How to take incredible senior pictures

by David Em
Last updated:

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Senior pictures are an excellent way to document a time of transition and celebrate all that a person has done so far in their life.

Backlit portrait of a person looking down.
Photo by David Em/Portraits Refined.

Senior pictures celebrate and capture a memorable time in a student’s life.

The purpose of a senior portrait is to commemorate their accomplishments. Also, it shares the excitement of their future.

Related: 11 tips to take the perfect profile picture

The photos you take will be in yearbooks, graduation invitations, or saved as memories.

The following is your complete guide to photographing incredible senior pictures.

When to take senior pictures

The ideal time to take senior pictures is in the spring or summer before senior year.

If you want a fall theme, you can take the photos during the fall of senior year.

But, spring and summer are best because the temperature and weather are mild or warm. Also, the days are longer, which gives you more time and light.

Another reason is that schools have a deadline for the yearbook.

9 tips for amazing senior pictures

Senior photography documents a milestone in life. Focus on how you can showcase a subject’s personality, excitement, and ambition.

Use the following tips to take beautiful senior portraits that please the student and parents.

1. Pick a location that matters

Person in forest with snow.
Take senior pictures in places of importance. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

An excellent way to express personality is to take pictures in a location that matters. Learn about your subject before the session.

Understand their hobbies, aspirations, and passions. Also, find out if they’re involved in clubs or organizations.

Then, use the information to find the ideal location.

If someone loves to hike, take senior pictures on a trail or in the mountains instead of an urban setting.

When you take senior pictures in a meaningful location, it’ll be unique and compelling.

2. Create a comfortable environment

Person smiling with their hands up.
A comfortable environment leads to natural and beautiful senior pictures. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Most people aren’t comfortable with a stranger taking photos of them.

As a photographer, you must create a comfortable and positive environment.

Build rapport, use positive language, and offer encouragement.

Show that you care about your subject and share the excitement for their future. Also, listen more than you speak.

Awkwardness and stiffness are clear in photos.

So, a comfortable subject will lead to natural-looking and better photos.

3. Check for guidelines

Person in green graduation gown and cap.
Understand the guidelines and requirements before the session. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Before you begin taking photos, understand the guidelines.

Since every school has different requirements, you can make sure you comply.

The guidelines can be about the size of the image, a subject’s clothes, or the type of portraits, such as headshots or full-body photos.

While there are guidelines, you can also take other photos. The other images can be for social media or memories.

But, make sure you get photos that meet the criteria.

4. What to wear for senior photos

Person in dress looking back.
Senior photography sessions can include one or more outfits. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Senior pictures are a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

For their wardrobe, your subject can have one or more outfits. Make sure you plan for a place and time to change into different clothes.

The wardrobe should have clothes that represent your subject’s style. Also, the clothes need to be clean and crisp.

If you’re unsure about the wardrobe, suggest a casual and dressy outfit. Another fun idea is to showcase their culture and heritage.

Keep the outfits straightforward. You can express your subject’s personality with expressions, clothing, and location.

5. Use composition techniques

Person with hand in pocket.
Use composition techniques to enhance your photos. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

The composition of a photograph is how you arrange the elements within a frame.

Various composition techniques make your images stand out and be visually pleasing.

Some of the best composition techniques to use for senior pictures are as follows:

The purpose of composition is to take better photos. Experiment with different techniques and perspectives to capture stunning senior pictures.

6. Bring a friend

Person laughing.
Friends can make the subject more comfortable. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Friends are the key to a fun and comfortable senior photography session.

Sometimes, people prefer their friends to be at the session over their parents or being alone. Another benefit is that friends can help you provide positive feedback.

Before the session, ask your subject if they want to bring a friend and explain how it can help.

It’s an excellent way to capture outstanding senior pictures with genuine expressions.

7. Have a common vision

Person sitting with balloons around them.
Be on the same page for a better client experience. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

A common vision is essential for a satisfied client. Your subject must understand how the session will go and what to expect.

Before the session, talk to them about the type of photos they want instead of only what their parents want.

A great way to have a common vision is to create a collaborative mood board. It provides inspiration and direction for the session.

8. Use a longer lens to avoid distortion

A longer focal length is excellent for senior pictures because it eliminates distortion.

While it’s not crucial for full-body portraits, a long lens is key for close-ups. A 50mm lens or longer works well and leads to beautiful results.

Another benefit of a longer lens is that you’ll capture more separation in the background.

You’ll photograph better bokeh and blur when you use a wide aperture.

9. Take and edit timeless photos

Person in suit looking to the side.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Keep your shooting and editing style timeless because trends will pass.

Your client should look back at the photos without embarrassment. The senior pictures must stand the test of time.

Also, make sure you offer color and black and white versions of the photos.


Senior pictures are wonderful because you get to document a special moment in someone’s life.

It’s an exciting time for seniors, and you’ll capture photos they’ll cherish for the coming years. Use the tips you learned to take the best senior pictures.

Featured photo by David Em/Portraits Refined.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

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About Portraits Refined

Portraits Refined (PR) is a media company that publishes the latest expert-backed portrait photography tips, in-depth camera gear reviews, and helpful advice to grow your photography business.