Our local high school had an idea to get senior photos taken for the young adults that have been working their whole life to achieve something, only to have it turn into an afterthought overshadowed by a serious global pandemic.
My wife and I graduated from Lewiston Porter High School and when the Parent Teacher Student Association asked if we'd be interested in working on a volunteer project for the 2020 senior class, we were happy to help. The initial talks about the project were all very hypothetical since nothing had opened up yet and we really didn't know how long it would last. One thing we did know is that there was going to be a lot of moving pieces to get everyone scheduled, photographed, and finally delivered photos of their seniors. Ultimately our company Stu Stu Studio teamed up with LC Photography and planned a safe, socially distanced photo shoot for 75 graduating students.
The initial game plan was going to be a hybrid of a couple set location shoots, and some porch sessions for those that weren't comfortable leaving their house. Traditional communication via email or phone calls was not going to be desirable on such a large scale so we had to find something to handle most of the scheduling and appointment reminders. We looked up a few different options and ultimately coordinated everything through a booking service called Setmore. We had to finagle it a bit to get everything to work exactly how we wanted, but in the end someone could get from an emailed link to a booked appointment in a few clicks. We had all the time slots laid out and just had to sit back and watch as they started to fill.
We purposely planned on 2 days so there would be plenty of cushion if any issues came up. This "cushion" was clearly not going to be in the cards as the day grew closer. The weather forecast ended up calling for rain all day, and boy were they right. We had to cancel day 1 and move all the appointments to day 2. Luckily years of shooting weddings has conditioned us for last minute flexibility, so this wasn't a big deal on our end.
The location we chose was Fort Niagara State Park in Youngstown, New York. Fort Niagara is one of our favorite photo spots and is easily accessible with plenty of parking. A volunteer from the Parent Teacher Student Association checked people in on the list and sent them over to the actual photo shoot location once the person before them was done. Some seniors showed up with their own ideas or items to be in the portraits. For those that didn't have anything, between ourselves and other donating things to use there was a nice collection of other props to choose from. Anything that was used was wiped before returning to the pool of things to choose from, but besides the surface exposure to keep track of, the entire shoot was safe and went off without issue.
Some of the students applied for and were awarded scholarships that they were not aware of yet. The organizers had large checks made to present to the winners as a nice added surprise. Seeing their excitement was priceless.
There was a great spirit about the whole project and the families really seemed to appreciate seeing their child given the attention they deserve for all their hard work. Some of the students weren't overly interest in getting their picture taken, but that isn't a new challenge to a couple of family photographers used to making people feel comfortable in front fo the camera. Others couldn't wait to get their picture taken and wondered why they had to stop and give someone else a turn. Many students expressed their interests and accomplishments proudly with medals from their sport or by wearing their uniform. Others said all they needed to on their t-shirt. This diversity in personalities was refreshing to see, and fun to remember when looking at the final gallery.
Working with another photographer was crucial for a shoot this size and it worked out wonderfully. From planning to the day of, having another professional made it all go so much smoother. The experience was an absolute joy and the group of seniors was special in how they rose above with so much spirit an gumption. Even in the short time meeting the group, their school pride and resiliency make us hometown photographers proud.
The local paper showed up and provided some coverage which was a nice surprise.
Photography may have been marked non essential and many of us worried about the immediate future of paid photos, but there is something special about capturing certain moments in time. Whether it is out of tradition, appreciation, or just documenting the times, photography is a big part of making sure important memories stay as vivid as they should.
One of the funnier themes of 2020 photo shoots we didn't see coming has been the popularity through scarcity of toilet paper. Some of us tried new brands we've never heard of and all of us have looked down the empty shelves so I guess it makes sense!
We learned a lot doing this project, but thanks to a good plan and a lot of help, there really wouldn't be much to change if we did it again. The delivery of the photos was done in each of our respective client gallery solutions. The seniors were given both links and they could download or order right from their preferred device like any of our normal clients. Moving forward, the booking solution will probably change how we handle client scheduling for the better on both ends.
In the end, everyone involved was very happy with how it went. The seniors and their families were all great to work with. It was and is, not to sound cliche, uncertain times. When everything seems crazy in the world, getting back some normalcy with a simple community driven project was hopefully just what our small town needed. We are grateful to the Parent Teacher Student Association for having such a grand vision and for reaching out to us to see it through. Go Lancers!
How did your community handle the honoring the 2020 senior class? I saw a number of towns hang banners on their main streets and signs in lawns. Either way I'm glad they were in many cases prioritized to receive some love.