June 12, 2009 / Photography

Special handling for senior portraits

Written by Teresa Procter

Communication is a key ingredient to successfully working with seniors and the photographers who take their pictures for the yearbook. Whether you are a new adviser inheriting past practices or a veteran adviser considering changes to the process, making sure everyone involved knows the submission deadline should reduce stress.

There are many details to keep track of, such as who is the photographer and in what format does he deliver the photos. Some advisers work with one photographer and format while others work with several. Which system you work with is not a matter of right or wrong, and sometimes it is not a matter of choice. Sometimes it is just the way it is done in your area. Either way, communication remains vital to the success of your system of getting senior portraits taken and submitted to you.

Using one photographer
One advantage to having one photographer do the shooting is that all the pictures will have the same consistency, such as background and head size. That photographic consistency is important for yearbooks striving for portrait uniformity. A second advantage is the staff will receive all the portraits at the same time, which should reduce deadline stress and help with planning those pages.

Students who want a choice of photographers still can go to someone else for their senior photo package, as long as they also visit the school’s photographer for the yearbook picture.

Those who use one photographer enjoy other benefits. Some contracts with single photographers specify they will provide coverage of varsity sports and other school events, in addition to shooting the formal organization shots for the book. The contract photographer also might be considered a resource of knowledge for the student photographers on staff. Some offer a scholarship to a staff photographer to attend a summer workshop to increase self-sufficiency on staff.

Using more than one
Some people believe having many photographers makes competition stiffer and keeps prices down. Some parents and students would rather choose among many photographers to get the portraits they want since they will use them for more just yearbook pictures and possibly save money.

There are two important points to remember when working with more than one photographer, and both of them involve communication. The most crucial aspect involves deadlines. When more than one photographer is shooting the senior portraits, advisers must rely on all of them to get the pictures in at the same time to meet the publisher’s deadline. Or, if the seniors must submit the photos, you must make sure all of them are aware of the yearbook deadline. Inform photographers and seniors about your deadlines so that your staff has the photos when they need them. Maintaining deadlines gives the staff time to do their jobs.

Also of importance, if your staff or school prefers consistency in the photos, make sure all the photographers know your photo specifications. Communicating your needs to photographers will work toward ensuring your yearbook senior portrait needs are fulfilled.

Check for a contract
Several states have laws that prohibit schools from awarding a contract to a single photographer. But in some cases, a new adviser may inherit an existing contract for one photographer. If so, several questions need to be asked about the status of the senior portrait situation. Is an existing contract in place or will the adviser have to negotiate a new contract? Do bids have to be let? If a contract exists, what are the length and terms of that document?

Being able to negotiate a good contract that benefits both photographer and school is critical. Details of the contract will vary depending on the potential for profits, and this profitability will affect the amount of the rebate the yearbook staff will receive. Ten percent is acceptable if sales are good and the photographer is taking many pictures of students who will spend money on glossy 8-by-10s and wallet-size photographs.

Advisers and photographers will have to take the pulse of the school and negotiate accordingly as to what services and supplies may be included in the contract.

Glossies vs. digital images
What the senior photographer or photographers can produce will dictate whether the staff will work with digital images or glossies.

Glossies must be submitted all at the same time to Walsworth. The staff must tag each image and identify it by position and page number. A staff that receives pictures after the first batch has been tagged must retag and renumber the pictures before sending them to Walsworth.

Digital images, many advisers agree, are easier. The staff simply sends the CD with the pictures provided by the photographer to the company; a few days later the staff receives a zip disk with the images and names for editing by the staff. Once the pages are ready, the disk and pages are sent back to Walsworth, which places the images on the page.

The adviser needs to communicate to the photographers the digital requirements, such as pixel size and preferred format.

Appropriate attire
Some schools may enforce a dress code for senior pictures while others may allow for student choice. The best rule of thumb is to consult with the school principal and communicate that choice often to the students.

Contact students early
The summer before senior year is usually the time students make appointments to have their senior portraits taken. Contact students in June with information for setting their appointments and send out a reminder in mid-July. Remind them often at the beginning of the school year if they have not sat for their portrait. Many students will delay the photo to wait for braces to come off or hair to grow out. Regardless, making sure the seniors know the deadline and that it will be enforced is crucial for the staff.

Utilize your school’s parent newsletter and the school newspaper, and the website if the school has one, to communicate with seniors about their yearbook pictures.

Communication is key
Whether a staff has one photographer or many, communication is critical for meeting deadlines and keeping everyone happy. Talking to the photographer allows an adviser to communicate his needs. At the same time, the adviser can establish an excellent working relationship with the company that provides what everyone buys a yearbook for — pictures.

Teresa Procter