Studio to selfie: Senior pictures evolve

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Gina Duwe
Sunday, August 25, 2013

Professional studio photos and formal attire used to be the norm for graduating seniors.

Page through a high school yearbook today and you might find photos taken by friends of teens in T-shirts or even teens who took their own photos in a mirror.

The tradition of senior photos, which typically are taken in summer before senior year begins, is changing, said Kyle Forster, who graduated last spring from Delavan-Darien High School after three years on the school yearbook staff.

“It's just that things are changing because that's how it goes,” said Forster, who took senior portraits for about a dozen students he knew.

Studio portraits won't go away, he predicted, because they are such a long-standing tradition.

“But I think maybe how those pictures come about is changing,” he said.

Photographer Todd Olson has been taking senior pictures for Janesville students for 10 years.

More people are having friends or photo hobbyists take senior pictures, he said.

“I think that's probably the biggest change, especially with digital," he said.

Many hobbyists do natural light photography, he said, because they don't have a studio or don't have experience with studio lighting, which is more difficult than natural lighting.

For do-it-yourselfers, cameras and photo editing software are getting cheaper and easier to use, he said.

“Kids are able to take photo editing classes in school now,” he said.

The cost of studio photos also is a big factor, especially given the local economy, he said.

Marco Valencia, owner of Valencia Photography in Janesville, has been taking photos since the early 1970s and said many people now can't afford professional portraits.

Still, he sees parents wanting the more traditional photos and teens wanting “glamorous” photos or collages.

Cost always was a concern for retired teacher Ed Stried, who was the yearbook adviser at Craig High School for 30 years. He watched studio photo packages rise from $100 years ago to some packages now totaling more than $1,000, he said.

His goal was to have every senior photographed. That got a little easier after the school started photographing all students for identification cards. It helped him convince students to turn in other photos, otherwise their ID photos were used.

Changes are happening on both ends of the spectrum—from cellphone self-portraits to professional portraits with special effects.

“People do want collages,” Olson said. “I believe it still starts with the photos, though. If you don't have good base photos … I don't think it's going to look nearly as good.”

He uses props rather than digitally editing, he said.

What ends up in yearbooks often is dictated by school guidelines. Stried, for example, wanted all the students to look the same—traditional head and shoulders photos, formal attire and no props.

“That got a little loosened in later years,” he said.

The Craig website spells out specifications but notes that many photos recently have not been in compliance.

The importance of senior photos still depends on the person, Forster said.

It wasn't a big deal for him, Forster said, so he decided to take his own yearbook photo using a camera with a self-timer.

His senior yearbook includes some “selfies”—student self-portraits often taken with cellphones in front of mirrors—and photos taken by yearbook staff members who tracked down students to make sure they had a photo to publish.

Now, everyone is a photographer with phones in their pockets, he said. It's easy to take photos and apply filters using apps such as Instagram, he said, which for some kids can translate into not caring so much about senior photos. He admits, however, the quality of the pictures suffers.

Teens are chronicling their everyday lives through Facebook and Instagram in the moment, so yearbook distribution at the end of the year maybe isn't as important as it was before Facebook, he said.

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