April 22, 2021
Not everybody can relate to this, but I LOVE high school students. I always have. When I went back to school in 2005, there wasn’t any question about who I was (and still am): I was a teacher and I wanted to do it for the rest of my life.
It’s funny how life changes you, and how one’s desires change as well. I greatly value my few years of teaching in a traditional classroom, but I quickly came to the realization that it would be important for me to specialize. I LOVE history. But, I didn’t necessarily want to be a history teacher. Jesus is my life-blood, but I don’t necessarily want to solely work in a Lutheran classroom (which is what my degree at Concordia University was designed for). The creative arts FILL ME UP! But, directing junior high and high school theater (though SUPER rewarding) doesn’t pay the bills. It also wasn’t filling my creative bucket in the way it had in the past.
I wanted to specialize, but I didn’t know WHAT to specialize in. Regardless of what I chose, I knew that I could NOT separate the teacher from the artist. I must, all my days, do both.
Introducing: the photographer and cinemaphotographer.
One of my very favorite things about producing independent films is that I have the freedom to incorporate student interns into the rigorous journey of filmmaking. On the set of He Leadeth Me, we hosted 5 high school interns and 1 college student. These kids KICKED BUTT. They had no experience and came willingly, with eager and open hands. This group had very little direction because of our lack of staffing, but managed to put the pieces together and showed up in EVERY situation with the right questions, the best answers, and lots of smiles. They were absolutely EXHAUSTED by the end of it, but I don’t think a single one of them walked away from our project regretting their involvement.
But, what about me? I had one regret.
I hated the fact that I had so little to no time to do with them what I wanted to do: to TEACH them. In so many ways, they had to teach themselves by observing, through trial and error, and with a lot of faith. When I handed them a list, they ran with it. I gave them a camera, and they figured it out. They watched for the opportunities themselves to weave each other into the daily grind on set.
They WON. That’s what it felt like!
Maybe that’s what a teacher effectively does. Perhaps it wasn’t my job to tell them everything, but rather to SHOW them how to face every single challenge presented. And WOW, did we face some heavy-duty challenges!
It makes me so very proud.
Your senior (or upcoming senior) is looking to you and others for a lot of answers right now, too. They want to know the name of the best school, how to pay for it, what degree to choose from, and how to navigate the last few months of their high school experience. She wants to know if her relationship with her boyfriend will survive long-distance. Or, if she will ever see her best friends again. Maybe your senior doesn’t need a list of what to do next. What if he or she doesn’t want somebody to tell them how to make all of these decisions? Teenagers sometimes just want to see for themselves that all of this is WORTH it. They want to know that WHATEVER they decide to do, they have somebody’s support and encouragement from beginning to end.
From experience, I don’t think the desire for approval will EVER go away.
Senior portraits can seem like one of those check-off-the-list activities along with planning the graduation party, ordering the cap and gown, handing in the final papers, and building the guest list. It’s also one of the very FIRST of many senior milestones your student will experience.
And many DREAD it.
Why? Most senior portrait sessions seem to produce one thing: expensive photos. Blah. Boring. These same portrait sessions also seem to lack MANY things, including long-lasting significance, a relationship with the photographer, purpose beyond the photo, and a reason to enjoy it ALL.
There are few senior girls that absolutely LOVE getting their portraits taken. MANY girls dread it because of how they feel about their bodies, how they feel about their perceived value, and the fear that their images will not be as pretty side-by-side with those of other girls. We can’t even pretend to understand how these beautiful daughters feel, because this world…this country…is SO different than it was even 10 years ago.
We have absolutely no idea.
Moms, hear me out. Your senior’s portrait session can truly have a lasting impact on your daughter’s senior year, not because she doesn’t have an enormous amount of opportunity to make a statement for herself in ALL other areas of her life. But, because a picture really IS worth a thousand words. She can look at that portrait all year and feel inspired or defeated. She’ll remember that session, whether it was long and hot or too short and impersonal. Most of all, she’ll remember how she FELT. And, that image will crop up in all sorts of places: the year book, senior events, and even slideshows in the spring. It’s what you display at her celebration party! It’s what you print and blow up!
If she hates the process, she may hate the photo too. How disappointing.
“So, what do I do? I’m learning too!”
Mom, your daughter’s portrait MUST be more than just what she sees on printed paper. It needs to be more than just the right outfit, the right hairstyle, the right pose. I encourage you to consider her ENTIRE senior portrait session experience as being a part of what produces that stunning photo. How do you do this? Select a photographer that prioritizes HER, not just the image. Choose someone that creates a safe environment for her to feel comfortable in, with her own beautiful body. Hire someone that cares more about your child than he/she cares about the paycheck. Don’t take a website’s word for it. Listen to referrals. And above all, choose a teacher.
Teachers make all the difference.
Your child can and will likely name influential teachers from grades K to 11, many she still sees on a regular basis. Hopefully, she will also have teachers in grade 12 that she’ll absolutely love! These people invest their whole daily lives into creating safe, promising, memorable experiences for our children! These people are why these seniors become much of who they are!! Photographers don’t have the luxury of spending much time getting to know your child. But, we DO have an opportunity to make a very lasting impression in 3 hours. When we prioritize your child and the life they will live, they don’t become JUST another senior portrait session. They become someone to hope for, to cheer for, to pray for.
And beautiful images? Well, that’s just icing on the graduation cake! When your daughter feels beautiful and loved, it will SHOW in those pictures that will be visual banner of her senior year.
So, think about these things. Photographs are a part of our legacy, but our memories and experiences and relationships far outlast all of those things. Prioritize creating an experience that puts your child first, and your senior will absolutely look forward to those gorgeous images we’ll get in the end!
Some senior portrait session tips:
To learn more about what I mean, and to receive a more comprehensive senior portrait session guide, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I can’t WAIT to hear from you!