The next generation of ‘Epic’ senior pictures: Why parents now spend as much on senior pictures as they do on vacation

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – We all remember school picture day: Sit down, smile, *click*, “Next!” But nowadays, when it comes to senior pictures, students and parents want more: more elaborate, more creative, and often times much more expensive.

Just 10 or 15 years ago, it was a totally different story.  We traveled to Bloomington, Indiana, to visit one of the region’s most sought-after senior photographers to find out why.

“You went to a portrait studio like Prestige-slash-something cool and you got pictures taken here, classic, you know change the clothes, little portfolio spreads and that was your senior pictures,” said photographer Jeff Richardson.

Rachel's senior photo, circa 2006. Credit: Prestige Portraits

Now, clients from as far away as California, Alaska, the Virgin Islands, and even Australia have made their way to Bloomington to see this man—Jeff Richardson of Richardson Studio—for what they call “epic” senior pictures.

“Jeff makes you feel like a celebrity. He encourages you, makes you feel comfortable, and confident, and just fierce and epic,” said Madison Nikirk, a senior at Bedford North Lawrence High School.

However, this new age of epic senior photos can also come with an epic price. Richardson estimates anywhere from $1,200 to $4,000-$5,000. But on average?

“$3,500 is a really good average for really, really epic senior pictures,” said Richardson.

The cost includes not only the time spend in studio, but also the digital images and other options like custom albums, canvases, and wall clusters.

“What people tend to forget about is the time to create that. Time is the new money. So what happens is we kind of have to factor in what’s happening,” Richardson said.

But what would constitute a $4,000-$5,000 senior shoot? The hot new trend, of course: Destination Shoots.

“We started off this senior year in June in Destin for her senior pictures. We essentially just took over Destin’s seaside beach area and did incredible [photos],” said Richardson.

Then, in October, he adds that he will be in New York City for another senior photo shoot.

So, what is it that has sparked so much change in the industry? You guessed it.

“The Instagram culture has been a major part of the senior photography industry. And mostly Instagram specific because the content that seniors/teens post on Instagram, they want it to be good,” Richardson said.

Kids are also planning their senior shoots much earlier.

“Definitely when I was in middle school, like 8th grade probably,” said Nikirk.

But how do parents rationalize spending as much on senior photos as they might for a vacation?

“Essentially, these are the last pictures she will have of her child as a child. Because in the next weeks and months they become an adult,” said Richardson.

For these families, capturing these moments are absolutely worth it.

“When parents actually see their work and they are like, ‘Oh my god, that’s the person that I know that no one else knows.’ That’s what my job is to show,” Richardson said.

So what’s next? According to Richardson, the new horizon for senior photos will include more video elements, GoPro footage, and other technology to enhance the storytelling experience beyond the pictures themselves.

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