Reader Question: What Do Senior Pictures Cost?

Kids and Money / Thursday, September 12th, 2013

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: senior pictures.

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?

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21 Replies to “Reader Question: What Do Senior Pictures Cost?”

  1. 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!.

    1. 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.

  2. 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!

    1. 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. :)

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. I also just charge $50.00 an hour and have them bring a jump drive to take away, or I charge an additional $25 an hour to edit, if they want me to, then mail or sit down with them. I usually invite the family, or mom and dad for a basic sitting with a few shots.

  8. I am a photographer in Northern New York. I have spent over $20,000 on equipment in order to take the best possible images that would justify charging people those high prices. It does come down to what quality you are satisfied with. People complain about photographers being expensive, but in all honesty the more I learn about it, the more I realize there is to it. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s more than setting your camera to “auto” and pushing a button. It’s math. It’s science. It’s understanding people. It’s learning the most flattering poses based on gender, body shape, size of nose, which eye is bigger than the other … and so on and so forth. It’s knowing what to wear and what not to wear. What lens to use to achieve what look. How to frame the shot so it’s appealing to the eye. ANYONE can click a button. If you are paying hundreds of dollars for a professional photographer, you are paying them to deliver a finished product that you can cherish for your lifetime. Sure, I could go to YouTube and look up how to rewire my house’s electrical wires so that I don’t trip a breaker every time I use my space heater and hair dryer at the same time. I could go to my local hardware store or Home Depot/Lowe’s and pick up all of the supplies that I need. I can do that if I refuse to pay an electrician to come in and do it. When I hire an electrician, I am hiring his/her expertise. I am putting my faith and trust in him or her that the wiring will be right and my house will not short circuit and burn to the ground when I am not at home, killing my dog and mouse. You ALWAYS have a choice. But before you sit back and just say “I’m not gonna pay $$$$ for a few pictures” know that you are NOT just paying for the ink and paper. You are paying for the time it takes to prepare, print, and package. Photography is an expensive hobby. I am told that a LOT. In order to keep the “hobby” afloat, you have to charge enough to at least be able to purchase new equipment if it breaks or to upgrade to better equipment. In order to make your hobby into a profitable business, you have to treat it and cultivate it AS a business. Most people are too busy to make cakes for their kids’ or co-workers’ birthday’s. So what do we do? We call up a gourmet bakery or the grocery store bakery and we order up a delicious cake. Let’s face it … it tastes WAY BETTER than most people can make it taste even if they bought a cake mix and a tub of frosting. Guess what … they’re expensive too. Do we question why it costs that much? Maybe. Do we buy it because we like the quality and someone else is doing the work? Yeah. That’s exactly it. Someone else is doing the work. If you want to trust your important life events with a cheaper photographer, that is your choice and it may work out perfectly for you….and the photographer, maybe the person is just starting out. I’ve seen so many people who were upset that they didn’t spring for the more expensive photographer in order to get the quality image. All in all, most people don’t get “rich” doing photography. Some do need to keep their businesses afloat though. The more expensive the stuff to deliver the product, the more you can expect to pay. How important is quality to you?

    1. Pat you are absolutely right. I am currently going to school for photography and everyone seems to think its no big deal and why am I wasting time and money on college classes for it when anyone can take pictures. Well let me tell you all it isn’t easy! So much more goes into developing this skill than you could imagine. I am all for finding bargains but when it comes to big life event don’t miss out on the best. Good luck with your business Pat.

  9. I have two girls that are seniors right now (2016). I am going to look at the pics this Friday to choose what I want. He let me know that the best thing I can do is pay $750 EACH and get access to all the photos and get the ap on the phone that has everything on it plus that’ll include printed pics. Not sure how many yet. That’s $1,500 for pics! ugh I watched him take the pictures and I’m going to probably be crying when I view them. We mama’s are suckers for good pics and I know i’ll end up spending that much. My husband is going to have a duck. ; )

  10. I am a photographer who charge $300 for 2 hour session unlimited photos. I give a prof album of all the photos and a cd. How ever I do charger extra for enlargement and senior portfolios.

    Am I under cutting myself?

    1. If you are making a living, or trying to make a living as a photographer you are! What type of clients are you trying to attract? The ones that have a desire to have quality art produced and pay you for your knowledge and expertise, or are you content to keep getting clients that are just looking for the “most affordable” photographer in town? My opinion, and the opinion of many others in photography, is that you are hurting yourself financially as well as making it more difficult for the already over-saturated market of photographers trying to earn a living doing what they love. Remember this: only 20% (roughly) of your business is behind the camera, while 80% is behind screen editing, fulfilling orders, marketing, client service, etc. Good luck!

  11. I dont know if this is stil an open chat, but Find a student photographer.. Often its free if you allow them to use a few photos for their portfolios or cost under 100 bucks and they will print them, My old H.s. was a school for the arts and still to this day the students take the senior photos Or you can submit one of your own. but its a great way to save money and help the children fullfill their passion in the arts!

  12. Mark, you are not.
    My brother and I are. lol
    We are in college and took senior pictures for 2 of our friends graduating college. We charged $20/half hour – unlimited poses with whoever they bring (most bring their family). We edited many, and gave them around 60%-70% of the digital copies (however many looked really good to us).
    We mainly charged that little, because it was too much work to do for free, but we also needed clients to build up our grad pics portfolio.

    That being said, Pat, if you need over $20,000 worth of equipment to make someone look good, you may be doing something wrong. Our clients were more than happy with our work, and although we considered charging $60+ for our service, we felt like that was overcharging honestly. I understand it takes a lot of time, but charging hundreds to graduating students is a bit on the cruel side. Maybe it’s because we are current students and sympathize, but we believe in delivering quality work, with an affordable price.

    As we are quickly building our portfolio, we are considering to increase our price to around $40-$50/half hour. Still reasonable, I think, considering what I’ve read from multiple articles discussing photoshoot prices.

  13. Sadly, too many people “settle” for the snap shots produced by a friend with a camera or a kid with one or two photography classes under their belts.
    My argument is that professionals are professionals for a reason. We practice and refine our crafts. There IS A DIFFERENCE.
    Come on folks, you’ve complained for 11 years how crappy school photos are. You now have the opportunity to have an actual professional create your son or daughter’s high school legacy. That doesn’t mean you have to second mortgage your home, but invest a little bit.
    And regarding the idea of wanting/needing the digital files and reprint rights. If your photographer gives them to you, he/she likely isn’t really a professional who actually relies on their craft to feed their family.
    Those of us who who do really care how our images are printed.
    And what’s worse, so many people insist on having digital files but do nothing but post the images to Facebook.
    You pay a professional for so many other things that may or may not actually mean anything to you. Your portraits are your personal history immortalized.

  14. I’m a photographer in Salt Lake City, UT and I charge $275 for 1 hour of shooting, editing, and copies digital photos. I have higher packages for more time and locations.

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