Senior sass

More students straying from portrait studios, taking own senior pictures

Thirty years from now, Jake Schultz figures his classmates will look back on his senior yearbook picture and crack up.

The black-and-white portrait frames the Lawrence High School student in a satin smoking jacket with an oversized flower fixed to the lapel and a comb-over sculpted with pomade. To top off the swanky look, he’s puckering his lips slightly.

“I was kissing the camera,” he says, coyly.

And that’s the tamest of Schultz’s senior picture portfolio, which also includes a shot of him posing with a Pope John Paul II plate. Needless to say, these photos weren’t taken in a professional portrait studio.

Schultz, who had a friend take the pictures, is part of a growing number of high school seniors opting to forego expensive studio fees in favor of taking their own photos or hiring an acquaintance to do it for cheap. It’s a trend driven by the accessibility of digital cameras and photo touch-up software – and, in some cases, a teen’s desire to stand out in a crowd.

“They start looking all the same,” LHS photography teacher Angelia Perkins says of standard senior pictures. “I think that’s why students start branching out to try to do some on their own or to have another student do them, because they know it’s going to be different than somebody else has.

“On the other hand, it’s not going to be professional. That’s why it’s $40 or free.”

Deleting the cheese

Free State High School senior Alyssa Guinn had one goal in mind when she shot photos of her friend Shauna Ozark.

“Delete the cheesiness from senior pictures,” she says, referring to artificial-looking poses like fist-resting-on-chin and fingers-combing-through-hair. “They can get pretty cheesy.”

Although Guinn paid a professional to take her own class pictures – her mom requested it – Ozark wanted a more affordable alternative. The girls took the photos at scenic Potter Lake on the Kansas University campus, where Ozark dressed in casual attire and struck down-to-earth poses.

“It’s just your normal, classic senior pictures – nothing extreme,” Guinn says. “I just gave her the negatives, and she can take them someplace to be developed.”

LHS yearbook adviser Heather Lawrenz says just 2 percent of seniors at her school took their own portraits for the yearbook this year; the figure was more like 5 percent to 10 percent at Free State, says Laurie Folsom, who leads the yearbook staff there.

But those numbers only account for the formal head shots required by the yearbook, not the more quirky location shots that students sign and pass out to their friends.

Schultz says it helps to know someone with nice equipment and some Photoshop knowledge. His friend’s sister took many of his photos with her digital single-lens reflex camera, and Schultz used his several years of Photoshop training to heighten the contrast and soften the focus – his mocking salute to the cornier conventions used by some portrait photographers.

Nothing new

Kandice Hall, a senior at LHS, ran into quite the opposite dilemma as the outgoing Schultz, who clearly has no problem hamming it up for the camera.

“If someone else takes my pictures I get very nervous, and that shows through,” she says. “When I take them myself, I can actually be myself in my pictures.”

So despite an offer from her mom to pay for a professional session, Hall set up her tripod and used the timer on her digital camera to take her own portraits. She strived for interesting angles in the black-and-white photos, and then added strategic infusions of color in Photoshop – mostly to her eyes and lips.

Hall already has shot photos for one friend, and she’s getting ready to repeat the favor for another classmate.

“He said he would pay for dinner if I did his,” Hall says.

For seniors who can’t afford the costs of a professional portrait session, LHS photo students set up a studio at school and take yearbook head shots for $5. Perkins says about 25 kids a year take advantage of that opportunity, which also benefits her students by allowing them to experience what it might be like to work as a professional photographer.

Free State senior Josh Hoffhines hopes to do that one day. He spent the summer working a construction job to help pay for a nice digital camera. So when three of his friends offered to pay him to take their yearbook photos, he jumped at the chance.

“I wanted to make some money from photography,” Hoffhines says. “I found this was a good way to do it.”

He says he takes as many photos as people want, then burns the images to a CD and gives them all the original files. That’s generally not the case with people who make a living taking pictures.

Jay Soldner, of Jay Soldner Photography, says he retains the rights to the images he shoots. His clients have to order all their prints from him and pay for each reproduction.

He says most students still seem to rely on professionals to take their senior portraits, so the trend isn’t taking much of a bite out of his business. But even some of his clients have returned with a friend to the site where he photographed them and had the friend shoot more pictures.

Soldner also says the trend is nothing new to him.

“When I was in high school in ’94, there was a girl in my class who went to the sheriff’s department and got her mug shot taken in like a police jumper outfit, and that was her senior portrait,” he says. “So it started way back then.”