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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Michael Kleber of Michael’s Photography takes pictures of Concordia High School senior Brent Hall at Parkview Field.

Local senior picture photographers see shift in portrait priorities

Local photographers see shift in priorities for senior portraits

Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Kleber took photos of Hall inside and out of the baseball park, which Hall chose because of his love of sports.
Tianna Schuerman’s favorite senior photo was taken by Salome Klopfenstein of Salome Photography.

– Brent Hall wanted something unique for his senior pictures; a representation of today to recall years from now; photographs that portrayed him and his interests rather than his tenure at Concordia High School.

So on a cool, late Friday afternoon, Hall and his photographer, Michael Kleber, have arrived for a session at Parkview Field. Some poses were inside, others in front of the iron gates with the “Parkview Field” sign displayed overhead.

“I really like sports,” says Hall, 17. “I wanted to share my love of sports, and that was the nicest place we could’ve gone.”

Because October in northern Indiana has the bold colors of a Matisse palette, these are the perfect days for outdoor senior pictures. The air is crisp; the sky is bright, without glare; and there is a mild humidity that doesn’t melt a hairstyle. And it’s a great time of year for anything in the closet.

Seniors are clamoring for more than a stoic, formal picture, with suit coat and tie for the guy and dressy top for the girl. The students want fresh looks, big time on the casual, with a variety of settings.

Of course they want to like the photos, themselves. And it would be prudent to make Mom and Dad happy, since many of them will be footing a bill that can exceed $500. But the real payoff is hearing their friends’ real life OMG over their likeness.

“I wouldn’t call it a competition,” says Tianna Schuerman, a senior at Homestead High School. “It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, your senior pictures are so cool!’ It’s kinda ‘I wish I would have done that’ type thing. There’s a little bit of jealousy of senior pictures going on.”

Like Hall with Kleber, Schuerman had several poses with photographer Salome Klopfenstein – some inside, some outside.

“I love my senior pictures,” says Schuerman, who has a favorite. “I have one where I’m laying down in the grass and my hair is sprawled out around me. I really love it.”

These just aren’t photographs; they’re an occasion.

“I kinda mold it around like a fashion shoot experience, with hair and makeup, fashion posing and lighting,” says Klopfenstein, who admits much of her marketing is focused on senior girls. To get a discount on her pictures, Schuerman has worn a Salome Photography T-shirt to school. And if she can get a friend to sign up with Klopfenstein, that’s even more off.

“On the average, as far as time goes, from start to finish, with hair and makeup, shoots are typically around four hours or so, sometimes five,” Klopfenstein says. “It’s a big event.

“For girls, it’s the only time – aside from when your parents get pictures of you as a baby – that it’s really all about you. On your wedding day and your wedding pictures, you might get some bridals out of it, but it’s still about the wedding and your family and husband, but the senior picture is all about you and your individuality.”

Then witness Hall at Parkview Field, where his passion for sports is on display. Not only is he inside a baseball stadium, he’s also wearing an Indiana University basketball jersey.

After photographing weddings and babies and lining up family portraits for nearly 40 years, Kleber senses that senior pictures are on the decline.

“We’re finding that kids aren’t valuing photography like they used to, ’cause they take their picture every five minutes and posting it on Instagram,” Kleber says. “Facebook is going by the wayside of the teenage kids. They’re changing. It used to be, when you took a picture, it cost you money. Now it doesn’t cost you anything. That’s changing the perceived value of photography.

“I still have clients who value what I do and can see the difference. That’s a good thing. But there are a lot of people who don’t see value in it anymore.”

On the flip side are photographers who market to the seniors, such as Klopfenstein and Janelle Roberts, with Happinest Photography.

Roberts stresses the professionalism in the final product.

“Once digital cameras became really good and available to anybody – you can go to the store and buy a $300 camera – everybody was a photographer,” Roberts says.

“For us, the way that we overcome that is just a matter of something that a mom with a camera can’t offer. We want to take care of people from start to finish, and make sure they have everything that they need; to make sure that we help them pick out their outfits, that we help them decide maybe what they’re shooting for; if they’ve had kids before this; if they need portraits to match in their home, that they have two or three older kids and they have framed portraits already hanging in their house, we want to make sure we have something similar to that.”

Now that he’s had his pictures taken, Hall says he’s satisfied with Kleber’s work. But starting out, it wasn’t a big deal.

“Personally, I don’t know how much of a big deal it is to me,” Hall says. “My parents and my grandparents and my other family members really love ’em, so I felt an obligation to get ’em done.”

Schuerman, however, embraced the experience.

“What girl doesn’t want to go get dressed up and have their picture taken?” she says.