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9 Tips for Nailing Back-to-School Photos From a Photographer

Get on their level, and other ways to capture shots your friends will envy

Published on: August 25, 2017

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The first day of school used to be about celebrating (or sobbing) on the porch while the kids clambered up those school bus steps, lunch bags in hand. These days, the first day is all about the back-to-school photo that you post on social media for your friends to shower with compliments.

As a professional photographer, I love the first day of school and all of the chaos and creativity it brings out in parents. But you don’t have to be a pro to get some great shots of your kids before they head out the door for another year of adventure.

  1. Let there be light. To avoid that dreaded red eye from a bright flash, shoot indoor photos near a large window for a more natural look.
  2. Find a shady spot. On the other hand, when you’re outside, beware of too much light. A bright sunny day may seem like a great way to start off the school year, but taking photos of your kids in the sunshine will leave you with dark shadows and squinting kids. If you’ve been blessed by a sunny day, choose a spot out of the sun — behind a building or under a tree — for more even light (and kids whose eyes are open).
  3. Clean your lens. There’s nothing more disappointing than a blurry photo, and a big smear on your camera or cellphone lens is often the culprit. If you’ve got small kids who like to grab your phone, there’s no doubt they’ve left their fingerprints behind. Grab a cloth and give it a quick wipe down before you start shooting.
  4. Get on their level. If your kids are still young enough to be shorter than you, getting down on one knee, plopping your butt on the ground or even lying belly-down on the driveway will help you get a shot of the world from their perspective. Bonus: Seeing Mom or Dad getting down on the ground tends to make photo-shy kids giggle.
  5. Tell a story with your photos. The front door shot or the image of your kiddo posing with their new teacher are classics. But they only capture the end of the epic morning that your family just survived! Photos of their pile of clothes laid out at the end of the bed, their faces in the mirror while they’re brushing their teeth and their little hands wrapped around that cereal spoon come together for a creative Instagram gallery and a gorgeous collage to hang on your wall.
  6. Show off their favorites. Pinterest is full of photos of kids holding up signs that detail their first day of school stats, from age to grade to teacher. Mix things up by adding in poses of your child holding their favorite book of the moment or their favorite stuffed animal. Make sure you get a similar shot on the last day of school so you can compare.
  7. Copy years past. It may not have been the most inventive shot, but if you take a photo in the same location and same position, you can set them up side-by-side for a fun (albeit sometimes tearjerking!) comparison. If this is the first first day for your child, start a new tradition that you can repeat year after year.
  8. Start shooting when the bus is coming. If you tell your kids to pose when you spot the bus coming down the street, you can capture your kiddo plus that bus in the background for a school-theme shot that won’t look like everybody else’s. Bonus: You may have a friendly driver who will allow you to take the classic “climbing the bus steps” photo, but then again, you may not. If you took your money shot beforehand, a driver who’s running behind won’t cost you your memory.
  9. Wait until they get home. Yes, it’s untraditional. But who said you have to follow the pack? Your kiddo won’t look quite as picture perfect after a day of learning, but they will look like the kid you know and love. And that’s a photo you'll treasure forever.

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