The Only Guide to Senior Portraits You’ll Ever Need

SeniorPhotoTooMuchSmile“Senior photos” are about as intelligent as “dog baths.” If you’re going to spend forty minutes washing something, then why put that time towards an animal that will immediately head for the nearest pile of mud, compost, or bird-scattered worm guts?

Similarly, if you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars on a photographer and prints of yourself, you want to make sure you do so at the age when you’re covered in the maximum amount of acne, have disproportionate body measurements, and have a personal style you’ll look back on with a mixture of hatred and disbelief.

In other words, senior portraits are a venerated high school tradition. Perhaps the real reason is we like to feel good about our appearance. After all, the most popular interior decoration is a mirror. And with senior photos, you’ll be stunned by how you look, from the moment the photographer breaks out the camera until the moment you see the first photo, at which point you’ll be even more stunned by just how average you appear.

But don’t worry. There are many tested tricks that you can use to elevate your senior photos from “Clip Art” to “Getty Images.” And, having gone through a session of these senior photos myself, I can tell you exactly how to perfect your portraits.

The Backgrounds

The sort of background you choose for your photo should reflect your true personality. For this reason, many students like to choose a brick wall.

Aside from walls, the most popular backgrounds include a wide-open field of grass, a wide-open body of water, a wide-open grove of trees, or a wide-open can of beans. The general idea is that you want to emphasize that you are the only human being for miles. You want to follow the theory established in car commercials that if your car is the only car left on the face of the earth, it must have, by default, the best handling and lowest APR financing.

But if you’re looking for a more creative background, try to think about your central character traits. Are you brave? Hop inside the parakeet enclosure at the zoo. Daring? Take a picture on the edge of an unusually high street curb. Indecisive? Carry a section of brick wall to a wide-open field.

The Poses

Once you’ve decided upon where to stand, you now need to figure out how you want to stand.

Once again, you can turn to your older peers for inspiration. And while both genders may pick similar backgrounds, at this point distinct differences between boys and girls begin to emerge.

For boys, the most popular poses are sitting and standing. If you’re trying to send the message that you are the ultimate cool, the beast of the swag, the sickest of slicks, and the chillest of flames, then you could…lean…against…a …wall. Now I’ll wait while you recover from your amazement at the creativity of high school boys.

Girls, however, use a much larger variety of poses. A popular pose is bashfully looking downwards and to the side. Basically, you’re trying to appear relaxed, but you are actually concerned that the ground beneath your feet is about to give way and swallow you up, just as it did to all the other people who were in the now-empty wide-open field. Another pose you’ll probably see is the “head tossed back laughing” pose. The real goal of this pose is to highlight the beauty of someone’s thyroid gland. And, of course, you can’t forget the “lying on the ground with hair splayed” pose. This is a great pose if you want to illustrate that popular look of being a plant growing out of the ground with your hair as the roots.

But if you really want to differentiate yourself, you should work hard to come up with a creative pose. Take some photos looking at a brick wall. Splay your hair out—in space. You could even showcase your inner mime, and pose inside an invisible glass box.

Picking the Right Photographer

Although you may not realize it until you’ve reached your own senior year, senior photo photography is a viciously competitive market.

The first thing you’ll notice is the sudden number of your classmates that have become student reps, all handing out business cards. The idea here is that if a photographer can take photos of a better-than-average looking rep and make them look better-than-average, they can take pictures of you that make your acne look better-than-average. Heck, the photographer could probably take photos of a toad and make it look better-than-average!

What you should actually look at comes down to both cost and ability. Find the cheapest photographer with a digital camera, make sure they have enough manual dexterity to push a shutter button, and hire them. Alternatively, you could try to start a “senior photo selfie taken at arm’s length, with 80,000 Instagram filters applied” trend.


The purpose of a photo is to be admired. So you need to have a multi-pronged propagation strategy as soon as you get your photos.

First, submit them to the yearbook. Then, put your favorites on Facebook. Make sure to tweet one for “#myfacemonday.” Have your parents put them on “email,” whatever that is. Print vinyl banners of the photos and have a biplane fly them around your town. Tuck them under windshield wipers at your local mall’s parking lot. Mail copies to your elected representatives. Here, there is no such thing as “too much.”


Regardless of your perspective on senior photos, I assure you that they will be better than school pictures. And yes, there’s probably some deep theme about “it’s not what’s on the outside that matters, but what’s on the inside.” But if you’re so embarrassed by your photos that you want to make sure no one sees them, and eat the prints, well, then they’re inside, too.

Since I don’t want to leave you stuck on that paradox, though, think about this instead: whether you’re genuinely happy, or simply amused by the ridiculous-ness of the senior photo process, you will always be able to find a reason to crack an embarrassingly awkward smile for your picture.

If you’re less concerned with senior portraits than the upcoming holidays, you might want to check out How to Handle Horrible Holiday Gifts, published at this time last year. To be prepared for whatever unexpected gifts the holidays may bring, you may want to read this invaluable guide.

3 Things You Can Do To Look “Cool” Without Checking Your Phone

Look Cool Without Your PhoneCell phones are constantly improving our communication with each other.

First, you could call. Then, you could email back and forth via Blackberry or other fresh produce. Next, you could drop calls. After that, it became possible to send and receive texts. And now, using the iMessage app on an Apple or other fresh produce, you can watch an indicator telling you when people are typing a reply. Soon, our phones will advance to the point where they can text each other without any input from us, allowing us to socialize with upwards of a hundred people all while doing homework or sleeping.

It’s no secret that teens spend a lot of time texting each other. But it’s also no secret that half the time we appear to be texting, we’re simply looking at our phones to avoid interacting with people around us, or avoid looking alone and uncool. And in that way, cell phones have also harmed our communication with each other.

Why fake texting someone? Well, we’re teens. We are undergoing more awkward hormonal transformations at any one moment than the entire Kardashian family combined. Any number of bad things could happen if we looked up. We could open our mouths and grunt embarrassingly at the last second as someone passes by, forgetting how to use our tongue and making a sound not far different from a cow’s moo. We could nod to someone, but if we time it badly and they aren’t making eye contact, it’ll just look like an invisible man punched us in the forehead. We could even wave, but since we’re not used to the length of our arms, there’s always a risk we could poke an eye out.

Pretending to text, however, comes with its own problems. For example, to fully mimic texting, you probably open your message app and start typing randomly. Which is no big deal, of course, until you accidentally press “send” out of habit, leading to conversations that won’t end well:

You: a;sdklewe9t4nbj apd-e-tjqej cjdpfaisjdf

Friend you accidentally texted: ??

You: Sorry. I sent that to the wrong person

Friend: Oh, cuz that message makes sense if I know what you’re talking about.

You: It was also an autocorrect.

Friend: Sure, sure, happens all the time when I type “a:dkdlwwe94tnJ adew-wer-efioj apoidf” and my stupid phone corrects it to that

You: It was also in a different language.

Friend: Cuz lots of languages intersperse Arabic digits in their words.

You: It was also in code. It was also censored by the NSA. It was also intercepted by aliens. Then the NSA censored it again. And then for some reason it ended up getting sent to you when I meant to send it to autocorrect.

Friend: …

You: *to a different friend, not send it to autocorrect. But it was also an autocorrect. To a different language.

Friend: You should see a head doctor.

Additionally, this means you have to get out your phone, even if your hands are already full of books, a lunch, or a sports bag. Plus, if you pull out your phone every time you pass someone you don’t know, you’ll drain the battery faster than you can say, “Dude, I do that all the time and have no battery problems.”

Thankfully, there’s a better way to look cool and nonchalant when you’re standing or walking all alone. In fact, there are three.

Tie Those Shoes

This is first on the list for a reason; it has so many benefits over staring at your phone. First of all, it allows you to get low, meaning that if you do look up, you’ll only have to make eye contact with people’s knees, which are usually less judgmental than people’s eyes.

Secondly, it lets you show off your shoe tying skills. It proves to the world that mommy doesn’t tie your shoes. No, you’re a big boy. (If you really want to show off, you can also quietly sing the alphabet at the same time.)

Finally, it also draws attention to your shoes. And, if you’re truly a teen, your shoes are neon, casual, or casually neon. This proves how laid back you are, and, if you’re lucky enough to have exceptionally neon shoes, can also blind any passing people so there’s no risk of them seeing your face when you get up.

The only thing you have to watch out for is those times when your shoes don’t have laces, although pretending to tie laceless shoes is probably no more embarrassing than pretending to text using a wallet.

Push Those Cuticles

If you’ve ever received nail clippers, a Swiss army knife, or some other multi-tool, a popular feature is the “cuticle pusher.” Now, I have absolutely no idea what a cuticle pusher is. Looking it up on the scholarly database called Yahoo Answers, I learned “it’s for exactly what the name says.” That wasn’t helpful. I don’t know what cuticles are, and I can’t imagine why you would want to push them around.

If I had to guess, “cuticle” is probably just a name for a slow-moving beetle (it rhymes), and you’re supposed to push them along to help them on their way. I don’t know how that correlates to nail clippers, but then again, you can also buy healthy salads packaged with dressing more caloric-ally dense than a chunk of limestone, so maybe things aren’t always marketed as well as they could be.

The point is, if you have a cuticle pusher, and you know what, where, or who cuticles are, and also when, how, or why to push them, you should totally make use of this skill. Not only does it give you a reason to avoid looking at anyone around you, but it also shows off how brilliantly intelligent you are, that you know the proper use for a cuticle pusher.

Drink That Liquid

Perhaps the second-most common way of avoiding any human contact is to use a drink. Most high school students get a full, restful twelve hours of sleep, total, every two to three days, so it’s not uncommon to see people sleepily sipping a thermos of coffee or tea. The best part is, if you time it right, you can sip just as someone passes next to you, giving you an excuse to tilt your head back and look up at the ceiling.

But while this may be a common and easy technique, it comes with a few potential issues. For example, if your drink is still burning hot when someone walks by, you may have to spit it out all over your shirt. If you’re really slick, you can do that again once or twice and try to start a trend—or at least make it look like you meant to ruin your outfit, because that’s how much swag you’ve got and how YOLO you are—but most people won’t think of that in time.

Furthermore, you’ll eventually finish your drink, and while nobody sauntering by will notice a fake sip, if you’re standing around in a crowd, eventually people will wonder how you’ve taken 3,238 consecutive sips from a twenty-ounce cup.

Final Words

While you might prefer to use your phone as an excuse to avoid appearing alone or awkward, it isn’t always the best option. But even tying shoes, pushing cuticles, or drinking coffee aren’t the best options, either.

Sure, it might seem better to try and avoid awkward human contact at the time, but you’ll enjoy life more if you simply look up with a smile and greet those around you, even with only a moo. Heck, maybe you can ask the next person you see if they know what a cuticle is.

If you’ve already figured out that it’s more fun to meet new people than fake texting, perhaps you’ll be more interested in The Most Effective SAT Study Plan, published this time last year. Because you can’t spell fun without “S,” “A,” and “T.”

4 Brilliant Ways to Find the Perfect Senior Quote

Funny Yearbook Senior QuoteYearbooks are terrific. In them, you can find embarrassing pictures of friends, embarrassing pictures of enemies, embarrassing pictures of people you’ve never met, and embarrassing pictures of people trying to avoid being embarrassed by yearbook pictures.

(Hot tip: common tactics to avoid being photographed include hiding behind a textbook, hiding behind a friend, or—perhaps coolest of all—tucking your head into your shirt. If you’re lucky, and the yearbook staff is lazy, this can often lead to hilarious captions, like, “Daniel and A History of the Modern World, Third Edition show off their costumes on Hawaiian day.”)

Unfortunately, you can also find embarrassing pictures of yourself. So it’s only fair that your final high school yearbook offers you a chance to avoid total embarrassment. Sure, you’ll still wonder why the photo of you tripping over your own feet while sneezing made the final cut, but at least you can redeem yourself when people read your senior quote and marvel at your brilliant choice.

But how do you find the right senior quote? Everybody is going to search things like “Creative Senior Quotes,” with the assumption that Google should know by now that when you say “creative,” you really mean, “show me a result you didn’t show anyone else on the ENTIRE PLANET, Google.”

Asking your parents would also be a terrible idea. They’d either give you a quote so dated and full of slang that it’s unusable—like “Hip far out, but gag me with a spoon”—or a quote so dated that it’s overused—like “There is nothing to fear but gagging on a spoon.”

With senior quote deadlines rapidly approaching, I’m here to help. As a highly qualified senior-quote specialist (don’t believe me? Look me up online. I’ve a blog post about senior quotes), I’ve got some tips, tricks, and insights for you.

Look To Cutting-Edge Pop Culture

Songs are often used as senior quotes. But the more popular the song, the more times it’s been used (especially “Happy Birthday to You / Happy Birthday to You”). Hence, if you want a creative senior quote taken from a song, you’re going to need to find a song few people have heard—a newly-released song.

The only problem this might present is that many of today’s popular teen songs are little more than profanity set to what is, in the language of music, a profane melody. On top of that, the group’s name is probably also inappropriate, meaning your senior quote could end up looking like: “—— a ——– —— —— —– ——– the —— ——“ – The ——- ——–.

Thankfully, I’ve got a solution: look to songs without any hint of profanity, negative influence, or harmful habits. Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about dubstep.

Think about it. You’ll have the most creative senior quote of the year. My personal favorite would be “WubwubwubWUBWUB-drrrrrrrrr-da-da-da-da-VRRRRRRR-wubWUBwubWUB-bip-bip-bip-bip-bip-WUB,” but if you didn’t like that, I think “bub-bub-bub-woouw-wooouw-bub-bub-bub-d-d-d-d-d” is also a good, albeit slightly less witty, choice. And, of course, you can always pick your own favorite dubstep song.

Combine Famous Quotes

Maybe you want to show people that you’re a cultured person. You want a quote that illustrates your grasp of history, your sense of self-awareness, and, above all, your ability to find a better senior quote than everyone else could find. Once again, though, you risk that someone else also chooses the same quote.

The solution? Combine your two favorite quotes. Not only does this allow you to sneak in two quotes, but it can also allow you to turn two serious quotes into a more amusing statement. For example: “We hold these truths to be one giant leap for mankind,” or “Ask not what paths diverge in yellow wood, but what woods diverge in yellow paths.”

Use a Famous Source

If you truly have a favorite book, speech, song, or movie, then don’t avoid it simply because it might be popular. Rather, take a less-popular line from the work, and then just cite it correctly. I’d recommend something like “A Miramax Film” – Good Will Hunting or “Then you” – Hey Jude.

Take a Common Phrase

If you’re looking to be ultra-creative, then you should try to find the metaphors in your everyday life. In other words, take something everyone’s seen before and give it a weightier significance. For example: “A Penguin Classic” – Penguin Books or “Yield to Peds” – The Sign on the Corner.

Senior quotes are important. Your quote is your one chance to prove to the world that, just because all of the non-portrait photos of you in the yearbook happen to make it look like your nose is permanently crinkled, you are still a pretty cool person. But let’s face it: even if you have the most creative, funniest, most brilliant, most meaningful senior quote, well—MAN! Did you see the expression on your face on page 143? Hahahahahaha.

If you’ve already got your senior quote, or are so far from being a senior in high school that you don’t much care, you may be more interested in “4 Ways to Eat Your Halloween Candy,” published at this time last year. It’s even got a terrific possible senior quote in the first paragraph.

Creating A Better AP Test (Part 4): the AP Number Labels

This is the final installment of our “Better AP Test” series. If you’ve missed the first three parts, you can catch them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

I promised I’d cover them: the infamous AP sticker book. Yes, for those of you not aware, you actually get a small booklet with 18 or so labels on a sticker sheet inside.

What’s the problem with that, you ask? Isn’t using a bar-code sticker sort of a good idea? DON’T YOU LIKE STICKERS?! WHO DOESN’T LIKE STICKERS?!

So, let me just say: yes, it is. It’s an absolutely brilliant advancement that I’m sure speeds up scoring and also removes entirely the need for students to bubble in anything. Since you’re probably dead-tired as you read this, let me redirect you to that last part: “removes entirely the need for students to bubble in anything.”

I mean, after you’ve bubbled in your info once, and it’s tied to your label, why do you still need to bubble in your name, school, grade, date, blood type, etc. on every test you take? Shouldn’t the label solve for all that?

Now, you might argue that if you use the AP number label and bubble in your name, it helps prevent scoring errors. And you’re probably right. But, really, if you can’t manage to place a sticker in a clearly outlined and labeled box, then you probably shouldn’t be taking an advanced placement test anyways.


Well, that concludes our 4-day series on reforming the entire way we take AP tests. While I’d love to hang these 95 (minus 91) theses on the door of CollegeBoard come Halloween, CollegeBoard’s security would probably keep me from getting too close. At the very least, however, I’ll leave you with this: the tune to “Yellow Submarine,” stuck in your head for a week.

Of course, if four posts in four days wasn’t enough for you, you should check out the greatness we posted last year in May.