What’s Appropriate for Senior Pictures?

I’m a husband, a father to an 18 month old daughter, and a high school senior photographer who makes a living by bringing a camera around 17 year old girls. I am also sensitive (maybe hypersensitive) to the appropriateness of the images I create AND the images we release online.

A few months ago a woman in passing (not a customer but a regular viewer of our website) made a statement to me and my wife that she would NEVER let her daughter take senior pictures in a swimsuit. Now that is fine with us. We don’t ask senior customers to take pictures in their swimsuits nor do we advertise swimsuit sessions for seniors. But she repeated this opinion several times throughout the conversation, and it felt more like an “insult” directed at us. And, yes, having a Masters in Psychology allows me to deduce that from the conversation.

It so happened to that the image she was looking at was from a professional modeling portfolio of a college freshman we had posted last summer. The model  needed swimsuit images for her modeling portfolio that we created for her on location. The customer and her parents were thrilled with the images and released the images themselves on Facebook with our approval. Now I did explain this to the woman who brought up the swimsuit image and obvisouly didn’t read the blog post…but I doubt she cared to understand it.

Anyway living down in the South, on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, a lot of our seniors have grown up on the backwaters every weekend since they were little…skiing, tubing, jet skiing, riding boats and wave runners, grilling out, and laying out in the sun with their friends and families . They also live driving distance to the beach and the Gulf Coast of Florida. This was and is an important part of their summers, their childhood, their lives, and of course their last summer in high school. And some of our seniors AND their parents ask if their child can incorporate this into their senior experience sessions. Some have beautiful homes, pools, and boats up on the backwaters and in Florida where these are shot on location.

2011 Senior Breanna, Destin, Florida

Now before I go further I want to clearly state that this is the opinion of John and Sally Anne Pyle of John Pyle Photography in Columbus, Georgia.
I find these request from customers and the images we shoot appropriate. It is a lot different to have a senior in her swimsuit standing by the pool or jumping in the lake compared to laying across the hood of a Corvette holding a garden hose in a bikini. I have seen other shots of senior by photographers that we network with across the country. Some  I consider innaporpriate and some that I think are amazing images. Also don’t be surprised if someone makes comments about the images you shoot being “innaprporiate” while at the same time their daughters have 146 pictures in a album called “Beach Trip” on their Facebook where they are underage drinking and smoking in a two piece bikini hanging off the balcony on spring break. Sad…but ironic.

I have had the privilege of spending time with and learning from Gary and Pam Box of Box Seniors. Gary says there are three things that make up an inappropriate image or an image that is too “sexy.”

1. Outfit

2. Pose

3. Facial expression

His rule is that it is generally safe to use any two of the above three at one time. However, once you combine all three, you may have an image that has crossed the line and officially become too sexy or inappropriate for seniors.

Here are few principles and policies that WE live by since we began:

  • ALL children, senior, and teen sessions take place with a parent or an adult present…no exceptions!
  • Swimsuit images created for seniors are discussed and planned prior to the session with parents and senior
  • Blog posts detail and explain the session to clarify professional modeling or a senior portrait session
  • Any and ALL images purchased or released online and for social media are approved by  the customer, the parents, BUT FIRST they are approved by us before they are used.

Another rule is to remember jealousy is a powerful motivator for hatred and slander. Stand by what you do and go over everything you do with a magnifying glass. Consult with other professionals and people whose opinion you value on the appropriateness of an image. Be consistent. Let your competitors worry about you while you are worrying about your customers. And the people who aren’t your customers…be thankful.

Andy Bondurant of spa(senior portrait artists) recently made a great quote- “It’s important to remember that in the end, high school seniors are kids. Many times they aren’t even 18 years old and how you project them in your advertising can change the image they carry in their world (both for good or bad).”  It can also change your image.

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  1. I fell on the floor when I read about the daughter with 146 beach trip pictures on her facebook showing her drinking and smoking. That was hilarious and true. Thank you John Pyle for speaking the truth.