- Associated Press - Saturday, September 16, 2017

PITTSBURGH (AP) - For generations, high school seniors have memorialized their final year with a special portrait.

The photos usually involved a studio headshot in formal attire, and for many yearbook photos, that remains the standard.

But the classic senior portrait has been transformed over the years and is now as unique as the student.

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Avalon photographer Kathryn Hyslop almost never gets requests for in-studio shots from high school seniors, who now prefer more elaborate and expensive photo shoots based on their interests and hobbies.

“I recommend that they use the school photographer for yearbook and do the friends/family ones with me,” said Hyslop, 26, who has operated Kathryn Hyslop Photography for four years. “Most of the time, people are coming to me for that boutique, unique experience.”

Senior portraits today can make just about anyone feel like a supermodel.

They typically involve shooting at mostly outdoor locations, like parks and local landmarks, while incorporating props and sometimes special effects, like using water or flour to enhance an action shot. They can also be more fine-art focused, with artistic outfits and lighting, along with professionally styled hair and makeup.

Some photographers even specialize in so-called “extreme” photo shoots, involving the use of green screens and more complex photography techniques.

And while the students practice those toothy grins, parents should warm up their checkbooks. Though bargains can be found, the price of senior photos is now more in line with wedding or special event photography than the typical family portrait of yore.

Most parents - and it is parents who foot the bill about 95 percent of the time, according to Hyslop and other professionals - can expect to pay about $1,000 for on-location photo shoots, wardrobe changes, meetings with the photographer, touch-ups and editing, and their choice of prints.

Photographers such as Hyslop offer a variety of packages usually starting around $650 with some families spending as much as $5,000 for those once-in-a-lifetime pics. But there are budget solutions available.

A typical photo shoot package begins with a meeting to discuss ideas, then the choice of two locations and about two to three hours for the shoot.

“Some people have a concept in mind. If they don’t have a location, I will suggest one,” such as Point State Park, the Cathedral of Learning, or Schenley Park, Hyslop said. “If they want night shots, I can plan the shoot around that.”

During a recent photo shoot at North Park, Hyslop employed smoke bombs, fresh flowers and sparklers as props for her client, 17-year-old Emily Simms.

“We just like the whole creative experience,” said her mother, Angela Simms, as she watched her daughter perch on a partially submerged tree limb on Marshall Island for some candid shots. “We like things that stand out. We like unique things.”

The family from South Fayette chose Hyslop for her customer service and gallery of photos.

“Her pictures on Facebook were really impressive and her response time was instant,” Simms said of Hyslop, who said she likes to focus on giving clients immediate attention, especially in such a competitive market.

Emily, who plans to study elementary education at Slippery Rock University after graduation, said she was anxious to see the final product but was having a good time with the whole process.

“I just think it’s a fun experience,” she said.

A Google or Facebook search reveals dozens of Pittsburgh-based photographers, so making a connection is important, said Jake Young, a part-time photographer who relies on word of mouth for business.

“I started out with just my camera body and two lenses, and now I have seven lenses and three camera bodies,” said Young, 21, of Waynesburg. “I’ve invested $6,000 in camera equipment.”

Largely self-taught, Young represents the budget-friendly end of the photography spectrum. He bases his rates on each person’s financial situation, typically charging about $150 for senior portraits, delivered only in digital form through an online account or a flash drive.

He started doing photography for friends, then soon found he had an untapped talent that could earn him extra money while providing a lower-cost service for families.

Young, who works full time as a researcher in the oil and gas industry, estimates that he has done about 25 senior portraits in the last five years. He also has photographed weddings, parties and other events.

“Usually they don’t have an idea what they want to do,” he said of clients. “But it’s a process. I ask them about their interests, and from there, you can develop a style — like urban or rural,” he said. “You want to embody their personality in their photos.”

That personality can translate into just about any setting - a forest, library or sports field - but it also can include more unusual interests, like photographing guys with their favorite machines and cars.

Some locations are very unusual.

Taco Bell has a page on its website devoted to seniors who have chosen to have their photos taken at their favorite fast-food place. “Because posing in a flower field is overrated,” the website says.

No matter where or how it’s done, Hyslop and Young said senior photos mark a rite of passage in growing up.

“It really is a monumental time in your life and you don’t realize how much you change from when you’re 18,” Young said. “It preserves a milestone in your life.”

“I think senior photos are really important,” Hyslop said. “They capture a moment that is never going to happen again.”





Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com

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