How to Save Money with DIY Senior Pictures

Since we began this whole “frugality” thing in 2013, we continue to look for ways to DIY things we’d normally hire out for. Our biggest victory (possibly until now) was do-it-yourselfing our son’s speech therapy.

“S” couldn’t say his R’s – they came out sounding more like W’s. After just a few short lessons with a YouTube video from a certified speech therapist, he had it down!!

We were psyched. No driving from our country home to the city several times a week for speech therapy, and no spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for speech classes.

Our most recent DIY victory? Taking our oldest daughter’s senior pictures.

Why We Chose to DIY Our Child’s Senior Pictures

Choosing to take our daughter’s senior pictures wasn’t an easy choice. After all, we have little photography experience, and with senior pictures you obviously want high quality.

But after weighing the costs (a good photographer in our area charges between $500 and $1000 for the sitting alone) and considering that we have four kids who will need senior pictures, we decided to take chance a and try to learn to do it ourselves.

Now, know that if you choose to take your kid’s senior pictures you can expect to put in some work along with your money. If you have just one kid and don’t expect to be involved in photography going forward, you’ll probably be less stressed hiring the job out.

However, if you have more than one kid and happen to like photography, this could be a good option for you.

In our case, I really like photography and so does Rick, so the expensive camera we bought to do the job could be used going forward for a number of reasons: side hustling, taking future family pics, etc.

Knowing that we would certainly use the camera in the future was a big part of our decision, as was knowing we’d enjoy learning more about photography.

Now, here are the specific steps we took to prepare for our DIY senior picture session.

Buy a Great Camera and Lenses

This is imperative. You’re likely not going to get high quality pics, even with a higher end point-and-shoot model. In our case, we chose this Nikon model bundle:

Nikon D7200 DSLR, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 DX VR, Nikon 70-300mm f/4-5.6G Nikkor, 2pcs 16GB Memory, Camera Case

We also purchased this lens in addition because our research indicated that non-zoom lenses (fixed lenses) tend to get sharper pics but we wanted an inexpensive one.

Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D prime lens with manual aperture control

We chose this brand and model based on the advice of a friend who is a professional photographer, and so far we’ve been really happy with it.

A high quality camera is definitely a must if you are going to take your child’s senior pictures. Without it, don’t bother. A great camera has a higher ability to walk you through any lack of education about photography you might have too.

Today’s digital cameras can work together with inexperienced photographers for some great pictures.

Invest in an Education

The next step we took to prepare for DIYing our oldest’s senior pics was educating ourselves on how our camera worked and on how to take great pictures.

This instructional YouTube video by Tony & Chelsea Northrup was phenomenal at explaining how to operate our camera, even for newbies like us.

We’ve watched it once now and will definitely watch it again, and plan on getting his book as well.

Tony Northrup’s DSLR Book: How to Create Stunning Digital Photography

As I’ve mentioned, education is vital to taking great pictures. The videos I watched and online articles I read taught me a lot about placement, background, etc.

Here are some other things you’ll need to know about do-it-yourselfing your child’s senior pictures.

Make Sure the Weather is Right

It’s funny – you would think a sunny day would be perfect for taking great pictures, but the truth is that overcast is best. Check out the difference between this “sunny” pic (the sun came out during one of our sessions) and the other overcast pics.

Choose a day that is cloudy but with a smaller chance of rain. Rain is not good for expensive camera equipment – or for girls with makeup. 🙂

Expect to Take LOTS of Pictures

Being newbies, we took over 300 pictures of Maddie in order to get the 30 or so that we’ll consider using for her senior picture portfolio.

We did two sessions – one in a quaint little town not far from here and one on our property. Each session took 2-3 hours. You’ll have LOTS of pics that are subpar and that is okay – just analyze what’s wrong with them and commit to not making the same mistake again.

Use Props That Are Important to the Subject

It can be fun in senior pic photography to add some props that mean something to the student. For instance you might want to take some pictures in their sports uniform if they play sports, or you may want to take some photos with a beloved pet.

Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

 

Some of the pictures we ended up liking the best were taken from seemingly cockamamie ideas we had about poses and backgrounds. Like this pic:

 

Go ahead and do some fun and different stuff and play around a bit.

Know What is Considered Usable in the Photography World

As I mentioned above, we only used about ten percent of the pictures we took. The other all had issues such as:

 

Blur

Yep, we had several pics that were just too blurry to use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Placement Issues

Placement is important in photography. Look at the difference between these two pics. Bluriness aside, see how the one pick is off centered a bit (which can be great at times but not here) and the bottom of Maddie’s arm is not visible?

Compare it to the other one in which she is more centered and you can see the whole Maddie. The first one is, well, annoying, because of placement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Random Issues

You’ll also likely find other random issues, such as we did with this shot. The pic on the left is okay but Maddie’s crazy curly hair was out of control, which you can see if you look at the background. The second shot has her hair a little toned down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or, the smile won’t be just right. 🙂

Saving Your Hard Work

We almost had a major issue when I went back into the camera to take another look at the 300+ shots and found that our memory card had corrupted most ALL of the pics.

When I went to a local camera store to find out what the heck the problem was, the expert behind the counter told me that this will happen often if you move the memory card from one location (i.e. the camera) to another location (i.e. the computer) and then put it back to the first location.

There are other issues that can cause a memory card to corrupt photos too so it’s a good idea to get your pics on a hard drive (the only form of permanent storage) ASAP before something goes haywire.

Luckily, the day we took the pics Rick asked me to download them onto our PC right away so he could see them better (yeah, we’re gettin’ old). If he hadn’t, we might have lost them all.

After you move your photos to a hard drive, you can clear out the memory card after you put it back into the camera. Apparently this is a must-do step too.

Also, I read online that sometimes low quality memory cards can corrupt files for no reason, so be sure to get a quality memory card with your camera.

We bought one similar to this one suggested by the expert at our camera store.

Promaster – 32GB – SDHC High Speed Secure Digital Memory Card – Class 10

Printing Out Your Pictures

When you’ve decided which pics you want to print out, send, etc., it’s important to get them printed out at a higher quality printer. We haven’t decided who we’ll use yet, but it won’t be our local big box store photo center.

We’ll likely print them out at the camera store. We’ve also had several friends have good luck with Shutterfly and Tiny Prints.

The goal is to pick a high quality printer that has the care and equipment to print stellar copies of your hard work.

Summary

I’m telling you, if we can take pics this good so can you. Don’t be afraid to try and DIY your child’s senior pics. You might end up being pleasantly surprised at the results.

20 comments

  1. Brian says:

    What great photos! Nice job Laurie. I’m sure Maddie is proud of her photos they look great. I love her Save Ferris shirt! A great overall investment, that can be used for DIY , and possible side money too.

    • Laurie says:

      I am SO excited that we were able to get this done. Love those DIY accomplishments!! YES, we have fully indoctrinated our kids into all of the great 70’s and 80’s music and movies. Priorities! 😉

  2. I love the pics, Laurie. You and Rick did a terrific job, and I love the resources you’ve shared. I really want to develop my photography skills (although we only have the one second grader.)

    Senior photos sure have changed from when I was in High School, tho. We just had to go to school and everyone got a headshot in the same black drape (girls) or tux (boys) . You either bought it or didn’t, it was gonna be in the yearbook either way.

    • Laurie Blank says:

      Oh my gosh, so true, Emily!! For us, most everyone went to “D” studios where you got a sitting portrait with either a blue background or a brown background. Absolutely no creativity whatsoever.

      Thanks for the compliments too, and glad you found the resources helpful!! Tony has a great teaching style. I hope you can find some time to enjoy your photography interests too!

  3. Aww! It’s so nice to see the famous Maddie! As beautiful as she is talented. My favourite is the one of her hugging the horse. You’ve got a long career as a photographer ahead of you, Laurie : )

  4. katscratch says:

    What great tips!

    My son’s dad took the kiddo’s senior photos with his regular DSLR. There are so many times I’m grateful my kiddo is not as materialistic/competition-driven as the media says he should be 😉 And the photos turned out great!

  5. Aaron says:

    These are excellent Laurie. You can do a lot with a 50mm lens and just throwing it on aperture priority. Took my nieces high school pics too and saved her some money.

    The kids have sure grown.

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks, Aaron!! I had forgotten that you did your niece’s pics!! Still working on learning aperture priority – I know where it is on the camera but thought it best if I use the auto mode for these :-). Maybe I’ll take some nice fall pics here at the farm using the aperture setting!

  6. Josh says:

    Your pics look great.
    My wife has a fancy camera and the Photoshop software as well and we have used that for both of our pregnancy announcements and our annual family picture, although we are paying a family friend to do the family pic this year. We couldn’t imagine going back to the days of having to pay to develop film and only getting a finite number of shots.

  7. Awesome job on the pictures. It’s a great feeling when you DIY and see the amazing results. Luckily for us, my sister in law has a fancy camera and has helped us take pretty good pictures. Also, good job with the DIY speech therapy…I didn’t realize there would be YouTube videos about that. My son has issues saying “c” or “g” words. Speech therapy is covered and the therapist comes to his preschool but I think I’ll check out YouTube to help him out at home as well.

  8. Jayleen says:

    Ah! Your daughter is beautiful! Great job on the pictures! My 15 year old son took my daughter’s senior pictures. A few turned out great but we will probably do another session too!

    • Laurie says:

      Thank you, Jayleen. 🙂 That is amazing that your son took your daughter’s pics! I fully encourage trying again if you want some more shots. As I mentioned, we took over 300 pics in order to get the ones we liked.

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