Embracing School Picture Day

November 15, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

School Portraits: Photography by Trish Alegre-SmithPosing for School PhotosPracticing Setup for a School Photo Session: Photography by Trish Alegre-Smith

I’m a photographer—and I support other photographers by purchasing their work, attending workshops, and hiring other professionals for our own family portraits at least once a year. But school photos are often images that I either skip buying or find the smallest package that I can get away with.

With our first kid, we bought every photo package that was taken (including the digitals on a CD). We even loved the less than perfect pictures. We ended up having so many prints we didn’t even have enough family and close friends to give all of them to. Then we noticed a difference when our eldest went from daycare and preschool to “big kid” school. The photographers had to take shots of soooooo many more kids in a limited amount of time. Depending on when our kid had her photo taken, her hair and outfit either looked the same as it did at drop-off or she looked like she ran through a windstorm on her way to the photographer. How many of you can relate to this?

I could also tell when she was rushed for her photos and into the poses. Growing up with a photographer at home, she’s used to “modeling” for me when I’m trying new concepts or setting up lighting. She doesn’t need much direction on what to do. So when we get a less-than-flattering photo back we’re not thrilled. Even worse, when we volunteer as parent-helpers on photo days we get to see some of the bad habits of photographers that are trying to get through the volume but have lost touch with (or never learned) the elements of a good portrait. We have seen and connected with some really great photographers at our kids’ schools (and have purchased their photos) but we’ve unfortunately had our share of those who are not.

So then it was our turn to take on a school picture day after another photographer canceled and couldn’t reschedule. Most of our experience with high-volume photography is with corporate headshots. On the other hand, most of our experience with children’s portraits are during our family portrait sessions. So we had to merge both types of experiences to come up with school picture days that both parents and kids would like.

We set up three days with a 3-4 hour photo window each day and one makeup day the following week to cover 80+ preschool students. It gave us just enough time that we didn’t feel a need to rush a child through any of the poses.

  • Speaking of poses, we had a standard list of of seated and standing poses we would attempt for each child but we planned to make changes on the spot based on the kid’s reaction and comfort level.
  • We also shot against a green screen. All of the kids were 18 months to 5 years old. There was a good chance that for some of the kids would give us one great photo. A green screen gave us options for multiple backgrounds with the “hero shot” that parents could choose from.
  • Continuous lighting and not strobes were used to light the set. We wanted to keep the kids as comfortable as possible and keep them from anticipating the “flash."
  • From lighting to composition, we worked to get every shot we could right in camera to reduce editing on the back end.

We did have our share of challenges:

  • We had a couple kids show up with a bump or bruise prominently on their faces which we offered to remove in post-processing.
  • A few kids had outfits with stains from breakfast that wasn’t noticed until the child showed up for the shoot (and of course there wasn’t a nice change of clothes available).
  • There was one kid who showed up dressed in green that would make him disappear in post-processing for green-screen photos (luckily we found a change of clothes in time for his session).
  • We had two tear-down our set in the afternoon and setup again the next morning for two of our scheduled days.

Despite all of the challenges, our reward came from the sweet smiles and heartwarming photos we coaxed out of our shyest little clients. It made all of our work worth it and showed me that school photos can be as great as our private portrait sessions. Whenever we could we adjusted hair, outfits, and poses to get the best possible photos. we enlisted the help of teachers and volunteers to get the best reactions out of the kids and to make them feel more comfortable in front of the camera and the lights (which can be incredibly bright). We wanted to treat these kids with the same care we give our corporate clients—even literally holding their little hands when they needed reassurance.

If you could plan the ideal school picture day for your child, wouldn’t you want it to be like this too?



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