Why Senior High School Photographers Have It All Wrong
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By Jennifer Lebo
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I think it’s important for me to preface this blog post with the acknowledgement that this is an opinion post. The views in this post might not be shared by all, and I apologize if my words offend or displease anyone.  That is not my intent.

That said, I believe that the ideas discussed in this post are vital to our teenage daughters.  I write this for those girls.


I’ve been a photographer for over a decade now, and I’ve specialized in working with high school seniors for almost all of that time.  In working to improve my craft, I have spent countless hours pouring over high school senior portraits, particularly the “custom senior portraits” that so many photographers offer these days.


Times sure have changed since I was a high school senior.


I am continually blown away by some of the amazing talent in the portrait world.  There are truly some amazing portrait photographers out there, and the high school senior genre is no exception.





But I’m also blown away by how many photographers are promoting the sultry, “cover girl” look.  Mature poses, seductive expressions, and not a smile to be found. It seems every photographer out there is promoting the idea that a successful senior portrait session is one where our teen girls are made to look like supermodels, long gone from her high school days.


Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m a firm believer in capturing the beauty of every teen I photograph.  But I struggle BIG TIME with the “cover girl”, “supermodel”, pouty faced portraits.  It actually fills me with some kind of emotion that’s part unease and part fury. The more I see it, the more I lean towards fury.


I don’t fault photographers for this.  Well, at least not completely. The way I see it, photographers simply do not have time to invest in getting to know each teen in a meaningful way.  Because of this, many of us photographers lack what it takes to create authentic and special portraits that really capture the essence of the teen. Instead, we have to go with a more generic style, a style we can recreate over and over, albeit with a change here and a change there to make each subject “feel unique”.


And when pushed to it, the photographer will often choose what’s “hot” and current in today’s pop culture.  Thus, the sexy, sultry, supermodel look.


So what’s the big deal?  If this is such a hot trend, wouldn’t it be smart to go with it, and push that kind of portrait style to every teen out there?  Isn’t that what they want anyway?


I’m not so sure it is.


And I’m not so sure it’s good for them.  In fact, I think it’s dangerous.


Consider the typical teen girl.  Or consider YOUR teen girl. While she’s probably the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen, she probably doesn’t feel like that most days.  She is most likely looking at herself and finding more “flaws” than “flattery”. She’s struggling with discovering who she is, with learning what makes her truly beautiful- because while each girl truly is beautiful, it takes time for each one to discover it for herself.


So then how can we consider putting them in front of a camera, where a photographer will push the “supermodel” ideal, emphasizing all the outer beauty, photoshopping her to fit a certain image, and think that that won’t do a number on her self esteem?


Again, I don’t fault the photographer.  It’s a photographer’s job to make her subject shine, to make her look flawless and fabulous.  


Isn’t it?


Or is it?

  • What if I want to be that photographer who does more than bring out the surface beauty?  

  • What if I want to be the photographer who builds up the self esteem, who empowers the teen, who shows her the true beauty inside her? 

It goes back to that time issue.  I truly believe it takes time to get to know each teen- not just in a pre-session consult, not just in a “what’s your favorite color, and who is your bestie, and why?” kind of way.  I mean in a deep and meaningful way. In a way that lets her know that you SEE her, you KNOW her, that she can really be herself in front of the camera, because she really trusts the person behind the camera.


I don’t know if it’s possible for me to do that on such a meaningful level with all the teen girls out there who so desperately need this.


I can’t.


But you can.


Yes, I said you.  Mom.


Think about it.  There’s only one girl who I can truly photograph this way, on such a deep and meaningful level.  There’s only one person who can really photograph your daughter in such a deep and meaningful way.  Mother and daughter. Photographer and subject.


Yeah, I know, I know.  You don’t know how to use your camera.  Your phone doesn’t cut it. Your daughter wants no part of you or your camera right now.  You can’t even get your daughter to open up to you, let alone sit for you.


I know these things. Why do you think I’m proposing such a crazy idea?


  • What if your camera became your secret weapon instead of the eye sore collecting dust at the bottom of your closet?  

  • What if you actually knew how to use it well enough that you could skip the expensive photographer who really knows nothing about your daughter anyway?   

  • What if you could photograph her yourself in a way that celebrates her real beauty instead of pigeon holing her into society’s warped idea of beauty?  

  • What if your camera actually helped you connect with her?


Crazy?  Or maybe brilliant.


This is the way I’m going to become that photographer for all the teen girls out there.  I’m going to do it by teaching all the moms out there how to shoot like me.


I’m going to give control to you moms, so that maybe we can put this whole “super hot, supermodel” image to rest already.  Our girls deserve so much more than that.


You with me?


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