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High school senior portrait photography requires offering a unique service in such a competitive market - service that offers a memorable experience. In this great guest article, David Hakamaki shares his experience and insights into making this into a successful business.

High-school senior portraits by David Hakamaki

High school senior portrait photography requires delivering a unique and memorable experience...

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by high school senior portrait photographer David Hakamaki, and I’m thrilled to feature his work here.

I was also excited to interview David in one of our featured-photographer webinars.

Watch the webinar recording at “Photographer Interview: Rockstar Seniors With David Hakamaki“.

With turmoil in today’s economy, many people are turning to photography for an ancillary income. Over the years, I’ve seen a number of people attempt to forge into the hallowed grounds of high school senior portraiture. Many, alas, are no longer slogging that route.

Why is senior portraiture so elusive to so many?

There’s a huge difference between getting a few senior portrait clients and gaining enough clients consistently to have a viable business. It’s easy to take photos of a friend, lure someone with a session that will build your portfolio and then give away your images, or charge such a nominal price that you can never break free of the infamous “day job“.

What’s the secret?

Is there a magic advertisement or product that will move you to the next level?

High school senior portrait by David Hakamaki - the road to continued success is a lot of hard work, persistence, creativity and consistency.

High school senior portrait by David Hakamaki – the road to continued success is a lot of hard work, persistence, creativity and consistency.

Unfortunately, the road to continued success is a lot of hard work, persistence, creativity and consistency.

A successful photographer must intermix art and business together to really make it work. Just being a fantastic artist or business person won’t ensure success.

You can take all kinds of “creative” high school senior portraits, but if you can’t sell the creativity and vision, long-term success will be elusive. A healthy combination of artistic flair and business acumen will greatly improve your chances of success.

I run a thriving, full-time, home-based photography studio in the middle of nowhere.

That nowhere is Upper Michigan.

Lots of trees, small towns and a lackluster economy. Not the greatest area to try and run a photography business. I compete with other photographers, part-timers, hobbyists and everyone in between. However, my high school senior portrait business has been booming.

How Did I Get Where I Am Today?

David Hakamaki says this about high school senior portraiture: It’s the look in the expression and body language that our clients have. They’re enjoying their session. They want to be photographed…

David Hakamaki says this about high school senior portraiture: It’s the look in the expression and body language that our clients have. They’re enjoying their session. They want to be photographed…

I determined that I needed to make my senior portrait business really stand out from the rest of my competition. We all take photographs and the vast majority are drastically less expensive than my services.

However, there’s one thing that people talk about – my images look “different“.

I hear that time and time again. What does that mean? After all, I’m still taking portraits.

What the client is saying is that when comparing all of the senior portrait photographers, something about my images stands out for them. Everyone else’s pictures look remarkably similar, until they arrive on my website.

There’s something about the look, feel, and style of my portraits that catches their attention, but they can’t put their finger on what the “something” is.

It’s actually simple:

It’s the look in the expression and body language that our clients have. They’re enjoying their session. They want to be photographed…

So how do I get that look, when everyone else has difficulties doing so?

High school senior portraiture means everything is focused on the client to make them feel they are the most important thing at that moment.

High school senior portraiture means everything is focused on the client to make them feel they are the most important thing at that moment.

Once a client walks through the doors of my studio, everything is focused on making them feel that they had the best session ever. Each client’s session is customized for their family. I don’t play the “I’m the artist, so this is what I will do” card.

You also can’t go into a session and try to photograph everything from an “over the top artsy” approach. That may look great on Facebook or your website, but the client may not like the style that you based the entire session upon.

In that instance, you’re missing the business side of things… What the client wants to purchase…

I talk with both the student and parents to see what styles they want to see. This provide portraits they’ll be happy with and excited to show off on their walls.

Are you experiencing lackluster sales? If so, then you should look at why the client is only ordering a minimal amount.

I vary the poses and “artistic flair” in each session. I need to understand if the parents (and relatives) prefer a more traditional or artistic style. We then ask the senior what style they prefer, including smiling and non-smiling poses, coloration and locations.

Often, the more traditional poses and post-processing will sell for large wall portrait, while the artsy poses work better for wallets and unique products.

High school senior portrait by David Hakamaki - every session is customized for the senior and their family...

High school senior portrait by David Hakamaki – every session is customized for the senior and their family…

“Live Viewing” – A Game-Changer!

I also incorporate a feature I’ve been calling “Live Viewing“.

This utilizes a wireless transmitter on the camera to wirelessly send the image over to an iPad™. The client sits in my studio or carries the tablet along on location. This can be either the parent or brother/sister/friend.

They’re then able to watch the entire session unfold before their eyes. This makes the parent excited and really gets them involved. No more slouched shoulders, texting, or answering phone calls. With the parent actively saying. “Wow, I love that one!” the senior gets a renewed jolt of energy and is ready to “perform” for the next photo.

Live viewing for high school senior portraits is a critical component in David's methodology, whether in the studio or on location...

Live viewing for high school senior portraits is a critical component in David’s methodology, whether in the studio or on location…

Talk about a game changer for my business!

There’s a tendency for many developing senior photographers to overshoot.

With “Live Viewing“, the client would see everything I photograph – the good, bad and ugly. Therefore, this forces me to compose, light, and pose correctly and not just “spray and pray“.

I find myself tweaking a pose to ensure that it’s perfect.

No more overshooting or substandard images for the client to see. They only see fantastic images. Ask any senior what they prefer – less images of a higher quality, or more images of repetitive poses, poor composition, crappy lighting, etc…

I ask each client and the answer is always the former. They don’t expect 200+ images. Plus, by photographing less, I save time culling and editing excessive images that will never be considered.

What are some final words of advice that I can give to make your high school senior portrait business better?

Give the client only top-notch photographs to view; stop and listen to what the client wants; do not undervalue your work (you only hurt the industry in general and will never make it financially), and continue to make your business the destination where seniors feel they have to go.

Have fun and keep shooting!

Meet David Hakamaki

A big thank-you to David for this illuminating article, and you’re invited to join us for the recording of our “pick our brains” featured-photographer webinar at “Photographer Interview: Rockstar Seniors With David Hakamaki“.

If you have any thoughts, comments, or questions on high school senior portraiture, then please do share those in the comments below.