• Jacob Martinez

What are senior portraits?

If you're a high school student that's about to enter their senior year, or a senior on path to graduate, you might have wondered, what are senior portraits? If this thought has crossed your mind you're not alone. I wondered the same thing at one point.

Why do we Take Senior Portraits?

The traditional reasons we take senior portraits and put such an emphasis on it, is due to milestones. Humans are accustomed to keep memories stored away in the form of photographs. Common collections of photographs revolve around major milestones in a human's life, such as newborn pictures, first communion, birthdays, weddings, and yes senior year. Senior year is a huge milestone, (whether it feels like it or not) it is a transition phase between adolescence and adult, high school and college, your hometown and a new city, the start of something new. Senior portraits set out to capture who you were and where you were in this certain time frame of life. To look back on senior portraits and see what the best you looked liked is priceless. It is also holds a lot of sentimental value for your loved ones. Your parents and grandparents will cherish their memories from your adolescent years.

Additional reasons we take senior portraits are often for very practical reasons. Sometimes senior portraits serve the physical purpose of customizing graduation announcements/invitations. Sometimes schools include them in their yearbook. It is also very likely your mother or grandmother will frame them and showcase them to all their house guest for the sole purpose of embarrassing you. If professionally and appropriately done they can be used well for online use such as, custom websites, LinkedIn profile, and job applications (be careful, sometimes it's better to get professional business headshots done for these purposes).

The Role of Social Media

There's a lot of stresses for any high school student. Senior portraits sometimes seems like one of those. With today's generation being the most photogenic generation ever as well as the most connected ever, the pressure to compare yourself to others is almost impossible to escape. Today's youth has created rituals that never existed before, such as taking selfies and creating an Instagram feed. With the increasing popularity of hashtags such as #seniorsundays posting your brand new senior portraits is ever so tempting.

Getting senior portraits done for milestone purposes instead of social media hierarchy is much advised. Nowadays it's not uncommon to see senior portraits being used on social media. This is fine, (I actually encourage my clients to post if they enjoyed their experience) but if used only to compare yourself to others you will never find satisfaction.

The Evolution of the High School Senior Portrait

Chances are that your senior portraits won't end up looking much at all like the ones your dad has. Senior portraits have evolved as a genre of photography throughout the years.


Back when your dad was a senior in high school, you had to go down to a photo studio and bring your best Sunday shirt or a suit if you were feeling fancy. There was very little choice of where to get your pictures taken. It was usually in front of a neutral backdrop and you were lucky if you got to pick the color. Ladies would wear something formal, usually a dress and do hair and makeup themselves. There was very little variation or originality coming from the photographers, and photo studios were run more like great clips (one cut fits all mentality) and less like a bespoke tailor that took into account your needs.


The bad news is that a lot of that a 80's mentality still exist in large photo studio chains (*cough Prestige Portraits, *cough JCPenny Portraits) A lot of photographers also take the easy way out and offer unoriginal work.

Modern, but very unoriginal.

Modern, Contains Photographer's Style and Senior's Personality.

But things have gotten better. There's tons of photographers out there that specialize in senior portraits with unique visual styles. Senior portraits are now a unique visual representation of an individual. People can now choose a photographer whose style they like and bring in their own personality and influence into the picture. Senior photography is a collaboration between photographer and model. The photographer offers the technical ability and visual style, and the model offers their personality and energy into the photo. This new age of senior photography has created a more artistic genre that crosses over into other genres such as fashion photography, magazine editorials, and moody portraits.

Advice on Choosing the Right Photographer

  • DON'T book with Prestige Portraits or any other chain studio.

  • Chose a photographer with a portfolio that YOU like. and think will fit with YOUR style.

  • It's better to pay a little bit more money on a photographer that you really like and believe in. The end result will pay off in the long run. You will have pictures that you value for a long time.

  • Plan shoot for your favorite season. An easy way to add personality to your photo is to plan the shoot around your favorite season, so plan shoot accordingly.

Highlights From My Senior Portrait Portfolio


If you found my article helpful or interesting, please subscribe to my mailing list where I will be writing more about senior photography including Is Prestige Portraits Worth it?

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