By REBECCA SLOAN
In mom and dad's day, senior portraits weren't that big of a deal. Graduates got one pose, wore one outfit, and in the end, everyone's smiling, head-and-shoulders shot looked pretty much like everyone else's.
These days, things are a bit more complex.
Digital images, color, black and white, sepia toned, numerous poses, oodles of props, dozens of outfits, indoor or outdoor shots and fantasy glamour -- the options are endless, and as Karen Slaina of Stacey Studio in Canfield attests, senior portrait time has become a "really big deal."
"For most teens, it's the first time in their life when something really big is happening to them. The next big events will either be graduating from college or getting married. Teens want their senior pictures to reflect that this is an important time," Slaina said.
Technology use: Jim Woofter, owner of Woofter Photography in Cortland, said teens also want their portraits to reflect the slick, technologically advanced world they live in.
"Parents and grandparents, whose senior portraits were very simple and traditional, might not understand what teens today want or expect. They have to remember that today's teens are living in a digital world. They are constantly bombarded by a wild array of MTV images and special effects, and they have the mindset that they can capture this in their portrait," he said.
Woofter said digital photography helps his studio keep up with cutting edge teen-age expectations.
"Digital photography can offer all kinds of special effects that can't be captured with traditional photography. It is also faster and allows the subject to view their photos instantly after the pictures have been shot," he said.
Easy fixes: Woofter said using a digital camera allows him to easily and swiftly make unique multiple exposure prints, to make a picture black and white or color with just the push of a button, even to cut and paste a subject's face onto a photo with a different body pose.
"Sometimes teens will really like one of their poses but not like their facial expression in that particular shot. With a digital camera, we can actually take their face from another photograph and put it on the pose they like, thus creating the perfect picture," he said.
But whether a photographer is shooting with a digital camera or not -- many local studios have not yet gone digital -- the photographer has to keep up with the latest trends that teens seek.
"Black and white portraits are really popular now among teens, especially girls, but lots of parents don't understand why. While the teens think it looks cool and sophisticated, the parents consider it to be out of date. It reminds them of their own senior portrait," Slaina said.
Pets and sets: Other top teen requests include being photographed with pets, being photographed outdoors and being photographed with props ranging from small items such as sports trophies to larger objects such as a car or horse.
"Fifteen years ago, it would have been unheard of for a senior to come to the studio with their 4-H cow or horse to get their picture taken, now seniors bring all kinds of pets and props with them. Recently, I photographed a senior girl with her pet python," Woofter said.
Another top teen request is having portions of their black and white portrait colored. "One girl had a black and white photo taken with her cat. She wanted her eyes and lips tinted and the cat's eyes tinted green," Woofter said.
Many changes: But whether their portrait is in black and white or color, seniors, especially girls, want to be photographed in several different outfits.
Some studios put a limit on the number of different clothes a graduate can bring to their session. "We recommend no more than five outfits," Slaina said. "Otherwise it can get to be too much."
Woofter said his studio offers unlimited clothes changes, but usually recommends no more than seven or eight different outfits. "Usually there's not going to be too much more than that because parents can't afford to buy 20 or 30 new outfits for their teen," he said.
Slaina said going to the mall and buying new duds before the portrait shoot is typical.
"Getting prepared for the portrait session is a really big deal for seniors. It's almost like a countdown to a wedding day. I'll run into clients who haven't had their pictures taken yet, and they will tell me stuff like, 'Only 10 more days until the big day!' Girls get their hair highlighted, get tanned or get makeovers, and almost everyone goes to the mall and buys new clothes," Slaina said.
Although teens typically show up in new duds, Slaina said most shy away from shots in formal clothing. "Most guys don't get pictures in their suits and ties anymore, and if a parent wants a shot like that, they usually don't end up ordering it when they see it," she said.
And other changes: Woofter said that though he has seen plenty of changes during his 30 years in the business, the portrait process continues to be a combination of what teens want and what parents want.
"Although lots of parents are hip to what's cool, moms and dads and grandparents still want different things than the teen-ager does," he said. "We usually do a combination of both to make the senior and his or her family happy."
Although teens might seek fun, funky, sophisticated and nontraditional portraits, the majority of high school yearbooks still require seniors to submit a traditional, head-and-shoulders shot. "Even if a parent and a teen both want something unusual, they still need a few traditional shots for the yearbook," Woofter said.
For example, Harding High School in Warren will accept only traditional headshots of seniors for the school yearbook. The school yearbook will not feature outdoor photos or full body shots.
High school yearbook deadlines have also changed in recent years, prompting teens to get their pictures taken much earlier than they would have in the past.
"May through October prior to their senior year is the most popular time for seniors to get their pictures taken," Slaina said. "Most teens try to get in as early as they can. Schools like Boardman and Poland have yearbook deadlines as early as September or early October."
Range of costs: And what about the cost of this monumental teen-age event? "That varies from studio to studio, from package to package. Parents can pay a few hundred up to a thousand. It all depends on their budget and their choice," Woofter said.
Woofter added that parents usually have a pretty good idea of what their son or daughter's senior pictures will cost by the time senior year rolls around.
"Prior to a teen's senior year, parents and teens are swamped with brochures from local studios about cost etc. You can't go to the mailbox without seeing a flier," he said.