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Back to School Portraits

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Your first child may be getting ready for their very first day of pre-school—or you’ve got older kids who are “old pros” at going back to school after an eventful summer vacation; either way, it’s a milestone event that’s made for picture taking.

Along with school pictures that show your child’s growth over time, taking your own pictures of your children going back to school is an opportunity to capture fleeting moments that you’ll cherish through the years. Try to come up with creative ways that you can take these photos each year, to create a memorable collection.

Try our ideas for capturing really special back to school shots.

  • The age of your subject will generally dictate what you can draw from them. While four to nine-year-olds tend to be natural performers in front of the camera, once they hit ten they’ll generally be more self-conscious about how they look and how they come across, so one of your main jobs will be to make them feel good about themselves, and to make them look good, too. Give them a bit of direction – get them posing with one hand on their hip or in a pocket, arms folded confidently across their chest, shoulders turned slightly – and you’ll get far better results.
  • Children tend to get bored easily when it comes to having their photographs taken, so you need to work fast. With mere milliseconds to capture expressions, maybe a little longer for poses, you need fast lenses and high shutter speeds, and complete familiarity with your gear. A shorter lens can be helpful as it keeps you physically closer to your subjects – if you’re shooting from the other end of the garden with a super-telephoto, it’s going to be that much harder to keep their attention.
  • When you’re framing up the shot, the more distractions you can cut out, the easier it is for the viewer to focus directly on what matters. It’s not just a matter of ‘unclutter your background’; it’s more like ‘unclutter everything in the frame that takes your eye away from what you want to see’. That may mean physically moving things or changing the angle, even if it means the lighting won’t be as strong and you have to add illumination with a burst of flash.
  • If your composition isn’t what you’d perfectly envisaged, as long as the subject is sharp you can later crop as a way of recomposing to get the look and feel you really want. The higher your camera’s resolution, the easier this is to do, as you have far more scope for cropping in using say, 24MP instead of 12MP.

Photo ideas:

For his first year of schooling, have your child hold a sign or wear a shirt that says Class of [year they’ll graduate high school]. You’ll want to have the shirt be a large adult size, with the idea that he’ll grow into it by the time he reaches his senior year. You could even have him wear the shirt each subsequent year until it fits him.

Write your child’s name and the date or their age on a small chalkboard and place it somewhere in the frame. They may want to hold the chalkboard, or not—either way, it’s a cute idea for a photo.

You could use a magnetic board with colourful letter and number magnets to spell out Class of [year they’ll graduate high school] or her name and age or grade.

For a fun shot, have your high school teen hold up a photo of their very first day of pre-school or Grade 1.

If you enjoy creating complete stories surrounding your child’s first day of school, you could even photograph the outfit they plan to wear that day, as well as taking pictures of her doing homework after school.

No matter what types of photographs you capture—whether posed or candid—you can’t go wrong. You’ll create memories both you and your children will cherish for years, perhaps even prompting them to take the same types of photos when they have children of their own.

Quick tips
  1. Take the same ‘first day’ portrait every year – same pose, same location, both full length and portrait close-up – it’s a great way to record how they grow up so quickly!
  2. To totally avoid those ‘first day’ nerves, why not do your shoot a day or two beforehand or after – it will be much less stressful for both photographer and subject!
  3. Make sure everything is ready for the big day – memory cards empty and working, batteries charged, uniform spotless and shoes polished.