Shooting for success: Finding out what is most important to your clients

Model Alyssa. Image by Ken Kneringer

This session was a senior model shoot that took place in Palm Springs. The purpose of the model shoots here were two-fold: to make amazing images for the models that they will love, and to create great promotional images for Seniors Ignite. I still believe that before a shoot starts, I need to identify the MAIN purpose. For this shoot, I chose to make great images for the seniors and parents, and that the promotional images would be secondary. I guess many may ask, “is there a difference if we make great images for one purpose, but don’t they automatically work for the other? Not necessarily. Here’s a few things to think about.

First, we need to understand that senior pictures are in a class all by themselves. We are dealing with what I like to refer to as “a 17 year old woman.” Words that are not often used together, but that I find are very accurate. She is a woman ready to go out on her own, mom sees her as “her little girl” with the smile that lets mom know that all is good, and the law sees her as a child. So when photographing a senior, I feel it is my responsibility to address all of the above. I think it is the basis for great senior photography.


Model Hanna. Image by Ken Kneringer

For seniors there are always two clients – the parents and the senior – and they may not see eye to eye on what the finished images should be. Many times this isn’t discussed between them, and frequently it isn’t discussed with the photographer or the studio. We, as photographers, assume that they must want what we did for everyone else, after all they saw the website and they are here, right? But wait, they are both here – mom and the senior, what is the MAIN purpose? Who wins?

Many photographers preach the need for a pre-consult, and while this option is the best, many of us don’t have time in our schedule to allow every client to come in ahead of time. In the case of the Palm Springs shoots, I met my models that morning. For us, we use the phone, ask a few simple questions when they arrive, and use the outfits they brought in help us identify what we are going to do for out clients.

From years of experience, the most important question starts with the parent. Asking the parent if there is anything they are, or are not, looking for in this session will give you a ton of insight on what to do next. If the mom answers the question with a lot of “I’s” – as in “I want this” or “I don’t want this” or “I don’t want her pictures to look to sexy” – then you know that MOM is in control of this session! If the mom answers, with a lot of “she’s” – for example, “she wants this” or “it’s her thing, or she found you, she loves all of your stuff” – then the SENIOR is in control of the session.


Knowing who is in control is very important to the shoot and to identifying the types of images that you will need to produce. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to shoot images for mom if the senior is in control, it just means that the wall portrait is the SECONDARY purpose! I know, we’ve heard for so many years “shoot for the wall portrait!” But think about it, a senior comes in, in control of the session, armed with lots of super trendy, cool outfits. She is fun, super excited to be at the cool studio and you as the photographer shoot 80 images, perfectly posed and totally boring – perfect for the mom wall portrait. Mom will buy the one wall portrait in the large 11×14 size, while the senior will probably hate the rest. I know that is extreme, but you get the point. If the senior is in control we shoot five or six image choices for the wall. The remainder of the session will be about what the SENIOR wants. These images end up on Facebook, coffee table books, senior albums, and wallets.

The next question we ask is to the senior, “Are you a smiley kind of girl, or do you like the more serious looks on our website?” If she answers she can’t do the serious/sassy looks, we don’t force it, she probably won’t like them, mom probably won’t like them, and dad won’t like them. Photographers translation – lots of work for a minimum sale – just don’t do it! Photographers, remember – you are way down on the list of priorities! The session is for your client and what they want! If you, as the photographer, get some cool images for your portfolio, that’s great! But, you are third or fourth on the list!

If the answer is “a little of both”, this means that she is open to try a few of the sassier or more serious looks, but make sure that not ALL of them are that way! Remember, there is still a secondary client here – MOM. Mom wants smiley, fun images and that perfect image for her wall. The other thing we are seeing is the seniors like the experience of being a sassy model, but don’t always like, or are willing to share, those images. It’s one thing to be in the studio feeling like a fashion model, and quite another thing to get the approval of the entire high school on whether or not she looks amazing in the finished images. Seniors are more apt to openly share smiley, fun images than the serious or sassy ones. It surprising when you talk to seniors after they had their photos done from other studios – many have said about the serious or sassy images “that totally wasn’t me, the photographer just told me to do it”. Not a dig on other studio’s as I am guilty as well and it doesn’t mean they won’t BUY all 70 of them!

The next thing we look at when trying to determine what to shoot is the outfits. For us, this is paramount. The thing to remember about outfits is that many times the outfit selections are done on the basis of who the senior WANTS to be, or how she see herself, rather than who she ACTUALLY is. We photographers are now all about fashion and models and the seniors are trying to keep up. They look at our fashion articles, our current senior models, our websites, our antiquated “wear this, don’t wear that tips” and are heavily influenced by what we are presenting. The senior girl that is normally in sweat pants, a baggy t-shirt and a pony tail, now finds herself trying to find the latest fashion, the perfect hairstyle, manicured nails, cool accessories and perfect makeup for her senior portrait session that is supposed to be “all about her style and personality”. Make sure you get at least a few images that are really about her; ones that show her personality, the things that matter to her and the natural beauty inside of her. Both the senior and the mom will appreciate the images.


For the Palm Springs models I chose to highlight the amazing eyes of senior model Hanna Wolf. Rachelle Riede (Hanna’s senior photographer) tells me that Hanna was very nervous before her senior shoot, which is typical for most seniors as there is a lot of pressure for them to do well. Rachelle let Hanna know that I was easy to work with and had worked with several of her friends before. Afterwards she told me that Hanna had a great time, and that BOTH her and her parents loved the images, with most of the favorites being the close ups – mission accomplished!



For Jennifer Tori’s winning model, Alyssa Mendoza, I felt that her look and outfits went perfectly with the feel of the area we where we were shooting. Alyssa also had several tattoos that could be incorporated into the final images. So for Alyssa, I worked with more full body shots, making sure that I had a couple of close ups for parents.


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6 Responses to Shooting for success: Finding out what is most important to your clients

  1. Nancy Nardi July 24, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    Ken – fantastic article. Every senior shooter should have this article and your first one bookmarked.

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