"It's like taking a nap on that little rug when you were in kindergarten."

Senior Portraits – How NOT to do Them

Will Smith’s HS photo.
Well played, Will.

I love looking at senior portraits. There’s something so bittersweet about the passage of time. Maybe less on the sweet side, as time flies by so quickly.

You’re only as old as you feel! Right??

My high school classmates celebrated a significant milestone this past weekend with the 35th anniversary of our graduation. I wish I could have attended.

Our class consisted of nearly 700 graduates. In prepping for the reunion, many of us reconnected via social media. A Facebook group was started nearly a year in advance of the event, emails were sent out, and even “regular” mail was needed for those who weren’t tech-savvy, or just weren’t interested in Facebook.

One of the best things about this reconnecting was the flurry of old pictures and memories from a different time, long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far …

Oh crap,
I graduated when Star Wars came out?!

Being a sentimental sap, all this nostalgia screamed for me to pull out my old senior portrait. A picture so “unique,” it’s the poster for what not to do. So whether you’re about to get a senior portrait taken, a parent about to indulge in your kid’s portrait , or a grandparent with high school-age grandchildren, these tips could come in handy and prevent the debacle you’re about to witness:

MJ, senior portrait

The two faces of MJ.

Since senior portrait season is coming up quickly – August for most schools – I thought I’d share three important things I learned about this process through hindsight.

Oh sure … you’re welcome!

What not to do for a senior portrait:

1. Be CERTAIN to wear something that doesn’t date the senior portrait for eternity.

– Hmm, what does my picture say?
“Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive, ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive …”
– Perhaps a timeless tux would have been a better idea.

2. Make sure poses are NORMAL, and eliminate any props.

– I’m not sure what possessed the photographer to put me in the thinker pose.
– Did he then say, “Hey, can you be as somber as possible. Give me ‘super-sad’.”
– But wait, there’s more. “Now give me a big smile for the Wrigley’s Doublemint-gum-twin-image look.”

Here are a few examples of what NOT to do:

senior portraits, poses  senior portraits, poses, pokemon  senior portrait, rubber ducky

3. Hair styles come and go. Don’t have your portrait taken in a full-on, “current” style. I. Beg. Of. You.

– Yes, I look like Justin Bieber’s older brother. It was the 70’s.
– I guess it could have been worse. Okay, maybe not too much worse, but …

senior portrait, mullet   senior portrait, 80s, big hair  senior portrait, big hair


How do you feel about your senior portrait?


  1. Jodi Aman says:

    I look the same 20 years later!

  2. Tameri Etherton says:

    Ohmygosh these are hilarious! That hair, those props, what were these people thinking? Mine? I was totally rocking the surfer girl long blonde locks. Two months after taking the pic, I had super short bleached white hair and was all punk rock. But I promised my mom I’d look ‘normal’ for the senior pic. Hey, at least I wasn’t holding a pokemon or anything.

    • I know, right? I can see you donning the blonde surfer girl look. Nice that you made mom happy with the pic. Stay safe during the Fourth, my friend!

  3. I actually skipped having mine taken. I was one of those “unpictured” folks at the way back of the book (which I didn’t buy).

    • We had dozens do that same thing. I had to wait until way later in the year since I had shaved my head for swim team. I would have been the only kid without hair in the entire class. Most people had really long hair then.

  4. Judy Berman says:

    When I graduated h.s., they were still chiseling portraits on stone. OK, maybe it wasn’t that L-O-N-G ago.
    I think you’re too hard on yourself. You look great. You still do – or, you would if I could see your face behind that coffee mug and shades.
    In mine, I looked kind of serious and I had this ridiculous cowl-neck sweater which went out of fashion 15 minutes after the photo was snapped.

    • Thanks Judy. It takes minutes of doctoring photos to look younger. hehehe

      Not really. I am what I am, regardless.

      There’s nothing wrong with a good cowl-neck sweater.

  5. I actually liked mine. I survived, I mean graduated from an all girls Catholic school so anything to not be seen in that hideous uniform was good for me. I just received my son’s Senior photos in the mail TODAY! Thank goodness he looks normal…the one is so good with a big natural smile. Apparently, the photographer’s lisp contributed to that great shot!

    • So glad you liked yours, Lisa. You’re one of the lucky ones. And surviving an all-girls Catholic school is no small feat!

      Your son should be very thankful his future kids won’t have that to laugh at!

  6. Well, you know how mine turned out. Pretty scary. I agree about the props. What I didn’t show on my blog were the dozens of other photos taken at the same sitting: some I was holding an umbrella, in a few I was outside, sitting on a rock and my personal fave was the one of me hugging a tree, my giant frizzy winged ’80s hair flapping in the breeze!
    I wish I could burn all of them but I gotta keep them for my grandkids to laugh at one day….

    • Okay, now the tree-hugging, frizzy-winged, Darla pics must come out! Possibly even the tame umbrella shot. Sadly, or maybe fortunately, I didn’t have any props for my portraits.

      Your kids will really appreciate them once they reach HS age, too.

  7. Oh, I’m laughing so hard I’m crying over those last three! I graduated right in the middle of the eighties and my hair and clothing in my senior photo leave no doubt.

    For the record, I like the smiling MJ. What a good-looking kid…er… adult! :-)

    • I love the girl with the ENORMOUS glasses. So awesome. You must bust out the big-hair Terri pics for your inquiring readers!

      I’m not sure how the photog got me smiling. I didn’t (and still don’t) smile too much for pics.

  8. The pikachu picture killed me. I was laughing so hard that my husband was looking at me like I was crazy. Not that that is abnormal, but still.

    My senior picture is relatively mild. I have a little of the big haired perm look, but otherwise, I look relatively normal. Ours were done in a cap and gown, so no props (except the hat) and no clothing to be dated. I guess I was lucky.

    We’re not gonna talk about my freshman picture. ((Shudder))

    • First of all, Misty, the freshman pic must see the light of your blog, very soon!

      Second, what IS up with having pikachu in your portrait – that’s one for the ages.

      Lastly, thank goodness you had the classic cap and gown picture. You’re totally safe with that one.

      Still … freshman pic, please!

  9. This post is PRICELESS, MJ! And the photo! You look like that Rolling Stones album cover. Awesome!

    I wish I could have taken any/all of this advice for my own senior photo, but the jerks at Lifetouch had a certain code that EVERY GRADUATING STUDENT had to follow. Case in point: I wanted to wear a simple black T-shirt in my photo but was given a DICKIE to wear underneath a ridiculously oversized gown. And then I had to hold a diploma! And a pen! And a dozen fake roses! The hatred in my eyes burns on over a decade later: http://zonapellucida.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/ghosts-of-graduations-past/ :)

    • Perfect for Rolling Stones, isn’t it? :)

      Ah, the old Dickie. Several schools in our area had to wear those. Might have been good is we had!

      I just popped over to your link. OMG, I can totally see the rage burning inside with that incredibly forced, “I’m going to kill you, dude!” look on your face. That’s awesome.

      • Yeah, nobody has ever accused me of having a poker face. 😉 Too bad it lives on in the hallways of my high school forever… not to mention the year book.

  10. those are fantastically horrible!

  11. Anonymous says:

    North Miami Sr High graduated 1,120 in 1967. Within a year, 4 were dead in Vietnam. I will curse Lyndon Johnson beyond my grave and Obama is wasting lives in Afghanistan as well.

  12. my comment above – North Miami…..

  13. Ha! I think your picture is GREAT. All of the others are, too, but in a “your baby is breathtaking” way.

    My favorite school pictures were from the late 80s-early 90s, when they thought it would be a really good idea to have backdrops with laser beams. It looks like some sort of galactic light-saber battle is happening behind me, except with more bad, pre-braces teeth and awkwardness.

    OMG, like this: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_DnNY332vSPo/TPaBt-1ChSI/AAAAAAAAASA/KoHEzXNtNog/s1600/laser+beam+photo.jpg

    • Funny, Jules, I almost threw up (interesting choice of words) a picture with that same backdrop that was on Google Images. hehe The cat was a great addition. When you have lasers, it’s just missing something until you throw in the cat, right?

      I still laugh hysterically at why I had the double-image, happy/sad photo. None of my friends had that pose, that I can recall.

  14. I like your yearbook pictures, MJ. Sadly, they do not fall in the same league as the others below. What a riot those are!

    >I’m not sure what possessed the photographer to put me in the thinker pose.
    >- Did he then say, “Hey, can you be as somber as possible. Give me ‘super-sad’.”
    – Super-sad? Doesn’t look that way to me. More like pondering your next blog post. :-)

    >- But wait, there’s more. “Now give me a big smile for the Wrigley’s Doublemint-gum-twin-image look.”
    – Nicely ‘Cheese!’, but not cheesy.

    Besides evoking nostalgia, old photographs are good for a belly workout, too. I wouldn’t want to change the way I dress for a photograph today or pose for one. I want something to laugh about decades from now.


    • Well, Kate, I’m glad you don’t think mine falls in that category. It’s pretty bad. :)

      The 80s photos seem to be just about as bad as any era, EVER, don’t they?

      Thanks on the “pondering” but I was not a thinker in HS, that’s for sure. HA

      Expecting some early Kate shots in the future.

  15. I remember those “double” photos – not sure what the name of the effect is but they are hilarious. Yearbooks and senior portraits are a peculiarly American phenomenon!

  16. Dear mj,

    Really, it could always be worse. I loved your photo series!

  17. Dear MJ,
    I visited your blog after you visited mine (thank you :-), and I am so glad I did! You are hilarious, I love your style. I laughed especially hard at your senior picture, not because YOU looked bad, rather the photography & the hairstyles, clothing, etc… were dated. You prove a very good point about not being “trendy” when it comes to photos. For my senior pics, I had big, blonde, permed hair, and was posing next to my red 1985 Camaro (wow, cheesy). At least I had moved on from the blue eyeshadow by then, OMG… jr high was NOT pretty! Can’t wait to go back and read more of your posts!

    • Thanks for visiting, Jules! Really appreciate getting new readers.

      Yeah, it’s quite the dated picture, isn’t it? Glad you got past the blue eye shadow before your senior pic. That would have been a great one for the kids to laugh at! hehe

      Please do come back and visit. I post at least twice a week.

  18. What’s old is new again–my boys have the same hair you have in your senior pic and have for a few years. There’s no way in the world they will admit to wearing ’70s hair though! I graduated a few years after you…I had Farrah hair. I try not to think about it.

    • Isn’t it crazy that hair style came back in?? I thought we’d never see it again.

      When will we be seeing your Farrah hair pictures? Please post them. :)

  19. I hope all of my senior portraits are destroyed…..

  20. I liked my senior pic. In a blue graduation gown, holding a bouquet of roses. I wouldn’t smile too big due to the braces, but it’s a sweet shot. The photographer said to the boy in line behind me, ‘Couldn’t you just fall in love?’ – hah, score one for the flat chested math nerd. The only problem with it is that I think I still have the same hairstyle…. (in my oldies album on FB if you are interested :) ).

    • I have to say, after looking at your “older” pictures, you look almost exactly the same. Congrats on not aging at all! And we’ve never personally met, but you haven’t changed a bit.

      Nice to have a picture that doesn’t SCREAM of a previous era! :)

      • Sahweet! Thanks for that… Between your comment and a carload of younger men catcalling me the other day, I’m feeling pretty good for an old broad. 😀

  21. Thanks for the tips! My daughter will be taking her portrait next month. I guess the rubber chicken idea isn’t so good after all. :)

    • Pass on the rubber chicken, for sure, Lisa. Although that would be a great conversation starter. :)

      Definitely follow the tips and keep your daughter out of trouble.

  22. Great, cringe-worthy pics! I loved this one!

  23. Haha you make me want to go back and look at mine…but I’m scared 😀

  24. I have no idea what my senior photo looks like, other than cap and gown (both faked for the photo, taken months before the graduation). I think today’s graduates face a racket with senior photos… kind of like wedding photos: all day affair of posing at different location, photo-proofs to select from, prints in mass for everyone on the list, and a wopping bill. I believe that when my youngest nephew rolled in with a $700 bill, my brother asked what type of summer job he planned to get to pay for this! There is a story there.

    • You’re so right about the expense, Oscar. It’s so outrageously expensive anymore. I don’t know how parents can afford it. Our youngest graduated from HS in 2007 and we had a friend take his photos. They came out really well. But we couldn’t have afforded a professional photographer.

  25. Just had my 20th reunion. All of the women looked great! The men… not so much. 😉 Luckily, we didn’t have senior pictures at my school. We each got a half-page and could put in whatever pictures we wanted along with quotes. That’s almost as embarrassing to see how deep and cool we thought we were quoting bands like the Grateful Dead.

    • That’s interesting that the guys had gone to pot, so to speak. Wonder why that was.

      That’s a great way to do it with the half-page thing. Like that a lot. But you’re right, the quotes might date you in a different way.

  26. What are you talking about? You were hella hot in high school my friend! NOT KIDDING!

  27. I have tried to compose myself reading through all of these comments! How funny… most of us thought we were so cool back then. I didn’t like my senior portraits, mostly because it was an unhappy time in my life. It shows on the photos. And to boot, my teeth were crooked as hell! Even with the wrinkles and age thing going on, I look a hell of a lot better now than I did back then!

    • I’m sure you were a stunning Husker farm girl! Did you get braces to straighten your teeth? My sisters got braces, but the boys weren’t so fortunate. :)

      You’re going to have to post up that senior portrait! Aw, c’mon!! :)

  28. sunshine says:

    Well, first we had the almost duke-out fight, and now, MJ, you take us back to those high school hallways with all of us trying to look and be so cool…*sigh*…okay, if we must, first, whoa…I see you were a deep thinker even in high school. (hehe) Second, my senior photo was fab only because I got my braces off right before picture time…yay, I was elated!!
    I’ll be sure to let every senior know your tried and true tips on senior portraits…:)

    • So … when will we be seeing the Sunshine senior pics on your blog?? We are dying to see it!

      If I could show my double image shot, you can surely show the braces-just-off picture. :)

  29. Another funny one, MJ! :)

  30. Your post for today seems to have disappeared, but I saw this title and had to check it out. You definitely had the Saturday Night Fever thing going on, but it wasn’t a bad look, Justin…I mean MJ… :)

    There’s not enough money in the world to have paid me to do a senior picture. After second grade I hated having a camera aimed at me (thanks to an uncle telling me it looked like I had holes in my face when I smiled, lol). Even now, when I got my author photo taken, I was so stressed out I had trouble sleeping. The upside to all of this is, there are very few pics of me floating around that could date me. :)

    • You’re too right, Kristy. I was Bieber before he was. The whole wide lapels with the shirt collar outside the sport coat. If I could change that I would. :)

      So you never had a senior picture taken? I can’t believe that. Your uncle traumatized you. Your avatar picture is very good, so you should have no fear. I know, easier said than done when you were terrified as a child.

      Childhood KK pics must resurface! :)


  1. […] If you need a friend -or a laugh- in this cold, cruel world, please head over to MJ’s blog (or follow him on Twitter). I’m especially fond of this post. […]

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