The spread of COVID-19 certainly disrupted many industries across the country – and, with the pausing or cancellation of weddings and other events, photography was no exception.
As the busy season for senior portrait photographers begins, we spoke to seven senior photographers on how coronavirus changed their business.
Staying open to have some sense of normalcy
“I honestly feel that now more than ever, senior portraits are so important! Most of these 2021 seniors are missing out on football games, senior nights, homecoming, first day of school as a senior, and seeing their friends in person. Getting their senior portraits taken is one of few highlights for this class that I have been told several times by the seniors themselves that this is the one thing they are looking forward to these days. My heart feels for them as this is such a special season in their life. It can be hard to keep showing up in positive uplifting ways during the current climate of our culture now, but I feel it’s my responsibility with my platform to show up in a way to encourage hope, beauty, and joy in this time. My advice for fellow photographers is your images, your voice, your social media platforms, the words in your captions, all matter. These teens need encouragement and reasons to feel excited about this season of their life. Your senior session with them may be the ONLY thing they can take away from their senior year that uplifts them.”
Postponing group sessions
“I’d say, in general, the senior sessions haven’t changed a ton because we can do them one-on-one in an outdoor setting with close family with masks on if needed … I am, however, facing changes with my ‘model team’ this year that I didn’t anticipate: having to change destination trips and group sessions to be more individual mini shoots instead. So, that’s a bit of a challenge and disappointment for the team. I’m just trying to keep them as engaged as possible and I hope to plan some socially distant non-photo related things for them soon, too. Hopefully, they’ll feel like they got what they wanted out of being a part of it all!”
Changing their 2021 vision
“COVID-19 has brought such much to light in the past months, and the experiences of high school seniors and students are no exception. I’ve seen firsthand the destructive impacts of racism that exist in the education system –– and yet, through it all, I have also witnessed the incredible perseverance of so many Black, Indigenous, and people of color graduating and keeping their eyes set on the future. As a photographer who has always embraced the need for diversity in our industry, that courage in itself has dramatically shaped my approach for 2021’s senior season.
Not only have I increased my direct and open intentionality of making senior portraits an experience accessible to students of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences, but I am also embracing the perspective of telling my client’s raw and real story. In every booking, we don’t have the luxury (and burden) of meticulous, stereotypical portraits; instead, both the senior and I are pushed to work with our limitations and push our vision far beyond halfhearted posing. No more detached, separated frames: I’m learning and loving the opportunity to stand back, take my f-stop down to 2.8, and let each senior’s surroundings and story shape the session –– uncertainties, messy pasts, hopeful futures, free-spirited laughter, and all.”
– Sarah He, a portrait photographer based in Chapel Hill, NC who loves natural light and laugh-loving seniors. She’s also the founder of @seniorsofcolor, an Instagram account dedicated to showcasing seniors across the country of every ethnicity and skin color. Follow her photography business on Instagram at @sarahhephoto.
Rethinking consultations and studio sessions
“I used to have all of my new seniors come into the studio to look at photos, chat about their personality and how they would like to be photographed, and (most importantly!) see and hold sample albums.
Now, I give them the option of having an in-person consultation or a Zoom consultation. If my clients opt for a Zoom consultation, I present all of the same information as I normally would. I show them example galleries of images with screen sharing, and grant them remote control of my screen. This allows them to scroll through and look at images at their own pace, just like they would look through an album at my studio. We talk about what they like and don’t like, and work on planning their session. They can easily use their mouse to point to images they are talking about, rather than describing images, or asking me to move forward or backward.
Pre-Covid, about half of my shoots were inside my studio. Now, I’ve opted for outdoor shooting as much as possible. But I still want to keep my signature studio shoots available! So, I’ve moved several of my studio shoots to my driveway. No, it’s not quite as fancy as my beautiful studio in a restored historic building – I live in a typical suburban neighborhood. Nothing special at all. BUT, I am able to keep everyone comfortable by shooting outdoors with an 85mm, while still getting that great strobe flair!
I tape seamless paper to my garage door, and either roll it out, or use the driveway as my new flooring. I use ample extension cords to reach my lights, and shoot after dark – this way, I get that studio look without ever forcing my clients indoors! It’s a win-win for all of us, and I’m able to push myself creatively. Check out this recent outdoor “studio” shot (above) – I set up some soaker hoses to create a rain effect with three lights. All of this was done in the safety of the outdoors, with plenty of distancing from my client, while still giving her a rad finished image.”
Discovering creative ways to serve clients
“Many photographers, including myself, are searching for creative ways to serve their clients. For me, I’ve always done on-location photoshoots inspired by nature. Being outdoors also creates a safe haven for us to shoot during covid, rather than being in a studio. I’ve been searching for new, unique areas to spark interest and have created longer “adventure” session collections. I’ve also found that forming friendships with clients, going the extra mile, creating that “lil sis, big sis” dialogue about things like outfits and hair, really makes my clients feel excited and comfortable. Building this kind of relationship isn’t a new concept in our industry–but I have noticed how much more impactful it has been lately. Covid has opened our eyes to ways we can step up to positively impact kids during their last year of high school. It’s all about making it fun and uplifting!”
– Nicole, a full time senior photographer in Ocean City, NJ at Nicole Marie Photography who’s passion is to give you a senior portrait experience that shows your personality. Follow her on Instagram at @nicole.mariephotography.
Making each session an experience
“One reason I think my business has actually grown during coronavirus is because if you think about it: high schoolers have lost almost all of their privileges. Prom – canceled. Spring break – canceled. Football season and other sports – canceled. Senior trips – canceled. Even schools themselves have been shut-down and are now only online.
Parents are feeling sympathetic for their seniors and want to give them an experience that they can still do while still being safe. Many parents have mentioned that senior pictures is the one thing that their senior can still do!
I offer a fun senior photography experience that includes things like airbrush makeup, a style consultation, and in-person ordering session, with little gifts, welcome packets, et cetera, at every turn, so it feels more like an event or experience than just getting your pictures taken.”
– Nealy Lanzen of Photography by Nealy, one of the nation’s top 100 senior portrait photographers, specializes in a unique senior portrait experience and is located in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Follow her on Instagram at @nealylanzenseniors. Also, thank you to Nealy for the image at the top of this post!
Including the family
“I believe seniors and their parents [now more than ever] are looking for a true and memorable experience. Through conversations this year, I’ve learned that moms and dads are looking for anything that will bring joy to and empower their child. That’s where the Senior Session Experience comes in! In these unprecedented times, it’s something positive to look forward to.
We certainly don’t know what this year will hold for the Class of 2021, but if there is something I can control, as a photographer, is how I can brighten up their senior year and provide an experience that will be unforgettable for them and their parents as well! So this year, I have focused my senior experience on being more of a “family affair”! The process requires that a parent and their senior spend some quality time together during the consultation, prepping for their session, the shoot itself and the Viewing & Ordering session! Essentially, at least one parent is fully invested in the entire process along with their senior. They are very present and involved during the session and at the same time, they enjoy seeing their child come out of their shell and end the session feeling like they can conquer the world!”
– Maria Ortiz of Maria Ortiz Photography, a Baltimore-based photographer who specializes in senior portraits as well as maternity and newborn sessions. Follow her on Instagram at @mariaortizphotography.
How have your senior portraits changed due to the pandemic? Let us know in the comments!