High school photographers in Sammamish disrupt senior portrait market
The amateur photography business in Sammamish has grown substantially in recent years.
With this growing trend, more high school photographers are seizing the opportunity to take senior portraits for their fellow students.
High school seniors typically get a nice portrait photo to post in their school’s yearbook. Traditionally, these services were provided by professional photographers and photo studios. Recently, amateur high school photographers have started offering this service, often for free or at a very low cost.
While they lack professional experience, they have made up for it by being close in age and proximity to their clientele, as well as offering a great deal. In return, their clients provide these young practitioners with valuable practice and a taste of what a future photography career would look like.
Christina Zhang, a senior at Skyline High School, started taking photos as a way to record her daily life two years ago and has been taking senior portraits since last summer.
“The main reason is that I want to build up my profile and make some money out of it,” Zhang said. “I want to build my own website and try to take pictures for strangers using my friends’ pictures as samples, and also grow my skills.”
Zhang prepares for her photoshoots like a professional. She books her clients on days with predictably good weather to ensure proper lighting and offers recommendations on poses.
“I think one big advantage for a high schooler to take senior pictures is that we share similar ages, so we understand each other’s ideas,” said Zhang.
Zhang is currently focusing on enhancing her skills rather than making a profit, so she is not charging any fee for her services. However, she does plan to go into photography as a career and hopes that one day, she can charge up to $1,000 for 40 photos.
To get there, Zhang knows she has to grow her professional knowledge through dedication, practice, and hard work.
“It’s only based on my personal experience on how to make the photos nicer,” said Zhang. “I think professional photographers definitely know more about their camera, and they know the exact setting to make for the weather and lighting conditions.”
Similar to Zhang’s experience, Pravallika Kasam, a senior at Skyline, also started out by taking her friends’ photos for free during the pandemic.
“But now, I have been charging $30 for senior portraits,” Kasam said. “I’m working on increasing my pricing right now because there have been quite a lot of bookings.”
Kasam used social media this year as an advertising channel and has seen success in monetizing her services.
During photo shoots, Kasam maintains a relaxed vibe and leaves the decision entirely to her clients on selecting a location and other logistics, because she believes this allows clients to show their true selves on camera.
“I just think the photos should be a natural reflection of who they are and present themselves, I like capturing the natural moments as it happens,” Kasam said. “I want the clients to live in the movement when they are looking at the pictures.”
Melanie Chen first got her camera in sixth grade and has been taking scenic photos around Washington State every weekend. She officially started her photography business in ninth grade, charging from $50 to $200 per hour. She has even done some commercial work, shooting for jewelry businesses and coffee shops. Chen, a senior, is currently the chief editor of Skyline’s yearbook.
“I also did senior portraits shootings for a year and a half,” Chen said, “At the end of my junior year, I stopped charging and I started taking photos for my friends for free because they are all seniors and I’m a senior myself too.”
After graduating, Chen will attend the Georgia Institute of Technology to study computer science.
“My dream job is to work at Adobe Photoshop user interface,” Chen said, “I want to take photos using the application so I can test it out with my own photos, that would be so fun.”
As more high schoolers turn their photography interest into actual businesses, professional photographers have taken notice.
Yingchen Yang, a professional photographer in Sammamish, acknowledges that she is getting more competition from high school students.
“The high schoolers are actually really good,” said Yang. “If you really want to see the difference, it’s probably only about the post-production or the pose.”
Yang believes that ultimately, the value of a photographer, no matter their age, is determined by the clients. A good picture is one that makes a customer feel happy.
Rixin Chen, a senior at Skyline, opted for her classmate Christina Zhang’s services.
“Christina showed me some of the phenomenal pictures she took for other people. I was impressed by her photography skills and therefore asked her to take photos for my senior portrait,” said Chen.