to be interested in their lives encourages them to “help me out” by sending me business and keeps them from forgetting me.

Cherie Hogan is a senior portrait and wedding photographer based in Las Vegas.  She is always willing to share her knowledge if you only ask.  Like her on Facebook or visit her on her blogsite where she shares tips to help other photographers along.


Need help with posing seniors?  Check out the MCP Senior Posing Guides, filled with tips and tricks for photographing high school seniors.

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Killer Tips on Posing & Photographing High School Seniors