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Ready for your closeup? It's senior photo time

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 26, 2010 - Summertime and the high-school seniors are posing. Cameras are clicking, and the interest is high.

This is the season when seniors prepare for their senior photo sessions. They're busy deciding which clothes and how many outfits to wear, what photos to get, which hobbies to incorporate in the photos, how much money to spend -- and which photographer to use.

Students generally choose between the studio recommended by the school or an outside or independent photographer. Typically, school-recommended studios are cheaper, but prices do vary by the package, which differ in the shooting time, the number of outfits the seniors may bring, and number of wallets, portraits and frames purchased. At the end of the all of the flashes and smiling, senior pictures can turn out to be quite the expense.

"Most people use the studio provided by their school because you can get a decent discount," said Katharine Joiner, a recent graduate of Lindbergh High School who will begin at the University of Missouri in the fall. (Joiner is the daughter of Beacon reporter Robert Joiner.)

"At Lindbergh, you only have to pay if you wanted to purchase the pictures while a lot of schools make students pay the sitting fee," Joiner added. "A lot of my friends used other photographers and their pictures turned out really great. I didn't like how my pictures came out when I used the studio the school provided."

Joiner went on to say, "I think you have a lot more options if you use an outside photographer."

Sam Stirmlinger, a senior at St. Joseph's Academy, says most of her friends go to independent photographers for their senior photos. She did think that the interest and fuss over senior pictures were more prevalent at St. Joe than at Lafayette High School, which she attended sophomore year.

"Lafayette just didn't do senior pictures as much," she said. "You would never know they had their photos taken."

Ryan Hesker, a senior at DeSmet Jesuit High School, said that for him, and most guys, senior pictures were not a big deal. "My opinion is that it's more of a girl thing," he said about the whole photo shoot and rampant exchange of wallet-sized photos.

As he said, "Most of the guys are going to do is get one for the family." He said he was one of the last ones to sign up for his school-suggested studio, Prestige, and was happy just to go there.

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Senior photos meet social media

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Online blogs, Facebook and websites now allow kids to search for photographers who suit their needs and styles, said Jodie Allen of Fresh Art Photography. As she puts it, "You can tell we're not ones to go to a park and sit next to a tree. We're pretty up front."

Allen said, "What parents want are wallets and digitals. So that's why we do offer packages that include discs."

At Nordmann Photography, Lisa Nordmann says the new thing that all the kids want, besides the ever popular wallets to hand out, are the Facebook images. "I give them all the photos for Facebook with our logos and advertising on it." That also discourages reproduction.

Advertising through Facebook allows the seniors to comment on the photos, complimenting the senior featured in them while possibly deciding -- if they like them enough -- that they'd like to go to the same place.

Stirmlinger has been featured on the Shana Watkins website and Facebook pages, and she was a part of Watkins' marketing plan this year. After taking her senior pictures in April, Stirmlinger handed out more than 50 cards, with her image and Watkins' information, to her friends. For every friend who used Watkins and had one of the business cards, Stirmlinger got a discount on her senior photos. Stirmlinger said that her friends also visited Watkins' Facebook page to view more of Watkins' work to see if they would like to use her as a photographer.

Allen also uses a grassroots marketing strategy with the cards and Facebook follow-up. Parents often end up buying the business cards, with their child's photo and the photographer's information, at $1 a card, she said, instead of the more expensive and standard wallets. So, the senior gets more photos to give out, and Allen gets a marketing tool. She said the new trend has been great for business, as more kids see the pictures along with her information.

Trends in senior photos

Other new trends in senior photos include black and white photos. "Black and white was a popular choice for most people because it looks flattering on almost everyone," said Joiner. "Head shots were used a lot as well."

Capturing the personality of the individual senior is most important, said Joiner. "A lot of people took pictures with their sports jersey or their cheerleading outfit or whatever instrument they played in high school. When I went to get my pictures taken, I saw this awesome one where the girl in the picture was majoring in journalism, so the photographer covered the floor in newspapers and it turned out to be a neat background for some of her pictures."

Allen said BFF sessions, otherwise known as Best Friends Forever sessions, are becoming popular. The friends who the seniors bring along get a discount, and then the seniors can have pictures with one other.

Allen says the sessions "end up being awesome all around. They're really fun, and it's nice to know that you have a picture with all of your best friends at that time."

Stirmlinger said she has noticed more pictures taken outside. "When my sister did it, most of hers and her friends were inside. Now I feel like it's outside in parks and other places."

Do-it-yourself senior photos

Not all seniors go to the studio or a professional photographer. Colleen Smyth, a recent graduate of Cor Jesu, decided on the homemade route.

"I wanted to do something different, not so generic," she said. "I wanted to give my friend (a budding photographer) more experience, and it was less expensive and more laid back. I also wanted to wait until I got my braces off, and by the time that happened, it was winter."

Smyth paid $75 for everything, including unlimited outfits and two hours of photos. That's quite the deal when shooting fees can start at $125 and go up, and various packages of wallets, 5x7s and other sizes may cost between $1,000-$1,500.

Smyth was able to print the photos herself and now has an unlimited supply of her own wallets. As she put it, "I loved how they turned out and would not have wanted it any other way."

Despite homemade or cost-saving efforts, photographers says senior photos have been recession-proof this summer. Nordmann said, "I don't feel [the recession] has affected us in senior photos because it's a once in a lifetime thing. You're never going to have it again."

Stirmlinger agreed. Despite acknowledging that she, like most of seniors these days, have tons of pictures on Facebook and other digital photos, she said, "I guess it's the tradition."

Lauren Weber, a student at Georgetown University, is an intern at the Beacon.

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