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Tips for the Best High School Senior Portraits

What are senior portraits for high school?

Senior portraits are the photographs you take toward the end of your final year of high school, when you are preparing to graduate. Whether you have the portraits done by a photographer contracted by the school or by an individual you yourself hire, a portrait will involve a full session with a professional photographer and will include various backgrounds and poses. You can then get various package deals that allow you to pick different portrait sizes which you can share with friends and family. You’ll need to prepare outfits, props, etc., to make the best of your time with the photographer.

Best Tips for a Successful Senior Photography Session

Taking your high school senior portrait should be a fun experience! You’re getting ready to graduate, and this will be a lifetime memory. In order to get the very best portrait, here are some tips you can follow to make the picture turn out perfect:


When you have your Chicago high school senior portrait taken, you want your face to be the focus, not your clothing. Therefore, it’s important for you to carefully consider what you’ll be wearing—and do it several days before the shoot, so you’re not frantically throwing an outfit together the day you have your portrait taken. Remember, getting your portrait taken is a team effort—you have to do your part to help the photographer take a great picture, and that starts with giving careful thought to your outfit.

  • Iron your clothes the night before! Also make sure everything is on a hanger the day before, to avoid that last-minute scramble that wrinkles everything. Yes, the camera will pick up on those flaws. For the same reason, make sure your clothes are clean and stain-free. Even small stains will be visible in a high-quality photograph.
  • Avoid patterns and overly busy, bright colors. 
  • Also avoid stripes. All they do is make you look heavier.
  • While crisp white shirts might sound nice, stark white is seriously distracting and will pull the focus away from your face, so avoid white shirts and white shoes.
  • Much as you may like that shirt with a giant logo, skip it. It’ll distract from your face and also is likely to be dated within just a few years. You want your high school portrait to still look relevant decades from now.
  • Choose either long sleeves, three-quarter sleeves, or no sleeves. Short sleeves tend to truncate arms in a photograph, causing an unpleasant aesthetic. 
  • Make sure your pants are not lighter than any dark shirt you choose to wear, because that can make your lower half look wide.
  • While dresses or skirts are fine, they also cut back on how many poses you can do, so at least consider other types of clothing, too. 
  • Choose several outfits. Consider both a casual and a dressier outfit. A sweater or a jacket can be used to dress things up and really change your look, as can a scarf. Take a hat along. A tie is also a good idea. Vary the necklines of your shirts.
  • Ladies: make sure you try on your chosen outfits with your chosen underwear, to make sure it doesn’t peek through. 


You might have a special piece of jewelry that you want to make sure appears in your portrait. That’s absolutely fine, but bear in mind that anything that’s too big, clunky, or glittery is going to be distracting.

  • If you wear a pendant, just know that keeping it centered is going to limit your range of poses.
  • If you take jewelry, put it in a plastic bag and then make a small hole in the bag and loop it around the outfit’s clothes hanger that you want to pair the piece with. This avoids a mad scramble on the day of the shoot.


Think it over carefully, ladies. Just like with your clothes, you don’t want to be rushing to choose the right makeup on the day of your portrait. In particular, keep in mind:

  • Buy brand-new mascara in order to avoid the dreaded clumps that will absolutely be visible in a portrait.
  • When it comes to foundation, avoid anything with oil or SPF, which can cause an ugly shine in the photograph.
  • Make sure you take blotting papers to freshen up your makeup. Pay special attention to your forehead. 
  • If you have very oily skin, take a light translucent setting powder with you. Oily spots will be visible in a picture.
  • You might love it, but even if you do, avoid glitter, whether it’s in lipstick, eye shadow, or anything else. The reflective shine looks awful in a portrait.
  • You also might love lip gloss and lipstick, but make sure it’s not mega-shiny. Just like with glitter, it’ll show up as white, shiny, reflective spots on your portrait.
  • Don’t put lotion on your face before the shoot. It’ll just create that shiny, reflective surface, which is the last thing you want. Moisturize the night before instead.
  • When it comes to your lips, aside from avoiding super-shiny stuff, make sure you moisturize them prior to having your portrait taken. Chapped lips are not a good look.
  • Skip pastels. Go with neutral eye colors. Believe it or not, a light gray or soft brown is best, even if you think it’s boring. You want the focus to be on you, not on your makeup.
  • Don’t use frosted eyeshadows. Same problems as with glitter and lip gloss and lotion—you’ll wind up with white, reflective spots in your portrait.


Whether you’re a guy or a gal, your nails should be clean and neat. If you wear nail polish and it’s chipped, get rid of it. Also:

  • As with eyeshadow, stick to neutral tones when it comes to nail polish. Blood-red is not a good idea for a portrait. A soft, light pink is ideal.
  • Avoid neon polish. You’ll never get it to coordinate with an outfit and it’s just distracting.
  • Ditch the blue or black polish. Yeah, it might occasionally be on-trend, but most of the time it isn’t and will just date your portrait within a few years.

Tan Lines and Sunburns

They won’t look good in a portrait. And even the best retouching job will struggle to get rid of tan lines and sunburns completely.

  • Before your portrait, avoid situations where you can get tanned or sunburned. 
  • Do not use a spray tan because you’ll end up looking orange and blotchy in the final portrait, no matter how good you think it looks off-camera.

Make Sure You Shave

This applies to both gentlemen and ladies. Whether or not you regularly shave, you want to look neatly groomed for your portrait. Shaving is part of that. That includes:

  • Ladies—make sure you don’t have underarm stubble. Certain poses, especially if you’re wearing a sleeveless blouse, will display that clearly and it will come up loud and clear in the portrait.
  • Gentlemen—shave or neatly trim your beards and/or moustaches.


It’s all about being neat and discreet. You don’t want to distract from your face.

  • Do not get a special haircut or style the day of. You just might hate it, and then you’re stuck with it in your portrait forever. 
  • Try various hairstyles out before the day of the portrait.
  • If you do get a haircut, at least give yourself a full week before the day of the portrait, to get used to the new look.
  • Use hairspray to tame flyaway.
  • But don’t overdo the hairspray so it cakes and turns up looking white and clumpy in the portrait! Ditto the gel, mousse, or other hair products.
  • Don’t give yourself helmet head with styling products because you’re afraid of your hair moving—you want it to move lightly as you go through your various poses. Keep it natural.
  • Finally, if you take your hair down for the shoot, make sure you don’t absentmindedly shove your hairband on your wrist just before the picture is taken.

Pack the Day Before

Your portrait prep should include creating a kit for the day of the shoot. That kit should include:

  • Your various outfits and accessories (i.e., jewelry, hats, etc.)
  • Shoes—make sure you pick shoes that coordinate with your various outfits!
  • Makeup/hair retouching necessities
  • Anything personal you want included in the background or your various poses, such as a special sports trophy, musical instrument, etc. The goal is for the portrait to capture who you are and what you love, so bring things that represent you.
  • Feel free to bring along some music that will help make the shoot more comfortable for you
  • Any pictures you’ve printed from online or cut out from magazines which show how you want to look while posing. If you prefer not to include this in your prep kit, totally fine, by the way. High school senior portrait photographers are trained to help you pose just right.


The Day Of the Senior Photography

  • Bring along a friend to help touch up your hair, assist with outfits, or just to make the whole shoot that much more enjoyable.
  • Be ready to change quickly from one outfit to the next—the faster you are, the more time you’ll have with the photographer.


All of the above are tips. If you feel like some of your outfit choices or jewelry preferences don’t fall in the categories outlined above, bring them along to the shoot anyway. Talk to the photographer. If there’s something you really, really want in your Chicago high school senior portraits, the photographer will be able to guide you accordingly.

High School Senior Portrait Myths

  • No, the same person who did your yearbook picture does not have to be the one to do your high school senior portrait.
  • No, you do not have to buy your senior portraits from the photographer and studio which did your yearbook shoot.
  • Yes, you absolutely can and should pick a portrait photographer who you trust! These portraits will be shared with friends, proudly displayed on walls, included in graduation announcements, etc. So why go with the same person everybody else is choosing? You want your portrait to be unique!

I’m a Chicago-based professional photographer based in Chicago, IL. I have years of high school senior portraits experience. Let me help you build a lasting memory of your high school experience and provide you with a fun, professional, relaxed portrait shoot. Please review my Chicago High School Senior Portraits Page for information, and samples of my professional high school senior portraits. Then book your session today!