Raise your hand if you were involved in high school sports. How about orchestra or band? Drama club and theatre? Speech? Dance? Cheerleading or dance line? Debate? Chess club? Ski club?

It’s a rarity to find a high school senior who’s not involved – or has been involved in the past – in any one of a number of different extra-curricular activities. It’s what makes high school fun.

Your senior clients want to remember these things and it’s your job as a senior portrait photographer to help them preserve those memories.


Quick story here of our most popular activity photo option – startin’ stuff on fire!

Had a ballet dancer in the studio one year. She’d been a ballerina since she was tiny – she lived ballet. Going through the sample albums at her pre-portrait consultation she saw the images of the football and basketball on fire and decided that’s what she wanted.

When my wife did the consultation she would write on the back of their tracking sheet all the images they liked;

  • Wants the black drape
  • Really likes the all-white background
  • Wants the white window set
  • Plummer House for outdoors/likes flowers
  • Likes the fire pictures

Girl comes for her session and I’m reading through the consultation notes and I see, “likes the fire pictures.”

So I ask her, “What did you want to start on fire?”

“These,” she says, holding up her ballet shoes.


Understand we never set fire to the actual object. If a guy wants the football on fire I put two or three layers of duct tape on the football and then a strip of fire-starter paste on the duct tape. And we use my football, or basketball, or soccer ball or baseball. I don’t want to risk damaging their balls. (that could possibly be worded better)

Oddly I didn’t have an extra pair of ballet shoes lying around and she really wanted a fire picture.

I can’t remember her outfit for the image but we stacked up a couple of blocks next to her and arranged the ballet shoes on top of the block. We ran the duct tape around two edges of the block – behind the shoes – and lit her up.

I wish I still had the final image. Eight-inch flames rising up on two sides of the shoes. She liked it – and that’s all that matters.


So Here Are Five Quick and Easy Tips for Activity Poses


Tip #1: Remind them to bring their stuff.

All of our marketing pieces remind kids to bring their “stuff.”

“No matter what you’re in to – bring it – and we’ll create something awesome just for you.”

This is why pre-portrait consultations are so important. Our sales went up dramatically when we started doing them. Instead of shooting at random, trying creative poses and backgrounds in hopes I’d hit on something they really liked – we let them tell us ahead of time – exactly what they liked.

And it’s at that pre-portrait consultation that you can reiterate that they bring their stuff.

“Oh but Dave I don’t have a studio – I shoot everything on location. So I can’t do pre-portrait consultations.”

You do have a website right? And you have sample images on your website? You can do a pre-portrait consultation over the phone – while you’re both looking at your computers.

Do pre-portrait consultations.


Tip #2: Musical Instruments

Musical instruments are obviously a big thing with a lot of kids. And they’re easy to do – in-studio or on location.

The tip here is – try something different. Kids who play the violin have a pose they like, the violin under one arm and holding the bow by the end with it hanging straight down. I’ve done that image seven thousand times.

This girl really loved playing the trumpet. Yes, you can do an image of her holding the trumpet in front of her – at parade rest. But is that all you got?

On a whim, I said, “Hold it right here in the curve and lay it on your shoulder like this.”

She was hesitant. That’s not how you hold a trumpet. Mom was hesitant and as I recall, make a slightly derisive remark in the background.

Sixteen by twenty wall portrait. They loved the image. And who wouldn’t? Look at her beautiful eyes and her flawless skin.

Give me an artistic kid every time. I love taking pictures of the non-conformists. This girl was a rocker – had two different guitars and she wanted images with both – two different outfits.

The image on the all-white I’m standing on a two-foot step stool with a 14mm wide angle lens on the camera. Shooting from up high at a sharp downward angle accentuates the length of the guitar and makes her look really tall.

The image with her back to the camera is simply two strip lights – one on either side pointing at angles towards her. Fixed fill was turned way down.

And you don’t always need the entire instrument. These two images use just their drumsticks and you get the point they’re in drum line. I have a similar image of a guy – outside – so it’s an easy one to do on location as well.


Tip #3: Uniforms

I struggled with uniforms for a couple of years until I created my uniform poser and posing people.

These two images use the “posing people” and they’re super simple to make. I just cut a chunk of plywood in the shape of a coat hanger and mounted it on a square dowel and the square dowel on another disk of plywood for a base. Paint the whole thing with gray spray paint and you’re done.

What’s great about the posing people is you don’t see much of the prop. It works great for letter jackets and allows you to show off all the patches on the sleeves.

The image below uses the posing people with a letter jacket and a t-shirt, which became the background and she’s laying on the rest of her stuff. You can do this pose anywhere – in-studio or out.

My personal opinion of current style – less is more. I think you’re still going to have kids who want to display all their stuff but there are fewer and fewer photographers with studios and the ability to create these images.

A kid sitting on a park bench with his letter jacket hanging over the bench looks natural and makes for a cool image. The point is – incorporate their stuff in their images.


Tip #4: Incorporate Their Stuff Randomly

Lots of times kids will come with specific outfits to wear with their stuff. But don’t limit yourself to only using that outfit for their stuff. This girl liked doing serious expressions so I tossed her the volleyball, “give me your game face.”

Some of our senior’s favorite images are those where they’re just being themselves, the ball or the instrument just a casual reference to their involvement.



Tip #5: As Always – Have Fun With It

This image is one of a half-dozen outtakes. When the kid’s into baseball or softball or tennis I like to get them standing, have them toss the ball in the air and I try to catch the ball in mid-air.

This girl couldn’t catch the ball to save her soul. This was just one of the missed catches.



Many of your senior clients will have been involved in their extra-curricular activity of choice, for years – since before they were even in school. For many, it will have been a part of their growing up and something the parents have especially fond memories of. And now they’re going off to college – or life – and much of that extra-curricular fun, for most, will remain in the past. 

Help your clients preserve these important memories and they will love you for it.


What Can I Help You With?

Do you have questions? Do you need help with posing or lighting or equipment? That’s what I’m here for so please just ask. Shoot me an email and I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m able.

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