Yearbook photos and senior photos, whats the difference? The Ugly Truth

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June 13, 2023

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Senior Info

Senior yearbook photos… the ugly truth

Ok, so ugly truth is a bit harsh… it was more that it was fun to use the movie title. But, there are some common misconceptions that can make it yearbook photos an ugly and crazy process. Hopefully this will help clear up the misconceptions and give some guidance to seniors and their parents about the contracted school photographers.

The Truth about the contracted School Photographers

Photography is an interesting industry in our fast paced social media world… one that is largely unregulated. Like any creative industry, there is room for creative expression and customization. But, with that, comes lots of unknowns, and grey areas. This one question “Do I have to use the school contracted photographer, and what does it mean” is one of the most asked questions… so lets chat about it!

Do I have to use ONLY the contracted school photographer?

For your official yearbook senior photo, your school will most likely require you to use their contracted photographer- in Northeast Florida, you can plan on it! WHY? well, usually to make the yearbook staff {and advisors} lives easier. Imagine all those photos coming in from all over… or worse, not coming in at all! This puts the burden on a large company and makes sure you are in there… and if not, its a contract between the school and the photographer, which gives you come leverage if they leave someone out {and yes, it happens}. The school photographer usually takes the drape/ suit photo, and a cap and gown {which you will see sometime mid spring- no chance for a re-shoot}. Some local contracted photogs offer additional set ups, and maybe even some outdoor photos. But, its important to note, the ONLY photography you NEED from them is the main one for the yearbook {and that is available on their website}. My advice- TAKE IT EARLY in the summer! This way, if you hate it, you have time for a redo!

Now for that ugly truth…

For girls, I do recommend getting makeup done, as their flash tends to wash you out {A LOT}. Each studio is different, and I can only speak to the one we are required to use for my seniors class photos in 2021 {but I think 75% of Jacksonville High school seniors use the same one} but it was pretty dreadful. Plan for a crowded, loud, rushed experience. They don’t do much editing {so I can’t recommend paying for the acne removal, or extra touch ups}. Generally speaking, they are newly graduated kiddos, much like you, and don’t have a lot of posing, lighting or photography experience. My first assistant when I photographed weddings had started with them, so I heard all sorts of interesting tidbits and behind the scenes craziness. Now that being said, I always suggest you tag along with your senior, because its one of the first SENIOR moments they get to have, don’t miss it! But, I would really debate on doing any of the additional photos. I think a lot depends on what you are looking for in your photos, and your experience.

The studio may have you convinced they are you ONLY option, but as I said, I am here to answer your questions, and debunk some of these myths. You have options and should ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want my photos to look like everyone else’s
  • Have I seen contracted school photos I LOVE?
  • Do you want photos that showcase YOU- your activities, your passions, your personality?
  • Do I want a full experience? or do I want something custom but quick?

While the school photographer might make you feel you need to do their big, crazy {not really} custom package, I can promise you, you will get far more beautiful and original photos from a smaller, custom style studio. Their job is to collaborate with you, design the perfect experience based around what makes you YOU… and not what makes you like every other kid getting a diploma this year. No one look is perfect for thousands of students {brick wall, anyone}. The beauty of independent photographers {ME ?} is that we are not bound by the schools, we have the time and resources, but most importantly, years and years of experience in lighting, posing, and editing, to create not only beautiful photos, but beautiful products as well. All of this comes together to make an amazing experience, and I find one that my past clients say is a favorite of their senior year.

The most common complaint I hear about the school photographer is not the cost, but the quality. Most parents know senior photos are special, and something you only do once. So, they hope that what they get of their senior is amazing and shows exactly who they are. Most times I hear parents say they OBLIGATED to buy the pictures from the contracted photographer even though they don’t even like them. That makes my photography soul die a bit inside…

So whats the difference? Customization, time, the quality of the work, and what YOU want. Some seniors want the drape photo and thats it. Some seniors, want photos that show exactly who they are- the activities that mattered to them, their personality, and most of all, the person they are right now! As parents, we hope to freeze time, and thats exactly what senior photos are. They capture your senior as they are, and the best part is that you get to be a part of that. The side effect is the memories and art that you get to enjoy every day, that make that empty next syndrome just a bit more manageable!

And now for the next question… why cant I just use my phone for photos… read on to get the details on that!

Ready to start planning your senior pictures? Lets get started! Kelleen Hite is a senior portrait photographer based out of Jacksonville and St. Augustine Florida. Her goal is to create and amazing experience and revolutionary portraits so that every senior knows how awesome they are, and so that every parent can enjoy this fleeting moment. Kelleen is now booking for the class of 2024. To learn more about being a revolutionary KHP senior, click here.

  1. Kelly, your senior clients must be absolutely thrilled when they see their final galleries!!! Every image is so unique and polished! Definitely way better than standard yearbook photos and having senior pictures with the school photographer.

  2. Brandi says:

    This is a great explanation between what to expect from the school contracted photographer and independent photographers! And, your senior images are gorgeous!

  3. Ashleigh says:

    Such a great breakdown on the difference between a contracted school photographer and a senior portrait photographer! Your clients must love and appreciate your knowledge and expertise – and your work is fabulous!

  4. Beautiful senior photos that show the unique character and personality of each graduate. There is hands down no comparison between yearbook shots and amazing custom senior photo sessions that come to life with individuality.

  5. Susan says:

    Great Blog on the difference between an independent Photographer and the School Photographer. The images and styling in your examples here is exceptional–something the contract Photographer just would never have time for! Great job!

  6. Such great information for those looking for great senior portraits. You go above and beyond! Your senior portraits are fabulous!

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