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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

How to choose your senior portrait photographer

So you are now officially a senior (or about to be)!  This is such an exciting time in your life and you want to remember it with amazing senior portraits that stand out – images that reflect you and who you are…and of course images that make you feel fabulous!
The most important step is to choose the right senior photographer for you.  There are many, many options available to you and it can be overwhelming deciding who will give you exactly what you want. 
I want to start by clarifying a common question.  If you live in the North Dallas area, you do have to go to the chosen school photographer for your yearbook photo the summer before your senior year.  However, you do NOT have to purchase any of the images.   You can choose your own photographer to capture your memories.
As you begin your search for a senior photographer, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.      Find an experienced, professional photographer
Your senior pictures are most likely the one time in your life that you will have a photo session completely dedicated to you.  You need to make sure the person you are entrusting is a professional with true experience.  Find out how long they have been in business; and specifically, how long have they specialized in Senior Photography.  Senior photography is an art form very different from newborns and toddlers.  Make sure they have specialized experience to give you what you are looking for.  Ask for references!
2.      Meet with the photographer in person
A professional photographer will meet with their clients in person.  You need to meet them, get to know them, and see if you connect with them; not only as a photographer, but as a person.  Connection is one of the most important aspects in achieving final images that reflect you. 
Make sure that they offer an in person consultation prior to your session to discuss clothing, style, and expectations.  You need to ensure that you and the photographer are connecting and on the same page in order to get the end results that you would like.
3.      Ask to see and touch prints and products
The final product is extremely important when making your decision.  There is a difference between the product printed by a professional photographer using professional labs and a product printed at the local drugstore.  You need to make sure that their products will last a lifetime.  Be sure to look at their albums, ask to see one of their videos, examine the quality of their prints and their frames.  A professional will have products available for you to touch and feel.  If they can’t show them to you, carefully consider if they are truly a professional.
4.      Ask to see an entire session
Using today’s digital cameras, pretty much anyone can capture one or two good images to show someone.  However, producing 60-80 images in different settings with different lighting conditions is a different story.  You also want to look at the creativity of the photographer when looking at a large number of images.  Do they all look the same or do they show creativity and variety?
5.      Pay attention to the use of light and posing in the photographer’s portfolio
Lighting and posing are crucial in senior photography.  There are some phrases that many amateur photographers throw around: “I am natural light photographer” and “I don’t make you look posed, I let you be natural”.  Those sound great right? 
The truth is that natural light is beautiful but only if it is used properly.  The photographer must understand how to harness and use natural light.  Ask to see some behind the scenes photos of a session.  If the photographer is using only the camera with no other source of light, they most likely do not understand light very well.  A professional photographer will usually have some sort of light modifier – a reflector to bounce light back into their subject’s face, or an off camera lighting source to fill in shadows.
Posing is also very important.  Proper posing can take 20 pounds off of a person.  Posing can look very natural and “un-posed” if it is done properly; and can make the person look their best.  Keep in mind that some seniors want a high fashion posed look and some want to look natural.  Make sure the photographer knows and understands this and speak confidently on the subject if asked.
6.      Find out the photographer’s services
Does the photographer have a relationship with other vendors to give you the easiest experience possible.  Find out if they have hair and makeup artists they work with.  Some photographers will offer a stylist to help you plan your clothing. 
7.      Make sure the photographer treats you with respect
You want a photographer that will care about you as a person and treat you with respect.  The photographer should listen to you and be able to communicate a vision for your session with you.  Be very wary of senior photographers that show high school seniors in sexy poses or outfits.  Make sure that the photographer you choose respects who you are and produces images that reflect who you are at 16, 17, or 18 years old.  A skilled photographer can produce a high fashion look for the senior that wants it, without resorting to sex appeal.
8.      Communicate on pricing and expectations
Be sure that you fully understand the pricing structure for the photographer you choose.  Ask to see their full price lists and packages.  Don’t accept a vague answer of where the packages start.  It is also a good idea to ask the photographer what the average senior family spends with them.  You do not want to be surprised at when you sit down to order your pictures.  In the Dallas area, you can expect to spend $500-$3500 on your order (in addition to any session fees) from a professional photographer.  Be honest with the photographer up front about your budget so that you can communicate effectively on whether or not they are a good fit for you. 
One last comment, be very wary of using friends or neighbors for your senior pictures.  There are many people trying to enter the photography business having recently purchased a “great” camera.  Skilled photography has nothing to do with the camera.  It has to do with many more facets that take years of experience to master.  If someone wants to practice for free on you, that is something you might consider.  However, if someone is charging you any amount of money, be sure that they can meet the expectations outlined in the article. 
And remember….you can’t hang a disk of images on the wall nor can you hold it in your hands to look at your pictures.  In 20 years, we probably won’t have DVDs or USB ports in our computers.  Unless your senior pictures are printed somewhere, odds are, you won’t be able to look at them in a few years.  Just a thought….


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