Reader Question: What Do Senior Pictures Cost?

by Julie on September 12, 2013 · 11 comments

I do a lot of blogging about the cost of college, but recently I got a question from a reader named Lori about one of the expenses associated with the senior year of high school.

Here’s what she wrote:

So before we get to college, we’re looking at ALL the expenses related to the Sr. year of high school. How can I find out what the average cost of Sr. pictures should be? We are in the Midwest (Iowa). I know it varies across the country.

Lori’s question is a good one. And it’s one our parents probably didn’t have to think much about.

Yearbook Ad Pic

I specifically remember sitting for a single portrait on the stage of my high school auditorium 30(!) years ago this summer. It was a very hot day and I was in a pink button down shirt, pearls, and a wool blazer. :)

That yearbook picture was my one and only senior picture.

That’s not a complaint, by the way. My experience was the same as most of the kids I knew.

It’s just how it was.

But like everything else in my kids’ generation –  from soccer to birthday parties to proms –  professional pictures for high school seniors have become a big deal.

As my son begins his senior year, our mailbox is seeing at least as many flyers from photographers as from colleges. In fact, this week we received a full catalog in the mail from one of the big photography studios in my area.

Senior pictures are big business.

And they’re expensive.

Like Lori, I’m in the Midwest. And while I don’t have an average figure, I can tell you that four years ago, when my daughter was a senior, we paid $580 for a portrait session with a photographer and the rights to all the pictures she took.

That price included a number of different outdoor locations (one in a field, a couple in urban locations, etc.) with time built in for several clothing changes as well.

If my memory serves, we received a small book with some 5×5 proofs in it. We probably spent another $100 or so having the actual pictures printed.


My son recently had some professional pictures taken, and the 3-4 hour session with the photographer cost $600. That included the rights to those photos as well, so the price was similar to what we paid for my daughter.

As a comparison, I checked with another local photographer and got prices that were much cheaper for the photography session ($55-$110 depending on indoor, outdoor, or both). But – and this is big – the actual pictures needed to be purchased from the photographer.

The picture prices ranged from $22 for a single 4×5 print to $198 for a 20×24.

Bottom line?

Some photographers make their money on their time – or the session – and some make it primarily on the photos. So when you’re comparing different photographers, you have to keep all that in mind and make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.

mayfield 075

Of course you can always find someone who’s good with a camera and have some shots taken for the price of friendship or maybe a restaurant gift card. :) If you know someone like that, that’s not a bad way to go.

So, Lori and I are wondering:

Did you have senior pictures taken for your kids? Do you remember what they cost? Any tips you can share?

This post is part of Fabulously Frugal Thursday.

Note: I'm no longer adding new posts to The Family CEO. I am, however, writing at Creating This Life, where we talk about home, books, travel, and other life stuff.

Click here to subscribe to Creating This Life or click here to visit. I hope to see you there! - Julie

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori September 12, 2013 at 6:15 am

When we had our kids’ pictures done, it was about $250 for the session (outdoor at a location, clothes changes, studio), but we had to purchase photos from him and they were VERY expensive. By the time we purchased everything we needed/wanted, we spent between $800-$1000. That did include photo graduation announcements, which we LOVED! If I had it to do over, I would find a photographer who allowed me to purchase the rights and print what I wanted. It would be significantly less expensive!.


Julie September 12, 2013 at 10:01 am

Good points, Lori. With everything digital, we use our senior photos for so much today: yearbook ads, Facebook sharing, and graduation announcements (cool idea!) as you pointed out. It’s very helpful to have the rights to use them that way.

Thanks for your comment.


Christine September 12, 2013 at 6:18 am

With a son who is a senior as well, I have to say your prices are about what we have heard & we live in New England. Sitting fees alone are from $55 up. My sons girlfriend had a friend take her pictures & used a high quality photo editing software. We asked a friends husband who dabbles in photography to take pictures of my son (& my daughter–I’d rather pay him than the crummy photographer our school system uses!). For $60 he will take their pictures alone & together (I’m thinking Christmas gifts) & give us the finished cd to do with what we chose. I’ve seen his work & it is incredible, so be sure to see what others have done if you decide to go this route.

Our school also requires seniors to pay “senior dues”. This is $100, & covers the yearbook & all senior activities (dinner reception & breakfast at the end of the year, cap & gown, etc…)

Good luck to all of us!


Julie September 12, 2013 at 10:03 am

I so wish we knew someone like you describe, Christine. What a bargain you got and you’ll treasure those photos, I’m sure.

Good point about senior dues. You’ve given me the idea for another blog post. :)


Jo Ann September 12, 2013 at 6:05 pm

When my kids graduated from high school, I just purchased the pictures that they had taken at school for the yearbook. I was not willing to pay $500 and up for senior pictures. I was in the minority, but I did not need 3 different locations/outfits to commemorate their graduation.
I did take them to a professional photographer when they graduated from college. They had portraits taken in the studio in a business suit. I only bought the pictures I needed.


Julie September 12, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Jo Ann, I can certainly understand that decision. I have never considered college graduation pictures. Interesting idea.


Simon September 13, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Found this really interesting, thanks very much


Sassy Mamaw September 17, 2013 at 5:46 pm

We did the portrait studio thing with each of our kids. Nothing over-the-top, although there were a couple of wardrobe changes for the girls. When my stepson graduated, neither his Mom or Dad were interested in paying for photos. I wanted to include something in the invitations, so I had some pictures done at Wal-Mart. They turned out great, and I had enough left over to give some to his Mom, also.


Kevin Watts September 17, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Like you said, it all depends on how the photographers make their money. It’s always best to take into consideration the cost in the long run. As stated in your post, some photographers can charge upwards of $100 a picture. The price can climb even higher then originally quoted, if you have to pay for the prints from them.


Sharon September 20, 2013 at 11:34 am

Okay! Just paid for my daughter’s senior pics! $386.00. Ugh.


SABRINA May 14, 2015 at 3:15 pm

As a photographer in Northern Michigan. I charge $60 for an hour long session. that is time for 1 outfit change and one location. I usualy shoot in the down town park that has ball fields, lake, woodsy, and stair locations. So there is a varity.

this includes a cd with 5-6 edited images, an online gallery, a 4×6 print of each with watermark and a print release. additional images are $10 each. If I print the images it is $5 per sheet.


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