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Killer Tips on Posing & Photographing High School Seniors


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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!

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“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.

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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:

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“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!

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“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.

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“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.

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“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”

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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.


No Comments

  1. Alicia on May 11, 2011 at 9:10 am

    How about a list of poses or tips for the guys? Masculine and cool poses are a bit more challenging.

    • Carri on May 11, 2011 at 3:15 pm

      My friend and I had the conversation about getting guys in front of the camera the other day. We thought if we got a group of them together and took turns that they would be more relaxed…even a few “buddy ” shots might be cool. Of course, hands in pockets, crossed arms, leaning over a fence on elbows not up against it with theirs backs like the girls, and if in sports or music have their equipment or instrument. 🙂

  2. Rebecca on May 11, 2011 at 9:33 am

    These are all good tips. However, I disagree with the first statement. Although high school girls love being in front of the camera, there are many boys who do not, and some girls. The challenge is to make the session appear is if it is their favorite thing to do. In that, a photographer has succeeded. Love the shots you used in this how-to!

  3. Sue FitzGerald on May 11, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Great article 🙂

  4. Judy K. on May 11, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Thanks! This was really helpful. I loved all the concrete tips.

  5. Dharmesh on May 11, 2011 at 10:00 am

    I enjoyed this article and learned a few tricks. The last part was kinda refreshing because I have been fighting that lately.. Online proofing gives ease of accessibility and speed whereas in-person proofing provides opportunity to connect & build long term relationship with the client(s).

  6. Meredith on May 11, 2011 at 10:07 am

    great post.

  7. Jennifer on May 11, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Fantastic tips. You really go the extra mile, and it shows in your photography. I can tell you LOVE your work. 🙂

  8. Cheryl Walker on May 11, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Thanks! Wonderful article. I do sometimes get stumped and forget to get some shots until afterwards. Thanks for the checklist of shots.

  9. Tammy on May 11, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Excellent article. I’ll remember it. 🙂

  10. Jamie Rubeis on May 11, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Very informational! Thank you for posting!

  11. Tifani on May 11, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    I would love to see some tips for Senior guys, too. I’ll be shooting my own son soon and need inspiration for him.

  12. Rebecca on May 11, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Such a great article. Thank you so much for sharing. My first senior shots this weekend-I am more nervous for these than for newborns and toddlers. Hopefully my “senior” will listen better than the three-year-olds I usually work with!

  13. Lisa McCully on May 11, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Love this article!!!

  14. JackieG on May 12, 2011 at 10:02 am

    I was excited to see this and it was a great article but I’m with the others that are asking about guy poses. Girls have lots of poses but guys are a little more challenging. I would love to hear your advice on them.

  15. dkzody on May 14, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Having worked with teenagers for 21 years as their teacher, including yearbook adviser, I have to agree with many of your comments. Teenagers love to have their picture taken, including the guys. However, the guys have to be shown as handsome, strong, athletic. Getting them to smile can be difficult, but usually a cute girl can charm them into smiling, so try to include a significant other when photographing the guy.

  16. Ashley on December 15, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    where is all the info for the guys?? you can’t pose guys the same way you can girls… I photograph seniors but not all of them are girls!

  17. Charley on February 23, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    The “candid/laughing” picture shows a very unfortunate view of that pretty girl’s thigh. It looks all pinkish and puckered. I can’t imagine that she would be happy with that picture.

  18. jodi cartechine on July 3, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    thank you for sharing this article. I am doing 2 senior sessions next weekend. I am really excited and have put a lot of thought in to each of them to make it a personal experience for them. This article has helped me in knowing more of what I want to achieve. Once again, thank you.

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