High School Senior Portraits – A DIY Guide

A good high school senior portrait is a precious memory. Back in the late seventies when I was graduating high school, everyone was forced to go to the contracted studio. All the guys wore the same style tux with a ruffled shirt and bow tie. All the gals wore a simple black dress and held a single rose. These weren’t senior portraits. They were mug shots.

"Stevie" captured by Don Campbell

“Stevie” captured by Don Campbell (Click Image to Find Photographer)

Today’s Progressive View

Today’s high school senior portraits are much different. Schools may still have a contract photographer, but many allow more casual portraits to be submitted for inclusion in the yearbook. You can hire a professional photographer or shoot them yourself. If you’re inclined to do it yourself read on.

You’ll want to check with your child’s school and get specific instructions for image submission. There will be certain rules on image size, posing, clothing allowed, or other restrictions. Be sure to get some details before you venture out to shoot your own portraits.

Please Talk to Your Kids First

The first thing you need to do is talk to your high school senior. They may have certain ideas about their picture. They may want that formal portrait only a professional studio can provide. Many local photographers will specialize in high school senior portraits.

"Rebekah Tuck Senior 09" captured by Terry

“Rebekah Tuck Senior 09” captured by Terry (Click Image to Find Photographer)

If your senior is willing to let Mom or Dad do the portrait be sure to discuss every aspect with them. You may want to shoot a certain style of portrait, but make sure you shoot it their way, too. Relaxed portraits with their guitar, sporting equipment, new car, or other personal item make for memorable photos.


Look around your house and yard. You may have the perfect spot for a portrait. Be sure to watch for clutter in the background. Move furniture or other items in order to create that perfect setting. If your child has a favorite local park or garden consider going there. Don’t go in the middle of the day when the light is harsh. Light from straight above causes dark ‘raccoon eyes’. Early morning or late in the day is better. The light casts more pleasing shadows and gives a warmer, more golden glow to your photos.

If midday is your only option, you can place your child in the shade under a tree or building roof line. Change your White Balance setting to Shade or your photos will turn out too blue. Be sure to keep them toward the edge of the light and shadow. Using a simple reflector (white foam core board or commercially produced reflector) can help fill in shadows and make the colors pop.

Photo captured by Terry

Photo captured by Terry (Click Image to Find Photographer)


Generally speaking, a P&S camera won’t give you the best results. A digital SLR with a slight telephoto lens and external flash will provide optimum results and give you the most flexibility. Using a telephoto between 70mm and 105mm will help separate your subject from the background.

A flash will help fill in shadows when shooting outdoors or potentially provide all the light if shooting indoors. Bounce the light from your flash off the ceiling or side wall for softer more pleasing light. This may take some experimentation if you’ve not tried it before.

Armed with the right equipment and techniques you can produce a great portrait of your high school senior. Of course, a happy smiling face will help, too.

Karl Peschel runs TeachMeToShoot.com, a website for people who want to learn about digital photography techniques. Karl loves to teach people about photography and strives to explain things in plain English instead of techno babble. Check out the website at http://TeachMeToShoot.com and see for yourself. Sign up for the http://teachmetoshoot.com/nl_signup.html ShootLikeAPro Newsletter and get the free mini-report
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Copyright © 2007 Karl Peschel

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