Tips for Standout Senior Photos (and What to Do Once You Have ‘Em)

Thanks to Amy Hallman, Brooke Clark of Studio B Seniors, and Laura Zimmerman for the awesomely staged photos that made this article possible. Mwah!

Senior photos are a milestone, marking the end of one journey and the start of another. But the process of taking senior photos is its own kind of journey, one that can get bogged down in the nebulous land of picking poses.

If “chin down, hands on hips,” “leaning awkwardly against a wall,” or “laughing alone in a field” doesn’t describe the grad-to-be in your life, read on for our tips on taking truly personal senior photos—and what to do with ‘em once you’ve got them.

Reflect their interests

Here’s the dirty secret: taking personal senior photos doesn’t have to be tricky. It can be as easy as using simple props to shine a light on your subject’s interests.

Does the soon-to-grad love reading? Try taking a portrait of them with a favorite book. Photograph artists at work, musicians with their instruments, or photographers aiming their cameras. If the family pet will hold still long enough to be part of the picture, that can be another great option.

These types of photos are effective because they show what your graduate finds important—what they love and value—and not just how cute/handsome/beautiful/perfect they are. (Though obviously we know they’re adorable.) Not to mention that what interests you as a high school student may not interest you forever, so an image that captures one of your child’s interests also serves as a time capsule. “Oh wow, remember when you were really into model airplanes?”

“Uggggggh, why do you still have that?”

Ah, memories.

Highlight their skills

Step up your game and celebrate a graduate’s special skills with a photo that highlights their achievements. Again, this doesn’t have to be a complicated shot: you can photograph them in a sports jersey and call it a day. However, if you’re looking to take gold in senior photography, here are a few additional ideas:

  • Incorporate multiple images: create a diptych that has one formal, posed shot, and one action shot.

  • Or try incorporating one serious photo, and one that’s more candid—aka, “gooftastic.”

  • If your grad isn’t an athlete, they can still get in on the skill celebration. Just make sure to include props or outfits that evoke their talents, whether it’s a wall of award certificates, a winning science project, or a ten-foot Lego castle they built themselves.

Like high school interests, high school achievements can be ephemeral. Celebrate who your grad is today, because the one thing you can count on is that things are going to change.

Visit a meaningful place

One way to imbue a senior photo with meaning is to shoot in a place that holds happy memories for your grad. A backyard tire swing, favorite nature trail, or quirky local statuary can all turn an otherwise straightforward photograph into a warm personal statement.

Show some attitude

One of the most powerful ways to make an impact with senior photos is also one of the most underrated: encourage your grad’s personality to shine through.

This one may seem like it’s tilted in favor of extroverts, but it’s not just a tip for class clowns. Yes, silly face-making and big laughs are photographic crowd-pleasers, but a soft, introspective expression can speak volumes about a person, and make an equally effective shot.

If your grad wants to send a specific message—or get a little sassy—simple signage can also contribute to a personality-packed senior portrait. (Take, for example, this image of a girl who posed holding a sign reading, “I’m Done!”) The name of the game is self-expression, people—whatever that means to you.

What to do with senior photos

Once you’ve got your perfectly personalized senior photos, what do you do with them? Do you have to pick one and throw out the rest? We think the answer is a resounding “nooooope!” As our mama monkey used to say, “Don’t you dare throw away those photos! There are lions in Africa who just wish they had opposable thumbs to edit with.”

With that in mind, here are a few graduation-centric projects you can make with your senior photos:

Party invites

Original photo by Amy Hallman.

Incorporate those glorious senior photos into even-more-glorious grad party invitations. Our suggestion? Add bokeh. Always bokeh. We have a fancy invitation tutorial that shows you how to do exactly that.

Grad announcements

Original photo by Amy Hallman.

Print off a grad announcement and mail it out to potential attendees (and faraway relatives), or save the planet and send it by email. This a great use for senior photos, because it all but guarantees a cavalcade of “ohhh look how they’ve grown” replies.

Collage memento

Original photos by Amy Hallman.

Finally, turn senior photos into keepsakes. There’s probably a million ways you could go with this, but we favor the one that lets you use the greatest volume of photos: collage.

You can build your own customized collage using PicMonkey’s responsive layouts, but if you’re seeking a little more structure, our templates range from simple two-photo spreads to designs that fit a whopping 25 images. That’s right: 25. Try printing that collage out, wallpapering your grad’s childhood bedroom with it, and seeing how quick they move out.

… Just kidding.

But seriously, senior photos aren’t just for your graduate: they’re for you too. We hope that these tips and ideas inspire you to make some memories you’ll really love.

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Elisa Chavez

Elisa Chavez is a content writer here at PicMonkey, where she hopes to change the world one dinosaur selfie at a time. She is also a nationally ranked slam poet, champion shopper, and doting dog mama.