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.

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.

3 Disturbing Trends of Summer Homework

A funny pic about summer homeworkFor those of you unaware, there is such a thing as homework over the summer. I doubt that’s news to you. Even if you didn’t get any, I’m sure your peers did, and, if your peers are anything like my peers—which they should be, since I’m using peers informally to mean “the teenage population of the entire world”—you heard about it via social media.

Perhaps it was a status update that said, “Too weak to pick up this novel, even tho the main character is also named Derek. Somebody pls jump start my motivation,” or a tweet reading, “Ugh reports to do, but there’s sun. #CanYouSpellSummerYeah! #summer #sumer #summar #NoSrslyHowDoYouSpellSummer. Btw just hooked up jumper cables and shocked Derek into motivation. I think. #orHesInAComa”; either way, I’m sure your friends made it all too clear.

See, summer homework is perhaps the silliest type of homework, mostly because of its name, “summer homework,” which implies that it’s homework you’ll do over the summer. As anyone who has summer homework can tell you, that’s simply not true.

Most summer homework is completed on the last day of school, before you melt into a summer blob of sleep and food and it becomes too much effort to even open both eyes at once, or in the wee hours of the morning before the first day of school, when it is also very hard to keep both eyes open at once.

Now, my fellow peers, this used to be fine. After all, you know what they say: “It’s all fun and games when someone loses an eye.” Used to be fine, that is. But there have been some very disturbing trends in the field of summer homework.


We all know technology is great; without it we wouldn’t be able to do things like text friends, Facebook message friends, tweet friends, Instagram friends, maps friends, iBooks friends, Safari friends, or socialize using of any of the other phone apps you may have.

The problem with technology arises when teachers get their hands on it. History has shown us countless examples of why this is terrible for students:

  • June 28th, 1914: Ms. Smith, on vacation in Bosnia, accidentally confuses her new camera with a bystander’s pistol, and, trying to get a “good shot” of the parade to take back to her history class and lecture about primary source documents, accidentally shoots Archduke Franz Ferdinand, plunging the world into war. This war will later become the focus of thousands of future homework assignments.

  • December 3rd, 1997: Mr. Phillips, trying to connect his “Ethernet” to the “Internet” using a “Butterflynet,” catches fire from the electrical charge. He stops, drops, and rolls down the hall, trailing flames and catching the beautiful wood lockers on fire, causing $400,000 in damages. The FDA, reacting to the damages, requires that schools now use ugly metal lockers, ignoring the fact that they often jam, pinch fingers, or dent.

  • December 31st, 1999: Scared that Y2K bug might pester her students during upcoming midterms, Mrs. Johnson covers her classroom in concentrated DEET, creating a need for her students to take midterms in gas masks and rubber gloves.

  • April 14th, 2002: Mr. Arnolds learns about educational DVDs, and never teaches or gives a lecture again. In an attempt to avoid death by boredom, his students start playing “fantasy backdrops,” tracking and placing bets on the appearances of specific bookshelves, books, and plants that appear behind the interviewees.

  • February 17th, 2012: Although she has the flu, Mrs. Davidson has her unprepared students present anyways, grading from the back via FaceTime.

Maybe you found those examples funny, but I can tell you that I certainly didn’t. I’m not exaggerating here—there’s a teacher who’s reading this, right now, and thinking “Huh, I need to go to the store and pick me up some DVDs and FaceTime, whatever aisle they keep that in.”

Actually, the problem is that most teachers know how to use technology, including FaceTime. And this is ruinous to the normal completion of summer homework. Nowadays, you can’t just wait until summer is over to do your homework; thanks to the internet, teachers can make you do it by whenever they say.

History essay? Email it in by August 1st. English discussion? Use an online forum that closes two weeks before school starts. Group biology report? If he wanted to, your teacher could literally get on Google docs and follow your cursor, making comments like “can you type any faster?!?!” or “missed a comma there, and there, and there, and three of them there, and one at the bottom, and two in that sentence, and one in the sentence you used the wrong ‘its’ in.” I would not be surprised if, sometime in the next few years, your teacher starts hologramming himself into your bedroom at 5 AM, shouting at you to “wake up, chop chop, you’ve slept long enough; you’ve got a 600 page novel I’d like read before you eat breakfast.”


Unfortunately, not only has summer homework slowly gained stricter deadlines, but it also has grown in quantity.

Four years ago, only the toughest AP classes (of which, if you’ve been following this blog for a long time, AP History of the Cheerio is one) carried summer work. These days, it’s not uncommon to hear about homework being assigned for study halls. Okay, actually, that’s still uncommon, but you know what I mean.

Where do you think the phrase “at least it’s not rocket science” came from? Rocket science was the only class with summer homework.

And, as it creeps ever closer to world domination, summer homework is assigned at younger and younger grades. Lend me your ears, peers, because the day incoming seventh graders have to write a 100-word essay about what they’re looking forward to about junior high school (for which there is only one word, “nothing,” because junior high is brutal) will be a dark day for our society.

Social Acceptance

Back in the booming 50’s, nothing was acceptable. Communism? No way. Music that’s faster than five beats per minute? Let me show you the door. Someone wearing a fedora with suspenders and crocs? It was legal to shoot them. So, you can imagine, summer homework was unheard of.

Even in the early 2000s, you could tell someone you had summer homework and they’d reply, “Homework? In the summer? That’s ridiculous! You know what I mean? Ludicrous! You get me? This is nonsensical! Understand? Outrageous! Hear me? That’s preposterous! It’s ludicrously preposterous! Know what I’m saying? It’s outrageously ridiculous! I’m outraged! I’m raging out! I cannot believe it.”

Nowadays, tell an adult you’ve got summer homework and they’ll just say, “Yeah, so? What else is new? Wait—don’t tell me, I want to guess. Next you’re going to complain about having that teacher/hologram wake you up at 5 AM every morning. Deal with it, kid. Consider yourself lucky. Back in my day we didn’t have holograms. Heck, we didn’t even have 5 AM.”

And this is why, just like fast music and fedora/suspenders/crocs combos, summer homework will slowly permeate all parts of our society.

But should we care? Summer homework isn’t nearly as bad as regular homework, which doesn’t even get a specific name because there’d be too many to keep track of (fall homework, winter homework, weekly homework, daily homework, due-six-months-later-just-to-keep-you-up-at-night homework, etc).

I say we should. Because when summer falls to homework, you’ll have to spring just to winter through it.

Yes, I’m back. I am so sorry to have left you post-less for two months. Stay tuned; an explanation is coming, and also a—well, you’ll just have to keep your eye on the blog.

In the meantime, you probably noticed Google’s feed reader shut down, and if you still haven’t replaced it and wanted to (so you can stay updated using this blog’s RSS feed), I recommend Feedly. If you think RSS stands for Really Scary Spiders, then just ignore that previous sentence. And don’t look up, just back away slowly.

Creating a Better AP Test

FunnyAPTestOkay, ladies and gentle-teens*, it’s no secret that we haven’t posted for most of May. Those of you who’ve followed this blog since it was conceived way back in 2011 know that’s fairly unusual.

*Legal disclaimer: there is no such thing as a gentle male teen. Never stick your fingers through the bars at a male teen, even if he has just been fed.

I’m not, however, about to apologize. Why? Well, first of all, “apologize” isn’t in the lexicon of a teenager. (Neither is “lexicon,” so I’m not really sure how that works). Secondly, because I’m about to propose changes to our AP test system so bold that the font is bold. Ladies and not-so-gentle-teens, let me give you: A Better AP Test.

Yes, you read that right. I’m proposing that I might know something more than the entire AP test system. In reality, it’s probably because I’m too ignorant to realize some fatal flaw in the plans, but I’d like to think it’s because my sleep-deprived brain is more intelligent than the fifty buzzards and half-a-dozen people that run the AP tests.

But don’t be too surprised. Chances are, you’ve taken—or at least heard the horror stories about—AP tests. You know that they are far from perfect. How hard could it be to improve them?

The FRQs

By far, the worst part of most AP tests is the FRQ section. That fact alone has led to a number of profane false-acronyms for the letters FRQ, all of which are too graphic to reprint on this blog*. If you didn’t know, FRQ stands for “Free-Response Question.”

*Okay, fine. Parents, cover your eyes. FRQ: Frivolous Ridiculous Question. Or, FRQ: Fictional Redundant Quiches. Or, if you live in the inner city, FRQ: Fuhcryinoutloud, Restless Quilts!

The main problem with the FRQs is that they must be handwritten, and that’s a big deal. Most teens haven’t handwritten anything longer than their names in the past six years, and some people, with long names like Frederickson or Anishamashkavysch, just carry around a pocket typewriter instead. Since the FRQs are generally two hours of nonstop writing, it’s no wonder that our wrists end up sporadically twitching like a dying rat by the end of the test.

To add to that handwriting anxiety, the FRQs must be handwritten in pen, not the pencils we’re so used to. What’s a pen, you might ask? I don’t really know. I haven’t seen one outside of a natural history museum, although I think/hope I remembered to use one on the AP test. (Since I blacked out promptly afterwards, I can’t recall).

The point I’m trying to make is: you’re using your hand to write, which you haven’t done since you were in third grade, and you’re using a pen, which hasn’t been the writing implement of choice since your parents were in third grade.

How can we fix this? The solution is pretty obvious: a federally mandated education program that emphasizes pen skills and handwriting endurance. Since that violates the whole “cruel and unusual punishment” part of the Bill of Rights, though, I propose a backup solution: typing the FRQs.

Backup solution? Shouldn’t that be the more logical first choice, you ask? Not at all. In fact, this solution would be hard to convince people of. For example purposes, let me give you a possible conversation between an opponent and myself:

Opponent: You can’t let people use computers! That places an unfair emphasis on people with computers at home!

Me: You can’t let people use pens! That places an unfair emphasis on people with pens at home!

Opponent: Yes, but pens are cheaper. It’s easier to get a pen to practice with.

Me: True, but pens are from the Stone Age. You’re discouraging technological advancement. People like you are the reason why we haven’t yet invented 4-D printers.

Opponent: That doesn’t make any logical sense.

Me: So?

As you can see, it could be difficult to get CollegeBoard to adopt a computer-based FRQ.

In addition to the possible wealth bias, if we could type the FRQs you could see:

  • FRQs getting hacked by the Free Syrian Army (FSA)
  • Problems arising when 5% of the computers crash after an hour, due to running Windows 1748
  • future PTSD attacks brought on by the sound of many people typing loudly
  • An increase in cancer, ebola, and E.coli deaths
  • A war with Switzerland

Although my answer to every one of those problems remains “So?”—except to the part about the FSA hacking essays, to which my answer is, “Awesome! I hope they know all about the Great Depression!”—I don’t think that people will be too receptive.

Therefore, that brings me to the third, and best, option: just eliminate the FRQ section altogether. That would transform a four-hour grueling examination into a 60- or 90-minute get-out-of-class-free test. After all, how could the FRQ section have a single problem if it didn’t exist? By definition, it’s perfect.

To make up for our absence during May, the brutal AP test month, this post is quite long and will be broken up into parts over the next few days. Check back tomorrow to read all about how to revise the Proctor’s official instructions. (Here’s the link to the now-posted Part 2: The Proctor’s Dialogue.)