5 Tips for DIY Senior Portraits

It’s no secret that homeschooling your children opens the door to a whole world of educational freedoms. Among them, the freedom to choose which traditional high school rites and customs you participate in: class rings, prom, graduation ceremonies, and yes, senior portraits, too.

While some traditions may be left behind, senior portraits are a rite of passage that I encourage homeschool moms to keep.

5 Tips for DIY Senior Portraits

Senior portraits can run a bit on the pricey side, (for a good reason!) and may not be in the budget for everyone. So, while you probably won’t be able to produce portraits as nice as the trendy, professional photographer in your area, with a decent camera and a little bit of research you should be able to produce at least a handful of good quality DIY senior photos on your own.

One: Research Senior Portrait Poses and Props

The very first thing we did after we decided to do our own senior portraits was create a Pinterest board of inspiring senior portraits. We looked for poses we liked, prop ideas we could incorporate, and location ideas, too. My daughter was able to get a good idea of what kinds of pictures she liked and we were able to make a to do list to help us through the rest of the process.

While browsing and pinning things you like, keep the following questions in mind: 

  • Do we have a nearby location we can use for this kind of picture?
  • Does this fit the personality of my child?
  • Is this pose flattering for my child, and does it “look” like him/her?
  • Do we have access to these kinds of props?

Remember that your goal isn’t to replicate another photographer’s photo in its entirety, but to gather ideas for your own unique senior portraits that reflect the personality and style of your child.

Example: After seeing several examples of pictures with balloons, we knew that was something we wanted to incorporate. We decided to use a large bunch of colorful balloons with the “vintage-feel” outfit we had planned, resulting in a photo that was completely different from the original that inspired us.

DIY senior portrait balloons

Two: Find Props Free or Cheap

One of the benefits of having portraits done in a studio is utilizing their available stash of props. If saving money is the motivation behind your DIY senior portraits, you don’t want to be spending a lot of money on clothes, accessories, and photo props.

Before spending money on props or accessories: 

  • Consider items you already have that reflect your child’s interests: an instrument, their favorite book, their beloved pet, etc. While you definitely want to take a large number of prop-free photos, these are items you probably want to include at some point anyway.
  • Ask around to see if you can borrow items for the photo shoot. If you saw something in your research that you’d like to have for a picture (vintage suitcase, globe, etc.,) maybe someone you know has just the kind of thing you need. You can also poll your friends for accessories: vintage hats or heels, leather jackets, or classic pearls, for example.
  • Check the thrift store for cheap finds. Maybe your local Good Will store has some hidden gems that would make great photo props.

We did end up spending money on a few key items that we really wanted to have: a beautiful hardback edition of “The Princess Bride,” a pair of vintage-feel red heels, and some helium balloons, and an inexpensive shirt at the thrift store to pair with the vintage-feel skirt she’d inherited from a friend. But we borrowed more than we bought to keep costs low.

Borrow more than you buy and you’ll be able to keep your photo shoots budget-friendly.

Example: Catie’s violin was a definitive prop choice from the beginning. After researching “senior portraits with a violin,” we knew we wanted at least one photo taken against a wooden porch as a background. With this goal in mind, we set off to a local park with historical log cabin houses on one evening just before sunset. 

DIY Senior Portrait Violin

Three: Research Golden Hour for Your Location

If you’ve been around photography at all you’ve probably heard about the golden hour. The golden hour is simply an ideal time at the beginning and the end of the day where the daylight is neither too harsh nor too dim and which allows you to get some really good photos.

An experienced photographer can probably tell by eye whether the light is ideal, but you can research to get a time window for your location at the current time of year.

Knowing that we didn’t have a lot of experience with this, we chose to spread our senior portraits out over several different photo shoots, on different days, in different locations, both in the morning and in the evening. Even though some of the pictures didn’t turn out as well as we hoped, we ended up with plenty that did, and that’s a win!

Example: Getting the light just right turned out to be one of the trickiest parts for our experience. But this one turned out to be one of our favorites, and one of the few that don’t actually show her face. 

DIY Senior Portrait Golden Hour 2

Four: Take Your Time During Editing

The photo editing process turned out to be the most challenging part of our DIY senior portraits adventure. There are several good reasons that professional photographers are worth their pricey invoices and the hours spent in the editing process is just one of them.

If you’re unfamiliar with editing photos, this may seem intimidating, but there are a large number of articles and tutorials online for “how to edit senior portraits” that can help. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can also find some online programs with a quick Google search for online photo editors.

As you edit, keep these tips in mind:

  • Never edit your original, make a copy and edit that one. If you don’t like the edited result in the end, you can always try again with another copy.
  • Keep edits basic and simple. The fancy filters and such take a lot of practice and skill. Besides, you wouldn’t want all of the senior portraits to have the highly edited, surreal look anyway. Keep the portraits down to earth, adjusting the brightness, color, and contrast as needed to create photos that look sharp and true to life.
  • Try cropping photos in a few different ways, horizontally, vertically, farther out, closer in, etc, to see which one really suits that shot the best.
  • When you’re done with the editing process, make sure you have some great photos that really zoom in on your child’s face, where the face fills the frame. You’ll want some that aren’t that close, too, but you WILL appreciate having a few great ones that are close.
  • Get your child’s feedback on photos and edits. Choosing which photos to edit was easier with my daughter’s input.

Example: This photo taken during the golden hour was one that I cropped in several different ways to find the version that I liked best. It’s also one of the few good ones that shows the soft, golden, light illuminating the side of her face.

DIY Senior Portrait Golden Hour

Five: Sign Up for Photo Printing Sites Early

Ideally, you’d get portraits done early in the school year, some time in the fall. Not only is the weather great for photos but you can catch a lot of holiday sales with the online photo printing sites. Even if you’re doing senior portraits in the spring, signing up on mailing lists early can help you catch some good deals.

Sign up for online sites like Shutterfly (affiliate link) as early as you can, then keep an eye on your inbox for great deals. Sites like these regularly run specials so it’s only a matter of time before the right deal comes along.

If time is an issue, you can always print photos or photo invitations at Wal-Mart in a pinch. Because we were pressed for time, we used the Wal-Mart instant print kiosk for our graduation invitations back in December and they came out pretty cute for a decent price. But I’m certain we could have saved money online if we had the time. So leave yourself plenty of time to both shop around for deals and wait for the order to arrive to save the most money.

Want something totally unique? Make one-of-a-kind die cut stickers from your senior portraits! Your family and friends will be amazed at your creativity and they’ll enjoy seeing your teen’s smiling face for years to come!

Reference Summary for DIY Senior Portraits

  • Research online for inspiration with poses, locations, props, etc, and make a “to do” list.
  • Borrow as many props and accessories as you can to save money.
  • Research “Golden Hour” and look up the golden hour for your location with an online calculator.
  • Don’t edit original photos, don’t over-edit your photos, do try different orientations and levels of cropping, do get feedback from your senior on which poses and edits they like best.
  • Sign up for online photo printing sites and watch for sales.

For even more tips read How To: Homeschool Senior Portraits at the Classic Housewife blog.


About the author

Amber is an eclectic homeschooling mother of three tweens and teens, who is also a wife, writer, artist, pastor's wife, singer, chef, maid, and chauffeur. Don't think she's got it all together, though--some days she's barely just a mom.

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