“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 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.
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.