Prom overboard: More teens splurging on pre-prom photo shoots

Lauren Young and Ben Jenette of Sacramento, Calif., had professional photographs taken for their prom.
Lauren Young and Ben Jenette of Sacramento, Calif., had professional photographs taken for their prom.Today

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By Lela Davidson

Chances are your prom picture featured a butcher paper background with glitter and a bucket full of carnations, or perhaps an archway made of balloons. Those old photo-ops are still around, but more kids are opting for a professional, pre-prom photo shoot to capture the day.

The genius marketing strategy of the photography industry has become a booming business, and St. Louis photographer Dana Tate is part of the growing trend. Tate started offering pre-prom sessions after girls brought their prom dresses to senior photo sessions.

“If you go ahead and take the [senior] pictures on prom day, their hair is done and their makeup is done,” says Tate, who averages $250 for a pre-prom photo shoot and says her clients’ families are already spending up to $1,000 for a rite of passage that has become more elaborate in terms of dresses, hair, nails, and before all that, the promposal.

Lauren Young and Ben Jenette of Sacramento, Calif., had professional photographs taken for their prom.Today

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Tate says that in the last few years, senior portrait sessions have become more customized. “It’s like a Seventeen Magazine photo shoot,” she says. “And what girl in her right mind doesn’t want to look like she’s in a magazine?” Tate also points out that girls aren’t reading magazines anymore to find out what’s cool. They’re looking at their Facebook and Instagram feeds, which drives demand. “If you’re seeing your friends looking awesome, it’s only a matter of time before you want that too.”

Marijka Snider’s kids are only 7 and 9, so still a few years away from the prom, but the Redmond, Wash., mom thinks the quality of today’s cameras make professional pictures a waste. However, she has a plan. “If the kids wanted them bad enough to pay for them themselves that's their choice,” she says. “I need to save for retirement!”

Portland, Ore., mom Kimberley Carlson agrees that professional pictures are unnecessary. “How often do you look at your prom pictures now that you're an adult with kids of your own?”

Channing Barker doesn’t yet have kids of her own, but she does love to look at her old prom pictures. She and several other Tulsa, Okla., couples were ahead of the trend, getting pre-prom photos taken in 2007.

“They’re something I still have in my bedroom. I love them,” she said. Her mother, Patti Barker, says the photo shoot was a way for the tight knit group to remember this time. “No matter who the date is, you can still get a great picture of your child on a day when they look so beautiful.”

Writer Lela Davidson in her senior prom pic from 1988.Today

A lot of photographers are doing standard engagement style poses for prom portraits (Pinterest confirms). Morgan Werner, a suburban Sacramento portrait photographer, is among them. “I try to keep the romantic posing on a G-rated level,” she says. “I don't think it's so much about photos of the kids as a couple, but more of a record of this time in their lives and an opportunity to get some nice photos taken in their gorgeous gowns and handsome tuxes.”

Tate also likes to keep kids looking young. “I don’t want to pose teens with the body language of adults,” she said.

While we may view a pre-prom photo shoot as over-the-top, the practice may be here to stay. There’s nothing wrong with a gorgeous photo. It’s the pressure that most parents object to.

But maybe, if we’re lucky, with a gorgeous dress, a magazine-worthy image, and the party of their lives, our kids won’t be in such a hurry to get married.

Lela Davidson is the author of Blacklisted from the PTA, and Who Peed on My Yoga Mat? Her thoughts on marriage, motherhood, and life-after-40 have appeared in hundreds of magazines, websites, and anthologies.