Portrait Photography

What are Senior Portraits?

Photo of author
Written By Robyn Scherer

In this guide, I’ll be defining what senior portraits are and why they’re important.

In fact, I am a professional senior portrait photographer!

So let’s dive right in.

What are Senior Portraits?

Senior portraits are special photos taken usually in your last year of high school or college.

Senior portraits are all about capturing this big moment and special milestone in your life.

It’s about celebrating the subject as the young adult they are becoming as well as their achievements or activities.

For high schoolers, it’s usually at 18, and for college grads, around 22.

There are common themes you can find in senior portraits.

What are some common themes?

Common themes in high school graduation are often using props.

For example:

Bringing their cap and gown, letterman’s jack if they are into sports, or bringing a book if they are a big reader.

Some kids will also bring their family pet to the photos.

Some trends I’ve noticed:

Popular trends with senior portraits I’ve also been noticing have been beach photos using surfboards for surfers.

For girls, will wear a casual outfil and then maybe a more glamorous outfit as a fun twist on the beach photos.

Some kids have horses and they will include their horse.

That’s always fun.

Some friends will also come together for their senior portraits and have both individual photos and friend group shots.

Senior Portrait Example of Baseball Player
© Robyn Scherer

What’s the Point of Senior Portraits?

The point of senior portraits is to capture who the young person is and where they are in their lives at that very moment.

Think of it like this:

It’s a snapshot.

This young person is right at the brink of adulthood, full of hopes, drams, and accomplishments.

It’s about capturing that special moment and freezing it in time.

Not only that:

Senior portraits hold a special place especially for parents.

Parents love to look back on where their child was after high school, and then compare the photo to later life stages, like college graduation.

You’ll also find many schools having dedicated pages in their yearbook for senior portraits.

They use it as a way to honor each student individually, celebrating their journey and achievements.

Senior portraits can also be used for their benefit:

Quite a few students use their senior portraits for rushing in Greek life in college.


Senior portraits are about capturing a very special moment.

Especially for the parents.

I think the experience is more emotional for the parents than the kids.

Lots of parents will cherish and use these images in family albums.

When the kids grow up, they will also be able to look back on these photos and think about how far they’ve come.

Example Senior Portrait of Group (1)
© Robyn Scherer

Is There a Difference Between “Senior Photos” and “Senior Portraits?”

When it comes to “senior photos” and “senior portraits,” you might wonder if there’s any real difference between the two.

Well, in most cases, there isn’t.

It’s more about how we talk about them.

For example:

“Portraits” might sound a bit more professional, like they’re taken by someone who really knows their stuff with a camera.

So, what’s the deal with the style or setting?

Here’s the thing:

When you hear “senior photos,” it might be something more casual, like pictures your friend snapped.

They’re nice, but they’re not always super polished.

On the other hand, “senior portraits” feel more professional.

Think of a photographer who not only takes the photo but also works magic on it afterward – clearing up acne, tweaking the lighting, making sure you look your best.

As for schools and photographers, they often use these terms like they’re the same thing.

But the industry has seen some changes:

Like, “senior photos” might remind you of those quick, assembly-line style pictures taken in the school gym.

Quick in, quick out.

But “senior portraits”? They’re usually more of an event.

You’re likely at a cool location, maybe changing outfits, and the photographer is focusing on capturing your personality.

In short:

While the terms are often used interchangeably, there’s a subtle hint that “portraits” might be a bit more upscale.

A bit more about capturing you in the best possible way.

Whereas “photos” can be a bit more informal, a bit more about just getting that shot for the yearbook or the family fridge.

Senior Portrait Example
© Robyn Scherer

Why Do Senior Portraits Cost So Much?

Well, there’s a lot that goes into making senior portraits happen.

First off:

The photographer’s fees aren’t just for the time they spend snapping your pictures.

They cover a bunch of stuff – their years of training, the cost of maintaining their camera and equipment, studio expenses, and even the fees for storing all those images.

Then there’s the time and expertise the photographer invests.

From the moment you get in touch with them, you’re using their time.

They spend hours planning with you, maybe scouting locations, and discussing styling.

After the shoot, there’s a lot of work you don’t see – like uploading your photos, then editing them.

For example:

Even a one-hour photo session can need up to 4-6 hours of editing behind the scenes.

And about the materials – costs can vary a lot.

Some photographers have more overheads than others.

This depends on whether they have a studio, if they offer printing services, or if they include special stuff like yearbook pages or custom frames.

Technology and software are another big chunk of the cost.

Photographers have to pay yearly fees for storing and backing up images, not to mention the costs for client viewing platforms, and regular updates to their editing software.


There are those extra touches that make your senior portraits unique.

Some photographers offer a range of outfits you can borrow, or they might have props available.

Plus, shooting in certain locations might require fees or permits.

So, when you add it all up – the skill, time, technology, and all those little extras – it’s easier to see why senior portraits are an investment.

They’re not just pictures; they’re memories crafted with a lot of care and expertise.

Senior Portrait Two Friends
© Robyn Scherer

Are Senior Photos Full Body?

So, when it comes to senior photos, you’ve got options.

Some folks go for full-body shots to show off their whole look, while others prefer close-ups for a more personal touch.

It really boils down to what you like and what your photographer suggests.

Do You Have to Wear Makeup for Senior Portraits?

Absolutely not, wearing makeup for senior portraits is totally up to you.

It’s all about feeling comfortable and showcasing your true self in the photos.

If makeup is your thing and makes you feel confident, go for it!

But if you prefer a natural look, that’s just as awesome – the key is to be yourself.

Are Senior Portraits Mandatory?

Senior portraits aren’t usually mandatory, but they are a popular tradition for many.

They’re often used in family albums and yearbooks, so most students choose to have them taken.

However, if you decide not to have a senior portrait, it’s generally not a big deal.

The choice is really up to you and what you’re comfortable with.

Although, the parents may really want you to get them!

Conclusion: Are Senior Portraits Worth It?

In conclusion, whether senior portraits are worth it depends on personal values and preferences.

They’re a great way to capture a significant moment in your life, marking the transition from high school to the next chapter.

These photos can become cherished memories and keepsakes for both you and your family.