Why are custom senior pictures important?

June 6, 2018 6:08 pm Published by

Custom senior pictures, who can blame parents for viewing them as a self-indulgent and expensive luxury purchase?   Who can blame the senior (especially guys) for just not being into the idea of spending nearly two hours walking around downtown Tulsa getting their picture taken?   I was an 18 year old young man once, and I remember pretty clearly that I dreaded my senior portrait appointment and that I was pretty underwhelmed with the experience.

Of course, back in those days (aka “the 80’s”) it was a very different experience and a very different social context.    In the days before digital photography and certainly before everyone had a relatively good quality camera in their purse or pocket.  There simply wasn’t a lot of competition for the senior portrait photographer.   He had invested a lot of money into specialized equipment and knowledge of how to shoot without immediate gratification of seeing the image on a high resolution LED back of camera preview.   The old school portrait photographer’s images were expensive because of scarcity.    Supply was low and demand was high.

Very different today.  There is a very low barrier to entry into the world of senior portrait photography and it’s not uncommon for high school students themselves to hit their classmates up for “cheap senior pictures”   and the part time hobbyists are plentiful and easy to find.  Some of them are even quite naturally talented.

So, why would you want to pay a professional photographer higher prices to do custom senior pictures?

Senior football player's portrait at a football stadium

Because they are not cheap.

Smiling senior portrait of a boy in downtown Tulsa looking cool

…and neither are you.

A professional portrait photographer is not competing with hobbyists.  They are competing with other professionals – all of whom are running businesses, paying taxes and doing their best to put food on their family’s table though creating art for their clients.   It’s the deep end of the photography pool, and it’s not cheap (though it can be affordable), but as a consumer why is that going to matter to you?

For the parent, it matters because you are investing in family heirlooms.   That 18 year old high school kid will change before your eyes over the next year, and then who they were at that time – at the end of their high school experience – will rapidly recede into memory.    Custom senior pictures that reflect who that young person is at that moment – what their passions are – what their interests are – create a documentation of not only what they looked like at this age, but captures their personality and identity.    This is where the experience and expertise of a professional photographer can make all the difference in images that will be viewed and studied far beyond your own lifetime.   Why is it better than “cheap” pictures?  Because it’s worth it.

a young man's senior portrait on a street corner in downtown Tulsa

For the student, it’s different.   For young women, the pampered studio experience of working with a professional team – including hair & makeup stylist, swag bag and multiple location session work are all equally important to their custom senior pictures as are the resulting images themselves.    My wife Jennifer does an amazing job of running our Shipman Photography senior girl experience, and it is absolutely second to none.

Young woman standing in front of a bible for senior portrait

smiling high school senior girl in a natural light portrait

For young men, the experience is still important, but often it is the comfort level and “painlessness” of the session that makes their experience a good one.   For these guys, it’s about connecting with them and surpassing their expectations for how much fun they actually have.    In fact, I told one young man recently who described his experience with us as (and I quote) “nowhere near as terrible as I thought it was going to be.  kinda fun actually.”       While that doesn’t sound like a glowing endorsement, it absolutely is for a high school guy whose mom practically (literally?) forced him to go get portraits done.

composite senior portrait of Tulsa baseball player

In fact, that’s something I tell these guys up front.   I remind them, these custom senior pictures should be fun and it is my job to make you look cool so you will.  But, these images are not for you.  They are for your mom, and they are for the future you.   They are important to your mom right now because she gets it.  She knows you won’t always be standing in this space between childhood and adulthood and she wants to remember who you are now for the rest of her life, so give me your best effort on this because it is for her.     Second though, your future “you” will thank you for doing this – guaranteed.   Your future middle aged with 3 kids of your own “you” will be visiting grandma’s house 30 years from now and your senior pictures will still be on the wall.    Those pictures can either be cool, or not.  Trust me, it’ll be a lot better if those images really take you back to who you were in your best possible (professionally shot and retouched) light.    All the stories of your glory day will be more believable and you will always remember something else good about your high school years whenever you look at them.

Senior portrait of a boy on train tracks near Tulsa Ok

So, that is why custom senior pictures by an experienced professional are worth it.  He or she is working to give you an experience that makes you a satisfied referral source for another future client.  There are plenty of times in life where good enough is quite good enough,  senior portraits is one of those things that should not be good enough.   Expect more, and check out more about our senior portrait work HERE.

senior portrait boy in downtown Tulsa

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This post was written by Gregg Shipman