How to make money taking senior photos in high school


Yousuf El-Jayyousi

Whether or not your school yearbook uses submitted senior photos, senior portraiture is a huge business no matter where you go. As a high school photographer you have a great network to attract clients from and start earning money. Here’s my guide to generating a decent amount of money as a senior photographer in high school:

  1. First things first, you must have a portfolio to attract clients. I recommend taking three to four sessions completely free to start your portfolio. Take your time with this, it will pay off. The better you make your portfolio, the more you can charge and the more clients you will get. Be sure to have a diverse portfolio in terms of gender, race and style of photo or location. Doing this will allow you to develop presets, an editing style and a routine for producing your products. Keep track of the approximate time it takes you to complete a session, go through photos and edit them in order to later decide on a fair price for yourself.
  2. Want to charge more? Look around at local photographers that get lots of business and figure out their style or how they produce their photos. For example, one of the photographers that I based my style off of was SilverBox Photographers. Everyone in town likes their photos, but not everyone can afford them. That’s where you come in; if you can produce a similar style of photos for a smaller cost, you will attract a lot more customers.
  3. Get a reflector. Why? The general style of senior portraits is bright with flawless skin and eyes that almost twinkle. Using a silver reflector on a cloudy day can help achieve this glowy skin and add a catchlight to the eyes of the subject. It will also help bring up harsh shadows, which help in post-processing. Using a reflector, you will need to have someone hold it throughout the session. You have two options for this. If you know the client relatively well, ask them to bring a friend along—this way you have someone they’re comfortable around and free labor! Otherwise, find someone you trust to hold the reflector, someone who would be consistent and might even help out with suggesting poses and pay them at a rate of about $15 per 90 minutes session.
  4. Become familiar with a few locations. This way you offer 3-5 locations to your clients that you are familiar with. The last thing you want is to be walking around searching for good places to take photos during the session. Additionally, you’ll become better posing your senior throughout that location because you’ll know what looks good with those surroundings.
  5. Pick your weather. Avoid hot weather that will cause your subject to sweat the entire time. If it’s too cold, your photos will have flushed faces in them. Try and schedule the sessions when the temperature is reasonable and it is partly cloudy or cloudy for the best results.
  6. Post one photo from each session on social media and promote your best photos within your area. Develop a style for the caption to show that it is one of your senior sessions (ex: Cassi || RBHS ‘18). Doing this will help remind your viewers that you are actively taking clients so that they think of you when choosing a photographer. Promoting your post is not necessary but can be helpful. Spend around $10 to promote your best posts on Instagram in your area to 16-19 year olds. If you get even one client from spending upwards of $50 on promotions, it has proven its worth.
  7. Charge less, give less, offer add-ons. My fee for senior portraits was $150 for one 90 minute session, which included four edited photos. I then offered as many additional edited photos as they wanted for $10 per photo (in which you can explain that it can take upwards of an hour to edit one photo). Doing this, I would collect over $100 from some clients just from editing photos.
  8. Don’t give friends discounts. Once you start giving friends discounts, everyone will conveniently become your friend. Decide on a price, and do not reduce it for friends. This is how you’re making money; it would be unfair to yourself to start giving discounts.
  9. Do not give away unedited photos. This gives the client incentive to buy more edited photos. Additionally, as a photographer, that unedited photo is an unfinished piece of work. If they decide to edit it themselves, post it and then credit you, it may not be up to your standards, which would not be good for your business.
  10. Sit down with your client some time after the session to pick out which photos to edit. This will save you time and energy by letting them pick. This is also important because you want them to be happy with which photos they receive so that they’ll recommend you. Depending on the situation, you may want to sit down with the senior and his or her parent(s); that way you are also pleasing the people paying as well.
  11. Have a fast turnaround time. Getting the photos edited and done quickly will help you seem more legitimate and will keep you from getting behind. Aim to have the photos edited 1-2 weeks from when your clients pick out the photos.
  12. Do not waste time printing photos for your clients. Give them a digital copy on a flash drive or CD. Everyone can print photos online or locally on photo paper. You’re already charging a low price, don’t waste time and money printing.
  13. Watermark your photos until you get paid. If your client wants a preview, be sure the photos are watermarked until you receive your money, otherwise the money might not come for weeks or even months.