Portrait photography

2021 RF + WPPI High School Senior Portrait Photography Tips & Trends


While social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have made high school kids more demanding when it comes to imagery, it’s no surprise that the “classic” portrait of high school kids has turned into a highly personalized production.

For example, Audrey Wulard’s edgy and unpretentious style has put her on the map for her young clients, including high school students looking for a billboard-quality photoshoot. And let’s face it, today’s high school student has a more perceptive eye than ever before, so photographers like Woulard must constantly be one step ahead to stay relevant and in demand.

Fashion photographer and portrait painter Lindsay Adler agrees. “Today’s high school student is constantly bombarded with visuals from the fashion world, whether it’s from celebrities they follow on Instagram or on the pages of Vanity ShowAdler wrote in Rangefinder. “They don’t want their poses to be too repeated, static or traditional; they want more of the excitement and glamor they see in contemporary media and the personalities they admire.

But this past year has been intensely disruptive to say the least for high school students, as the pandemic has taken away some of their precious rites of passage into adulthood. In May, Mary Vance wrote about three different ways for photographers to connect with their high school clients after the pandemic, including offering video services that she found very popular at a time when school events were going virtual.

Rf and WPPI have put together this report as part of our monthly educational content to help photographers reset their businesses this year after a hectic 2020. Of the 247 people questioned, 45% identify as him / her, 39% as her / her, 5% as them / them and 11% preferred not to say so. The overwhelming majority of respondents were full-time or part-time professional photographers (80%) and tended to be older, with 82% over 45 years old.

Preparing for the shot is essential for an easy and fun day for both photographer and subject. The vast majority of those surveyed (87%) said they spoke with their client ahead of time to build rapport and understand their personality, while 74% spotted the location, 27% planned a lighting setup, 24% created a mood board and 20% hired an assistant.

Photographer Hope Taylor pointed out in the Rf article “Preparing your senior clients portraits” that many young clients will probably never have had their portraits taken in a professional setting before, so she recommends sending a questionnaire before the shoot. She also suggests creating a Pinterest board with recommended outfits so customers get a feel for how to dress, and creating a multi-page “senior style guide” that includes her most frequently asked questions, including understood what the shoot will look like, its political backwardness, what to do with hair, makeup and nails, and local recommendations.



When it comes time to shoot, after getting to know them for 15 minutes, she writes: “I like to give my seniors what I call my pep talk before the shoot: I break down exactly what they can. expect and relieves their stress. . “Taylor points out that he is her work so that his subjects are beautiful, their only job is to have fun on the set.

Photographers said fashion / beauty and fine art images were the types of images that inspired them the most, with many citing Amanda Holloway and Sal Cincotta as their favorite high school photographers, and Lindsay Adler and Sue Bryce as their favorite general sources of creation. inspiration. More than half (57%) agreed that lighting is the most important element for them to provide a powerful portrait, followed by pose (21%), composition (18%) and setting (4, 7%).

Photographers also said they think collaborating with the subject is key, with 81% saying they collaborate with their subjects, and 14% saying they do sometimes.

“I have a workflow that I tend to repeat, but I adapt it based on the level of comfort and flexibility of the subject,” one photographer told us. “If the subject has specific requests, I honor them. “

Photographers said showing the subject’s personality was the most important thing to convey in portraits, and almost all (98%) said they achieved this through open communication and posing. Another 72% said they did it through the wardrobe, 28% said set design can help, and only 17% chose decoration.

The majority of those surveyed (62%) said they were shooting in the studio, while the rest photographed on location. Almost half of photographers said their typical high school shots lasted half a day, 40% said less than half a day (with many of them 1-3 hours) and only 7% said they lasted a full day.

Prices varied greatly among respondents, but Rf offered advice on pricing your services in

“How to evaluate and structure senior portrait packages”. Photographer Talara Jo Hall keeps her offerings simple with just two packages, while photographer Travis Dewitz has a few options ranging from 20 minutes with one gaze to four hours with four gazes.

As for the atmosphere on set, photographer Shawn Lee said Rf that he transforms his shoots into an event he attends. “I shoot tethered on a 60-inch screen — it’s a great composition and instant gratification tool for those working in the studio. I also allow the student to invite friends, family, teammates and classmates to the sessions which makes it a great fun high school event, ”he said.

For smaller shots, only 39% of photographers said they offer mini-sessions, shorter shots at a discount with limited options for the customer. Of those offering them, 57% said they started the service to reach new customers, 34% said they were filling empty slots, and 12% said they had provided an alternative service during the pandemic.

Most photographers (69%) said they use accessories when taking pictures, while 31% do not. For backgrounds, muslin / fabric options were the most popular, with 35% of photographers stating it was their preference, while 28% used seamless paper, 8% used foldable backgrounds, and only 1 , 5% use vinyl and PVC options.

For lighting, photographers were evenly split on artificial lights producing the most flattering results, with 40% preferring off-camera flashes / flashes and 40% preferring flashes. Only 5% chose the built-in flash in the camera and 3% for ring lights. Almost half of photographers (49%) said harsh midday sunlight was their biggest lighting challenge, followed by fluorescent lighting (15%) and low light (12%).

To set the mood, the majority of respondents said side lighting was their technique of choice, followed by discreet lighting. High intensity lighting and spotlights were less popular. And, to distinguish subjects from the background or the background, investigators said they prefer peripheral lighting. The second most popular option was to use contrasting colors, and the third was to light up the backdrop.

Godox was the most popular lighting brand, followed by Profoto, Westcott and Canon. For lighting accessories, photographers crowned Westcott, then Profoto.

For lenses, more photographers chose Canon, followed by Nikon and Sigma. They widely said that aperture was the most important characteristic of a portrait lens (63%), although 12% and 11% chose image stabilization and image stabilization, respectively. Zoom, autofocus monitor, and weight were the least popular features. The most popular lens length for the primary lens of photographers was 70-200mm and 85mm.


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